Bordeaux Style not Bordeaux Price

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are, according to official figures, the 2 most widely grown wine grapes in the world. It wasn’t always that way but, thanks to the reputation and popularity of red Bordeaux, there has been a trend over the last 30 years or so for wine estates all over the world to plant these 2 varieties in the hope of reproducing the quality and success of one of France’s most prestigious regions.

Some of these newcomers have made great wines, but not all. The problem is that climate, soil and other factors that influence wine style vary so much across the globe and Cabernet Sauvignon, in particular, can be quite a fussy variety. Grow it somewhere too cool and you get unripe ‘green’ flavours, such as herbs and green peppers. Too warm and the wine turns out coarse and jammy. So, you need to find somewhere just right.

How about looking for similar conditions to Bordeaux? Sounds like a good idea yet, until recent years and global warming, at least 2 or 3 Bordeaux vintages each decade were just too cool to ripen the Cabernet properly; that’s why the region has always grown Merlot, too – this less demanding grape is a more reliable ripener, even in cooler conditions.

But, there are places across the world with climates similar to Bordeaux: Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, for example. Here, growing season temperatures are just a fraction cooler (although with longer hours of sunshine) and a touch drier.   And, as you might expect, you find Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon widely planted.

NZ Cab Mer

The Wine Society’s Exhibition Hawkes Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (supplied by top producer, Craggy Range) actually includes small amounts of 2 other red Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, to produce a wine with lovely red plum and black berry flavours, a hint of subtle smoky oak and a long silky finish.

And one advantage of buying from New Zealand rather than from Bordeaux – the price: £12.95. For this quality, a Bordeaux could easily have cost twice as much.

 

A Canadian Treat

We rarely see wines from Canada here in the UK so, when a good friend shared a bottle with us that had been brought back from a trip specially for him, it was a real treat.

Canadian red

I’m not familiar with Therapy Vineyards but their wonderfully named ‘Freud’s Ego’ is a delicious blend of Merlot backed up with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. The mix of grapes may be typical of a Right Bank Bordeaux, but this is a very different take on the blend; rich and chocolatey with lovely black fruits and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. At 14%, it’s quite intense and full-bodied but in no way heavy and with a lightness of touch in the winemaking. A lovely bottle.

The richness rather surprised me because I note that Therapy Vineyards are based in the Okanagan Valley, about 200 miles east of Vancouver in the west of the country. Here, vineyards are at a latitude of around 50°N – roughly the same as the southern UK so, to ripen these varieties, particularly the fussy Cabernet Sauvignon, is quite a remarkable achievement. The key is the closeness of the deep, glacial Okanagan Lake which minimises the effects of spring frosts and moderates the climate, especially in winter. And, with both summer heat and sunshine being rather more dependable here than in Bordeaux and longer days due to the higher latitude, the result is the grapes ripening perfectly and reliably.

Canadian production is relatively small and costs are high so I don’t expect to see bottles from there flooding UK shelves anytime soon but, if you do see one, or you’re visiting, I suggest you try it; on the basis of my (admittedly limited) experience, I suspect you will not be disappointed.