Bordeaux Couples for Valentine’s Day

by Jim Clarke
February 2009

On Valentine’s Day, most of us want to be with someone special – that is to say, a certain someone special. Maybe someone we can imagine spending a lifetime with, who brings out the best in us, and for whom we (hopefully) do the same. Bordeaux grape varieties, in their homeland, are almost always blended, sometimes going for a ménage a trios (or more), but sometimes as an adorable couple. While almost all the Bordeaux grapes have had success on their own around the world, there’s still plenty of romance in them. Here’s a few classic couples, plus some of their new loves that have taken root in the U.S. and Australia.

Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc:
Farther north in France in the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc lives a wild bachelor’s life, but in Bordeaux, Semillon brings a seriousness and weight to its existence. Producers in South Africa and California are learning to appreciate this style. Try Morlet Family Vineyards ‘La Proportion Dorée’ 2006 to see what I mean. Full-bodied, but still fresh, it’s got lots of tropical fruit, honey, and beeswax notes, with a wonderful texture and mouthfeel.

Cabernet Franc and Merlot:
Sure, both could be happy with other partners, or on their own, but this is another Bordelaise combination that stands the tests of time. Pomerol and St. Emilion, referred to collectively as the Right Bank of Bordeaux, is the heartland of this marriage, with Cabernet Sauvignon largely kept out of the picture. The Clos Badon Thunevin 2004, somewhat unusually, is a 50/50 blend, and shows how well Merlot and Cab Franc work together—the Merlot bringing fruit and softness, the Cabernet Franc adding earth, spice, and backbone. It shows lots of cassis and plum, with supporting tones of earth, tobacco, and cedar, and has a velvety, supple texture backed by firm tannins and a beautiful, long finish.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz:
Cabernet Sauvignon hardly need covet Cab Franc and Merlot’s relationship, having done well on its own, in combination with those two, and in other, more off-beat combos. It found an unlikely partner in Australia in the 1980s, largely because it was so popular by itself; Shiraz was not so well-regard in those days, so to make the Cab Sauv name go farther, and make the Shiraz go at all, the two were blended together. While for many producers the two have now gone their separate ways (back to their more traditional partners), a few producers still find this to be a worthwhile partnership. Yalumba, for example, makes “The Signature,” and it’s no catch-all of random fruit lots from all over the country. Instead, it’s made with 100% Barossa Valley fruit, and the 2003 shows that region’s classic dark, ripe, concentrated fruit aromas of boysenberry, blackberry, and cassis, abetted by touches of tobacco and cedar. These two grapes may not need each other, in that they bring many similar things to the table, but they can get along great nonetheless.

Semillon and Chardonnay:
Another Australian marriage of convenience that also seems to have legs despite the two grapes seeming a bit similar on their own: full, honeyed, often matured in oak…But the mouthfeel and textural firmness of the Semillon complements the roundness of the Chardonnay, and since neither is terribly aromatic, the end result can have a muted, but subtle and complex nose. The Burley Fox Semillon-Chardonnay 2006 is medium-bodied and focused, with floral, melon, and lemon curd notes on the nose followed by touches of beeswax and honey on the palate; it finishes crisp but firm.

Cabernet Franc and Lemberger:
A case of young love, this. No one knows if it will last, but it’s working out for now. Anthony Road, in New York’s Finger Lakes, has been blending these two for several vintages, with a lot of success, especially in fighting the tight, green tannins that sometimes plague reds in this cool climate. Now some other producers are trying out the combo as well, with continuing success. Try the Rooster Hill 2007 (a really solid vintage for the area’s reds). It has Lemberger’s peppery spice along with notes of cherry and plum; medium-bodied, its tannins are smooth and it shows good length on the finish. The current release of the Anthony Road, the 2006, is also strong, with a darker fruit profile and some meatiness as well.