As was the case with many wine drinkers, Bordeaux was my first love. There was something about the powerful and earthy blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that resonated with me. However, as prices for First Growths (or Premier Grand Cru in French, wines from the five most prestigious and historic producers in the region) soared above $1,000 per bottle and top Classified Growths commanded $200 and $300, I began to seek out alternatives. If you know where to look, you can still find a satisfying bottle of Bordeaux at a price that doesn’t reach into the stratosphere.
|The underground cellar at Les Tourelles de Longueville.|
A great starting point is the Cru Bourgeois of the Médoc. There are around 245 of these, and they are continually evaluated based on the quality of the vintage and the performance of the property. This makes them more consumer-friendly than the Classified Growths, where the ranking has been essentially frozen since 1855. Sure bets in Cru Bourgeois from the 2009 vintage include châteaux Pibran (Paullac, $60), D’Angludet (Margaux, $40), Lilian Ladouys (Saint-Estephe, $35), and Potensac and Rollan de By (both Médoc, $35 and $30, respectively). These wines tend to have high levels of Cabernet and present a full-bodied profile.
Another excellent group of wines is the second labels of the Classified Growths. Second labels have proliferated in recent years, as the estates have sought to upgrade the quality of their primary wine. Typically, a second label will contain grapes from younger vines, or wine that didn’t make it into the final blend, but will still retain the character of the individual property. The good news is consumers can experience a wine with a top pedigree at a fraction of the price. The bad news is some of these wines have skyrocketed in value (the 2009 Forts de Latour, second label of Château Latour, is selling for nearly $300). Solid choices from 2009 are Les Tourelles de Longueville (Château Pichon-Baron, $60), Ségla (Château Rauzan-Ségla, $40), La Croix de Beaucaillou (Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, $60) and Les Pagodes de Cos (Château Cos d’Estournel, $70).
A treasure trove of fine wine can be found in relatively unknown Bordeaux regions such as Côtes de Bourg, Côtes de Blaye and Premières Côtes de Bordeaux. Twenty years ago, these wines would have been wisely avoided, as the properties were either turning out mediocre wine or selling their grapes to large companies for inclusion in regional blends; today, technological advances in winemaking have transformed the product. Selecting these bottles takes a bit more knowledge and sometimes requires trial-and-error experimentation, but the rewards can be great.
Côtes de Bourg is located on the right bank of the Dordogne River, near the intersection with the Gironde. Wine has been made there since the Roman era, primarily from Merlot. The best-known label of the area is Roc des Cambes, owned by the St. Emilion superstar Le Tertre-Roteboeuf (2009, $70). An estate well worth checking out is Château Fougas Maldoror (2009, $30), a 75/25 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with a satiny texture and explosive fruit.
Located directly north of Côtes de Bourg, Côtes de Blaye is also Merlot country. A good example of an unsung property from this region is Château Roland la Garde. Their 2009 Grand Vin sells for $25 and has long-term potential. (I’m still drinking the 2000 vintage at home.)
From the nearby Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, wines such as Château Le Doyenné (2009, $20) and Château La Grange Clinet (2009, $15) will make you realize there’s more to Bordeaux than the famous names.
With patience and little bit of guidance, you’ll be savoring these exceptionally robust flavors tout de suite.
The Pagodes cellar.
Château Pichon-Longueville's Cuvier Circulaire.