Welcome to the first installment of the Cluster Crush Variety Show, a series where we’ll discuss specific regions, varieties and appellations in an effort to make sense of the irrational yet fun world of wine. First up, one of France’s most famous wine regions: Bordeaux.
What’s with Europeans? They refuse to tell you the grape varieties in their wines and insist on categorizing them by region instead. That tends to present New World drinkers, who are used to varieties being clearly labeled, with a big problem.
Before you start making flash cards to memorize the kinds of grapes that each region produces, at least in the case of red Bordeaux, we have an easy way to remember what you will be drinking. Picture the cafeteria scene in any high school comedy you’ve seen – our go-to’s are Clueless and Mean Girls.
First there is the Cabernet Sauvignon at the jock table. They’re the big men on campus. They’re bold, masculine and just a little scary, and they dominate the wines of the Médoc on Bordeaux’s Left Bank.
Across the cafeteria (i.e. the Right Bank), you’ll find their cheerleader girlfriends, the Merlot. Juicy, vivacious, feminine – they’re the hot girls you always had a secret crush on. If it helps you remember, these girls tend to dominate the areas of St. Emilion and Pomerol (sounds sort of like pom pom, right?).
Out of the corner of your eye, you’ll spot the Cabernet Franc. These guys are like the AV geeks. They’re always there in the background doing something. You’re just not sure what.
Not as popular, the Petit Verdot is Bordeaux’s version of the chess team. You would never hang out with them alone, but every so often, you need one as a math tutor.
Finally, Malbec (did you know it came from southern France?) is kind of like those Goth kids who hang out on the back lawn behind the school and keep to themselves.
So next time you’re perusing a wine list and see red Bordeaux looming large, you can order with confidence…and don’t worry, you won’t be graded!