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Jan 15, 2009 10:02 AM

Bordeaux Style Blends - Napa Valley

I am taking my first trip to Napa next month and I am partial to Bordeaux wines. Can anyone recommend a winery, or two, or three that include a good Bordeaux style blend in their tastings?

Thanks in advance for your help.

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    1. re: wolfe

      There's a lot of wineries on those posts that I wouldn't recommend.

      California has different results from grapes than France. I don't find a lot of good comparisons. Also, Bordeaux varies a lot. I love Petrus, but there is no way to make a California merlot taste like that, but Petrus is a completely different wine than something like Pichon Lalande, another favorite of mine, or Latour. But if you want a cabernet-based wine in Napa, Heitz has some of the best. Old school and very high quality. Wines hold up, like Bordeaux, I finished off some of their wines from the 70s a few years ago.

      You might enjoy the upstairs "private" tasting room at Beringer. The wines they serve up there are better, generally from their reserve bottles or the library. They make excellent cabernet-based wines.

      1. re: realspear

        I was only referring to the Bordeaux blends in the permalinks. Elevage at Chimney Rock with a blend of Merlot, Cab and Petit Verdot and the blend at Sunce.

        1. re: realspear

          Yes, I have found Bordeaux blends from California to be brawny in comparison. They seem to have less earthy tones and be more forward than those from France. I still find them to have more complexity than your common, Cab, Merlot, etc. Thanks for the Beringer tip.

      2. You might want to try the Meritage Association's list:

        1. You'll find Bordeaux blends nearly everywhere you go in Napa Vallley, but some wineries use a Bordeaux-blending style more than others.

          Napa Valley's is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon, and wherever you find Cab you'll find a Bordeaux blend. All the noble grapes (Cab. Sauv., Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec) are grown here and often go into blends.

          Some specific wineries that specialize in Bordeaux Blends are Spring Mountain Vineyards, Cain, and Bennett Lane. While the Meritage Association may be of assistance, the word "Meritage" as a marketing term signifying a Bordeaux blend has mostly fallen out of favor.

          5 Replies
          1. re: maria lorraine

            Do the wineries have trouble getting people to buy the blends. Hasn't the general wine buying public been trained that Cabernet Sauvignon is the ne plus ultra of American wine making skill and that those blends are inferior? Or am I locked into the past?

            1. re: wolfe

              I tend to agree with you wolfe, although I'd expand it to say that American wine consumers are trained to buy by the grape first and that includes Cab as the ne plus ultra, and Chardonnay as the starter grape. Pinot and S.B. are also purchased with variety of the grape as the only criteria for judging quality. It seems that blends in general are associated with table wines and just aren't as popular in the super-premium realm as they should be.

              1. re: Shane Greenwood

                Since I work in the wine industry in Napa Valley, I'll throw in another two cents about Bordeaux-style blends found here.

                When a wine label says Cabernet Sauvignon, it must contain at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon wine. The other 25%, or a fraction thereof, usually comes from other Bordeaux grapes.

                Most Cabernets are blended. Moreover, Cabernet usually needs to be blended. It's a varietal that's often described as having a "hole in the middle" of its flavor structure: there is no mid-range. Lots of fruit notes on the top and copious bottom notes, but nuttin’ in the middle. The geometric shape of that flavor is like an hourglass, or an inverted triangle on top of a regular triangle. Other Bordeaux varietals have that missing mid-range, and that makes them a good choice to blend with Cab. The final blended wine tastes more complex, and creates a fuller, rounder flavor experience as a result of blending.

                But not all Cabernets are blended. 100% Cabernets are often impeccable examples of the grape, and the result of fruit from several Cabernet vineyards or from a single vineyard. The latter are wines that showcase the individual and sometimes quirky flavor personality of a specific vineyard.

                Another category of Bordeaux blends here is Proprietary Red Blends. This is usually when no single grape is at least 75% of the final blend, and so the wine cannot be labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon (or another grape name). There are many very fine wines in this category and they usually have trademarked names: Joseph Phelps Insignia, Franciscan Magnificat,Girard Artistry, Peju Province “50/50”, Ridge Monte Bello, Archipel Red Blend, and Viader. These wines are blended with Bordeaux grapes, but infrequently you'll find a little Syrah snuck in. When these wines are tasted, they're usually loved, but buying them "blind," without a grape categorization, means the wine, the blend, the flavor, is unknown till tasting. But by no means are these wines inferior.

                So, the first and last categories of Cabernet are both characterized by Bordeaux blends. Like I said, they're all around. Just ask.

                Even though there is a great deal of Merlot in Napa Valley, it's more difficult to come by a "Right Bank" Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Shafer and Duckhorn make excellent Merlots using this blending style. White-wine Bordeaux blends with both Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are infrequently found, since so little Semillon is grown here. That's a pity -- it's a beautiful grape.

                Good luck tasting!

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  For visits to wineries who make interesting Bordeaux blends in a beautiful setting, consider:

                  * Alpha Omega: new winery/tasting room on 29. Michel Roland is the consulting winemaker. Beautiful setting and patio area. Good wine. Top blend features Merlot and some Ta Kalon Cab Franc -- delicious.

                  * Cliff Lede: Stag's Leap district. Their Claret at $35 is a steal. Nice setting and art gallery.

                  * Blackbird: in newly renovated historic Yountville building just north of the French Laundry. Intimate tasting in an antiques gallery environment. Blackbird features four different proprietary red blends, with Merlot leading the blends rather than Cabernet.

                  Let us know where you go.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Your an encyclopedia! I didn't know that about California Cabs.

            2. Thank you all for your help. I will write up a detailed account of my trip and post it here for you.

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