Wine Talk - Bordeaux Blends

Bordeaux is France’s most important “weapon” in their wine arsenal and is the world’s most popular and recognised blend.

Their red varietals take centre stage and rely primarily on three grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and in smaller quantities, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere. Its agriculture is dominated by neat, carefully tended vineyards, a significant number of which belong not to locals but to insurance companies, banks or absentee landlords based in Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, New York and elsewhere.

In Bordeaux, the concept of terroir plays a key role and the top estates aim to make terroir driven wines reflecting the place they are from, with grapes handpicked mainly from a single vineyard. The soil of Bordeaux is composed of gravel, sand, stone, and clay. The region's best vineyards are located on the well-drained gravel soils that are frequently found near the Gironde River. An old adage in Bordeaux is that the best estates can "see the river" from their vineyards.

Bordeaux wines, so coveted, we even tried our luck in one of our Swiss vineyards, close to a smaller river and planted under a rocky overhang. Over 10 years we released one vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon! No wonder Hans kept looking around for the ideal terroir for these varietals  and the reason why we are living now in New Zealand happily with some neat vintages of our own Bordeaux blend ‘Spirit of Marlborough’ in our cellar.

Our sandy and gravelly soils beside the Wairau River are similar to the ones defining the great Bordeaux terroirs. Even the climate is reminiscent of Bordeaux which is well moderated by its proximity to the Ocean and the presence of rivers. For us here in Marlborough, given our favourable climate and terroir, we can successfully ripen each variety. Merlot is always first followed by Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, which we pick about 10 days later. Like a ‘first growth’ yield is extremely limited. Cabernets are spur pruned and Merlot is pruned to two short canes to limit the yield right from the start. Our low yield makes for physiologically ripe grapes, bursting with concentrated fruit flavours and great acidity.

Cabernet Sauvignon provides structure and colour, Cabernet Franc - spiciness and depth, Merlot - colour and softness. Typical aromas are vibrant blackberries, cassis, blackcurrants with touches of cigar box and dark chocolate. Sophisticated elegance and precision. Juicy on the palate with a sweet lingering finish. Our very own Bordeaux blend “The Spirit of Marlborough” is often described as old-world style when served blind, even though it has the fruit purity of Marlborough.

Interesting facts:

  • In 1976, the Judgment of Paris shocked the wine world. In a blind tasting, an all-French panel of experts rated a California Cabernet above four top Bordeaux, elevating Napa from backwater to world class. The winner was the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon SLV from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. For the first time a New World wine had stolen the show and wine lovers started to look at the New World in earnest.
  • Did you know that in the early 90’s Marlborough had many plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, but they all had to make place for the financially much more profitable Bordeaux sister, Sauvignon Blanc. Hans is actually one of the last growers in Marlborough to still plant Cabernet Sauvignon today.
  • Can you taste the difference? Back in the 90’s we did many comparison tastings, as both Bordeaux and Napa Valley’s ‘most famous’ prominently featured on our Michelin star rated restaurant wine list. Both showed impeccable structure and flavour, however the Napa Valley showed better physiological fruit ripeness and ageability, a testament to the new world of wine.
  • Of the Bordeaux-blend, the noble Cabernet Sauvignon is the most famous and most planted red grape variety on Earth. DNA proved it to be a progeny of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Merlot is the progeny of Cabernet Franc and an obscure western French variety and consequently the half-brother of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Some of the most expensive wines in the world are from Bordeaux: Châteaux Lafite (NZ$1,047 / 750ml), Mouton Rothschild (NZ$818), Latour (US$616), Margaux (NZ$808) and Haut-Brion (NZ$631)*, the famous five 'first growths' in the top division of the famous Bordeaux’s ‘1855 classification’, however you can enjoy a more affordable “Bordeaux” without the price tag, but yet no compromise on quality with Hans’ Spirit of Marlborough. In comparison to these prices our 2014 Spirit of Marlborough, sits at $72 whilst our library aged 2002 Spirit of Marlborough retails at $192.  “I like my customers to enjoy this stately flagship wine at its full potential and like the best Bordeaux it needs many years of bottle ageing. Most of our customers have no space or cellars to age wines properly so I do it for them, under perfect conditions but without the heavy price tag” Hans Herzog.

For the Spirit of Marlborough, each variety is fermented separately and usually blended after pressing. Cool long skin maceration, wild yeast fermentation and post-fermentation maceration over minimum three weeks (some vintages longer). After pressing, the young wine is transferred to a blending-tank and from there into partly new French oak barriques. In the barriques, the wine progresses naturally to malolactic fermentation and is left to mature for a long 30 month before being bottled unfined and unfiltered for further bottle ageing.

For a limited time only, Hans has raided the cellar and is allowing those on first come first serve basis to have the chance to secure their allocation of our exclusive limited releases. Click here to see which vintages of our sought after Spirit of Marlborough from our library are available.

*prices from based on 2014 vintage



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