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WINE 101 – Cabernet Sauvignon   …French Red Bordeaux
by the Mystery Diner

This is the third article in the series  WINE 101.    Scroll down to read the previous articles. Click HERE to review the wine terms used in this article.

This is the third in the series WINE 101.  Click HERE to read the previous articles.  Click HERE to review the wine terms used in this article.

Bordeaux produces some of the world’s most expensive and prestigious wine … although they have their share of junk like everyone else.  The region is in Southwest France near the Atlantic coast bordering on the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers and the Gironde Estuary. 

Bordeaux is sub-divided into about 60 different “APPELLATIONS” and sub “APPELLATIONS” producing between 700 to 900 million bottles of wine annually; roughly half red and half white.  It will take you awhile to get to know Bordeaux wines, but a very worthwhile effort.  The characteristics of each “APPELLATION” vary considerably, but most share some common attributes.


Characteristics of Red Bordeaux

The great Bordeaux are “ROUND” with exceptional “BALANCE”.  That is, all of the sensory characteristics are in near-perfect harmony.  Nothing dominates and absolutely no sharp edges.  While Red Bordeaux is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, many Chateaus (producers) will blend up to 30 (+ /-) percent of some ratio of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  These grapes tend to help balance the wine and reduce “TANNIN”.  Bordeaux are lighter “BODIED” , more feminine and “ELEGANT” than California Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s a matter of taste …and your mood.  Always serve Red Bordeaux at cellar temperature (about 65 degrees F).

Red Bordeaux pairs well with crusty bread and cheese   …particularly cheddar, blue cheeses, and mozzarella.  Osso Bucco, veal chops, lamb chops, duck, roasts, cream sauces and strawberries also pair well.  That’s what the experts say. But remember, wine and food are very subjective.  Bordeaux is a magnificent wine that works well with most food in my judgment …so Bon Appetite!

The Wine Glass

Like California Cabernet Sauvignon, serve Red Bordeaux in a large bowl glass. 

Red Bordeaux producers

Where to start?  Bordeaux is sub-divided in to several main districts or “APPELLATIONS” and each again into sub “APPELLATIONS”.  Here are the main red wine districts, some of the sub-districts and a sampling of the more well -known Chateaus:

  • The Medoc
    • Haunt Medoc appellation
    • St.-Estephe appellation
      • Chateau Cos D’Estournel
      • Chateau De Pez
    • Pauillac appellation
      • Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste
      • Chateau Lafite-Rothschild
      • Chateau Latour
      • Chateau Mouton-Rothschild
    • St.-Julien appellation
      • Chateau Beychevell
      • Chateau Gloria
      • Chateay Lagrange
      • Chateau Talbot
    • Margaux appellation
      • Chateau Giscours
      • Chateau Lascombes
      • Chateau Margaux
  • Graves appellation
    • Domaine De Chevalier
    • Chateau Haunt-Brion
    • Chateau La Mission-Haunt-Brion
  • Saint-Emilion appellation
    • Chateau Angelus
    • Chateau Belair
    • Chateau Bellevue
    • Chateau Cheval Blanc
    • Chateau Dominique
  • Pomerol appellation
    • Chateau Beauregard
    • Chateau Clinet
    • Chateau La Conseillante
    • Chateau L’Eglise-Cilnet

And that’s just a small sample.  The most famous Bordeaux producers are probably Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux,  Chateau Latour and Chateau Haunt-Brion.  Be prepared for a shock if you attempt to purchase one of these wines.  The sell in the range of $200 to $2,000!  But don’t be discouraged; you can purchase an outstanding bottle of Bordeaux for under $20.  More about that later.

The Bordeaux wine label

Bordeaux quality classifications

Unfortunately, wines from Medoc, Graves, Saint-Emilion, and Pomerol have different quality classifications.  The most famous and most reliable quality classification is in the Medoc.  The,  so-called, 1855 Bordeaux Official Classification groups wine into 1st growth (grand cru classe), 2nd growth, 3rd and 4th.  Any wine with one of these growth classifications is outstanding.  The difference between them is subtle and was based upon the price the wine brought in 1855.  A complete description of Bordeaux quality classifications is beyond the scope of this article.  If you are interested, a Google search on Bordeaux wine classification systems will cover you up with information.  Good luck!

Some Bordeaux to consider

Again, I suggest trying wines from the better known producers.  Here are some suggestions:


As previously mentioned, the great Bordeaux are :

  • Chateau Lafite-Rothschild
  • Chateau Mouton-Rothschild
  • Chateau Margaux
  • Chateau Latour and
  • Chateau Haunt-Brion
    …but be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars per bottle!


