My wine of choice for this week’s winesday was a Bordeaux: 2004 Château La Rose Bellevue “Cuvée Tradition” Red. Considered by many to be the finest wines in the world, Bordeaux is also arguably the most confusing wine region to understand. Like most French wines, Bordeaux wines typically do not list the grape type on the label, instead listing only the winery name (or Château.) But, unlike, Sancerre, which you can easily remember is always made from Sauvignon Blanc, or Burgundy, which is Pinot Noir, Bordeaux wines are made from varying blends of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and others. There are some trends; certain grapes are dominant in certain areas. But, with 9000 wineries operating in 57 different appellations, how is a wine novice like me to know what style of wine I am getting when I purchase a bottle? Add in the fact that Bordeaux wines can be very, very expensive and then experimenting with these wines just seems downright risky.

The good news is that there are decent and inexpensive Bourdeaux wines out there for us newbies to try. They don’t come from the best regions or most well-known wineries, but there are many cheaper wines that are good examples of the Bordeaux style. It’s just a matter of finding them, and that’s where your friendly wine merchant comes in handy. They are able to pick through the lot and find the best of the cheap wines to pass along to us. A couple of weeks ago, Robert and I stopped by our local wine shop and noticed a number of budget Bordeaux wines in stock. I picked up the Château La Rose Bellevue which is from the lesser known Premier Cotes de Blaye appellation. It was on sale for $10. There were two notes on the wine shop’s description card that intrigued me: “tastes like it should cost more” and “hints of pencil lead.” Pencil lead? Sure, sounds great!

I served the wine with a simple cheese plate and some lovely vegetables from my CSA box. We had three cheeses, all from Estrella Family Creamery located in Montesano, Washington. Estrella Family Creamery began making cheese in 2003 and has been getting lots of acclaim ever since. All of their cheeses are made with raw milk from cows and goats raised on organically maintained pastures. My mom has been buying their cheeses at her local farmer’s market, and she gave us these samples to try. The “Jalapeño Buttery” is an aged cheddar cheese full of hand sliced fresh jalapeños. The jalapeño was nice and spicy! “Weebles,” a unique cheese shaped like a pear (or a weeble!), is a provolone that has been very lightly smoked with alderwood. Finally, we had the “Guapier,” a cow’s milk cheese modeled after French Morbier with a thin line of charcoal in the middle separating the evening and morning curds. This one was my favorite! The texture was very soft, similar to Havarti, but the cheese was much more flavorful than Havarti. And, the slightly gritty charcoal added a very unusual element. I loved charred food, but I don’t think I’ve ever had charcoal in my cheese before. You can find Estrella Family Creamery cheeses at several Seattle farmer’s markets. DeLaurenti and Beecher’s also supposedly sell their cheeses, but I didn’t see them at either place when I was there the other day.

The wine tasted like a good, fairly straightforward Merlot (it was 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.) I suspect that this wine was fruitier than higher quality Bordeaux but, since I haven’t had Bordeaux before, I can’t really back that up. Still, it was much less fruity than Californian or Australian wines tend to be (this is the classic distinction between old and new world wines – old world wines tend to be more earthy whereas new world wines tend to be heavy on the fruit.) The wine went very well with the Estrella cheeses. It had a nice light, fruit flavor with a small amount of tannins. I couldn’t detect the pencil lead, however. Perhaps the charcoal from the Guapier was interfering with it! Mmmmm…charcoal and pencil lead.

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