United States of Bordeaux

Red wines have heritage in the classic French region

These are great French wines to try at home in America!

Many drinkers of American red wines may be confused when some of them are referred to as "Bordeaux varietals" of "Bordeaux blends."

Although grown across America from California to New York, these grapes and the wines they make have their heritage in the Bordeaux region of southwest France, where they have been grown for centuries.  Chief among these are cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but increasingly we are seeing cabernet franc — especially on the East Coast — petit verdot, and even malbec as well.

Here are a half-dozen tasted recently:

2010 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon reserve ($135). Mondavi is one of a small handful of pioneering, iconic Napa Valley wines that show what great cabernet should — and does — taste like. First there is plump but dark, rounded fruits such as blackberries and Bing cherries blended with notes of creamy chocolate and anise and finished with dusty tannins that will help ensure long age but are still pleasant even with early drinking.

2011 Chateau Montelena Calistoga cabernet sauvignon ($50). A big California wine with rounded, mature fruit flavors — ripe plums, apple skins, prunes, figs — with well-integrated tannins. Well-balanced with good finishing acidity and some notes of chocolate.

2011 Flora Springs Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon ($34) The overall impression is of ripe fruit and toasty wood. It is rounded and rich without being heavy with a blend of distinctive fruits — blackberry, black raspberry, tart cranberries, cassis. Very mild tannins, and just a touch sweet on the finish.

2011 Flora Springs Napa Valley merlot ($19). It’s a little tangy with rounded fruit and a lean finish. Dark cherries with a little mint and chocolate in the finish and moderate tannins.

2011 Stinson Virginia meritage ($26). Meritage is a Bordeaux blend, here 35 percent merlot, 25 percent petit verdot, and 20 percent each of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. We don’t hear much about the very good red wines of Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania because of their limited distribution and limited press attention. As with this one, Eastern reds tend to have less tannins, and their charm is in their voluptuous yet elegant mouth feel and fruit flavors. This one has delightful notes of red cherry, mint, creamy chocolate — very smooth and harmonious. As with most young wines, it tastes better after airing, even on the second day it has been open.


2009 Sequoia Grove Napa Valley "Cambium" ($99). Beautiful, rich-fruit aromas practically leap from the glass, and they are followed by tastes of velvety, rich, dark fruit — blackberries and blueberries — and brownie chocolate. It has great texture with moderate tannins — just a delicious wine to sip solo.