So. Skyfall is fast approaching, and with it comes the inevitable resurgence of cool, cufflinks and cocktails.
Oh, yes. Bond is one of our most famous winos. Though more well known for his notorious dry martini (shaken, not stirred, for reasons I’ll never understand), Bond has long been a lover of the grape, and particularly of the traditional wine of British aristocracy: claret.
Or, more accurately, Bordeaux.
Here’s the Important Part.
The region of Bordeaux, in the southeast of France, is split by the Gironde river and its tributaries, the Dordogne and the Garonne. Wines from the west bank tend to favor hearty, rustic Cabernet Sauvignon, which grows well in this warm, temperate climate that allows the difficult grape to ripen slowly and fully. Wines from the more climatically diverse east bank, however, lean towards the easy-going, lush, opulent, approachable (and, pivotally, easy-growing) Merlot.
Here’s the thing about Merlot. Merlot is not the best conversationalist. Merlot is generally not particularly bright, or particularly insightful. Merlot will laugh at all of your jokes, even the bad ones, and always offers to chip in for the bill at the end of the night. Merlot is affable, and little else.
But in the right circumstances, when given a chance to develop and when properly coaxed, Merlot is a razor-sharp wit. Beautiful and elegant, poised and balanced, and always offering that warm, inviting smile, Merlot is your best friend.
And that’s why there’s loads of it grown on the east bank of the Gironde river in Bordeaux. The climate, wet and largely too warm, is perfect for Merlot to thrive.
One commune on the east bank dominates all others. Saint-Émilion is home to some of the most famous wines in Bordeaux (and, consequently, in the world), among them James Bond’s wine of choice (at least since Casino Royale), Château Angélus.
Bond Loves Bordeaux.
Well, let’s be honest. Bond Loves Booze. But there is a soft spot in his heart (or palate) for Bordeaux. He enjoyed a ’47 Mouton Rothschild with Auric Goldfinger (at the villain’s expense, of course), for example.
And since Casino Royale, he has enjoyed Château Angélus.
Who could blame him, honestly? Angélus is an easy wine to love.
Château Angélus was named in honor of the church bells (or Angelus bells) of the neighboring villages, which can be heard from the vineyards. The south-facing slopes allow for plenty of sunshine and even temperatures ideal for our friend Merlot.
It’s also a climate well-suited to a more taciturn grape (and the secret to Château Angélus’ unique style), Cabernet Franc. This ancient varietal, the granddaddy of the more well-known Cabernet Sauvignon, is thin-skinned and shy. It is a grape that needs care and attention, and a little bit of help to come out of its shell.
Where Merlot is plummy and juicy (and, yes, prone to being one-dimensional), Cabernet Franc is rustic, with high acidity and restrained fruit with often overwhelmingly earthy, ashen qualities. But when these two get together, if they are properly cultivated and the conditions are right, they balance each other perfectly. Throw in a little bit of late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon (a flavorful monster with a hard edge that usually benefits from tempering by the softer hand of Merlot, but that also adds structure and complexity to a wine when used in small doses), and you end up with a thing of true beauty.
Angélus is a gorgeous wine, vintage to vintage. It is full-bodied and richly flavored, with ripe cherry and black currant balanced by soft hints of toasty vanilla and weird, subtle nuances of green peppers and pencil shavings and - you know how fresh-laid mulch in early spring smells in the morning after a cold rain? That.
But it’s also richly textured. It feels silky, and soft and incredibly smooth. And the flavors will linger for a long time. And though it’s a full-bodied wine, the kind of wine that benefits from a hearty steak to cut through, it’s also incredibly well-balanced, so it offers grace and elegance along with that underlying sense of power.
Grace, elegance and underlying power. It’s fitting, then, that the first time we see Bond enjoy a glass (of the 1982, no less, a wine that, though mature, would have just been reaching its full potential in 2006) is when he first meets Vesper Lynd.