The Cipher of Bordeaux Blends

Decoding the meaning of CS-M-CF-PV-M


2007 Magnificat Meritage Napa Valley 14.5% $45

Rather cedary on the nose with a bit of a beefy overlay to the gentle plum and currant fruit. There are nice floral and citrus accents here with a touch of almond dressed in bittersweet chocolate. Smooth on entry with a nice bitter chocolate note right up front over wild cherry and black currants. This is rather firm and upright, well balanced and fairly restrained with a lovely spine of acids lending some cut and detail to the mid-palate. The finish has a touch of thickness to it, with graphite, wood spice and toast accenting the plum skin fruit. It’s an oaky wine but one that has enough fruit to match its oak today. All the pieces in place, though a familiar puzzle. 89pts

NV Artiste Skyline bottled in 2012 14.5% $40
60% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot

Rather unusual smelling. Full of liquory red fruit accented with wild bitter herbs, a touch of sassafras, some oyster shell and some caramel and raw coffee bean. Bright and lively in the mouth, this shows off a nice exotic edge, maybe showing a hint of pomegranate along with red licorice fruit on the mid-palate. The back end turns blacker and shows some meaty spice before returning to a bright, red-fruited and spicy finish, which ends with some juicy red berry fruit and subtle oak shadings. Definitely an unusual wine that shows a fine transparency of texture and nice balance if in a slight candied vein. 89pts

2007 Brian Carter Cellars Le Coursier Columbia Valley 14.5%  $25
54% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, 9 Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot

This shows a nice restrained complexity on the nose with toasty oak, vanilla and roasted herbs laid out over a nice plummy base. Rather open knit, this is broad yet shows attractive inner mouth perfumes that help lift up the modest core of fruit. There’s a nice freshness to the fruit here, a bit of mulberry and drying plum tossed with cassis and a few strawberries even. The wood is obvious but integrated and really does play a supporting role, even on the finish, which shows off good length and depth. This is very smooth and mild mannered but not boring. 89pts

2008 Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red Columbia Valley WA Red Table Wine $20
37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 16% Merlot,  7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 3% Sangiovese, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Carmenere

Warm, spicy and a bit hot on the nose with chocolate shavings and cigar box notes accenting red raspberry and strawberry fruit. Soft on entry and nicely filled out with boisterous fruit and oak flavors in the big yet still transparent frame. This offers up nice, slightly jammy, slightly chewy fruit in a fun to drink style that finishes a touch coarsely but delivers a lot of flavor. 89pts

2007 Wilson Creek Family Meritage Temecula Valley Ca 13% $39
55% Merlot, 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petite Verdot, 1% Malbec

Tight on the nose, this shows a lot of chocolate and baked black fruit tones along with a candied raspberry and dried herb top note. This is really open and soft on the palate, though it has plenty of tannins and sufficient acidity. It is a wine that is built on velvetiness. The flavors are slight attenuated, showing a touch of a metallic edge and staying within a rather narrow band of red fruit. The finish shows more of the tannic structure of the wine along with a very fine cranberry edge to the red plum fruit. Interesting wine, turns more austere with time though if the tannins recede back into the fruit this could be excellent. 89pts


2007 Castiglion del Bosco Prima Pietra Toscana  14.5% $60
50% Merlot, 30 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petite Verdot

Dark and dense on the nose with an earthy core and leathery edges. This is fairly closed, showing off expensive French oak and pencil lead over black currant and brambly aromas. Big and powerful on entry, this is tight and filled with austere tannins. There’s bright if well integrated acidity here and a black hole of black currant and tea leaf fruit once you get past the wall of tannins. Woody and drying on the finish, the fruit does manage to squeeze out on the back end with lovely hints of black plum and blackberries. This will require significant patience. It’s a tough go right now and may prove to be too tannic for its own good. 88pts

NV Artiste Midtown bottled in 2012 CA $40
80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc

This is almost beefy on the nose with big caramel aromas and warm chocolate notes over lightly spicy, herb inflected jammy rhubarb and black cherry fruit. Rather rich and decidedly smooth, this slides across the palate with soft tannins and decent acidity delivering black cherry fruit edged in fresh, young herbs and something vaguely citrussy. The finish is a bit short, though it continues the lightly candied black fruit theme layered over oaken spice and some more warm chocolate. A seductively textured wine that just lacks a touch of depth. 88pts

2007 Xavier Flouret uQamata Stellenbosch SA 14.5% $20
Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot

Cedary and slightly vegetal on the nose with a nice black currant/blackberry base of fruit and some earthy eggplant and mushroom overlays, a hint of mint and fennel seed. Moderately full-bodied and with pronounced acidity, this is a touch lean and focused in the mouth delivering a minty core of currant fruit that recedes on the mid-palate, leaving a bit of oak on the back end. The fruit, candied and blackberry-toned, returns on the long, bright, high acid finish only to slowly fade with the wood, ending with a nice pop of cedary spice on the finale. Nicely proportioned in a lean, fresh style. 88pts

