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Surprise, Surprise! Bordeaux is Really Very Good

April 01, 2009
Everett Hutt

For many years, I was convinced that I did not like Bordeaux wines.

I am not exactly sure why. Perhaps it was many years of drinking bad Bordeaux at parties in Paris, where people could only afford cheap plonk. Perhaps it was that it always lacked the nuanced yet powerfully complex tastes of Burgundy, my favorite wine. Perhaps it was that I gagged every time I saw the prices on a wine list in a good restaurant. While I understand supply and demand as well as the next person, I had a hard time justifying paying ten, twenty, sometimes fifty times more for a prestigious Bordeaux than a wine of equivalent value from many other regions. (Ok, I admit Burgundy is just as bad in this vain.) Most of all, however, I think it was because I had not managed to find a “sweet spot” for Bordeaux producers who make good value for money. Too often I would either balk at a very expensive wine or choke down a very cheap Bordeaux from a producer riding the coattails of the region’s reputation.

My opinion started to change at the end of last year. American Bordeaux-loving friends of mine returned to the US after many years in France. They were unable to transport back all their wine, so they sold me (at original purchase price) about 100 bottles of 1999, 2000 and 2001 Bordeaux, and for the past year, I have been drinking some of them.

Most were from chateaus I had never heard of — Domaine du Chevalier, Château Cantemerle, Château La Croix, Les Fiefs de Lagrange — and they were all wonderful. The 1999s and 2001s (not great aging years) are drinking perfectly right now. They have offered me my first real insight into Bordeaux and at a very reasonable $13 to $25 per bottle.

I decided to pursue my new interest in Bordeaux with a four-day weekend trip to the region with some friends last November. Our strategy was simple: Start in the Médoc, the most famous part of the Bordeaux, but steer away from the big houses. I came away impressed, especially with the wines from Margaux. In the past, I had never understood the passion for Margaux, which were always described as more “feminine and elegant.” Several small producers of this appellation really opened my eyes (and palate). For example, the 2005 Margaux from Château de la Tour Bessan ($29) and the 2005 Margaux from Labégorce Zédé ($50) were wonderful. Even the 4th gowth 2005 Margaux from Prieuré-Lichine was a steal at $62.

So my advice to you is if, like me, you haven’t warmed up to or have been intimidated by Bordeaux, give it a try. With the dollar strengthening against the Euro recently, the prices should be heading down. Consult with a reputable wine retailer or research online to try some mid-priced Bordeaux producers. I am sure you will not be disappointed.

Credits: Poloroid image by Molly Wizenberg of Orangette.

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