The Fourth of July weekend is upon us again, and as a history major, I love to ponder our founding fathers around this time. As a University of Virginia graduate, I am quite partial to all fun facts and notes about Thomas Jefferson. Though I don’t agree with everything he did as a politician or even a person, there is no denying his inventive mind and complex character. Plus the fact that he is what many like to call the first ‘wine connoisseur’ of our nation – or at least, the most well known.But he’s not the only one who enjoyed wine – and other potent potables. During colonial times, alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine and spirits, were considered more healthy than drinking water. Water contained bacteria and could be more dangerous to one’s health than alcohol. So when that is the case, best to find a signature drink! Here are some favorite tipples of a few founding fathers.George Washington: Madeira is said to be his favorite drink, and it was in fact one of the most available beverages in the colonies (and states), as it was hard to ship European wine overseas without spoilage. But Washington also ran a distillery on his property at Mount Vernon. In fact, it was the largest whiskey distillery in the country in the 18th century. Granted, it was constructed in 1797, but it was able to claim that title!John Adams: Again, Madeira was a favorite for this second president, but he also enjoyed cider and beer. Hard cider, that is. As an ambassador to France, he also had is fair share of wine, but was not known to indulge quite as much as Benjamin Franklin when hew as in the position.Thomas Jefferson: Wine, of course! Not only did he collect wine from the famous Bordeaux chateaux, he also tried planting European grapes on his Virginia estate. Though that experiment did not take off back then, it certainly is growing now and the VA wine industry is improving every year. A few of his favorite chateaux in Bordeaux included Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau d’Yquem. He was a man with expensive tastes…I’d love to know what Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry liked to drink most, but can’t seem to find much research out there on it. What do you know about our other founding fathers and their drinks?
So many wine drinkers shy away from Bordeaux because of the assumption that a good Bordeaux must be old and expensive. But the majority of Bordeaux is quite the opposite. Most wine from this esteemed region is meant to be drunk early, and is definitely affordable. You just don’t read about those wines as often as the first growths fetching $2,000 per bottle in a good vintage.Since the majority of wines from Bordeaux are meant to be early drinking and affordable AND the fact that Bordeaux is the largest wine-producing region in France, that means there is a LOT of wine in that category – how does one determine the GOOD affordable Bordeaux? Well, we are featuring a selection today and to help you find the right wine for you, here are some helpful tips.1. Go with a good vintage. Bordeaux has had a string of fairly strong vintages, with 2008, 2009 and 2010 shining with top ratings. Even 2006 and 2007, which may not have run away with top ratings, still deliver some solid wines worth trying.2. Go with a Merlot-based wine. There are some killer Cab-based affordable Bordeaux out there, but Merlot in general is more approachable when young, so choose a wine from a right-bank region like Cotes-de-Castillon, Fronsac or St. Emilion.3. Go with a trusted producer. Many of the “big” names (think Rothschild) in Bordeaux make “smaller” wines. If you see a producers second wine or a wine they invest in, it’s a good bet if you like their top wine (or think you might), then you’ll enjoy their second wine.Those are my three tips. They are not guarantees, but may help you navigate the selection of affordable Bordeaux out there. Remember, Bordeaux is meant to be a food wine, not a huge fruit bomb. So these are not wines to compare to your favorite California or Australian red, but rather wines that will show a bit more restraint and structure and really shine when paired with a meal. So stock up and enjoy Bordeaux!
When we hear Bordeaux, many of us imagine large chateaux and even larger price tags. We think of complex classification systems and confusing labels. Most of all, we think of unapprochable wine – the expensive stuff needs to be put in the cellar (not to mention that it’s just expensive) and the cheap stuff is just… cheap. But there is such a wealth of wine from Bordeaux that neither needs age nor a fat wallet. All it needs is a good meal.Wines of Bordeaux are extremely food-friendly. They are often lower in alcohol and high in acidity (two necessary aspects when pairing with food). Most Bordeaux is made to be drunk when young – no cellar time necessary. So for those of us looking for a great bottle to go with dinner, Bordeaux is an excellent choice. If you are nervous about navigating the world of Bordeaux and searching for a great wine under $50 that fits your palate, here are a few suggestions.– Entre-Deux-Mers – translates to “between two seas.” This region produces excellent and crisp white wines, great for pairing with seafood or as an aperitif. Not only that, but they carry a very lovely price tag (under $15).– Right Bank – if your palate tends to softer, more elegant reds, look for Bordeaux from St-Emilion or other right bank appellations (Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac, Cotes de Castillon, Bourg, Blaye, etc). These wines are typically Merlot-based and often very approchable when young.– Vintage – there have been a few stellar vintages in Bordeaux this past decade, including 2005 and 2009. Many 2009 are still in futures sales, but there are some excellent under-$50 wines from the ’05 vintage. Stellar vintages translate into great wines, even in the entry-level sector. So snag some ’05s and give them a try.It’s also helpful to read the tasting notes so you get an idea of what the wine tastes like. Don’t base it off of scores, but rather read what the winemaker or wine critic says about the wine – this is important in buying Bordeaux.So give our Affordable Bordeaux a try. And enjoy the 1 cent shipping we’re offering on this list this week. Cheers!
