Ask the Winemaker - Bordeaux vs. Rhone Blends?

By Ben Stuart, Winemaker, Burnt Bridge Cellars

Q: What’s the difference between Bordeaux and Rhone style blends?

A: We get this question a lot at Burnt Bridge Cellars because we make (and love!) both. And our blends tend to be some of our most popular wines. At Burnt Bridge, Pont Brûlé is our Rhone style blend and Blend X is our Bordeaux style. I like to say “style” because the only way to make a “true” Bordeaux or Rhone blend is to get the grapes from France and make it in France. And while we like those wines, we are happy to be making wine right here in Washington state. To me,  the cool thing is that we can make some pretty amazing wines with local grapes that rival those in France. Plus, we’re not constrained by a lot of archaic French restrictions on what can be planted where, and what can be blended with what. We are free, as American winemakers, to explore different combinations of grapes in our wines, from vineyards in different parts of the state. In France, this sort of experimentation is prohibited. (This may be a topic for another blog post…)

Anyway, back to the differences. As you can imagine these two styles blends were developed in two separate wine-growing regions in France, The Bordeaux and Rhone Valley.

Bordeaux is located in Western France while the Rhone Valley is located in the Southeast. Check out winefolly.com for this map and a bunch of other great information. 

Bordeaux is located in Western France while the Rhone Valley is located in the Southeast. Check out winefolly.com for this map and a bunch of other great information. 

Bordeaux wines are dominated by grape varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and a few white varietals such as Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Red Rhone wines typically consist of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah while white Rhones contain Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and others.

Bordeaux style bottle

Bordeaux style bottle

In France, you pretty much have to plant Bordeaux grapes in Bordeaux and Rhone grapes in the Rhone. And you can’t mix the two and call your wine a Bordeaux or Rhone blend. They even use different shaped bottles to signify where the wine comes from. We follow some of these traditions ourselves.

Rhone style bottle

Rhone style bottle

Here in Washington, however, we can plant whatever we want, wherever we want it. And it’s pretty normal to see Rhone and Bordeaux varietals planted right next to each other. We can also mix and match varietals to make wines that we like. For instance, our Couve Cuvee is a CSM blend - meaning it is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. And in the spring we are going to release a white wine that is a mix of Rhone and Bordeaux varietals - called Carte Blanche.

There are a ton of differences in how wines are made in these two regions and how we make these styles at Burnt Bridge Cellars. Typically, Bordeaux red wines are more heavily oaked, have bigger tannins and consist of flavors ranging from dark plum, to black currant and tobacco. Rhone style wines are made using less new oak. Stems are often included in the ferment to add structure and character to the wine, and flavors run the gambit from red cherries to dark blackberries, bacon fat and wild game.

This is just an overall guideline, as there are differences within these regions that we’ll explore later on. But for now, come on down and try our Bordeaux and Rhone style blends and taste the differences for yourself.

And if you have a question you’d like answered on this blog, send me an email at ben@burntbridgecellars.com. If we use your question, you might even win a prize!