Chateau Valandra, Bordeaux

Surprise, Surprise! Bordeaux is Really Very Good

by Everett Hutt
April 1, 2009

For many years, I was convinced that I did not like Bordeaux wines.

I am not exactly sure why. Perhaps it was many years of drinking bad Bordeaux at parties in Paris, where people could only afford cheap plonk. Perhaps it was that it always lacked the nuanced yet powerfully complex tastes of Burgundy, my favorite wine. Perhaps it was that I gagged every time I saw the prices on a wine list in a good restaurant. While I understand supply and demand as well as the next person, I had a hard time justifying paying ten, twenty, sometimes fifty times more for a prestigious Bordeaux than a wine of equivalent value from many other regions. (Ok, I admit Burgundy is just as bad in this vain.) Most of all, however, I think it was because I had not managed to find a “sweet spot” for Bordeaux producers who make good value for money. Too often I would either balk at a very expensive wine or choke down a very cheap Bordeaux from a producer riding the coattails of the region’s reputation.

My opinion started to change at the end of last year. American Bordeaux-loving friends of mine returned to the US after many years in France. They were unable to transport back all their wine, so they sold me (at original purchase price) about 100 bottles of 1999, 2000 and 2001 Bordeaux, and for the past year, I have been drinking some of them.

Most were from chateaus I had never heard of — Domaine du Chevalier, Château Cantemerle, Château La Croix, Les Fiefs de Lagrange — and they were all wonderful. The 1999s and 2001s (not great aging years) are drinking perfectly right now. They have offered me my first real insight into Bordeaux and at a very reasonable $13 to $25 per bottle.

I decided to pursue my new interest in Bordeaux with a four-day weekend trip to the region with some friends last November. Our strategy was simple: Start in the Médoc, the most famous part of the Bordeaux, but steer away from the big houses. I came away impressed, especially with the wines from Margaux. In the past, I had never understood the passion for Margaux, which were always described as more “feminine and elegant.” Several small producers of this appellation really opened my eyes (and palate). For example, the 2005 Margaux from Château de la Tour Bessan ($29) and the 2005 Margaux from Labégorce Zédé ($50) were wonderful. Even the 4th gowth 2005 Margaux from Prieuré-Lichine was a steal at $62.

So my advice to you is if, like me, you haven’t warmed up to or have been intimidated by Bordeaux, give it a try. With the dollar strengthening against the Euro recently, the prices should be heading down. Consult with a reputable wine retailer or research online to try some mid-priced Bordeaux producers. I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Credits: Poloroid image by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette.


Comments (3)

Mark Levy

Apr 24, 08:25 AM

Feminine and elegance qualities you are discovering in Margaux is a direct result of the substantial percentage of Merlot blended into the Cabernet Sauvignon,Petit Verdot,Cabernet Franc,and perhaps Malbec.St. Emilion and Pomerol have always favored this majority percentage of Merlot in their cuvee’s.Burn your copy of “Sideways”.

Mark Levy

May 8, 09:33 AM

Thank you for publishing my comment. There are Merlot based wines far too numerous to list all the producers that deliver the goods. Try ,for example, “Campordigno” from the Ginori Lisci family. You’ll find depth of multi-layered fruit, built on a foundation of Sangiovese Grosso (15 %)to complete this firmly structured, elegant Tuscan beauty.
There’s the L’Renero Merlot from Gualdo del Re(which has been selected for the “Papal” executive wine list) This supple, elegantly concentrated Pommerol-style will rock your world. It’s luxury-priced neighbor,(Tua Rita) get’s the lion’s share of the media hype. However, at 1/5 the price ,Gualdo del Re is an intelligent option if you’re seeking big bang for the buck. The Merlot offering from Dario Roccaro, Fruili,is highly structured with its natural higher acidity, balanced against a basket of black fruit, rich mineral and earth tones. This Merlot could never be called inexpensive, but it demonstrably delivers “Grand Cru class”, true left bank sophistication,without costing your mortgage payment! The Lis Neris Rosso Riserva 2003 is 95% Merlot,and 110% soul-stirring. Concentrated with sexy, sublimely focused fruit, both red and black. The full texture is quite full, but never comes across as bulky or heavy. Washinton State Merlots should also be one of your next to try wines. Barnard Griffin, Andrew Will, Arbor Crest, and Sineann are a few producers to try. The Merlots grown and produced in the Rattlesnake Ridge, Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia Valley AVA’s are destined to become synonymous as the source for
world class Merlots! These two Merlots are superb medium priced, high value examples: Rosa Ridge Merlot 2003 and Columbia Crest “Grand Estates” Merlot 2006. Both can be purchased for less than 15.00 retail!

Mark Levy

Jun 4, 08:52 AM

The wine bargains available today will not last forever.As our economy skids on its belly,the bottom feels close.The summer traditionally represents the slowest wine sales period of the year.The economic condition,combined with the summer doldrums means there will be an abundance of higher price point wine value,probably until the end of September.Similar to the stock market, wait to long,and you’ll miss the special wine buys.(EX:SMALL PRODUCTION ,ALLOCATED WINES TYPICALLY NOT AVAILABLE IN RETAIL STORES)
Another wine consumer alert: Australian wine sales have suffered a sharp decline!(there’s just too many,in every price range). If Australian wines hit your flavor target bull’s eye,its your lucky year! Its a buyers market.True that!

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