‘e’wine of the week
by Bruce Cochran
This week we’ll discuss one of the great names in red wines made around the world, a blend that defines some of the best reds of more than one country.
Try a new wine this week!
River Aerie Fete
Cabernet sauvignon and merlot are two great tastes that taste great together, and today they’re blended together all over the world. This great combination originated in Bordeaux, France. Names there like Chateaux Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild and Margaux rank among the world’s most illustrious, so it’s not surprising that this same combination of grapes was tried elsewhere.
Five grape varieties are allowed in Bordeaux’s reds: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petite verdot. The last three aren’t always used; most red Bordeaux contains at least the first two, in varying proportions according to the year and the location. Merlot softens the cabernet, while cabernet adds structure and power to merlot. Cabernet franc is an earlier ripening cousin of cabernet sauvignon, and adds complexity to the blend, particularly in cooler Bordeaux subregions like St. Emilion.
In California this “Bordeaux blend” is called meritage (rhymes with “heritage” though it’s often pronounced differently). California’s New World style emphasizes fruit flavors over the flavors of the soil for which Bordeaux is famous. The French “earthy elegance” or “elegant earthiness” is a big part of their Old World style.
Wineries in Washington State have had great success with these cabernet blends, too. Most of the vineyards in Washington are on the dry, desert side of the Cascade Mountains, and are irrigated from rivers like the Columbia and Yakima. Being able to control when the vineyards are watered can be a great advantage over nature’s less predictable timing of rainfall.
Another interesting aspect of Washington’s vineyards is their latitude, almost on a line with many of Bordeaux’s best properties. The 45th degree parallel is the same as Bordeaux’s. Compared with California, it gives an average of two extra hours of daylight during the growing season, letting the vines work overtime to produce intense flavors. To me, Washington’s cabernet blends combine the fruit of California with the balance of Bordeaux.
One I like a lot is from winemaker Ron Bunnell. His River Aerie estate near the Columbia River is one of the world’s prime cabernet districts. His cabernet sauvignon /merlot /petite verdot blend is called “Fete,” French for “festive” or something similar. Retailing for around $25, River Aerie Fete combines depth of flavor with complexity from the nose to the palate, a style particularly suited to a great meal.