  • Chateau Beychevell  …about  $50


  • Saint-Roch, Saint-Estephe 2005 …about  $25
  • Chateau La Grange Clinet 2005   …about  $15
  • Chateau Jonqueyres 2005   …about  $18


Where to Purchase


In the Northern Neck  I usually have the best luck at:

o   The River Market, White Stone

o   White Stone Wine and Cheese, and at times

o   Kelsick Garden II, Kilmarnock

In Richmond

o   Kroger on Cary Street – large selection and very good prices

o   Costco – limited selection, but great prices


The Internet


A Google search on the name of the wine will return numerous on-line sources.  Compare the prices and shipping cost.  This is a very convenient and economical way to purchase wine   …especially if the local merchants do not carry or have difficulty ordering the wine you want!


The next installment will describe Cabernet Sauvignon from Virginia, Chile, and Italy. 

WINE 101 – Cabernet Sauvignon  …from Napa and Sonoma 
by the Mystery Diner

This is the second article in the series  WINE 101.  Click HERE to read the first article.  Click HERE to review the wine terms used in this article.

Some would say Cabernet Sauvignon is the most Nobile of all wine grapes.  Who am I to argue? …it sure makes some of the world’s best wines.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominate grape of red French Bordeaux and the Napa and Sonoma Valley Cabs.  Same grape, but vastly different wines!

Let’s start with Napa and Sonoma.  This great wine producing area, located about 75 miles northeast of San Francisco, produces some of the world’s best wine.  Its fame is largely due to Robert Mondavi’s passion for the area and its potential to produce world class wines.  The growing region, for example Napa or Sonoma, is often referred to as the wine’s “APPELLATION”   Appellation is a French term used to certify that the wine was produced in a certain region of France. 

Other countries use different terms, but “APPELLATION” has become a universal term so I’ll use it for every country just to keep it simple.  Well, sort of simple …there are also sub growing regions or sub “APPELLATIONS”.  For example, sub regions of Napa include St. Helena and Yountville.  All this really means is that the wine was produced in or around the town of St. Helena or Yountville.  In California, the sub “APPELLATIONS” are not too important.  In France, on the other hand, different sub “APPELLATIONS” produce very different wines.  More about France in a later article.

Characteristics of California Cabs

The best California Cabs are “BIG”, somewhat “EARTHY”, somewhat “TANNIC” and well “BALANCED”.  They are powerful, memorable, and “BODIED”.  These wines pair well with hearty meats, stronger flavorful cheese like cheddar or Gruyere, and foods seasoned with stronger herbs like rosemary and thyme.  Their color is dark red to purple and they tend to be very opaque.  Always serve Cabernet Sauvignon at cellar temperature (about 65 degrees F).  No wine cooler?  Okay, store in the coolest part of your home.  “BIG” Cabs can be enjoyed  anytime, but especially on a fall or winter day in front of a roaring fire with crusty bread and flavorful cheeses!

Blends of Cabernet Sauvignon often produce wines reminiscent of French Bordeaux’s by adding Merlot and other grapes varieties which soften and make the wine more “ELEGANT” with a little less body.  These wines require less bottle aging since the Merlot and other grapes reduce the impact of “TANNINS”.  You can drink them young, but they will also improve with age.  California blends are called Meritage to avoid the legally protected Bordeaux “APPELLATION”.  A good Meritage can hold its own against great Bordeaux.


The Wine Glass

The glass matters!  It’s part of the overall experience.  Cabernet Sauvignon should be served in a large bowl glass.  This exposes more of the wine to air helping to oxidize the “TANNINS” which smoothes out the wine.  The large bowl also allows more aromas to escape   …improving the wine’s  “NOSE”.  Finally, the shape of a Cab glass presents the wine to the optimum position of the mouth for the best overall sensory experience.  The thinner the glass the better. 

At least that’s the theory.  Actually, I think, the proper glass helps, but it won’t make a bad wine good or a good wine bad.  It’s fine tuning!

Napa and Sonoma Producers

Some of the better known quality Napa and Sonoma producers, in my onion and in no order, are: Jordan, Kenwood, Ravenswood, Beringer, Cakebread, Caymus, Coppola, Raymond, Robert Mondavi, Opus One, Trefethen, Ridge, Far Niente, and Silver Oak.  The list is far from complete and is just intended to help you recognize some of the quality producers.

The US varietal label is straightforward.  Here’s an example: 

The bottle label for blended wines deviates from the Cabernet Sauvignon label by replacing the varietal with the word Meritage or simply saying the wine is a blend.  The grapes in the blend are usually listed on the back label.

Some Wines to Consider

There are hundreds of options.  I usually opt for products from one of the well known quality producers.  They got there for a reason …and seldom disappoint. 

Most of the top producers offer products in a variety of price ranges.  Price is not always the best criteria, but it’s a good hint.  I’m going to suggest wines in three categories: 

  • GREAT (best of the best),


  • Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005
    $90 at Costco


  • Louis M Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005
    $18 at Costco
    (…careful, they also make a Sonoma Valley Cab – good, but not exceptional)


  • Francis Coppola Black Label Claret 2005 (Diamond Collection)
    $13 – this is a Cab based blend.  Claret is the British term for a Bordeaux style blend.


