The Bordeaux wine region produces a multitude of top class red wines that these days tend to be blends of four main grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Typically top quality Châteaux in the Médoc are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot whilst in St-Emilion and Pomerol, Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc tend to predominate in the blend. As it happens my favorite Médoc and Pomerol are atypical: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande often has over 35% Merlot whilst Vieux Château Certan can have as much as 30 % Cabernet Franc/10% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Winemakers in the New World and Tuscany have replicated this formula and created successful blends in their respective areas – in the US often labelled Meritage. Wines like Ridge Monte Bello, Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Proprietary Red in California and Super Tuscans like Sassicaia and Ornellaia are examples of world class “Bordeaux Blends” not made in Bordeaux. I therefore treat the aforementioned wines in the same way as the Bordeaux equivalents.
I tend to side with the view that the top classed growths in Bordeaux and the New World equivalents will on average require 10 years minimum age whilst the best Cru Bourgeois and second wines 5–7 years. Having recently drunk some 1961, 1982 and 1985 First and Super Second growths, what is clear is that you need patience to experience the best of the best.
Because of the variety in blends and effects of bottle ageing matching food to red Bordeaux offers considerable scope, ranging from classic robust beef, game and lamb roasts or stews right through to cheeses like Camembert, Brie and Roquefort. I have also had a very good dish of monkfish both cooked with and accompanied with red Bordeaux.
Some specific great recent matches include Ridge Monte Bello 1999 with a superb Côte de Boeuf cooked by Racine, Chef Patron, Henry Harris and Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1982 with roast Pauillac Lamb (Blanche du Massif Central) at a private dinner party in Bordeaux.
When entertaining at home, I often follow a main course with cheese as this gives you the possibility of selecting a wine with the main course that will carry you through to the cheese. Stronger cheeses tend to work well with the tannins in these type of wines. A cheese like Roquefort also works well with Sauternes so both cheese and wine can lead you on to dessert. When matching food and wine transitions should in my opinion be factored in, and to this end red Bordeaux can be an excellent solution for the central part of your meal covering at least two courses.
Personally I find that Roquefort works better with a well aged red Bordeaux than say a sweet dessert wine, simply because the dryness and the tannins enhance the taste of this cheese which would probably be the last savoury experience before moving on to dessert. I prefer the linear, savory to sweet eating trajectory especially with European cuisines like French, Italian and Spanish. Therefore I more likely to drink a white Alsatian with foie gras and red Bordeaux with Roquefort than Sauternes.
With this quality of wine and winemaking the key is the assemblage which is more important than the individual grape varieties. The wines are complex and subtle and therefore matching needs to be geared to food that enhances the wine drinking experience and visa versa.