There are lots of good Bordeaux wines in the medium price range. All too often one tends to focus on either the very exclusive, and prohibitively expensive, or on the very simple volume wines. This is a mistake. Bordeaux is an excellent source of good, reasonably priced wines. But perhaps bordeaux wine styles have changed over the years? BKWine’s Magnus Reuterdahl reports from an extensive bordeaux tasting and gives you his favourites.
I remember to this day how my father
came home from the city so gay!
and lined up bottles in a row
and said, pleased as so:
- Bordeaux, Bordeaux. A traditional Swedish drinking song…
Some time ago I was at a wine tasting at the Grand Hôtel in Stockholm. Some 40 of the Grand Cercle des vins de Bordeaux producers showed what they had to offer. The majority of the wines were young, from 2009 to 2012, but there were also some that were a little older. Let me caw a bit about bordeaux before I return to the Grand Cercle des vins de Bordeaux, the tasting and with a few brief notes on the wines I enjoyed in particular.
Bordeaux is definitely one of the world’s most famous wine regions, perhaps the best known, because of its wine. That various celebrities such as kings, counts and barons and poets, musicians and writers as well as students and others have sung its praises has consolidated its position.
Many also know the most famous buildings, although very few people have actually drunk their wines. Maybe because they are often mostly known for their (high) prices but also in recent times because of fakes.
Public domain grapes?
Bordeaux is also known for its grape varieties and wine regions. Among the more famous grapes are cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot for reds.
Sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscadelle for whites.
Many of these are popular around the world and is grown more or less globally. Along with a few other grapes, they can be said to be the world’s staple wine grapes.
Many wine consumers know of them and they choose a wine precisely because one of these grapes are included.
This is both good and bad.
The grapes are excellent in Bordeaux but can also be successfully grown in many other parts of the world. Since many choose to buy something they recognize, it becomes economically advantageous to grow these grapes instead of local grapes that might have been much better. In the end this makes in the long run the diversity of wine runs the risk of depletion.
My recommendation: buy wine made from local grapes. That is often better and more exciting. But not always!
Left is west and right is east and in Entre deux Mers the twain shall meet
Let’s return to Bordeaux. It is above all to some areas and wineries that shine brighter than others when it comes to Bordeaux. The regions are Médoc and Haut Médoc on the west side (“left bank”) and Pomerol and Saint-Emilion on the east side (“right bank”).
Among wine producers many people recognise names like Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc, Château Petrus, Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château d’Yquem. That it has become so goes back to a classification of Bordeaux wines made in 1855 (and “The classification of Bordeaux in 1855, a brief introduction“). In this the “best” five houses received the classification 1er cru classé and in 1973 Château Mouton-Rothschild was elevated to the same classification while Petrus and Cheval-Blanc has built their reputations later. The wines are also often mentioned in popular culture and in newspaper articles which further cements their reputation.
Bog wines or good wines?
So why do I bog down on Bordeaux, right now?
I have had a love-hate relationship towards Bordeaux, there are great wines; many of them are so expensive that I almost never have the opportunity to try them, let alone actually drink them. There are also quite a lot that in truth is quite boring. It has been more than once that I regretted a Bordeaux purchase.
Last year I had the opportunity to try two great Bordeaux wines, one a surprise, the second expected. First on the list was Chateau d’Issan 1983, an unexpected great wine experience, the second, Cheval Blanc 1982, I knew would be amazing and lived up to it.
Common denominators for these are age and maturity. The type of Bordeaux that I appreciate needs age, it is in the development and maturation of the wine I find excitement. Lately, I have found that many wines from Bordeaux have fundamentally changed. Not all, but many. Elegance and finesse have been replaced by big fruit and higher alcohol contents; they have become approachable now, as young wines. Youth is rewarded in front of ageing ability. I fear that many of the wines that we bought the last 10-15 years will not at all develop such as the 82s or even older wines.
A change in style and a different market
If we go back to 1982 most red wines from Bordeaux had an alcoholic rate of about 12.5%. In 2010 the average is around 14%. To this should be added that before 1990 it was not unusual to have to put sugar in the must to reach 12.5%.
Now perhaps 14% as such is not much to fight about. It is not an insanely high alcohol content, but with this, the wines changed. They have become more fruit-driven, more precocious, and the question is how well they will evolve over time. Last time I drank some 2005s some already felt as if they were on the peak.