2008 Bergevin Lane Vineyard Intuition Stone Tree Vineyard Wahluke Slope Reserve Red Wine 14.4% $60
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot

A bit mute on the nose with nutty, smoky notes over some cranberry fruit with notes of pencil lead and ivy adding some detail. A bit closed on the palate as well, though this does have a nice feel to it with rather polished tannins and lively acidity lending this a lightness that belies its weight. The fruit at the core has some very interesting roasted meat and baked pastry notes, a little Bovril as well, all of which pretty much goes back in hiding on the moderately long blackberry seed finish. This has a lovely integration to it and while the oak is dominant today there seems to be a fine core of lithe fruit waiting for chance to show off. It does show some heat on the finish though, but this remains fairly interesting and attractive. 88pts

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  • Snooth User: davidboyer
    208575 26

    Dear Gregory,

    I’m pretty sure I agree with your palate and wine assessments more than not, and considering this list, I can certainly see why you would not be enamored of these wines. Conspicuously missing from your list of Bordeaux blends is actual Bordeaux. This puzzles me as to why someone would go to great lengths to review (and they are useful and detailed reviews) Bordeaux blends without including the real thing. You know as well as I do that many so called 'new world' wines tend to be over-extracted fruit bombs, lack distinction and character, are over-oaked, and are a notch away from becoming an alcoholic version of some sort of Coke or Pepsi concoction. Many people love these wines and I cannot fault anyone for having taste that differs from mine but this is indeed the character of Napa, much domestic, and other new world wines.

    However the French approach to Bordeaux is very different because there is much more attention to how vines are tended in the vineyards and far less intervention in the winemaking process (reverse osmosis, micro-oxygenation are two of the most offensive culprits). There is of course also the issue of terroir, which is a whole other subject, but is still remarkably important to the French and undeniable if you spend any time with Bordeaux or Burgundy wine. And after all is said and done in the wine world, every winemaker was initially inspired by, and attempted to emulate, French wine from every single region! Because French wine is impossible to replicate outside of France, new profiles were established but, sadly, mostly to accommodate marketing initiatives.

    I think your list is fine but almost shudder when using a reference such Bordeaux. In every sense, these wines are literally and figuratively worlds apart.

    Best regards,

    David Boyer

    Apr 17, 2012 at 12:51 PM

  • Snooth User: Stevern86
    909211 36

    David, I agree with your assessment of the difference between French and new world wines. I really don't fault either style. To oversimplify, I think the difference in styles reflects lattitudes and attitudes. Lattitudes being California's vineyard locations far to the south of France and the resultant difference in the way the grapes ripen. Attitudes being the American's thirst for instant gratification. Comparing French and Califiornia wines is like comparing Hollywood movies and British films. Like Hollywood movies, California wines have mass appeal, especially for those with less wine drinking experience or interest. They often give one the instant wow factor. And like good American films, some are truly world class. I think of French wines as British films. Although they may not sweep you off your feet at first, given the investment of paying attention to their complexity, (unmasked by excessive fruit), they reward with a very satifying experience. I think for many, to aquire an appreciation for the French wine style takes more patience.
    I have another observation in regards to the wines listed in this article. Although I am all for blending to produce the best wine possible, as opposed to staying within the mandated terms of varietal labeling, When I see 6 or 7 different grapes in a bottle I wonder if this is just a way to market some of the excess juice out there.
    P.S. I am a California Native with French heritage, and a healthy bias towards both French and California wines.

    Apr 17, 2012 at 4:24 PM

  • Snooth User: davidboyer
    208575 26

    Hi Stevern,

    So we're in agreement. I know that California wines have made an exponential contribution to the now ubiquitous wine culture in America and that's truly an awesome achievement. I hope that some will use California as a gateway to explore the entire world of wine because, as you know, there is much more out there to be enjoyed.

    You may be right in some cases about blending 6 or 7 grapes but don't forget about CDP, which can use up to 13 grapes and it's impossible to tell how many may be in any particular bottling. I believe that blending is truly an art and if the wine warrants adding more to enhance its properties (or to subtract from its faults), I'm all for it.

    What I'm not for is any winemaker that intervenes with the winemaking process through the use technology because this is how we'll end up with previously mentioned soft drink profiles for wine. We’re rapidly heading toward massive homogenization, even less character, flavor additives, recipes, and any other means to carve out corporate profits. I have tasted things in wine in the past couple of years that are not even wine borne flavors and it’s scary to think that the real art of wine will someday be lost.

    Anyhow I appreciate your comments and perspective.

