Bordeaux can also be thought of as the most famous wine region, as its branding has been secured for centuries. It's because of this that the Bordeaux blend, or Meritage (as they call it in California), has spread across the globe. From Bordeaux itself to Super Tuscans in Italy and Meritage in Napa, your likelihood of pairing a meal with a Bordeaux blend is very high.
Most people default to a hearty steak, which is a great pairing due to the fatty meat contrasting with the wine's concentration and firm (if youthful) structure, but these wines are far more versatile than that. Let's explore the Bordeaux blend from a number of regions and see what kind of pairings we can come up with.
Photo courtesy smcgee via Flickr/CC
Napa Valley with Class
I'm often asked by people going to Napa, "What are the best wineries in Napa to visit?" Larkmead is always at the top of my list. It's not because of some grand architectural achievement in their tasting room or some hillside scenic view, it's because Larkmead is producing some of the best quality wines in Napa Valley, and the prices remain fair. Their Merlot-dominant Firebelle is a perfect example of this. It has all the textural richness and fruit of Napa while still showing hints of the earth from which it came, a true sense of place.
I found a Roast Leg of Lamb with Herbs to be an excellent pairing. The herbal, gamey flavors of the lamb are perfectly contrasted by the Firebelle's elegant fruit and earth. What's more, this pairing isn't a competition. Instead it's a team effort, as both the Firebelle and the lamb balance each other out and create a wonderful experience on the palate.
2008 Larkmead Vineyards Firebelle - The nose showed black currant, cherry liquor, spice, brown sugar and a hint of fresh-turned soil. On the palate, it was velvety smooth and luxuriant with blackberry jam, cherry wood and spice. The finish was exceptionally long with blackberry and currant fruit, yet fresh and begging for another sip.
Cabernet from a Red Mountain
In this taster's opinion, Washington State is now producing some of the most exciting Bordeaux blends in the U.S. These are wines of power that are blended with red earth and minerals. They are not Californian in style, nor are they French; instead Washington State has found its own middle ground, and the results are stunning.
I found a hearty Beef Stroganoff with Cremini & Porcini Mushrooms to be the perfect pairing. The wine's intensity is slightly mellowed by the meat that simply melts in your mouth, along with complementing flavors and mushrooms in the sauce to add masses of depth to an already zesty and exciting wine. This pairing begged for a sip of wine with each bite.
2005 Cadence Ciel du Cheval Vineyard - After a double decant and an hour opened in bottle, the 2005 Cadence Ciel du Cheval showed a mix of sour cranberry, black cherry with dark chocolate and slate dust. Upon first sip, my palate was assaulted by massive waves of rich raspberry fruit, which started out jammy but turned fresh as it left flavors of mint and clove behind. The finish was long with flavors of wild berries. This bottle was so rich yet so balanced and fresh that I could have finished it myself. I love this wine.
A Little Wild Boar Doe
Shinn Estate Vineyards, in the North Fork of Long Island N.Y., has been making a name for itself for many years now. The owners are content to remain small, and they pay extra attention to the vineyard and winemaking. The results show in the wines. Usually it's the Merlot that I find to my tastes, but recently, I was able to taste their "Wild Boar Doe"
"If it grows together, it goes together," is a saying you'll hear often in food pairings. Now, I don't know if that necessarily applies to pairing a Long Island duck with Long Island grapes, but this pairing certainly makes the case. Confit Duck Legs give the Wild Boar Doe the exact amount of fatty richness on the palate that's needed to bring this wine from good to great. It creates a stage on the palate that allows the wine to sing.
2005 Shinn Estate Vineyards Wild Boar Doe - The nose showed ripe strawberry with cedar and earth. On the palate, I found raspberry with tea leaf and wood tones. It was beautifully balanced with a gorgeous finish full of red fruits and a hint of pepper.
An Everyday Bordeaux
As much as we all hear about how expensive Bordeaux is, the fact is that there are a lot of values coming out of the region that simply never receive the attention they deserve. Bordeaux is a large region with many undiscovered producers that are just waiting to be found. This bottle cost me less than $14 and was an excellent any day food wine.
I never would have thought that Bordeaux would pair with fried chicken, but it did. I certainly wouldn't put a Bordeaux next to grilled or sauteed poultry, but fried chicken is a different animal altogether. The well-seasoned, crunchy crust and moist, seasoned meat is a perfect complement to a young Bordeaux. Give it a try and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
2009 Château Bellevue la Randee - The nose showed intense plum, black currant, herbs and gravelly earth. On the palate it was medium-bodied yet velvety with tart red berries, young fig and hints of bell pepper. The finish showed this wine‚Äôs structure and acidity with flavors of dried cherry and herbs.
Tuscany has truly mastered the Bordeaux blend. It started decades ago with the likes of Sassicaia and has gone through a number of transformations, from showing a perfect sense of place to over-oaked monsters. However, it is only recently that I feel you can find highly-enjoyable Bordeaux blends which truly speak of their Tuscan upbringing, while remaining at an exceptionally fair price.
Pork Ragout was the easy choice for me with this pairing. The first time I enjoyed this wine was with a red sauce, and it simply needed more to balance out its suave and rich profile. The Pork Ragout did just that. In this pairing, it's the contrasting of intense rich fruit against sweet meat and herbs. Although this wine is big, there are masses of earth and Tuscan character that sing in harmony with pork. I would however opt to add this wine to the recipe instead of the Zinfandel that it recommends.
2007 Tenuta di Trinoro Le Cupole Maremma Toscana IGT - The nose showed black cherries, cinnamon, mint and dark chocolate with a distinct earthy component. On the palate, it was full and velvety with ample weight balanced by zesty acidity. Flavors of rich black cherry, prunes, dark chocolate and tobacco leaf filled out the palate. The finish was long and fresh. This wine truly wowed me as its luxurious richness is so perfectly balanced and kept fresh by a combination of zesty acidity and fine tannin. It's drinking beautifully now, but it should continue to improve for a number of years.
Getting Better with Age
It is sad to think about the exuberantly high price you would have to pay for a current release Cos d'Estournel. However, it's fun to think about putting affordable Bordeaux away in your cellar so that you can enjoy it for years to come.
As Bordeaux ages, it loses that fruity gloss of youth and angular tannins, which make it perfect to be pair with Game birds. Glazed Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Couscous Stuffing is a recipe that would be squashed by a current release Bordeaux, but with 20+ years of age on the 1990 Cos d'Estournel, it's a match made in heaven. The soft, enveloping fruit and juicy mouthfeel of the Cos is beautifully contrasted by poultry. Don't worry about the glaze as it simply balances the entire dish by providing a third flavor component to mix and match.
1990 Château Cos d'Estournel - The nose was savory and meaty with dark red fruits, sweet cinnamon spice and hint of liquor. On the palate, it was big and rich with ripe, juicy fruit and herbal tea. The finish was mouth-coating but turned juicy with a slight medicinal note. This was a very sexy wine that was more fun to drink than to think about.
Want to Learn More?
Don't miss even more delicious ways to marry food and wine in Pairing White Rhone Wines with Food!