On a beautiful, spring sunny day, I headed to the Andaz Hotel in Ottawa’s Byward Market for an exciting afternoon of wine tasting with Dourthe, a long-standing Bordeaux winery which prides itself on excellence and quality achieved by respecting the land. Established in 1840, the winery owns nine gorgeous châteaux in the Bordeaux region, each representing a distinct sense of place, i.e. terroir.
This was my first time at the Andaz, which just opened last year, and I must say, it’s pretty snazzy. Guests of the hotel are greeted with a glass of wine as they check in (bonus!), and in terms of location, the Market provides an ideal alternative to downtown, which essentially becomes a ghost town after the 5 p.m. exodus of civil servants back to the burbs. The event was happening up in the hotel’s Copper Lounge on the 16th floor, which boasts an incredible view of Parliament, the National Gallery, the Ottawa River, and the Gatineau Hills, making for an incredible backdrop. It is definitely an excellent choice for Happy Hour in the capital.
Our guide for the tasting was Dourthe Head Winemaker Frédéric Bonnafous, who oversees winemaking at all 9 estates. I believe this means he spends his life in his car driving back and forth between all the wineries. I blame my husband for finding myself wondering what kind of car he drives.
So here’s the thing about Bordeaux. It is one of the most venerated wine regions in the world, with prices to match. It can be pretty intimidating, especially its complicated classification system, which was set in stone back in 1855 and has barely changed since. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Easy, right? Yeah, not so much. There are even subclassifications within the classifications for a total of 66 appellations covering 120,000 hectares of vineyards. And if I learned anything from my Old World wine class, it’s that they are really hard to keep straight. What I did manage to retain from class is that the Bordeaux region is divided by the Gironde river. While merlot is the most widely planted grape overall, it is mainly concentrated in what is known as the “Right Bank”, while cabernet sauvignon grows on the “Left Bank”. Cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot are the other varietals permitted.
Another thing about Bordeaux wines is that, in my humble opinion, these are not the types of wine that you would just sip on throughout an evening. These wines beg for food, and are in fact quite versatile when it comes to food pairing. All of these wines would be a great match for beef stew, grilled meats, paté and charcuteries (as you may have surmised, the French aren’t so into vegetarian food).
We began the tasting with the Château La Garde white, a blend of mainly sauvignon blanc, with a bit of sauvignon gris (which I had never heard of before, but is a pink-coloured clonal mutation of sauvignon blanc) and semillon. The nose is quite complex, showing pineapple, peach, a fresh vegetal aroma, melon and a hint of vanilla and caramel (11% of this wine is aged on new oak). The sauvignon blanc is grown in limestone soil, lending this medium-bodied wine an attractive mineral quality as well as mouthwatering acidity that makes it a very food-friendly wine. It even went with the delicious beef served by the Andaz, but it would work with a wide variety of dishes, from lighter fish dishes to honey ham or pulled pork tacos. The 2014 vintage of this wine is set to be released at the SAQ this fall, likely in the $50 range.
This Château is Dourthe’s largest property, and this is the label one you are most likely to encounter at the liquor store. On the nose, you get lots of black cherry, tobacco, smoke and eucalyptus. Aged in classic bordelais barrels (called a barrique, which holds 225 L), this wine has solid tannins, so could be cellared for a couple of years. On the palate, raspberry, black cherry and cedar are the main flavour components. This merlot-based red blend is currently available at the SAQ and will be at the LCBO as part of a September Vintages release. Serve with roast beef or grilled steak.
This wine stood out for me because it wasn’t like the others. Many of the wines we tasted were quite heavy on the tannins, the kind of wines that instantly dry out the sides of your mouth. But the Château Rahoul is a bit different. Hailing from the Graves appellation, known for its gravel soils, this wine is 60% merlot and 40% cabernet sauvignon. The tannins in this wine are much more subdued than in the other wines we tried. On the palate, you get lovely black cherry, smoke, fig, blackberry, cedar, and a hint of spice, backed by very juicy acidity and light tannins. Pair with charcuterie boards or spaghetti bolognese. This wine is currently offered at the SAQ for $29.85 and will be released in Vintages in May.
This Bordeaux blend from the Pessac-Léognan appellation takes merlot from the right bank and cabernet sauvignon grapes from the left bank to create the perfect synthesis of a Bordeaux wine. With beautiful aromas of black cherry, smoke, roses, chocolate and hickory, the medium tannins could help this wine sit for another 3-4 years in the cellar. Pair with a juicy steak off the bbq and roasted vegetables. Look for this one in Vintages in one of this year’s fall releases.
If Tuscany has “super Tuscans”, this wine is intended to be the “super Bordeaux”. The winemaker introduced this as “the best wine of all the Dourthe estates”. Made from the best of the best of all the estates, Bonnafous masterfully blends the varietals and terroirs of all 9 châteaux: cab franc from St. Emilion, merlot from St. Estèphe, petit verdot from Château Le Boscq, and cabernet sauvignon from the left bank, which makes up 65% of this vintage’s blend. After 20 months of ageing, and 2 hours in the decanter, this wine was quite soft on the palate, with beautiful notes of black cherry, plum, smoke, cedar and spice. Not sure I would pay $195 for it, but I was more than happy to taste it! Only 20 cases were brought to Canada, and must be acquired directly from the wine agency Dandurand.
What are your thoughts on Bordeaux wines? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Never tried ‘em? I have to admit that it’s not one of my go-to wines due to their price, but there are certainly deals to be had if you know what to look for. And when paired with the right foods, it is easy to see why people pay top dollar for them.
Happy Easter, and happy wining, friends!