This is partly about tradition and modernity, where modern equals a more intense, more extracted style that goes towards what the wine critic Robert Parker likes and rates high. It has gone from the herbaceous and elegant, a little “difficult” wines that really needed ageing towards the new world style step by step.
However, there are those who go against the grain and is more classic in its tone.
Another problem with Bordeaux is that prices are increasing steadily in all quality segments. One could argue that this is reasonable, that the prices are pushed up by the fantastic vintages. In recent years, however, it feels like every other year has been proclaimed just that: in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2010. But they do not lower the prices when the vintage is a little weaker such as 2011. The question is, how exceptional is a vintage if every other year is declared as exceptional. I think of the boy who cried wolf.
Another problem, possibly specific to Sweden, and one that you might blame our monopoly for, is that there have been very few interesting Bordeaux wines at lower prices, and for that matter even in the middle price segments. Those in that price segment that we have had have been of a quality that rather would scare away customers, since there have been a lot better wines in this price category from other sources. This has led, or will lead new customers to find new markets.
Nightmare or dream tasting
With this in mind, one might think that the opportunity to sample over 100 Bordeaux wines may seem like a nightmare. On the contrary!
The Grand Cercle des vins de Bordeaux invited us to a feast for the palate. Grand Cercle des vins de Bordeaux really consists of two organizations: Le Cercle de Rive Droite and Le Cercle de Rive Gauche. The first represents the chateaux on the right bank, the other chateaux on the Left Bank.
Most wines are in the price range of 10-25 euro, ie what I call mid-range price level. It was interesting to note a lot that was really good. Many favourites from 2010, a good year in both more basic and more sophisticated wines!
Importers, hello! Please look at these producers closely.
My selection of the best are listed below.
White Bordeaux wines
Château Thieuley 2012 Blanc, AOC Bordeaux
Fresh & elegant.
Chateau de Cruzeau 2010 Blanc
Fresh, good length, nice everyday wine.
Red Bordeaux wines
Grand Vin de Reignac 2010, AOC Bordeaux Supérieur
Clean, nice length to age.
Chateau Gaby 2010, Canon -Fronsac
Down-to-earth good everyday bordeaux (not as fond of the 2011).
Chateau Dalem 2010, Fronsac.
Chateau Jean De Gué in 2010, Lalande de Pomerol
Well balanced, nice depth, good length.
Chateau Faizeau 2010, Montagne -Saint -Emilion
Fine acidity, spicy.
Chateau Fayat 2010, Pomerol
Well-made, accessible, stylish.
Chateau Vray Croix de Gay, Pomerol 2008 and 2010
Really good, a bit young, age both another 3-5 years.
Chateau Vray Croix de Gay L’ Enchanteur, Pomerol 2011
Flowery, light, young. Good to drink now.
Chateau Godeau 2010, Saint- Emilion Grand Cru
Good acidity, elegant and sleek tannins.
Chateau Fleur Cardinale 2009, Saint- Emilion Grand Cru
Light, fresh, fine fruit, long finish.
Clos des Jacobins 2006, Saint- Emilion Grand Cru
Classic, slightly earthy, autumn tones, a little maturity, stylish.
Chateau Haut Condissas 2008 and 2009, Médoc
Both really good, a little spicy, nice fruit, elegance and fine length.
Chateau Rollan de By 2010, Médoc
Really good, nice and accessible can also benefit from some age.
Chateu Tour Seran 2009, Médoc
Well made, nice balance, good acidity and great length, drink now or keep.
Chateau Brillette 2009, Médoc
Fresh, black currants, elegant, good acidity.
Chateau le Sartre 2010, Passac -Léognan
Typical for the region, nice balance, slightly spicy, quite a lot of fruit. Interesting.
Read also Carl-Erik Kanne’s report from this tasting with more recommendations: Good Bordeaux wines at wallet-friendly prices.
Magnus Reuterdahl writes on wine on BKWine Magazine and is an avid wine blogger. You can read more of his thoughts on Magnus Reuterdahls wine blog, or follow him on twitter where he goes by @reuterdahl. In daily life Magnus is an archaeologist.
Perhaps the best way to discover all these goodies, and similar wines, available in Bordeaux is to go there yourself and visit the vineyards. On a wine tour with BKWine to Bordeaux you will experience many visits to highly skilled winemakers! You will have unique opportunities to meet the winemakers and taste the wines. The next one will be in September.
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This post is also available in: Swedish