While cabernet sauvignon garners much of the attention, don’t forget about other traditional Bordeaux blending grapes such as merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot.
Merlot has endured a roller coaster reputation with producers and consumers. But, particularly in California and Washington, there are many world-class examples worth attention. The best merlots reveal a rich wine with generous black fruits, a luscious texture and an ability to develop layers of complexity as well as structure, depth and improvement with age.
The 2017 Long Shadows “Pedestal” ($65) is a fine example. From Michel Rolland, Pomerol vintner and consultant to many of the world’s top wineries, the grapes are primarily from the Wahluke Slope of Washington’s Columbia Valley. This is a wine of opulence and elegance, balance and complexity. Concentrated blackberry and cassis are supplemented with notes of graphite, oak, tobacco, chocolate and earth tones.
While cabernet franc is best-known for supporting cabernet sauvignon in Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style wines, more winemakers are believing it merits a starring role all its own. In California, it tends to be larger scaled and bolder but capable of sophistication while displaying ample tannins and peppery notes.
I have consistently enjoyed Chappellet’s Napa Valley bottling. The 2017 ($85) is an impressive wine. Grown on the high-mountain slopes of Pritchard Hill, it delivers prominent red and black berries with a whiff of oak, pencil lead, herbs and baking spice riding on a firm, structured frame and finishing fresh.
Petit verdot is the rarest of the five traditional Bordeaux varieties. It is relied upon to provide color and tannic structure to the cuvee. It also is a pretty rare varietal wine. But it can produce rather rich wines on its own.
One example is the 2016 Herrera “Valeria” ($95) from Napa Valley’s Mi Sueño. It’s sourced from the Valeria Block (named for owner Rolando Herrera’s youngest daughter) in Napa’s Oak Knoll district. A focus on the variety’s bold structure and juicy tannins has resulted in a wine of rich, complex character with ripe dark berries, toasty oak and hints of cinnamon and cocoa.
Malbec’s moment has now reached 10-plus years. Argentina’s amazing success with this grape is one of the wine stories in recent years. While there are more single-variety releases being made these days outside of Argentina, its traditional role as a component in Bordeaux-style blends likely will remain unchanged.
The 2018 Septima “Obra” ($22), like most Argentina malbecs, is a great value. Septima is owned by Raventós Codorníu, a 470-year-old Spanish sparkling wine company. Located in the Luján de Cuyo department of Mendoza, a high-altitude desert at the foothills of the Andes, this distinctive terroir has yielded a wine of dark berries and plum accented with baking spice and a touch of earth, and supple but fresh tannins.