Many people are surprised to hear that South Africa has branched into Bordeaux blends. These are not necessarily blends from France, but are distinctive red wine blends which enhance the characters of each of the wines that have been mixed. They are called Bordeaux blends simply because the French red wine blends are the most well-known, and are considered to be the best in the world. The connection of the Bordeaux blends with the French terrior is immense, which is why it is surprising to find that South African red wine blends are also connected to this name.
The allusion to Bordeaux blends conjures up an idea that the wine being produced is something sophisticated and elegant, and gives the drinker high expectations of the quality and mixing standards of the wine. Calling a wine ‘Bordeaux blend‘ therefore places a great deal of demand upon the blender, and requires that they know a great deal about the standards and mixes of the wine in order to produce a genuine range of Bordeaux blends. For example, the wine maker will have to understand that a Bordeaux blend is made from 5 distinct wine varieties, and only these are to be included in the mix in order to produce something which meets the Bordeaux standard. These 5 wines are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet Sauvignon makes up the greatest percentage of any Bordeaux blend, although it can be equalled by the Merlot if the mixer wishes. These two wines are produced in large quantities in South Africa, so the maker should be able to source these wines from the same wine region. He should also be able to find the smaller wines, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, which are included in much smaller quantities, if at all.
In order to qualify as a Bordeaux blend, the wine producer must include at least three of the named wines in the mix. The percentages of each wine can vary a great deal, depending upon the amount of each particular grape that has been grown that year. This means that distinctive tastes can appear in different vintages, allowing the fan of the wine to savour the many differences between the years. Some vintages are much more highly prized than others, and most certainly the wines produced in the latter part of the 1990s are usually avoided by wine connoisseurs due to the poor growing seasons that occurred in South Africa. Other wines from these years, however, have ended up producing a very attractive range of flavours as they mature.
There are a number of Bordeaux blends produced in South Africa, including the Morgenster Estate wines, which combine Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, as well as a mix of spices and fruits which gives the wine a very distinctive character and nose. The Kanonkop estate, which is known for its red wines, mixes Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc and a small percentage of Merlot to create a deep ruby-red wine with blackcurrant, tea and cassis flavours.