Is Washington "Bordeaux Style" Being Overworked?


Last week, I sent an email to Erica Blue regarding copy about the 2008 Adams Bench "Reckoning" that is to be released in March. I wrote that I would call it Adams Bench's "flagship blend," adding, "If you want to call it a 'Bordeaux-style' blend, I can do that. But, frankly, I think calling wines 'Bordeaux-style' is being overworked. I think Washington wines can stand on their own without that kind of identification." Erica replied, "Rand, thank you. We appreciate your comments, and I share your views on the term 'Bordeaux style.'"


In the first place, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot are the classic Bordeaux varieties, they produce stylistically different wines there than in Washington State. The terroir (gravel, sandstone and clay) is distinct and the structural characteristics (more tannins, lower alcohols) are different. The main similarity is in the varietal blends. Incidentally, some Washington "Bordeaux" blends contain Malbec (usually 5 to 10%) which is practically extinct in Bordeaux and for the most part remains only in the Lot Valley of France (see my blog of 31 January).


The main reason, though, why I think "Bordeaux Style" is being overworked is that Washington wineries should stress the qualities that make our state's wines truly distinctive. They do not need to relate to a "Bordeaux" model or style. To be sure, there are some wines that clearly take their inspiration from Bordeaux such as DeLille Cellars' "D2" which takes its name from the road that goes through the Bordelais. Likewise, Brian Carter's "Le Coursier" takes its theme from the French, "The Steed." I really don't have a problem with such imagery for packaging purposes, but blends of Cabernets, Merlot and Petit Verdot are "Bordeaux style" in name only.


Finally, whether they are called "Bordeaux style" blends or not, there are a lot of estimable Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot (and sometimes Malbec) blends from Washington State. Here are some examples that have been reviewed recently or coming up.


2008 Obelisco Estate Red Blend, Red Mountain ($30)  (January, 2011)

Deep ruby colored, this blend of 70.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 4.5% Malbec, offers rich, smoky aromatics of blackberries, cherries and plums, crushed roses, tobacco, sandalwood and incense. The macerated berry flavors are deep and chewy, yet svelte, marked by Red Mountain scorched earth and silty minerals. On the back, there are tones of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, medium roast coffee, and touches of toffee, roasted nuts and savory spices on a sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.

2007 Cadaretta Springboard Red Blend, Columbia Valley ($50)  (January)

Composed of 34% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Petit Verdot and4% Cabernet Franc, this is another head-turning Springboard (see the July 2010 issue for the 2006). Deep ruby-colored, it shows deep aromatics of blackberry, blueberry, currants, rose petals and lavender. On the entry, the dark fruits are tightly focused; yet reveal a svelte texture, marked by tones of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, mocha, French roast, minerals and graphite. On the back, sensations of macerated berries, kirsch liqueur and crème brulee emerge. The finish materializes into an infusion of the above components and dances into a striking blaze of intense fruit acids and silky sweet-dry tannins. 19/20 points.

2008 DeLille Cellars D2 Red Blend, Columbia Valley ($36)  (February)

A blend of 55% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, this wine takes its name from the D2 route through the Bordeaux region. It displays a deep ruby color and rich, smoky, seductive aromas of raspberry, cherry, cassis, rose petals, sandalwood and smoldering incense. The flavors are thick and supple, with tones of Swiss chocolate, black licorice, French roast and vanilla bean. The dense back is intermixed with notes of dried berries, cedar, silty earth and toasty oak on a sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5+/20 points.

2007 Long Shadows Pirouette, Columbia Valley ($50)  (February)

This Bordeaux-style blend by Philippe Melka and Augustin Huneeus exhibits a deep ruby color and an intriguing nose of roasted raspberries, cherries, cassis, cigar box and incense. The flavors are an intricate tapestry of gently macerated berries (barrel aged with roll overs instead of punch downs or pump overs) with admixtures of silty earth, minerals, French roast, licorice and Swiss chocolate. On the back, sensations of kirsch liqueur and svelte cranberry and blueberry juices emerge, along with a dusting of spices (clove, nutmeg) on a sweet fine-grained tannin finish. 19/20 points.

2008 Sleight of Hand “The Archimage” Red, Columbia Valley (April release - $45)  (March)

This is another sensational blend, this one composed of 50% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. It displays a deep ruby color and a seductive nose of wild raspberries, cassis and mulberry with scents of crushed roses, oriental perfumes, cigar box and smoldering incense. The flavors are bathed in elegant dark fruits that are interwoven with licorice, bittersweet chocolate, graphite and minerals. On the back, tones of mocha, orange peel, crème brulee and roasted nuts emerge and are followed by a long fine-grained tannin finish with well-integrated oak (50% new French). 19+/20 points.

2008 Adams Bench “Reckoning” Red, Columbia Valley (March 26 release - $39) (March)

A blend of 51% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Cabernet Franc, this exhibits a deep ruby color and rich aromas of blackberries, black currants, black cherries, roasted nuts, orange peel, crushed roses, sandalwood, violets and rubbed sage. The flavors are exceptionally thick and chewy, laced with roasted coffee, bittersweet chocolate, mocha, licorice and minerally earth. On the back, the dark fruit flavors deepen, marked by tones of orange peel, dried roasted berries, plum pudding, hazelnuts, cherry liqueur and coffee grounds, followed by a lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. 19.5/20 points.