Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wines of Bordeaux - Esquin Wine Merchants - Seattle, WA

Back in September I had the privilege of attending one of the seminars of BLEND, which I subsequently wrote about in a post about the event. In the seminar, we learned all about the Bordeaux region of France, and how French Bordeaux blends are created. As you’ll recall, the five grapes of the Bordeaux blend are.. (pop quiz, go!) … Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Granc, Merlot and Petit Verdot (how did you do?). Many Washington wines are made in Bordeaux style and are supremely delicious. So what’s a Washington wine girl to do when the opportunity to taste the REAL DEAL comes about? Take it! Last week I headed down to Esquin Wine Merchants (@Esquin) for a tasting of wines from the Bordeaux region of France. Oh what a treat it was! We tasted through eleven amazing French wines, and I was able to learn so much more about what makes French wine so different from American wine and about all of the different (and historic) practices that go into the making of a true Bordeaux blend.

Since I detailed the whole right bank/left bank thing in my BLEND post, we’ll skip straight to the “growths” of Bordeaux. The Wikipedia entry can explain this concept better than I can: “For the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system for France's best Bordeaux wines which were to be on display for visitors from around the world. Brokers from the wine industry ranked the wines according to a château's reputation and trading price, which at that time was directly related to quality. The result was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. The wines were ranked in importance from first to fifth growths” It goes on to say that “within each category, the various châteaux are ranked in order of quality and only twice since the 1855 classification has there been a change, first when in 1856 Cantemerle was added as a fifth growth (having either been originally omitted by oversight or added as an afterthought, depending on which of the conflicting accounts is correct) and, more significantly, in 1973, when Château Mouton Rothschild was elevated from a second growth to a first growth vineyard.” Interesting to note is that the bottles do not specify which particular growth a wine is from. This must be known by the drinker or else researched in advance.

It was interesting to learn about the vintages we would be tasting, and how they are perceived by experts. 2000 was an amazing vintage, “one of the greats” and probably one of the top 5 or 6 of the past 20-30 years. 2001 was said to be terrific on the right bank. 2005 is considered a great vintage uniformly and 2006 didn’t quite present what it should have and is just in the shadow of 2005.

We started our tasting with a 2000 Carbonnieux Blanc, Pessac-Léognan. This 89 point wine from Wine Spectator is a high acid and full bodied wine. It’s so rare that you see a white wine that is recommended to age past 4 years, which is the case with this one. It was the perfect clean wine to begin our exploration of the wines of Bordeaux.

We moved on to a 2005 Picque Caillou Rouge, Pessac-Léognan. This wine does not come from one of the classified growths of the region. The wine had a ton of berry on the nose, and a huge burst of tannin on the taste. With each taste the fruit came forward just a bit more, and the finish ended up being quite enjoyable.

Next, we tried a 2001 Blason l’Evangile, Pomerol. It was interesting to learn that 80% of the Pomerol estate is planted to Merlot. This particular wine is almost all Merlot, with just a hint of Cabernet Franc present. 2001 was a great year on the right bank, and this wine will continue to age well. Cherry flavors and another big burst of tannin characterized this wine, which had a deeper and darker color than our previous taste.

Next our Bordeaux journey took us to 2006 Malescot St. Exupery, Margaux 3rd Growth. This young left bank wine was a 92-94 point recipient from Parker. The family that owns this estate has had it for just the past 20-30 years. The estate itself is planted to about 57% Cabernet. The taste of this wine definitely had that “pucker effect” with the amount of tannins present right off the bat. It also had a very deep and dark color. This wine will age very well, with anticipated maturity between 2010 and 2025. It will become much less tannic over time.

We moved to a 2006 Sociando-Mallet, Haut-Médoc. This was a 90-92 point Parker recipient and had an excellent purple hue. Black current was present at first taste and this was a very Cabernet dominant wine (about 75-80%) which, for now, has those “super tannins” present. This wine will definitely age more and will soften out over time. About 7-10 years of cellaring is recommended, with the wine lasting for up to two decades after that.

The right bank brought us the 2006 Clos St. Martin, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé. This is one of almost 60 wines that are Grands Cru Classés. There are two estates that are Premiers Grands Crus Classés (A) and another 13 estates that are Premiers Grands Crus Classés (B). This, another high scoring (92-94 points) Parker wine, had a super smoky nose and was full bodied and quite nice. This is another that will age much longer, reaching its peak between 2015 and 2025.

It was no doubt as the bottles became more expensive, my appreciation of them also also increased. We moved forward into the 2006 Gruaud-Larose, Saint-Julien 2nd Growth. This had a slight smoke on the nose, but also had hints of berry as well. The first taste brought a slight attack of those tannins again, but excellent fruity flavors. This wine, best after 2010, was a 90 point recipient from Wine Spectator.

I love those wines that one would consider “feel good” wines, which was exactly what we were able to taste next. The 2006 Lynch-Bages, Pauillac 5th Growth comes from an estate that ran into disrepair until it was bought about in 1977. This is a big wine, perfect for lovers of those big bad California Cabernets that need a smooth transition into a love of Bordeaux wines. I enjoyed the nice fruit on the nose of this, and an excellent back of the palate finish. A perfect wine for a cold night by the fire, this fantastic bottle was the recipient of 92 points from Parker.

Of course my favorite taste of the night was from one of the most expensive bottles we tried (but not THE most expensive!). The 2005 Calon Segur, Saint-Estèphe 3rd Growth quite literally made me go “oooohhhhh” when I first tasted it (seriously, see my tweets from the evening!). This estate is run by a woman (way to go girl!) and this 2005 vintage is a blend of 60% Cabernet and 40% Merlot. A hue of deep ruby and a sweet nose picqued my interest before I sipped on luscious fruit and tannin that was there but not in your face. This wine is amazing from start to finish and I can see why reviews state it will drink well for up to three decades. This 94-96 point Parker recipient needs to find a home in my collection ASAP. What a treat…

Moving to last of our Bordeaux reds, we had the extreme pleasure of trying the 2005 Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe 2nd Growth. Of the 14 second growths, this is one of the five that are considered “super seconds”. This is about 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, with a balance of mostly Merlot and just a hint of Cabernet Franc. The wine had an incredible inky dark color and a nose of spice and blackberry. This is a MASSIVE tannin wine with very closed up fruit flavors, but overall it’s very balanced. The flavors will continue to reveal themselves as this wine ages, one that has been called a “wine for the ages”. It’s recommended to not even look at this for about 8-10 years and enjoy it after some serious aging, sometime between 2017 and 2040. This is a 98 point Parker recipient, and I’m tremendously honored to have had the opportunity to try this incredible wine.

We finished the tasting with a 2006 Coutet, Sauternes 1st Growth. Very sweet nose with hints of citrus and peach cobbler. Good acidity, and one that will age well for 25 or more years. A little too sweet for my taste, but enjoyable none-the-less. This is another Parker 92 point wine.

My journey through the wines of Bordeaux was simply incredible and I can’t believe I had waited this long to enjoy some of the world’s best juice. Each tasting I attend furthers my knowledge of grapes, wine making styles, key vintages, and just an overall understanding of the wines of the world. I’ve been a wide-eyed and eager sponge at these events, taking in all the info I can to broaden my horizons of one of nature’s greatest gifts. I look forward to my next big adventure!


  1. Great writeup, Taryn! We were really glad you could attend, and this post really captures what a great learning and tasting event this was. Now you're a Bordeaux pro!

  2. My favorite wine was the Cos d'Estournel, followed by the Lynch Bages and Calon Segur. If you buy the Calon Segur its got to cellar for a decade.