Where to Purchase

In the Northern Neck  I usually have the best luck at:

In Richmond

The Internet

A Google search on the name of the wine will return numerous on-line sources.  Compare the prices and shipping cost.  This is a very convenient and economical way to purchase wine   …especially if the local merchants do not carry or have difficulty ordering the wine you want!

Want to download a copy of this article?  Here are two choices:  PDF Format  Doc Format

Wine 101 …the first in a series of articles about enjoying wine. by the Mystery Diner

Ever confused, frustrated, or intimidated by wine lingo?  Do you have trouble understanding bottle labels or wine lists?  How about the various varietals (type of grape) and blends?  Do you think life is too short to drink bad wine?  If so, this series of articles is written for you.

Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson …and, parenthetically, equally confusing!  To begin unraveling the mystique, we really need to understand a bit of the language.  Yes this part may be a little boring, but try to stick with me while I explain a few of the very basic descriptors.  Without some language, really shorthand, it’s tough to discuss wine.  So let’s go: (…related terms are grouped together)

  • BIG” A red wine that has highly concentrated and rich fruit flavors and “TANNINS” (tannic acid).  The wine is complex and bold.  It leaves an impression, usually good.
  • TANNIN” is a characteristic of red wines.  It gives a sense of puckering and drying in the mouth.  Tannins are very typical in young “BIG” red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon.  Too much is undesirable, some is very positive.  Tannins tend to soften with age and “BREATHING”.
  • BALANCE” is a term used to describe whether the taste is in balance among things like fruit flavors, tannins and acidity.  It means nothing dominates   …that the sensory characteristics are in harmony and compliment one another.  A wine in balance is analogous to a beautiful natural landscape.  If someone erected a billboard on a serene landscape, it would be out of balance.
  • ROUND” is similar to “BALANCE”.  A round wine has a good balance of fruit and tannins.  No sharp edges!
  • BODY” is the feel of the wine in the mouth.  It is related to the wine’s viscosity.  Does it feel thick or thin   …more like alcohol or syrup (exaggerated to make the point)?
  • EARTHY” means the wine has the aromas and flavors of soil, leaves, bark, minerals or leather.  It is usually desirable characteristic of “BIG” red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel if it is in “BALANCE”; not overdone.
  • ELEGANT” High quality wine that is light and graceful.  Elegant wines have finesse.  Many of the French red Bordeaux have this characteristic.   "ELEGANT” is like fine china.  “BIG” is like a vivid sunset.  “ELEGANT” is more feminine.  “BIG” is more masculine.  It’s a matter of taste!
  • SIMPLE” is a term used to describe lack of complexity.  It is often used to describe an inexpensive or young wine.  It is not necessarily an undesirable characteristic.  There are times when a simple wine is very appropriate   …a warm summer evening, a pizza, a casual chat with friends.  It depends on the circumstances and your taste.
  • BREATHE” simply means to uncork a bottle and let it set.  Usually appropriate for quality red wines...  Air enters the bottle and oxidizes some of the tannic acid, “TANNINS”, which tends to soften the wine   …especially young red wines.
  • CRISP” is used to describe white wines that are somewhat acidic.  It is a desirable trait that can be refreshing and light tasting if the acidity is in “BALANCE” or not over done.  French white Burgundy’s are “CRISP”.
  • BUTTERY” is on the other end of the white wine spectrum from “CRISP”.  It means the wine has a rich, “CREAMY” full “BODIED” taste.  Most California Chardonnays have this characteristic.  Again, it depends on your taste and mood.
  • CREAMY” wines have a soft creamy mouth feel.
  • OAKY” means the taste and aroma of oak from the aging barrel.  This is typical of most California Chardonnays.  It really depends on your taste whether this is desirable or not.  It, at times, can be way over done and out of “BALANCE”.

To print this list for future reference, click here

Okay, enough about the language of wine for now. 

I’ve never been able to devise a really clever way to classify wine.  Judging from the hundreds of wine shops I’ve visited, wine lists I’ve struggled with, and books I’ve read; I don’t think anyone has.  For an engineer, this is really frustrating!  So, here’s what I’m going to do. 

I’m going to organize this series of articles around the major wine grape varieties, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Zinfandel.  It’s a compromise since some countries, growing regions, and producers classify according to the grape, like Pinot Noir, others according to growing region, like Burgundy, and others a combination of region and grape, and then there are some that are totally marketing driven (like Yellow Tail, or Big Barn Red). 

For example, US wines are usually, but not always, labeled with the grape variety.  So if I want a California Pinot Noir, I’ll see it on the label.  In France, on the other hand, I’d look for a red Burgundy.  And then there are blends of two or more grapes and on and on and on.  In wine, there are no absolutes!!

I think using varietals will be okay.  The next several installments will be about Cabernet Sauvignon.  We’ll describe the California "Cabs", French Bordeaux, and "Cabs" from Chile, Virginia, and Italy.  I’ll tell you what foods, I think, compliment them.  I’ll have some suggestions and tell you where you can find them.

I’ll end for now with a quote from Thomas Jefferson:  “Good wine is a necessity of life for me.”  Me too.

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