YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS AFFORDABLE BORDEAUX

When I first became interested in wine I actually was able to afford upper class Bordeaux on occasion. Even on a college student’s budget. Of course, it helped that I worked at a liquor store and received a (small) discount. Still, there is no chance of this happening today.

 

The cru classés (classified growths) of the Haut-Medoc on the “Left Bank” of the Gironde estuary get most of the attention from wine media and professionals. But, as these wines have reached icon status, their prices have followed into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars – per bottle. Still, it is possible to find good, affordable Bordeaux.

 

On the “Right Bank,” wine of the Côtes de Bordeaux appellation – areas surrounding the villages of Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac and Francs – can deliver extreme value. The wines tend to be dominated by merlot and often use less oak than their Médoc neighbors and have less alcohol than comparable California wine. They can be enjoyed younger than most Medoc. The wines below offer a good introduction.

Castillon: An area of historical significance as the site where The Hundred Years’ War ended. One of the best estate’s is Château Pitray whose 2012 ($15) is fresh with pure blueberry and woodsy, loamy notes, soft tannin but good structure.

 

Cadillac: Better known for its sweet white wines. The 2012 Château Chatard ($15) shows this region can play in the red wine league, too. It is soft and easygoing with good red fruit, dusty oak, and full but a lean, woody frame.

 

Francs: An area known for prehistoric Lascaux cave paintings. The 2012 Château Lauriol  ($16) provides nice blueberry, then creamy, integrated oak; full, dark and dense, it is quite tannic.

 

Blaye: An historic fortified town also an important river port in Roman times. The 2014 Château Les Vieux Moulin “Pirouette” ($17) offers a soft style with earthy black fruits, fresh tannin, finishing a little bitter.

Bordeaux values also exist on the Left Bank, especially the Cru Bourgeois of the Haut-Médoc appellation. Though of less prestige than the cru classes, they offer significantly lower prices but not significantly lower quality. Two good ones: 2012 Château Bibian ($22) near the village of Listrac has focused, fresh red fruit, caramelized, woody notes, good concentration and firm tannin. 2012 Château Landat ($20) near the village of Cissac has intense black cherry fruit, decidedly full and firm.

Finally, another way to find value at a higher price point is to seek out the “second wine” of a classified growth.

 

As an example, the flagship wine of the St. Emilion estate Château Lassègue is its Grand Cru  (2010,  $90). It is a dense, muscular wine, with copious dark fruits oaky lushness, and structure to last. But the wine is priced out of reach of most of us. The estate’s second wine, Les Cadrans de Lassègue (2012, $35), is more accessible yet still quite good. Enticing plum and cassis flavors, notable forest and oak notes preview a solid, rather full wine with firm tannins.

 

 

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.