Tag Archives: bordeaux

Buying Bordeaux on a Budget

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major wine appellation in the country. It offers 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 277,000 acres of land under vine. While red wines account for 85% of the total production in Bordeaux, there is also dry white, sweet, rosé and sparkling styles produced – something for everyone.

Thanks to modern vineyard and cellar practices, very good to great wine can be produced in Bordeaux each year. With its maritime and variable climate, vintage variation is common, with some years being riper, more opulent and powerful, while others are more ‘classic’ in style, with more subtle flavors and lighter body.

As the notion of red Bordeaux as an exclusive collector wine dwindles, more consumers see the value and quality of Bordeaux at all price points.  In fact, modestly priced Bordeaux has never been better.  As indicated earlier, improved vineyard practices and more plot-by-plot viticulture in Bordeaux have resulted in some of the best values on the market, with wines that are clean and complex, but still anchored to a true sense of place.

So now you ask, where to start when you search for a great – yet affordable – Bordeaux for your dinner table? A few tips for the beginner Bordeaux drinker.

  1. Snag any wine from a “great” vintage
    Sometimes the stars align just right and the weather in Bordeaux is perfect through harvest, the vines stay healthy and vignerons pick just at the right moment. Critics praise this as a “great” vintage. When one of these years come around, snagging any bottle of wine even when you are not sure of the producer is a safe bet. Healthy grapes make great wine. The most recent great vintages were 2015 and 2016, though some 2016 have not made it to the global market yet. 2014 was also very good, noted as more elegant and less bold or opulent so if you enjoy subtle and refined, 2014 may be your year. Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superior wines from these vintages are ready to be enjoyed now, though could evolve even more in your cellar over the next few years… up to you! Either way, with the quality out there, it’s time to stock up!
  2. Look to the Côtes
    Once operating as their own entities, the “côtes” of Bordeaux joined forces to create “Union de Côtes de Bordeaux.” Previously labeled as Côtes de Castillon or Côtes de Francs, these regions now promote a larger Côtes de Bordeaux association as Francs, Côtes de Bordeaux or Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux. This allows smaller, lesser-known regions to better associate with the more internationally recognizable name Bordeaux. These Côtes are on the right bank, meaning red wines predominantly based on the Merlot grape. Typically more approachable when young, the Côtes wines are affordable, intensely flavored and delicious.
  3. Strong producers typically fare well no matter what mother nature delivers.
    Certain producers, the ones you see year after year on the shelf, craft great wine in nearly every vintage, whether it’s good, very good or great. Not to say the wine will taste the same year-to-year (that’s the beauty of Bordeaux), but the quality will be consistent and worth enjoying.

Bordeaux creates some of the most food-friendly wines in world, and when you can get top quality at incredible prices, it deserves a place on the table. Enjoy!

 

White Bordeaux: Refreshing elegance in a glass

In summer, we crave white wines with bright acidity. But the last thing we want is palate boredom with the same-old go-to Sauvignon Blanc we buy by the case. Enter the white wines of Bordeaux. Complex and diverse, these wines offer a style for every palate and every occasion, and all put forth zesty acidity to keep you refreshed, whether you’re melting in the summer heat or need a perfect wine to pair with your meal. If you only think of Bordeaux as a source for red wines, then it is time to take notice of these fabulous whites.

The three grape varieties that are used in the majority of white Bordeaux wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. Occasionally, one may see small quantities of other varieties, such as Sauvignon Gris, in the blend. Like the red wines of the region, many of Bordeaux’s best white wines are blends – elegantly balanced wines with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending, added to the diversity of Bordeaux soils and micro-climates, makes for an almost endless selection of wines – each showcasing its distinctive style and terroir.

How to choose the right white Bordeaux?

If you are looking for something fresh, fruity and light, look for Bordeaux AOC (just Bordeaux on the label!) or Entre-Deux-Mers on the label.  These wines are typically unoaked, easy-drinking and value-driven. Predominantly from Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors. They are meant to be drunk young and are ideal with fish, poultry, salads or served as an aperitif. Our favorites are:

Château Marjosse Blanc 2015 – Clean, refreshing and lively, the floral and fruit notes shine through on this wine. A value at $15, its made by the producers of the esteemed Cheval Blanc.

Château Bonnet Blanc 2016 – Loads of citrus and ripe melon on the nose and palate. A medium-body but zesty acidity make this ideal for summer days and a shellfish dish.

Clos des Lunes Lune d’Argent 2015 – A dry wine from the sweet wine region of Sauternes, this wine is predominately Semillon. Stone fruit and a full body on the palate, but lifted by fresh acidity.

