Now that the Yukon snows have finally arrived and the all-too-brief weeks of skating the magically bare icy surface of my lake are done, I am looking forward to short, early twilights leading into our the long winter nights.
For me this is the time of year to reconnect with friends, sit over long dinners with a couple of bottles of wine, and then go out for a ski or snowshoe by the light of the winter moon.
With our winter climate, those winter evening dinners often tend towards stick-to-your-ribs roast meats or steaks, and I often still return to French wines to accompany them.
I have found a fair number of my friends and acquaintances are little daunted by French wines and the way they are identified, so I thought I’d run through several of the more famous regions and wine types, and try to clarify some of the confusion.
They grow wine grapes pretty much all over France, but I’ll try to touch on the kinds of wines you are most likely to come across in the Yukon Liquour Corp.
The place to start is Bordeaux.
Bordeaux is a wine growing region two-thirds of the way down the west coast of France, at theGironde estuary, which is fed by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean moderates the climate, and the vineyards sit on top of limestone soil that helps with drainage and soaks up summer sun during the day, then radiates the trapped warmth back to the roots at night.
The Romans had a camp at what is today St. Émilion, and seem to have planted the first grapevines around 50 A.D. Ever since, this area has been the source of some of the world’s greatest wines.
In the 12th century, King Henry II of England married Aliénor d’Aquitaine, and for some hundreds of years the region was under the control of England. This had the benefit of creating an English market for Bordeaux wines (sometimes referred to as Claret in England) that thrives to the present day.
In 1855, Emperor Napoleon III requested that the best Bordeaux wines be reviewed and classified, ranking the vineyards by their quality. This resulted in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.
To this day, some of the priciest (and arguably the best) wines in the world come from the five vineyards rated as “Premiers Crus“. You have probably heard of them… not too many of us can afford to try them.
They are: Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux,Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton Rothschild. The 2009 vintage of these bad boys is selling for around $1,000 per bottle. Suffice to say I don’t expect to taste any in the near future.
Virtually all Bordeaux wines, be they red or white, are usually a blend of several different grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is almost always the major constituent of Bordeaux reds, but it is then usually blended with one or more of the other grapes listed in the next paragraph.
In the same era, cuttings from the Bordeaux region grape vines were being transplanted to California, Argentina, Chile, and later Australia. The types of Bordeaux red wine grapes being replanted around the world in the 19th century included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carménère.
So whether you taste a Merlot from California, a Malbec from Argentina, or a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, you are tasting “Bordeaux style” wines.
Bordeaux also produces some excellent white wines, the most sought after being the sweet Château d’Yquem Sauternes, made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes. But they also produce Entre-deux-mers, a very tasty dry white that I love to serve with mussels and other seafood dishes.
At the YLC, there isn’t a great deal of Bordeaux on offer, but a very reliable and representative example of a Bordeaux blend is the Rothschild Mouton Cadet Red ($17.05) or the Mouton Cadet Reserve at $21.80.
The former is a mix of 65 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15per cent Cabernet Franc, aged for 6-10 months, while the reserve is matured for 12 months. Both go very well with beef dishes and steak.
Rothschild also makes a white Bordeaux, which takes you in the direction of the Entre Deux Mers I describe above. It is their Mouton Cadet White ($15.30), which is made up of 65 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, 30 per cent Semillon, and 5 per cent Muscadelle, and aged four months.
There may be other Bordeaux in the store, so ask one of the staff, and perhaps buy a new world Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, or Malbec to compare with a Bordeaux. It might be a fun experience!