Your guide to Bordeaux-style blends from Napa Valley
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It’s the time of the year when you’re probably seeing red—not with anger, but with love. That was certainly the goal, at least, for whomever created Valentine’s Day, even if it is rather vague as to who that was or when it occurred.
Nevertheless, the holiday is often celebrated with tokens of affection, and you’ll see (and hear) plenty of bottles of Champagne popped at romantic restaurants all around the world. I’ve always considered a bottle of red to be more amorous, however, and there are plenty of options in that regard. Sure, you could select a bold Cabernet Sauvignon, a spicy Zinfandel, or smooth, elegant Pinot Noir — all of which are expertly made in Napa Valley — but the country’s most famous winemaking region is also home to decadent Bordeaux-style blends.
We talked with Carey Vanderborg, the wine director at Mayacama, a private golf course and real estate community in Santa Rosa, Calif., about the best Bordeaux-style blends crafted in Napa Valley. Here, he offers his guidance and perspective on the distinctive style.
What grape varietals are used in Bordeaux-style blends?
They could contain as many as five different varietals — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. If it’s a left-bank style, it’s going to be Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. If it’s a right-bank style, it’ll be Cabernet Franc or Merlot dominant.
Which of those two styles, left-bank or right-bank, are more common coming out of Napa Valley?
It’s the left-bank style. I would go as far as to say that 99 percent of producers — if they’re making blends — are making Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blends. I’m not saying that Merlot is not popular or used at all. There’s acreage of merlot out there, but it’s used [mostly] as a blending varietal. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Napa Valley.
When it comes to crafting excellent left-bank, Bordeaux-style blends, which varietals are Napa Valley winemakers typically pairing with Cabernet Sauvignon?
You tend to see Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot as the two companions in most Bordeaux blends. Each one of those varietals lends a certain character to the wine and is blended in certain proportion for a reason. It might’ve been a cooler vintage, and [the Cabernet Sauvignon] might have been too acidic, so they wanted to smooth things out by adding some merlot to make it a bit silkier. You have to look at it like a recipe and think about how a chef concocts a dish.
Which producers in Napa Valley are crafting the best Bordeaux-style blends?
Dominus is the king of the Bordeaux-style blend in Napa. Hands down, vintage after vintage, winemaker Christian Moueix is crafting the most exceptional Bordeaux-style blends in Napa Valley. He has a certain style of dry farming and winemaking that, through time, has proven to produce some of the most ethereal, age worthy, elegant, and rambunctious wines in Napa Valley. I’ve had vintages all the way back to 1985, and the 1991 vintage stands out most. That’s the ultimate for me.
Speaking of older vintages, can these Bordeaux-style blends age with the same grace (and potential) as single-varietal red wines coming out of Napa?
I always tred lightly when I talk about aging wines because everyone has something specific that they want to get out of a bottle of wine. Just because I enjoy a wine at 28 years old and appreciate the nuances of how it’s showing and expressing itself at that age doesn’t mean that the next person will. They might want more fruit and structure. But I know that these wines are age worthy.
Are there any other specific Bordeaux-style wines from Napa that you would recommend?
Joseph Phelps Insignia is extremely popular for its more fruit-forward style, and it’s got a bit more weight and robust character. Amongst wine connoisseurs, it’s definitely known for being flashy, but it still has notoriety and cache. And Spottswoode is an authority on Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blends produced in Napa Valley. Their estate Cabernet Sauvignon has a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and a small percentage of Petit Verdot. The wines are age worthy and structural and pair well with lots of different types of beef and other cuisines. They’re considered some of the best Bordeaux-style blends produced in Napa Valley.
Shaun Tolson is a freelance writer based in Rhode Island. When it comes to golf, he covers everything from architecture, course reviews, and travel, to equipment, gadgets and gear, and feature profiles. As a lifestyle writer, his expertise is rooted in the finer things in life — wine and spirits, luxury automobiles, private aviation, hotels & resorts, fine dining, and more.