If you prefer something with some steely minerality, layers of complexity, discrete well-integrated oak and possibly some aging potential, head over to Graves, located on the left bank just south of the city of Bordeaux. Both the Graves region and its smaller sub-region of Pessac-Léognan, produce some of the most complex, age-worthy white wines in the world. Our affordable favorites include:

Clos Floridene Blanc 2015 – A phenomenal vintage for both reds and whites, the Floridene Blanc has so much going on in the nose. From white flowers to lemon curd, backed by ripe nectarine and subtle herbal notes. The mineral-laced palate covers your mouth and lingers until you must take another sip. Stellar wine to drink now or hang onto!

Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc 2015 – An exotic spice note hums along through this wine, with the classic mineral and citrus notes of a dry Bordeaux Blanc. A rich mouthfeel, but again, with great acidity, makes this a worthwhile partner to a decadent meal.

Bordeaux: It’s for everyone

Innovative yet traditional, easy-drinking yet complex, delicious and approachable now but also able to sustain the long haul, that’s Bordeaux in a nutshell. It’s a rather large and diverse nutshell, but the point is that while Bordeaux is the quintessential region for wine aficionados and collectors, it is also the region for the everyday wine drinker. Once the basics are introduced, anyone can embrace and understand the wines of Bordeaux.

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major appellation of France. It has 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 275,000 hectares (nearly 275,00 acres) of land under vine. Red wine dominates Bordeaux today, representing 85% of its total production, though the dry whites, sweet wines, and even harder-to-find sparkling and rosé, are top quality. While Bordeaux has a tough climate—its proximity to the ocean makes it a fairly wet place, prone to disease and pests—its winemakers are striving for sustainability. The push for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has taken hold.

With so many wine regions of the world to choose from, and so many of them newer than Bordeaux, why would you choose it? The answer is its diversity and sustainability.

Diversity
From white, rosé, red, and world-class sweet wines, Bordeaux has many families of wine at all different price points. Over the past century, Bordeaux has continued to focus on its terroir, finding the right grape for the right soil and microclimate, and making sure those grapes are expertly nurtured. For the white wine lover, excellent value wines labeled as from Entre-Deux-Mers or AOB Bordeaux Blanc deliver zesty acidity and ripe citrus fruit flavors in its wines. For more complexity and ageability, try the whites from the Graves district—in particular its sub-region or enclave Pessac Léognan.

Red wines range from delightfully fresh to dense, sappy and ready-to-drink to cellar-worthy. If you are looking for something to drink now that is fruit driven yet dense, and want something fruit-driven yet dense, try values from Fronsac, Castillon—Côtes-de-Bordeaux, or Francs—Côtes-de-Bordeaux. Bright and fresh qualities can be found in recent vintages of wine labeled Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. Most of these wines are based on the Merlot grape and are approachable now. For the cellar, we head to the left bank where the communes of the Haut Médoc offer structured Cabernet-based wines, which, in particularly in good vintages, can be cellared for a many years.

Sustainability
Bordeaux has a maritime climate, which means climatic challenges. Rain at flowering or harvest increases disease pressure (aka likelihood of rot). While Bordeaux might not be top of mind when you think of organic, the push toward sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has definitely taken hold. Sustainability and environmental responsibilities are high priorities across Bordeaux today, and start early in the vineyard. Diverse cover crops are found between the vines, creating biodiversity and encouraging natural predators to help manage pest control. In addition, cover crops create mild competition, managing vine vigor and forcing vine roots to go deeper. Canopy management techniques have become more sophisticated to foster healthier vines and prevent or manage common diseases. These practices lessen the need for any additional chemical spraying.

 

The Blanc Side of Bordeaux

Hailed as one of the top wine producing regions in the world, Bordeaux typically brings to mind bold red wines worthy of the cellar.

But the white wines of Bordeaux are not to be overlooked. These bottles should have a place on your dinner table and at parties all summer long! These wines offer a diverse selection, from bright and easy-drinking to complex, layered, and age-worthy.

If you’re hesitant to try whites from this dominantly red region, you should know that until relatively recently, up to 60% of Bordeaux vineyards were planted to white grapes—reds only came to dominate plantings after a devastating frost in 1956 wiped out most of the white grapevines. While frost destruction was the catalyst for change, the move to more red grape plantings was due to a combination of factors including market demand, better soil-grape matching expertise and the desire to move away form the production of high volume base wines for the spirits industry.

The good news here is that though white wine production may be limited, the attention to detail and dedication to selecting vineyard locations with suitable soil types and mesoclimate make the wines noteworthy. Furthermore, over the past decade or so, producers have been making productive changes to combat issues of oxidation and insufficient aromatics in their white wines. One important change has been improved canopy management, meaning each vine bears the appropriate number of grapes, and these grapes get to see the right amount of sun at the right time. What does that do? It creates healthier grapes, and as well all know, healthier grapes make better wine. Once these healthier grapes enter the cellar, producers focus on keeping fermentation temperatures low, which preserves the fresh aromatics and acidity of the grapes, which is particularly important for Sauvignon Blanc. In summary, the white wines of Bordeaux are thriving due to the use of healthier grapes and better winemaking techniques.

