A lesson on Bordeaux.
Bordeaux. Oft conjuring images of grandiose Château and the 1% couldn't be further from the truth. OK, there's some of that, but in reality, there's a myriad of differences; nay, palatable nuances to explore within the area. I want to share some tips for buying Bordeaux that might demystify the region and its wine. A quick note. I'll be generalizing a fair bit since there's a lot to unpack, so please remember that there are always exceptions. Let's dive right in.
1. Producers and economic demand drive style. In general, Bordeaux is changing with the times. Traditional Bordeaux wines were made to age into maturity. The caveat. "Aging into maturity" means the necessity of long-term aging, under the right cellar conditions, a lot of patience, and space. In their youth, Bordeaux's traditional styles often lead with higher quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, rendering them almost undrinkable for years. In today's age, most wineries have accepted and adapted to a few facts.
- People don't have space. The world moves at lightning speeds these days, and we move to catch up. Many of us live in apartments or townhomes, the future is completely unknown, and building a cellar or working toward holding wine for twenty years feels just... impossible.
- There aren't enough hours in the day. Whether you're strapped for time between managing a full-time job, all while juggling your kids and virtual learning, or simply working all the time to make ends meet, when it's time for wine, we want to open and pour.
- The world is getting warmer. Climate change leads to some crazily, unpredictable vintage years.
To meet the facts of our generation, vintners have acted. Demand for sustainability has many producers transitioning to better farming practices and working toward lowering their carbon footprint within the wineries themselves. Space, time constraints, and warmer years lead to a higher quantity of Merlot planted and used, with many Left Bank Bordeaux reaching almost even proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Modern styles of Bordeaux lean into softer, plush, more open wines for consumers to enjoy in their relative youth (most current releases are still a few years out). When I buy for the store, I'll often buy from both styles to suit our broad clientele: wines to drink now and wines to age.
2. Vintage matters. A general sense of vintage year can help narrow down the year's overall style, but talented winemakers can compensate for vintage disasters. A poor vintage with a great vigneron team produces some of the best values.
3. But, vintage isn't everything. Seriously. Years like 2009, 2010, and 2015 were raved about by the wine world. They mean a great deal if you're a collector with a cellar or hunting down wines for its luxury status. The negative? Higher prices, higher alcohol levels, and in many cases, the need to age before enjoying. "Poor vintage years" are often the years that savvy restauranteurs and buyers lean into. Emile has always loved these off-years, as have I. Their affordability, ease of drinking, and less time required in the cellar always seemed more attractive. Now that I've said that, here's something important to remember.
- Wineries don't release all their wine at once. You'll see library wines hit the market from time to time. Sometimes it's from a highly rated vintage (but perhaps not the highest-rated vineyard sites) or a colder vintage with pedigree. They're usually delightful finds.
Now let's talk about areas within Bordeaux. I'll give a general breakdown and a couple of examples of each area's wines with corresponding styles.
The Right and Left Banks of Bordeaux are the most talked about. The Gironde Estuary (which divide into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers) separates these two major regions.
- The Left Bank. Home to the famous Médoc crus of St. Estephe, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, and Margaux. Cabernet Sauvignon leads in blends here. For buying, expect to spend a little more money, but the wines drink like money.
2015 Margaux de Brane-Cantenac. $59 down to $53.10*. This is the third wine of Chateau Brane-Cantenac. Their grand vin, Brane-Cantenac, requires a minimum of 10 years in the cellar while this attractive third wine benefits from a highly rated vintage, Chateau, and softer, more modern style from the higher proportion of Merlot in the blend.
2008 Chateau Clos du Marquis Saint-Julien. $117 down to $105.30*. Clos du Marquis is a part of a family of Chateau owned by Domaines Delon. This family includes the famed Leoville Las Cases and a couple other of our lesser-known favorites: Potensac and Nenin. Clos du Marquis sits right next to Leoville Las Cases and is a powerful, age-worthy wine. This is an example of great terroir & winemaking prowess with the "affordability" of an overlooked vintage (I know, I know. I swear it's worth it).
- Graves. A Left Bank Value. At the very bottom of the Left Bank, there lies Graves and Pessac-Leognan. For fans of more mineral, linear, darker fruited Bordeaux, this is an area to explore. Both need a little time in a decanter, but you'll be rewarded with open aromatics and fine-grained tannins.
- The Right Bank. A whole different ballgame. Merlot leads here, with Cabernet Franc as the major blending partner. You'll find wines tend to be smoother and more approachable in their youth. For buying, prices can range dramatically, but values are to be had!
2015 Chateau Lafond Canon-Fronsac. $21 down to $18.90*. In addition to "modern" and "traditional" styles of Bordeaux, there are bistro wines! Friendly and open, they're some of my favorite everyday Bordeaux wines. Not too rich, not too tannic, they're food-friendly and well-balanced.
2015 Chateau Moncets Lalande de Pomerol. $24.50 down to $22.05*. A modern Lalande de Pomerol, which benefits from the 2015 vintage's opulence from a lesser-known estate. If you're looking to try a Bordeaux wine for the first time, this is a good one to start with.
2012 Chateau Tertre de la Mouleyere Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. $66 down to $59.40*. Old school cool. A colder vintage, but from a traditional estate. We're talking lean, linear, and chiseled. This is the kind of Bordeaux find that gets me, but I wouldn't recommend it for everyone.
It's not all about the Right Bank and Left Bank. There's a middle too! And this is where many affordable Bordeaux, both white and red, come from.
- These are your bistro wines, versatile with food, friendly to your wallet.
2016 Chateau Andriet Bordeaux Superieur. $13 down to $11.70*.
2016 Chateau Paret Bordeaux Rouge. $14 down to $12.60*.
We'll cover more next week! Until then, here's an article from VinePair that includes a video on the differences between Right and Left Bank Bordeaux. Check it out here.
*With a six-bottle purchase, mix and match ok!