Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Terrace View - Good Bordeaux

Bordeaux as a wine region is very large, producing about 700 million bottles of wine a year, and with all that wine in the market, it's hard to generalize. One thing to realize is that Bordeaux works on many different levels and knowing this can help you find good wines to drink.

First off, know that for most of the last 100 years and until only recently, Bordeaux dominated the wine trade here in the US. When I started drinking wine regularly as a college student, and even when I first moved to NYC, Bordeaux was the predominant wine in the stores and on restaurant lists. Things have changed. The top tier wines, like the famous First Growths, have become super luxury items and are so expensive that only very wealthy collectors and investors purchase them. For the others, the small or "petit chateau", their presence in the market has dropped as we have seen an explosion of new choices, especially in the last 20 years. Some of those are wines from other regions in France, like the Loire and the Languedoc, and more importantly there are many more wine choices from other countries like Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile, to name a few. In addition, the prices on a lot of these wines are very friendly so the competition for customers drinking everyday bottles is fierce.

Still, there is a lot of Bordeaux out there that is worthy of purchasing. If you are not familiar with the grape varietals, the red wines are almost always a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot in some form, with cabernet franc playing a supporting role, and you'll find the use of small percentages of malbec and petit verdot in some. The classic style of red Bordeaux is a bit out of fashion right now, so much so that I asked my friend Stuart Randall, a Bordeaux lover who also happens to be one of the owners of Bayfield Importing, why he enjoys drinking Bordeaux frequently:

"Something about the taste, the combination of the earthiness with fruit character that I find particularly attractive. I enjoy the complexity and find myself contemplating the length and aftertaste in my mouth every time I drink them, in a particularly enjoyable way. I appreciate the many subtleties they convey. Because of the climate, Bordeaux wines are rarely overripe or "hot", meaning the alcohol is in check and there is usually great acid balance. The ones I tend to drink do not have excessive tannins yet are dry with ample fruit, but not overly fruity. As with most wines, I look for balance, richness, complexity and character without them being overbearing. The taste of Bordeaux does not become wearisome over the course of the bottle, and in many cases, the wines evolve in the glass as they are being consumed. A huge plus is that they are great food wines and tend to complement dishes rather than overpower them.... Contrary to many people's opinion, there is lots of great value in Bordeaux with plenty of options that sell for between $10-$20 retail. I haven't found any other region yet that can emulate the taste character of these wines which is what gives them their appeal."

I think Stuart's correct. Generally most good value Bordeaux is medium bodied and round on the palate with moderate acidity, the cherry and plum fruit is mellow and subdued, and along with cedar and cigarbox overtones, a subtle earthiness and herbaceousness can emerge. As I said this is a classic style of red wine, known to the British as "claret", but not considered so "exciting" in the present wine world.

If you are an avid cook, good pairings for red Bordeaux are red meats, roast chicken (even better with root vegetables) some fish, and legumes. A simple dish of lentils, with onions, potatoes and carrots works very well. Red Bordeaux is usually not my wine for pizza or pasta with tomato sauce, and likewise I also stay away from it with fairly spicy dishes. In her book "Mastering The Art of French Cooking", Julia Child frequently recommends various Bordeaux and her suggestions are spot on, not just with the food pairings but also in mentioning dishes that work with the specific regional distinctions within Bordeaux.

As for those distinctions, there is a river that splits the area (the Gironde) and in the wine biz we refer to the wines on either side as being "left bank" (usually but not always more cabernet sauvignon) or "right bank" (usually but not always more merlot and cabernet franc). Beyond that it gets more involved so if you'd like more information just ask us.

Don't forget too the white wines from Bordeaux, the grapes for these are sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle. These wines are delicious and generally overlooked. We have a small but very nice selection of them. Don't miss out!


Friday, October 4, 2013

Wine Geek 101 - What's Brett?

Remember George Brett? He's the first ballot Hall of Fame third baseman for the Kansas City Royals who almost hit .400 in 1980. Well, he was great but unfortunately this blog post is not about him.

It's about brettanomyces, don't worry about pronouncing it, just say "brett". Brett is a type of yeast occasionally found on grapes and then in a finished wine. We typically will see brett in organic, biodynamic, and the so-called "natural wines". That's because all the bacteria hasn't been killed off by large doses of sulfur and filtration. When brett is present in a wine it gives a certain flavor which can be described as earthy "barnyard". For me one of the giveaways is also a kind of telltale chestnut or hazelnut lingering in the finish.

The real issue with brett is that it can occur in varying degrees in a wine. For me personally, a little bit of brett can enhance earthiness in a wine, add a complex savory note, and give a nice sense of character. I find that preferable to the mass produced, sanitized wines made with laboratory yeasts, filtered, flavored with oak chips, and manipulated with additives to conform to a certain "recipe" for a wine. That being said, if there's too much brett then the wine has gone too far for me in a stinky, feral way. I also find that wines with too much brett don't drink well over a period of a few days, they actually get "brettier", if that's a word. Another argument is that overly "bretted" wines obscure their terroir instead of highlighting it. Nuances from the vineyard site can be overshadowed by the brett flavor.  If you want to have that uber-geek discussion with me then you'll have to mention it in person sometime when your shopping.

So is brett a defect? I think yes, albeit sometimes a good one, and I'm sure you can find differing opinions about this from folks in the wine business. As always, every wine is different and if you have any questions about a specific wine just ask. As a sidenote, brett is also encountered in beer brewing. If you'd like to see more on that click here. Where do you fall in on the brett scale? Try some new wines and find out!