White Bordeaux wines are comprised of three primary grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. One may occasionally see small quantities of varieties such as Sauvignon Gris among blends, but this is fairly rare. Like the red wines of Bordeaux, many of the best white wines are blends, with a focus on creating a balanced wine with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending allows for a diverse selection of wine styles. A few styles and regions to look for include:

Bordeaux – the largest appellation of them all! Some of the prestigious red appellations cannot be used on the labels of white wine, so you may just see “Bordeaux.” Many Bordeaux-appellated whites are simple and easy drinking, while others are more complex and noteworthy. Be sure to read the descriptions for these wines, as they could be light and fresh or more mineral-driven and intense. While both are delicious, the appellation itself is so diverse, it’s important to educate yourself before you buy.

Entre-Deux-Mers – Fresh, easy drinking, and value-oriented, white wines of Entre-Deux-Mers (which means between two seas) are the style you want to sip as an aperitif on a hot summer day or with fresh ceviche. Typically dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors.

Graves – Named for the gravelly soils of the region, Graves is ideal for producing complex, often age-worthy white wines. With mineral-tinged notes paired with complex fruit and floral notes, these wines are ideal for accompanying a meal and often benefit from a few years in the bottle so the flavors can integrate.

Pessac-Leognan – The cru-level white wines live here, in a small region within Graves. This is where you see higher prices and higher quality. You may call these cerebral wines—not always easy to define in their levels of nuance, but certainly worth sipping to try to find out! These are perfect for a special meal and can easily enjoy some time in the cellar.

 

 

Memoirs of a Malbec

malbecSometimes I feel like nobody really knows the real “me.” Ever since I moved to Argentina, I’ve been fitting in really well. In fact, I’m probably the most popular guy here. I’m having a great time laying out in the warm sun all day, enjoying the dry heat — I barely even have to worry about fungal disease these days! And at night, when it cools down, I can rest easy knowing that I’m ripening nice and evenly. When I’m at high altitude, it can be a bit of a challenge to get the nutrition that I need to thrive, but ultimately my hard work pays off as I develop more complexity. The laid-back, easygoing lifestyle here has made me soft and approachable, and I tend to get along with everyone I meet. But a part of me worries that I might soon forget where I came from.

You see, life wasn’t always so easy for me. I grew up in the drained swampland of Bordeaux, where I began life as a very small fish in a big pond. There, while constantly battling difficult weather conditions to avoid disease or death, I contributed color and tannin to local blends — but I was never the star of the show. It’s not so much that I need the attention — I’m just an outgoing guy. So after a devastating frost in 1956 during which I lost 75% of my crop, I decided to focus my energy on my second home in Cahors, just southwest of Bordeaux. There, I changed my name back to Côt, and alongside Merlot and Tannat, I began to shine, as I had been respectfully replanted by those who appreciated me. Meanwhile, back in Bordeaux, they decided they were better off without me, and these days you’ll rarely find me back in my former home town. I’m not bitter, I swear — really, I wish all the best to my old friends Petit Verdot, Merlot, and the brothers Cabernet. I know they talk behind my back about my susceptibility to coulure and downy mildew, and my lack of maturity in colder years — but if I have to be in a blend with them, I’ll be perfectly cordial.

I set down roots in Argentina back in 1868, when I was brought over by a French agricultural engineer who recognized my potential. Life was always comfortable there, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that I “went viral,” effectively becoming the national grape of my adopted homeland. I’m happiest living in Mendoza, but I’ve made my way throughout the entire country. Wherever I go, I am always well-received by locals and foreigners alike!

When I’m in my native France, my personality is rather different. I guess you could say I live a more “rustic” lifestyle there — I’m not afraid to get a little dirty, and my tannins are a bit tougher. Probably because of the thicker skin I tried (and failed) to develop amidst the bullying in Bordeaux. Sometimes I like to vacation in the Loire Valley, where I can relax and let my aromatic side come out. But nowadays most people never get to see that side of me. I don’t want to brag, but thanks to my success in Argentina, I’ve become a bit of a world traveler. Apart from France and Argentina, I’m now planted in Chile, California, Oregon, Washington, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and a few other countries. Everywhere I go, people ask, “hey, aren’t you that guy from Argentina?” I’m very proud of my recent success, so I smile and say yes, and occasionally I’ll pose for a picture. But with each encounter, I think back to my humble beginnings and consider saying, “if you like me in Argentina, you should see me in France.”