How to find terrific wine values from Bordeaux
Lalande de Pomerol, Cotes de Francs, Barsac, Cotes de Castillon and Entre-Deux-Mers may not be familiar to most people, but they are all part of Bordeaux and offer terrific wine values if you know what to look for. There are dozens of lesser known appellations that produce great wines within a stone’s throw of their Premier Cru neighbors. Also, a lot of the top Chateaux produce second labels that use grapes from their vineyards at a fraction of the price of their flagship wines.
Every year around this time I make my annual buying trip to my favorite wine stores to stock up on Bordeaux wines to put in my cellar. Today I went to Hi-Time Wine Cellar in Orange County, CA. Usually I buy 3 to 6 bottles of each wine with the idea that I will drink them over time and experience how they evolve with age. Being budget minded, I have to choose wisely and look for nice wines with aging potential at a good price point. Often that means I’m buying bottles from a variety of lesser known AOCs, or second label wines from good producers and vintages.
The other night I pulled out a bottle of 2010 Chateau Belles-Graves from Lalande de Pomerol that I’ve had cellared for several years. That might sound fancy, but I think I paid under $20 for it and it was delicious with my steak. Sure, it wasn’t a magical, transformative wine, but it was a really nice terroir driven, balanced and food friendly wine that was already showing some nice age. I have a certain affinity for the wines I take care of for a number of years before I drink them. I think of them kind of like my babies, even if I only paid $20 to $50 for them.
I urge you to start buying and cellaring some Bordeaux as part of your collection, but before you do, you’ll need to know a little about the region. In the U.S. wines are labeled by the grape varietal. For example, for reds you may see Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot clearly displayed on the bottle. In France they are labeled by where they are made, so you have to know the grapes they use in those places.
Bordeaux is thought of as two distinct regions – the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The area is split by the Gironde river, which has two smaller rivers feeding into it. As you face the Ocean, above the rivers is Right Bank and is generally dominated by Merlot. Below is the Left Bank and it is focused mostly on Cabernet Sauvignon. In both cases there are other grape varietals blended in, but that’s the biggest thing you need to know to find terrific wine values. This might be a little confusing, but here’s a Bordeaux map that brings things into perspective.
Ok, now it’s time to start picking out some wines to squirrel away for a while. Here’s what I’m buying:
2005 Clos Les Lunelles, Cotes De Castillon – Average price $55
Says Robert Parker, ”This is the greatest Cotes de Castillon I have ever tasted. The 2005 Clos les Lunelles is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Inky/purple to the rim, the stunningly flamboyant perfume offers up scents of black fruits, spring flowers, and crushed rocks. The wine hits the palate with unbelievable concentration, full-bodied power, beautifully integrated acidity, tannin, wood, and alcohol, a layered, multidimensional mouthfeel, and a finish that lasts for nearly 45 seconds. This superb achievement is a tour de force in winemaking. Drink it over the next 15+ years.”
2010 Clarendelle, Pessac-Léognan – Average price $20
The Clarendelle label was created in 2002 by the grandson of Clarence Dillon, owner of Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion and is made by the same team that produces those legendary names. The grapes are sourced from the Haut Brion vineyards and the blend is 82% Merlot, 16% Cabernet, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Robert Parker scored this wine 90 points.
2010 Chateau Saint Ahon, Haut Medoc – Average price $20
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, Wine Enthusiast says, “While this is certainly a structured wine, it also has generous, full and ripe fruit flavors of black plum and berry, plus firm tannins and acidity. Saint Ahon, in the southern part of the Haut-Médoc, is showing great promise with this wine”.
2011 Cypres de Climent, Barsac – Half bottle average price $25
100% Semillion. The second wine of Château Climens, made with the fruit of the second selection or from first choice grapes if no vintage of Château Climens is made and the grapes are good enough. Janice Robinson rated it 17/20 and said, “Rich and opulent. A very nice package. Clean with drive. Some oral character and some evident botrytis. (This is a sweet white wine). Drink 2016-2024.”
2012 Clos Du Marquis, Saint Julien – Average price $48
Produced as a second wine by the legendary Chateau Léoville-Las Cases this blend is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. The Wine Enthusiast rated it a whopping 94 and said, “Firm and tannic, this dark berry-flavored wine comes from a specific parcel in the Léoville-Las Cases vineyard. It’s full of tannins and structure, firm and concentrated. At the end, both tannins and tight black currants promise aging. Drink from 2020.
With a little research, proper storage and some patience you will be greatly rewarded with wonderful wine experiences over the years. And it won’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Oh, and thanks to Gary and Ann at Hi-Time Wine Cellar for helping me find terrific wine values from Bordeaux!