Most Bordeaux chateaux use a blend of grape varieties to make their wines and its fairly unusual to find a wine made from a single grape variety. The permitted red grape varieties allowed in a Bordeaux blend are commonly Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère are also permitted but are used in much smaller quantities. Carménère is very hard to find in Bordeaux nowadays, having been wiped out by phylloxera in 1867. The grape was “rediscovered” in Chile in 1994 and now Carménère is making a come back in Bordeaux. Chateau Le Geai produces an unusual Bordeaux wine – it’s 100% Carménère, named Pur Carménère.
Other chateaux that buck the norm are Chateau d’Osmond, Chateau Mirambeau Papin and Chateau Blanc Moutte which produce a 100% Petit Verdot wines and Chateau Tire Pé and Chateau Magdeleine Bouhou which produce 100% Malbec wines. Chateau de Bouillerot goes one step further and uses a blend of Carménère, Petit Verdot and Malbec in their cuvée Cep d’Antan.
The permitted white grape varieties are commonly Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. Others are Sauvignon Gris (which is becoming more popular for use in blends nowadays) and more rarely Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc . . .and Ondenc and Mauzac (which are no longer used, although some plantings may be hiding in the rural backwaters). Chateau Bertranon (sold in 2011 to Chinese investors) produce a 100% Muscadelle and Chateau Memoires produce a 100% Semillon.
There are mavericks out there who are interested in making wines with historical grape varieties planted in the past or wines that don’t fit an AOC.
One notable Grand Cru Classé, Chateau Palmer, has experimented with creating a Chateau Palmer Blanc from a blend of 65% Muscadelle, 25% Sauvignon Gris with the remaining 10% a mix of Merlot Blanc and Lauzet. Lauzet is not a permitted Bordeaux grape variety – it’s an almost extinct grape from the Béarn and Jurançon AOCs (the foothills of the Pyrenees). Old records show that this grape was once known as Doset or Corbin Blanc centuries ago in Sauternes so maybe it was once grown there, especially as it is a good grape for encouraging Noble Rot.
Chateau Palmer has also experimented with red grapes, producing the cuvée Historical XIX Century Wine (a century or so ago Bordeaux chateaux added a little Syrah from Hermitage, in the northern Rhône, in the blend). Palmer’s historical wine is a blend of 85% estate fruit from Palmer and 15% Syrah from Hermitage.
Michel Chapoutier has also made a Pomerol Hermitage with oenologist Michael Rolland. The wine was produced for charity and was made 50% Merlot from Chateau Le Bon Pasteur, Rolland’s property in Pomerol (recently sold to Chinese investors) and 50% Syrah from Chapoutier’s l’Ermite. The wine was named, aptly, M². Rolland and Chapoutier intend to create an M² every time the vintage deserves it. The wine was sold at auction in aid of Chapoutier’s charitable foundation, M. Chapoutier Vins et Santé, set up in 1994 to help children with leukemia.
If you know of any other unusual Bordeaux wines please let me know!