    Best regards,


    Apr 17, 2012 at 5:34 PM

  • Snooth User: Stevern86
    909211 36

    David, I recognize and agree with your observation about the homogenization of wines. Unfortunately the corporate culture of greed is having a profound impact on the wine world. Big money for vineyard land and high per bottle prices are also homoginizing the Cabernets of Napa. With such big money on the line, risk taking by producers is inhibited. The wines are starting to taste more and more similar to one another. That's creates boredom for me. I am currently loving Paso Robles for that reason. There is the old vine zinfandels, but so many winemakers doing great things with Rhone style blends, Italian varietals, and yes even Bordeaux style blends. I really enjoy the variety and expermintation going on there. It creates so many interesting wines that there is something to pair traditionally or creatively with any food. Food being another passion of mine. Not to mention that the wines of Paso of are not so prestiege priced and many good vaules abound. So in summary, I see investment cost and prestiege pricing driving homogenization of the "upper" end of California wines and industrialization homogenizing the low price end. The creativity lies in the mid price range in areas that are building a reputation. I too hate to see those creative wines in the middle get squeezed out by economics.
    Best Regards to you as well,

    Apr 18, 2012 at 1:35 AM

  • I would love to know more about the 2nd and 3rd tier Bordeaux wines for everyday drinking.

    Apr 18, 2012 at 3:34 PM

  • Snooth User: gregt
    89564 2,759

    "the French approach to Bordeaux is very different because there is much more attention to how vines are tended in the vineyards and far less intervention in the winemaking process (reverse osmosis, micro-oxygenation are two of the most offensive culprits)".

    On what planet is this actually true?

    Opposite world?

    Where the French pay attention to the vineyards and the Californians let the grapes grow any old way.

    Now the idea of micro-oxygenation is of course, a different story. That's something used all over in CA. The purpose is largely to make a softer wine, smoothing out the rough tannins a bit. Where do those tannins come from? Super-ripe grapes. The same ripe grapes that account for the fruit-bomb nature of those Napa wines. Where grapes don't get as ripe, you don't want those micro-ox machines because the grape tannins are naturally softer - they get less sun and heat.

    So where did the micro-ox technique come from? Hint - it had nothing at all to do with a Frenchman called Patrick Ducournau. Because if it did, it might have had to do with the fact that he was trying to save Tannat from being completely extinguished since all the growers in Madiran were pulling up their stock in the 1980s and 1990s because the wine was just not good. He did not work with people in the Enology Department at the University in Montpelier to refine his ideas, and I don't believe he created a successful company to sell the micro-ox machines as a result of that work. The reason I don't believe any of that is because it's not micro-bulllage that he was doing. In English of course, that's micro-oxygenation, which is one of the most offensive culprits.

    More significantly, I doubt very much that MO is used in Bordeaux to any extent. Wine makers like Stéphane Derenoncourt are not on record talking about having been the first to do micro-bulllage in Bordeaux and talking about how he does it today.

    But what about reverse osmosis? That's surely something that they use in CA and not in France, where the terroir is paramount? In winemaking, it's a way of concentrating the must. Traditionally winemakers would bleed some liquid. That however, would lose more than just water. So, adapting a technique that the military had developed to produce potable water, winemakers started doing it to concentrate grape must. It can be done via a membrane, just like a filter, or with vacuum techniques.

    They are not all used in Bordeaux because EU regulations prohibit using all three in the same vintage. So the careful producer has to select which one he'd like for that year. Clearly it isn't used in places like Léoville Las Cases, Léoville Barton and Château Ducru Beaucaillou, Chateau Palmer and others. And if it were used by places like Las Cases, it wasn't used as far back as 1987. And if it was, it's still not all that bad because the owner, Jean-Hubert Delon, would say they only do it in certain vintages.

    At any rate, "There is of course also the issue of terroir, which . . .is still remarkably important to the French . . ." Absolutely. It's ignored by every single producer in CA. And because that terroir is so important, most producers in Burgundy and Bordeaux do not add a little sugar to their must. That sugar would come from cane in Cuba and contribute the ashy flavors from Fidel's cigars. Sugar is only added in CA, where they don't care about terroir, because the CA heat and sun don't ripen the grapes as well as the gloom and clouds of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

    The purity of the Bordeaux wine can indeed be contrasted with the manipulated nature of CA wine. Where there is plenty of sun and light, it's understandable that one might resort to various machines and techniques to adjust their wine. In places with less sun and more rain and clouds, they can simply take what nature gave them.

    In fact, the biggest criticism one can lob at CA is that so many producers think if ripeness is good, more ripeness is better. But it's also interesting to read comments regarding the differences in French and American winemaking.

    Apr 20, 2012 at 12:03 AM

  • Snooth User: binnotes
    1008903 4

    Nice representations of CA & WA wines here - great to see Brian Carter included. Missing but worth tasting: DeLille, Mathews Estate/Tenor, and Col Solare. Cheers.

    Apr 23, 2012 at 12:00 PM

  • Snooth User: Helen Poole
    1337036 29


    Aug 30, 2013 at 6:05 AM

  • Snooth User: anvilpep
    1370081 34


    Sep 24, 2013 at 1:20 AM

  • good

    Sep 27, 2013 at 2:31 AM

  • fantastic

    Oct 07, 2013 at 12:08 AM

  • good

    Jan 21, 2014 at 1:09 AM

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