I was at Château Lafite Rothschild’s birthday party in June, celebrating 150 years since the Rothschild family bought the legendary château. There were pours of vintages back to the early 20th century from the estate’s exemplary cellars, toasts galore and a great big bonfire at the end of the evening. If any property, anywhere in the world, justly celebrates Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s this great Bordeaux estate.
I open with this recollection because Cabernet is what I increasingly consider the greatest grape for red wine. Over the years, the siren call of Pinot Noir has occasionally threatened to lure me away, but I always return to my first true love.
I have the great fortune to review wines from Bordeaux for Wine Enthusiast. That certainly allows me to taste many of the greatest expressions of Cabernet, and it also allows me to understand its versatility and adaptability.
Throughout the region, there are a multitude of ways of looking at and enjoying Cabernet Sauvignon. It has weight, majesty and aging potential in the classed growths, and its simplest wines have sheer drinkability even when young.
Bordeaux is comfortable with Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, the region is where Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc were crossed to produce the variety, so it’s not only the spiritual home of the grape, it’s also the maternity hospital.
The locale brings out the best of the grape, even when blended. When it only contains a small amount of another variety (say Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc), as it does at Lafite, that little bit of grape-cabinet spice only emphasizes and complements the structure and fruit of the Cabernet.
And unlike some other areas, climate change has actually been quite good to Cab in Bordeaux. While Merlot here has become riper and more alcoholic, Cabernet Sauvignon is basking in a golden age, now successfully ripening without going overboard nearly every year.
When I recently tasted the freshly bottled 2016 Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellation wines, they were full of the black currant fruit and hint of structure that are essential characteristics of the grape in Bordeaux. I’m sure the 2016s from the Côtes of Bordeaux (the hillside appellations), which will soon be in my tasting glasses, will show the same key attributes and overall balance.
Climate, gravelly soil, grape and man all come together here. While the grape has gone out and conquered and inspired so many wine regions of the world, its roots go deep and remain in Bordeaux. It feels at home. And the wines show it.
Drink & Hold
These three wines, taken from the high-quality 2015 vintage and now currently available, show the range of price points and quality levels across Bordeaux.
Château Pichon Longueville 2015 Pauillac; $137, 98 points. This is one of the great successes of this vintage. It is generous and rich while also solid and structured. The combination of the essence of black currant and the elegant tannic structure are superb. This is a wine for serious aging and the wine should not be broached before 2026. Cellar Selection.
Château Barbé 2015 Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux; $40, 90 points. Wood spice aromas are an indication this wine that has had serious oak aging. Along with the dense tannins and wood, there is, happily, some fruit that will develop as the structure softens. Drink this powerful wine with its rich berry fruit from 2021. Lompian Wines. Cellar Selection.
Château Clos Moulin Pontet 2015 Bordeaux Supérieur; $14, 90 points. Balance is at the heart of Eric and Sophie Meynaud’s winemaking. Ripe and fruity, this is a perfumed wine that has a fine balance between the structure and the fruit. With its acidity and spice, it is going to develop into a delicious, juicy wine. Drink from 2018. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. Best Buy.