How to navigate Bordeaux on a budget

Bordeaux. It’s the quintessential wine region for many collectors and wine lovers. And yet, it has always seemed unattainable. The French wine landscape has never been easy to navigate and even harder to decipher. Bordeaux, however, is easier than you may think.  Here are some great wines to help introduce you to the famous wine region of Bordeaux.  This is not about the grand chateau or wines that need years of cellaring – this is about the everyday drinker enjoying a great bottle of wine with dinner on any given night. 

First, Let’s understand a little bit about Bordeaux. Geographically, it is in the southwest of France on the Atlantic coast. The region is a huge river estuary divided up into a few general smaller regions. When we talk about Bordeaux, we often use geographical terms like “left bank” or “right bank”. This is because the Gironde River, forming the Gironde Estuary, creates a natural barrier  that when seen on a map, divides the region up into right side and left. Wines of the left bank are primarily based on Cabernet Sauvignon, while the right bank wines are Merlot-based. Then the white wine region Entre-Deux-Mers, or the land between two seas, is between the two major rivers that flow into the Gironde, the Garonne the Dordogne.

Now let’s understand what Bordeaux is and where it is in the world of wine.

Bordeaux has 60 separate wine growing regions called appellations, covering 280,000 acres of land. At the helm are 6800 wine growers and 300 merchants (negociants) who sell over 70% of the wine produced. In 2014 Bordeaux produced 5.1 million hectoliters, or just under 135 million gallons. This covers 20% of the total value of wine worldwide and 1.5% of total worldwide production. To say this is an important place for wine would be a huge understatement!

The red grapes of Bordeaux are dominated by Merlot. It represents 65% of red grape production. It produces a supple, round wine, with red fruit aromatics, and is more approachable when young. It dominates the “right bank” wines of Bordeaux, where it is often blended with some Cabernet  Franc, contributing elegant tannins and  aromas. The more famous grape, Cabernet Sauvignon a long-lived tannic grape with black fruit character, actually only represent 23% of total production and is used as the primary grape in the wines of the left bank.  The remainder of grapes typically used for minor blending include Carmenere, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

So, armed with a little information about the region as a whole, here are some wines worth trying to introduce (or re-introduce) you to Bordeaux.

Wine.com recently tried and rated all of these wines with our Chief Storyteller, Wilfred Wong.

Chateau Saint Sulpice Esprit de Saint-Sulpice 2012

80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon. $16.99

90 points “How about a glass of white wine on the deck or in a sun-lit attic as you are reading? Or perhaps a tray of freshly shucked raw oysters? If this is the setting, then the 2012 Esprit de Saint-Sulpice is the wine that you need to have. Light to medium straw color; very clear-cut Bordelais Blanc aroma of leaves, dried citrus and earth, maybe a hint of chalk too, fine depth and richness; medium bodied, zippy on the palate, with a nice underbelly of glycerol; dry, medium acidity, well balanced; bright and zesty in the aftertaste.”

Chateau Les-Charmes Godard 2012

100% Merlot. $14.99

90 Points, “Two of the best things about the Côtes de Bordeaux is: One does not have to dig deep into the pocket book to find a top quality wine and the wines drink well right out of the chute. The 2012 Château Les Charmes-Godard over-delivers for the $$$. Packs a lot a flavor and invites a fine cut of beef to the dinner table. Deep ruby color; unusually bold aromas of black fruit and sweet earth, appealing and demonstrative; medium to full bodied, fine richness on the palate, relatively soft in tannins; dry, medium acidity, good balance; sweet leather and earth in the flavors; medium finish.”

Chateau Des Annereaux Lalande de Pomerol 2010

85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. $19.99

89 Points, “A pretty nice effort, though softer than I had expected from this AOC, nonetheless, I’d would really like this one with a roast chicken on a bed of wild greens. Medium ruby color; candied fruit aroma with a hit of dark earth; medium bodied, soft on the palate, light tannins; dry, medium acidity, good balance; dust, dirt and black fruit in the flavors; medium finish. Drinking well now.

Chateau Maucaillou Le Bordeaux 2012

45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc. $19.99

89 Points “One of my hopes and dreams in the global wine world is fine a Bordeaux Sup (Supérieur) that I can count on. Over the years the Le Bordeaux de Maucaillou has been there for me. I don’t always recall where I have the wine, perhaps a dingy bistro in Bordeaux, Paris or London? I could even happen on a cool night in my hometown of San Francisco, but whenever I have had this wine it has been good. The 2012 is quite pleasing. Deep ruby color; pretty ripe fruit aroma of the red currant side; medium bodied, soft and deliverable on the palate; bright red fruit flavors, active in the aftertaste. I could have this one with roast pork in a hometown Chinatown dive café.”

Chateau Peymouton 2012

65% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. $19.99

92 Points  “Saint-Émilion is one of the world’s most picturesque cities. Just thinking about a glass a wine, a baguette some strong fromage and being in the center of town is an undeniable wine lovers’ image. When I tasted the superb 2012 Château Peymouton this is the photograph I had in mind. Medium ruby color; super inviting aromas of delicate red currants and flowers, excellent on the palate, soft and supple yet persistent and lasting on the tongue; dry, medium acidity, well balanced; bright red fruit flavors, with a gentle dusting of powdery earth.

Wine is all about exploring and we love to help on your journey. Hopefully this will help make the journey more pleasant! Cheers!