Bordeaux Basics for Wine Novices

23 Apr

Wanna learn about France’s fabled Bordeaux region? How about over lunch at the Peninsula Beverly Hills with 32 of  Bordeaux’s most prestigious  winemakers? If  “anxiety attack” was the first thing that came to mind, fabulous! I’m not alone.

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Moments after I RSVPd for a sit-down trade luncheon featuring Le Cercle Rive Droite, a French society that represents 143 vineyards from the Right Bank of Bordeaux (more on that later),  my top three wine tasting insecurities materialized: How early would I dribble red wine all over my chin while using the spit bucket? Would I be able to keep up with the wine lingo? And would I drown in a sea of old guys wearing tweed jackets and silk cravats?

Chicas y chicos, yesterday’s luncheon offered more proof that wine anxiety is très passé, and I managed not to get a single drop of wine on myself (wish I could say the same for my notebook).

Best of all, I was happily swimming in a sea of  hip, young winemakers, some of whom were women, and one of whom encouraged me to unleash my très broken français on her. We chatted about weddings, food and her childhood growing up in a chateau. C’est cool!

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Before I describe some of the highlights of the lunch, here are six things you should know about Bordeaux:

  • The Bordeaux region is near the southwestern coast of France, and its vineyards are located in three distinct areas: the Left Bank, the Right Bank, and the Entre-Deux-Mers area, which is between the two banks.
  • Bordeaux wines are made with the primary grapes of the Bordeaux region. There are several approved varieties, but the most widely used are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec for the reds; and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the whites.
  • Wines made in the Left Bank of Bordeaux typically feature Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary grape.
  • Wines from the Right Bank will be made mostly with Merlot.
  • Wines from the Entre-Deux-Mers region are generally white and feature Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Three of the world’s most expensive wines come from the Bordeaux region: Chateau d’Yquem, Chateau Cheval Blanc, and Chateau Pétrus. But don’t worry – you can find a great Bordeaux wine for anywhere from $15 – $70.

Wasn’t that stress-free?

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Because Le Cerlcle Rive Droite represents winemakers from the Right Bank (rive droite, pronounced reev dwat, is français for right bank), the wines served  at the lunch were a blend of 70 percent or more Merlot with some Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon or other approved grapes. So if you dig Merlot, chances are you’ll enjoy a Right Bank Bordeaux.

Merlot is not as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon, so it pairs well with chicken. No surprise, lunch was a chicken breast with mascarpone polenta, tomatoes, sweet corn and chicken jus. Délicieux!

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Merlot also pairs well with cheese. Perfect, since dessert featured a cheese plate and an assortment of cookies and macarons. Apologies to you sweets lovers–I bypassed the cookies and went straight for the cheese.

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Careful readers are probably wondering about the old guys in tweed jackets. I saw none.  In fact, a jacket-less French winemaker at my table reported that the only jacket he brought “was an alcoholic.” Egged on by his peers, he described how a bottle of wine had broken in his suitcase, thereby giving his jacket “plenty of time between New York and Los Angeles to drink the entire bottle.” And that, mes amis, is living proof that Bordeaux wine–and winemakers–are nothing to fear. Santé!

When a wine bottle breaks in your suitcase, pour yourself a glass of wine.

A glass of Bordeaux is the best cure for a broken wine bottle in your suitcase.

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7 Responses to “Bordeaux Basics for Wine Novices”

  1. Bridget April 24, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    sounds like a great afternoon, very jealous!

    • Pamela April 25, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      You would have loved it, Bridget!

  2. Whine And Cheers For Wine April 25, 2013 at 4:52 am #

    Thank you for the timely [for me] lesson. Well done. BTW the cheese plate looks incredible!
    Best regards.

    • Pamela April 25, 2013 at 10:21 am #

      Thanks for the kind words, Ernesto! Happy to hear the Bordeaux info was useful. And yes, the cheese plate was every bit as yummy as it looks. ¡Salud!

  3. Cid Style File (@CidStyleFile) April 25, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    WOW looks amazing and I am sure it tasted amazing too. I would totally feel intimated, but would love to experience this any day.

    • Pamela April 26, 2013 at 11:47 am #

      It really was tasty! And it’s living proof that if a wine event seems intimidating, go anyway! You have nothing to lose. And if the people there aren’t nice, the wine almost always is. ¡Salud!

  4. Helena April 25, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    I love how much I learn every time I read your blog! And as much as I love sweets I think I would have gone straight for the cheese as well :)

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