The Grape Varieties of French Red Bordeaux - dummies

The Grape Varieties of French Red Bordeaux

By Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan

France’s red Bordeaux is always a blended wine. It’s made from two to five so-called black grape varieties — with most Bordeaux wines made from three or four of the five varieties. Red Bordeaux goes best with simple cuts of red meat, lamb, or venison. It’s also fine with hard cheeses, such as Cheddar or Comté, and good, crusty bread.

The percentage of each grape variety used in a particular red Bordeaux wine can change from year to year, depending on the climate, and how each variety has fared during the growing season. The percentage also varies from one wine estate to another.

The five grape varieties of red Bordeaux are the following:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon (cab er nay so vee n’yohn)

  • Merlot (mer loh)

  • Cabernet Franc (cab er nay frahn)

  • Petit Verdot (peh tee vair doe)

  • Malbec (mahl bec)

Either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot is the dominant grape variety in practically all red Bordeaux wines; Cabernet Franc is the third most-utilized grape variety, followed by Petite Verdot and Malbec. (Actually, Malbec has been rapidly disappearing from most Bordeaux wines, because it has not been growing well in the region.)

Red Bordeaux can be quite a different wine depending on whether Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot is the dominant grape variety. Many wine experts agree that in general, red Bordeaux is an extraordinary taste experience only when it has fully developed, and is mature. That stage varies according to the vintage and the wine. Most better red Bordeaux wines are ready to drink between 10 to 20 years of age, and the best wines, from the best vintages, are mature enough between 20 and 40 years of age.