The last, best Bordeaux vintage was 2009, and happily, those wines are abundant in the marketplace.
ONE OF THE first “serious” wine tastings to which I was invited was an exploration of classified Bordeaux from the 1966 vintage. The host and most of the members of the tasting group were in the wine trade, and knew the wines quite well. I was brand new to wine writing and didn’t yet know enough to know what I didn’t know.
The wines baffled me; I couldn’t make much sense out of them. There was lively debate among the other tasters, as often happens in such groups, but their comments and preferences shot over my head like a flock of Canada geese honking their way south.
I have since tasted thousands of bottles of Bordeaux, visited the region several times, met with dozens of its winemakers, and acquired some pretty nice bottles of my own. But in some sense, the wines are almost as inscrutable now as they were way back when.
A recent article noted that something like 10 percent of all Bordeaux is sold to buyers in China. More importantly, the classified growths, notably superstar wines such as Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Petrus et al, are being grabbed up at prices that seem ridiculous by any past standard.
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I long ago said kampai to any thoughts of purchasing any of them again for my own cellar. But that leaves thousands upon thousands of affordable Bordeaux brands eager for customers. The question is, do any of them offer both value and quality?
The answer is a qualified yes. The last, best Bordeaux vintages were 2009 and 2010. Happily, those wines are abundant in the marketplace. Ripe and supple, many have a dash of New World élan, yet retain the grip and precision of classic Bordeaux. Look for wines from St. Emilion, as well as wines labeled Bordeaux Supérieur — a notch or two above simple Bordeaux. Many of them now include grape names on the labels, a small but important nod to modern tastes and styles.
I recently tasted through a few bottles of very cheap Bordeaux ($8 to $14) looking for something to recommend. To be honest, it was tough sledding in that price range. My cohort Roger Voss, who lives in France and, like me, writes for Wine Enthusiast magazine, draws from a much wider sample. Among his “Best Buy” recommendations for 2009 Bordeaux under $15 are Chateau Suau, Chateau Fleur Haut Gaussens, Chateau Chantemerle, Chateau du Lort, Chateau la Croix de Roche, Chateau Grand Jean, Chateau Pey la Tour, Chateau le Piat, Chateau de Fontenille and Chateau Buisson-Redon.
For a quick tutorial in how to read a Bordeaux wine label, visit: http://bit.ly/11occht.