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Bordeaux Blend Red

Bordeaux blend is the name given to the grape varieties that are legally permitted in Apellation d'Origine Contrôlée wines from Bordeaux. Red Bordeaux may be made from a total of six different grape varieties, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. At the time of the 1855 classification all six varieties were grown in relative abundance but since the devastating Phylloxera epidemic in the latter half of the 19th. century vine re-plantings have been focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a trend that has only accelerated in the last fifty years. Cabernet Sauvignon is favoured in the warmer conditions of the Médoc with the earlier ripening Merlot predominant in the cooler clay soils on the right bank of the Gironde Estuary in appellations such as Pomerol and Saint Emilion.

ripe grapes in bordeaux vineyard

Red Bordeaux Grape Varieties

Red Bordeaux, or claret to the British, has traditionally been a blended wine. Different grape varieties add their own qualities to the finished product and an over-reliance on one variety can potentially cause problems due to difficult weather conditions which are not exactly unknown in Bordeaux. Growing more than one variety spreads the risk somewhat as the vines will have slightly different time-tables; a hail storm might be especially ruinous to an earlier flowering variety, greatly reducing the final crop, whereas a later one will survive virtually unscathed. The exploitation of more than one grape variety also allows for greater differentiation between finished wines; there being no legal requirement regarding exactly how much of each variety goes into the wine. Each variety offers a distinct profile of fruit, tannin, acidity and alcohol and so the possible permutations are almost endless; some wines are even made from just one variety. The red Bordeaux blend is therefore a broad palette from which to choose rather than a prescribed wine-making formula.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is a later-ripening but low-yielding variety with small, thick-skinned berries. As a result it is capable of producing wines that are deeply coloured and high in tannin and acidity. It is also quite hardy and is resistant to both coulure (where flowers wither and drop off in early Spring) and rot in damp conditions. Relishing very well-drained soils it prospers in the gravel-rich vineyards of the Médoc where it is a major component of all the leading châteaux. At its best it produces highly concentrated wines with finesse, elegance, power and longevity. Typical flavours are of blackcurrant and cedar wood.

Merlot

Merlot is an earlier-ripening grape variety and is therefore well-suited to the cooler, clay-based soils of the right bank. Unlike the previous variety it is somewhat susceptible to both coulure and rot, the latter usually mitigated by the harvest which is often completed before inclement autumn weather arrives and in any case two weeks before the Cabernet harvest. Merlot is a juicier, fleshy grape with good acidity levels but less tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is therefore no surprise that Merlot dominated wines mature before those from the Médoc. Alcohol levels are very good and the dominant flavour profile is of plums. The best wines from e.g. Pomerol possess a rich opulence.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is an altogether softer variety than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is an aromatic, leafy variety which contributes freshness and perfume as well as a good level of fruit (blackcurrant, plum and blackberry) and is quite widely planted on the right bank due to its propensity for earlier ripening. It is for this reason that it is also grown in the Médoc as a viticultural insurance against the effect of bad weather on the Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc provides deep colour but less tannin from its thinner skins. In lesser years a lack of ripeness can give rise to a green-pepper character. Saint Emilion's Châteaux Cheval Blanc and Ausone illustrate just how successful this grape variety can be with 50% or more Cabernet Franc in the blend.

Petit Verdot

Petit Verdot is thought to have been planted in Bordeaux since Roman times. It is much less commonly grown these days compared with 150 years ago mainly because of its difficulty in ripening. Because of this issue it often fails to make the final blend of many wines but when it ripens sufficiently it can add concentration to softer wines due to its thick skins, high alcohol potential and very good acidity. When fully ripe the aroma and flavour profile is very interesting and encompasses floral perfumes, olives and ripe blueberries. Most plantings are in the Médoc with very little grown on the right bank.

Malbec

Malbec, sometimes known in Bordeaux as Cot, was always something of a minor player in Bordeaux and is rarely re-planted today except in the right bank districts of Bourg and Blaye. Even here it plays a minor role. It is an early ripening variety which produces good yields of soft fruit with good colour. One disadvantage is that it is more susceptible to coulure than Merlot is. Although there are still some remaining estates which use a relatively high proportion of Malbec, e.g. Clos Rene in Pomerol has 10% of its vineyard planted with it, the great frosts of the winter of 1956 which killed off so many vines represent a turning point for the variety. After this more reliable varieties were planted. Its main home these days in France is further to the south in the appellation of Cahors where it makes up a statutory minimum of 70% of the final blend. These wines are quite rustic and tannic in contrast to the softer, rounder Malbec wines from Argentina.

Carménère

Carménère is another ancient variety dating back to Roman times at least. It has a reputation of being a very difficult grape to grow successfully as it is prone to coulure and mildew. When Phylloxera destroyed so many vineyards in the late 19th. century re-planting consisted largely of Merlot together with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. Although rare nowadays some famous estates still grow Carménère in limited quantities, amongst them Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Clerc-Milon, the latter with the largest plantings in the Médoc. Château Potensac is another estate that still exploits this grape and, remarkably, Château Brane Cantenac added it to the final blend for the first time in the 2011 vintage. Chile is now the natural home for this variety with about 10% of the total area under vine planted with Malbec where the dry, warm climate provides the perfect environment for it.

  1.  Château du Domaine de l’Eglise, Pomerol, 2005

    Château du Domaine de l’Eglise, Pomerol, 2005

    A very good Pomerol that is drinking well now and which has many years of life left in it.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

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  2. Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, 2007

    Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, 2007

    This vintage was ravaged by summer storms but the quality was rescued by good weather in September producing a deliciously soft red wine.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

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  3. Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, 2008

    Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, 2008

    The vintage 2008 of Château Bernadotte is a round and mellow wine with blackcurrant fruit.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
    Country France

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  4. Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, 2010

    Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, 2010

    A cru bourgeois wine made in the Haut-Médoc from roughly equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Robert Parker is a fan.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

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  5. Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, Half Bottle, 2009

    Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, Half Bottle, 2009

    Robert Parker described it as the best wine to date from this estate and requiring a little more time to evolve.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

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  6. Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, Magnum, 2006

    Chateau Bernadotte, Haut-Medoc, Magnum, 2006

    Classic red Bordeaux in a magnum that is very nice now and which has at least another 10 years of good drinking.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

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  7. Château Bouscaut, Graves, 1964, (Magnum)

    Château Bouscaut, Graves, 1964, (Magnum)

    A magnum of fully mature red wine from Graves.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

    £102.15

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  8. Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux, 1976

    Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux, 1976

    A perfectly mature Margaux that is still an extremely worthwhile red wine with complexity and finesse.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

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  9. Château Cissac, Haut-Médoc, 1986

    Château Cissac, Haut-Médoc, 1986

    Château Cissac is a dark and tannic cru bourgeois wine needing a longer cellaring than other such wines. This was an exceptional year and is still drinking very well indeed.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

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  10. Chateau Cos d'Estournel, Saint-Estèphe, 1997

    Chateau Cos d'Estournel, Saint-Estèphe, 1997

    Château Cos d'Estournel is a 2nd. classed growth in the appellation of Saint-Estèphe in the Haut-Médoc. For lovers of mature claret.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Bordeaux Blend Red
    Country France

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