etipontet.jpgGrapes are obviously quite important in the wine production process.  Like me, you might have grown up thinking that there were basically four types of grape: green seedless ones, green ones with pips and black ones (with and without).  Of course, we all know that there are loads of different types of grape used in wine production.  Thing is, unless you know your stuff, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to know what type of grape has been used in the production of a French bottle of wine.  I mean, look at this label…yes, it’s got a pretty picture and a fancy name, but what the hell’s in the bottle?

This, to me as a run-of-the-mill wine drinker, has always been one of the key failings of the French wine industry.  Look at the labels of any new world wines and you’ll know exactly whether it’s a Cabernet Sauvignon,
Shiraz or Merlot.  And that’s really important, because by my reckoning, 95% of the wine buying public (particularly outside France) make their purchasing decision on three key criteria: colour, price and grape variety.  Not necessarily in that order, but those three are generally in the mix.   

Think about it.  You’ll walk into the off-licence or supermarket and be thinking…”right, I want a bottle of red, no more than £5.99 and I like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.”  OK, so your price might be a little elastic and things like label design and special offers will affect the ultimate purchase, but the colour/price/grape triangle is, for me, all important.  So when a French bottle makes it impossible to decipher what’s in the bloody thing, then it has almost certainly removed itself from contention. 

So, first step for me this week has been to clarify exactly which grape varieties are used in the main Bordeaux red wines (of which there are many).   The good thing is, there aren’t too many!  In fact, most Bordeaux wines are dominated by just two grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Most Bordeaux vineyards will feature a mix of these two varieties, with smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot thrown in.  So no Grenache, Shiraz, Pinot Noir… 

As a rule of thumb, the vineyards of the “Left Bank” (i.e. those on the Medoc peninsula between the Gironde estuary and the Atlantic Ocean, including ) will feature a greater percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon as it does particularly well on the gravel of the Left Bank.  Vineyards on the “Right Bank” (i.e. those east of Bordeaux, most famously around St Émilion) will generally be dominated by Merlot grapes, with Cabernet Sauvignon playing a smaller role (the land in this region being damp clay).  There are exceptions, of course, perhaps the notable being the revered wines from Château Cheval Blanc which contain 60% Cabernet Franc, and of course the exact mix will vary from vineyard to vineyard, but in the main the wines of Bordeaux follow this rule. 

Which is useful to know, n’est-ce pas?