Similar to Burgundy, wines from Bordeaux are some of the most collectable wines in the world. Red Bordeaux can be aged for decades, and are often are aged by wine investors and sold for thousands of dollars further down the road. Red Bordeaux are often a mix of five different grapes which are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petite Verdot.
Bordeaux is also broken down into smaller regions, (and sub-regions on top of that) and you’ll find the wine varies by what ratio of grapes they use. For example, Médoc and Graves lean towards a Cabernet style Bordeaux, and are grown on the ‘Left Bank‘. There are four powerhouse villages of Médoc, two which are Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac. These have heftier reds and more tannic reds then the other two villages which are St Julien, and Margaux. For Graves, a separate appellation called Pessac-Léognan has perhaps the best of what Graves has to offer.
For Merlot-Style Bordeaux, you’ll want to seek out Saint-Émilion. and Pomerol, which are grown on the Bordeaux ‘Right Bank‘. Château Pétrus, perhaps the world’s most expensive wine, comes from Pomerol. Both Pomerol and Saint-Émilion offer both the best and most expensive Bordeaux you can buy.
In future blog articles, we will break down these regions even further, and offer more comprehensive wine pairings.
The most expensive Bordeaux are made in a manner where they are meant to age for dozens of years before the ferocious tannin diminishes. The less expensive Bordeaux are often intended to be drunk in their youth. Part of the appeal of Bordeaux is that it has a complexity that you won’t find elsewhere. Your senses will be teased with hints of smoke, violet, vanilla, blackcurrant, plum and spice. It does this without seeming too heavy, giving it more substance than style.
To understand Bordeaux more completely requires further reading (and drinking) beyond the scope of this article. Just be aware there are different ranges in price for this wine ranging from $12 to $1,500. I don’t suggest dipping into the expensive side of the Bordeaux world until you have more drinking experience under your belt. The finer examples of Bordeaux will fly right by your taste buds as you won’t be able to appreciate the subtle nuances of this wine.
Due to its complexity, I prefer to pair more expensive Bordeaux with special fare such as Steak, Beef Wellington, or Roasts like Prime Rib and Lamb. While it will go fantastic with a simple Philly cheesesteak sandwich, red Bordeaux seems much more epic with a prime rib dinner. While working at as a wine sommelier at private club, I did witness members enjoying bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild (which ran about $800 a bottle) with a basic hamburger. Who am I to judge though, I love hamburgers myself!
Lower end bottles of Bordeaux are perfect for Philly cheese steak sandwiches, hamburgers, and sausages. Bordeaux is also perfect with simple preparations of venison or wild boar, provided that they do not have rich sauces. Rich Sauces will overwhelm the more complex flavours of Bordeaux.
If you are new to Bordeaux but don’t want to pay the astronomical price of wine you’re not ready to understand, you can always buy a Cru Bourgeois, which is a wine from Médoc that did not make the strict Bordeaux classifications that were set in 1855. A Cru Bourgeois will not have the complexity of a top Bordeaux, but it does offer an experience to get started with the wine. Château de Pez, Château Gloria, and Château Meyney are all examples of a Cru Bourgeois. Again, we’ll delve deeper into the Cru Bourgeois and food pairing deeper in future blog articles.
The region of Bordeaux produces white wines as well. They are produced using only the Sauvignon Blanc grape and the Semillon grape. While White Bordeaux is well made and delicious, when people say Bordeaux, they are often referring to the Red version.
Red Bordeaux goes great with:
Grilled Lamb Chops in Bordelaise Sauce and Bordeaux
Lamb and Bordeaux is considered a holy grail of food and wine pairings among the Bordelaise. Again there will be a lot of variation in the style of Lamb you are eating, as well as the Bordeaux you cracked open. However, Grilled Lamb Chops in a Bordelaise Sauce is perfect pairing with Bordeaux.
Bordelaise sauce is an earthy French brown sauce made with red wine, bone marrow, butter, and shallots. As Bordeaux is earthy (and bold) it simply loves the flavours of the shallots and none marrow. On top of that, the earthy and smokey nature of a fine Bordeaux loves the carmelized grilled flesh of the lamb chops.
While Bordeaux is not a fruit bomb, it is full of bold fruit flavours like plum and cassis, and these help mask the gamey flavours of Lamb that not everyone appreciates.
Sirloin Steak and Bordeaux
There are so many variations of steak cuts, as well as blends of Bordeaux, and their marriage will always be phenomenal. However the best pairing Bordeaux & Steak pairing for my taste-buds is a Sirloin Steak.
Bordeaux is a blend of five different grapes, and when young, is full of ruthless tannin. The grippy tannin is tamed by the fat and protein content of Sirloin steak. Meanwhile, the earthy components of Bordeaux (if aged in oak), such as vanilla, cedar, smoke, and coffee love the charred flesh of a well-cooked steak.
Bordeaux is not a fruit-bomb like a classic California Cabernet Sauvignon. However, expect plenty of blackcurrant, plum and cassis from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to keep your senses refreshed. Other grapes, such as Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec inject even more complexity into this beautiful pairing.
With more expensive Bordeaux, you’ll find a bit of oak ageing, so expect subtle vanilla, cedar, smoke, coffee, spice and cigar box aromas.
Prime Rib and a Young Bordeaux
Young Bordeaux is a little safer to drink now, than in the past, as wine makers are realizing that not everyone wants to wait decades to enjoy their fabulous creations. While not drinkable right out of the bottle the tannin in a young Bordeaux can be tamed by a fatty cut of Prime rib. Bordeaux also has a sharp minerality to it that elevates the flavour of roast beef. The beef tames the tannin in this red wine, allowing for the true flavours of Bordeaux to shine through.
For a decade, or old Bordeaux, it will still be fantastic with Prime Rib, but it will be even more amazing with a less fattier cut of roasted beef, such as beef tenderloin.