Bordeaux Primer

Though Latin descriptions by poet, Decimus Ausonius, about winemaking in the Roman dominion of Gaul are traceable to the 4th-century, it wasn’t until the early middle ages that wine export from Bordeaux began in earnest. With the fabled marriage in 1152 of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet (future king of England), they not only bore a near-mythical son, Richard the Lion-heart but also fostered a monopoly of wine trade between Bordeaux and England. The discerning customers on England’s side of the Channel would eventually nickname the region’s wine as Claret. With endless warring between the English and French disrupting trade for centuries, it was a long wait to the 1600’s when Bordeaux’s near-neighbours in the Netherlands began increasing their imports and consumption significantly. The Dutch applied a host of innovations such as sterilizing the Oak storage barrels, which made longer-term conserving of the wine possible and a proportional expansion of travel distances to new markets. Finally, they also gifted the wine world one of its premier terroirs by draining the estuary marshes and creating arable land for vineyards in Bordeaux’s sub-region of Médoc!

Bordeaux’s complex patchwork of 38 sub-regions encompassing 65 AOC appellations, also divided into a lengthy list of individual, legendary plots, is somewhat more decipherable with the understanding that most take their names from a select set of towns and villages. Moreover, they’re further distinguished by being grouped around the Gironde Estuary at the region’s Atlantic end, or inland along the converging Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Lastly, the paths of those three waterways, as a diagonal line through Bordeaux, provide demarcation for which of the vineyards and wines are of so-called Right or Left Bank origin. North of the Dordogne is Right, south of the Gironde and Garonne is Left. An added anomaly is the sizeable zone between called Entre-Deux-Mers (‘Between 2 Seas’). It all adds up as a delightfully bewildering patchwork of sub-regions that are home to a vast collection of 7,375+ wine-producing Châteaux!

As for price-point, the loose designation of Petit Château encompasses thousands of producers who don’t qualify as Cru Classés: the five top-tier, Bordeaux classifications. In some cases, petit château vineyards are next door to those of highly touted brands. In rarer instances, there are microclimate and soil composition factors that result in markedly differing wine character from adjacent plots. However, cost and desirability tend to reflect the reputation of a particular vintage, vine age, and how much production investment there’s been by the estate. Despite a perception that Bordeaux’s offerings tend toward premium pricing, a majority of Bordelais and Bordelaises vintners sell their approx. 630 million bottles of red and white wines, reasonably, at between $15 – $25.

For this week’s feature of a Merlot-driven, Château Sainte Marie Alios 2014, the blend recipe by winemaker, Stéphane Dupuch, adds a dose of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot to lend a touch more boldness and body that’s expected of a baseline, Bordeaux red. With three years of ageing, from a harvest year that’s widely reputed to have produced balanced wine throughout the region, this is ready for consumption now — especially if you prefer brighter levels of acidity to counterbalance the tannins of bigger reds. It will hold for 3 – 5 years, should you somehow misplace several bottles in a dark corner of your basement?

VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #526848 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bordeaux, France
By: Les Hauts De Sainte-Marie
Release Date: February 3, 2018

Tasting Note
An introductory-level, Bordeaux Merlot that over-delivers at this price-point with dark berry flavours, ample oak character, and earthy accent of spices. Classic appetizer pairings such as Pâté, charcuterie, spicy vegetable pastries, or dinner mains such as lamb curry, tuna steak, Ratatouille with rustic sourdough bread, duck breast with fig chutney – would all be complementary for this medium to full-bodied wine.

Washington Cabernet Sauvignon

Long overshadowed by California’s North Coast regions of Sonoma and Napa, which are arguably America’s most established and prodigious wine zones, the Pacific Northwest has steadily carved out a unique winemaking reputation that’s really beginning to shine. With many mature vineyards now in the 40-year range, the coastal and inland terroirs of Oregon and Washington states are proving to be capable producers of robust blends built with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, as well as, cool-climate, varietal white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Somewhere in the middle of this unusual winemaking polarity lies a less-surprising success with Cabernet Franc, Riesling, and lighter-weight versions of Chardonnay. Though the expansive range of these varieties and wine styles do somewhat defy the conventional wisdom about what should be possible within a single growing region, this is apparently what intrepid
Washingtonians do well: side-step generalized preconception while continuing to build on the economic foundation of forestry and shipping established in the 19th-century, which then diversified into commercially-scaled agriculture in the 20th-century; becoming the USA’s foremost producer of apples, along with major crops of cherries, raspberries, pears, wheat, hops, and now – grapevines!

Aka the ‘Evergreen State,’ Washington might soon consider revising its motto due to a veritable explosion of winemaking that began as a trickle in the 1960’s and then started a meteoric rise in the 1980’s. At the outset, there were fewer than 30 wineries; as of 2016, there are over 900 and growing at a rate of 3 new winemaking enterprises per month! To satisfy the burgeoning demand, winemakers are drawing fruit from 21,500 hectares of vineyard; both from their own plots and those tended to by 350 independent growers; located mainly in the coastal zone of the Willamette Valley and the high-desert hillsides of the Columbia Valley. Despite the ‘desert’ descriptor, most of the vine stock is
planted on the same 44 thru 47th latitudes as France’s Bordeaux, Northern Rhône, and Burgundy regions and so Washington’s adapted cultivars of Vitis vinifera grapes benefit from similar dynamics in the growing cycles of their distant, European ancestors.

As for this week’s featured wine and vintner, Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, the defining difference in their various Columbia Valley plots is the prevailing dry climate. Lying in the rain shadow of the Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges, the hot days promote plumping of the grapes and sugar content, alternating with cool nights that maintain bright acidity levels. As an introductory example of the fruity and fresh wines that these conditions yield, this deft blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 5% Syrah, small splashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec, and cooperative weather during 2014 – all make for a pleasing bottling that defies a $14.95 price tag, and possibly prompting a few of those previously mentioned California vintners to blush with envy!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #462960 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Washington, USA
By: Hogue Cellars
Release Date: October 15, 2016

Tasting Note
This is an uncomplicated, easy-drinking Bordeaux-style red that exceeds its pedigree and expectation at this price-point. An abundance of cherry, raspberry and plum aromas and flavours are wrapped around the pleasing oak, making it a natural complement to food fare such as roasted pork tenderloin in a Madeira sauce, marinated flank steak with sautéed mushrooms or braised short ribs and polenta with crispy onions.