I just returned from 4 days in New York, where I had the privilege of attending the Wine Spectator Wine Experience. The event includes four long days of wine tasting, drinking and education, with renowned winemakers from around the world travelling in to hold seminars, pour wines and generally schmooze with the wine drinking public and trade. While I tasted some great wines, going into specifics on each would be terribly boring. Here are a few general takeaways I got from the event:
- I should drink more Burgundy. Let me clarify that – I should drink more Burgundy… if I could afford it. Sadly, prices are still high on wine from this magnificent region, but if I could sip on Puligny-Montrachet and Volnay every evening, I probably would. I tried to run up and down the aisles tasting the Harlans and the Chateau Margaux, but found the most pleasure in the not-too-crowded Burgundy booths, where the wines were delicate and elegant, refined and wonderfully balanced, showing a true sense of place.
- A lot of California Cabernet is overrated. There are plenty that are not, but quite a few that are. And some that tasted like they should have been pouring at the Port tables. I enjoy Caymus and Quintessa as much as the next person, but a few “cult” Cabernets I tried did not taste nearly as exciting as their price tag said they should be.
- I need to try more Super Tuscans! And Italian wines in general. I spent too much time trying to get to the big names, but exploring some of the Italian wines with which I was unfamiliar was a real treat. It made me realize I need to wait 20 years before drinking any Brunellos, that Sangiovese is a wonderful food wine, and that Italian winemakers are simply charming.
- Bordeaux has brett. Even the first growths. Perhaps I’ve become too sensitive to the spoilage yeast, but some of the higher end Bordeaux I tasted, including first growths, were tainted with notes of brett, otherwise known as brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast that often lives in the barrels of wineries, adding notes of leather in small amounts, aromas of “barnyard” in larger amounts. The potency of it ran the spectrum, overtaking the wine in some cases. Oddly I didn’t find it in any of the Rhone wines I tasted…
- Dry Portuguese reds are the next big thing. Tasted quite a few, including one that ranked number 9 in the Wine Spectator top wines of 2010. It was fantastic. Structured, with great fruit and lots of layers of complexity and just a true sense of place – it was different, not trying to be something it’s not, but embracing its terroir and coming out on top. Delicious stuff.
I have just spent three amazing days in Bordeaux tasting over 300 wines from the 2009 vintage. Mike and Rich joined up with Patrick Baugier and myself to see for ourselves what this much heralded vintage is all about. In a word it is AWESOME.
Patrick is a Bordelais with an enormous spread of contacts throughout the region. He drove us around and made sure we didn’t miss a thing. This explains why we managed to taste close on 400 wines. We tasted through all qualities – from Petits Chateaux of the Cotes de Bourg to Ch Lafite and Ch Margaux. We also tasted some quite magnificent Sauternes and Barsac. One thing that stood out was how immediately accessible these wines are. We were spitting throughout but it was often very difficult to do so, and nearly impossible with the sweet wines!
We started off on Monday, where we tasted a selection of over 50 Petits Chateaux from earlier vintages for possible addition into the Club Claret range. We have found ten or so which you will be hearing about later in the year.
From then on, we drove up and down the Medoc, calling in on the numerous tastings of the local commune wines, the Cru Bourgeois and finally the Cru Classé. Many of these tastings were in the Chateaux themselves where the hospitality of our hosts was exceptional.
The consensus of opinion about this vintage is that we are looking at wines that compare to 2000 and 2005, perhaps a shade better than the former and tussling for pole position with the latter. What was also fascinating to witness was the powerful presence of merchants and traders from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and even India. This is a vintage that will sell out en primeur very quickly – be warned.
The daily visit to six or so tastings culminated in some very happy evening dinners, be they in Bordeaux restaurants, private homes or Chateau environments. Here we were able not only to talk wine but finally swallow a few glasses and remind ourselves, as if we needed reminding, how delicious mature Bordeaux wines are.
I had to return to England today, to collect my car, only to drive back to France tomorrow for a few days skiing with my grandchildren in the Haut Savoie. I am not complaining, except seeing Mike, Rich and Patrick heading off in the car to Ch d’Yquem, and then on to St Emilion and Pomerol, with Ch Petrus on the menu, left me with a frog in my throat!
Over the next few days, I will be more specific about the wines we tasted. In fact we will be putting together a shopping-list of the best of the bunch for you to think about. Till then, salut!
Anthony Foster MW