Wine drinkers and non-drinkers alike know the term “Bordeaux.” Images of stuffy cigar lounges filled with haughty white folk come to mind, or perhaps an expansive and expensive cellar full of out-of-reach wines for us, everyday people.
An honest look at the whole of Bordeaux, however, reveals a large winegrowing region filled primarily with modest producers and growers. While there are five famous chateaux in the “First Growth,” the region of Bordeaux has thousands of producers, over half of whom make wine at entry-level price points.
These producers, in subregions like Bourg, Blaye, and Haut-Médoc, can offer affordable wines that showcase what their land can do with merlot and cabernet sauvignon in particular.
Dustin Harkins, wine buyer and manager at France 44, explains, “A lot of $15–25 Bordeaux will be merlot-dominant wines, so one can expect a nice medium weight wine that may exhibit dark red fruit and pepper. When you hit the $25 price point you may start to find some good examples of cabernet sauvignon-dominant wines that show darker and heavier fruit as well as more tannin and structure.”
At its best, Bordeaux is a treasure trove of wines that honestly showcase their distinct style. Much more than simple fruit-forward juice, Bordeaux provides elegance thanks to modest alcohol levels and nuanced aromatics that mingle cedar, cigar box, and forest undergrowth into the dark fruit flavors, and finishes with the scaffolding needed to pair dynamically at the table and hold up to cellaring.
The red wines pair supremely with steak and other cuts of beef, and they improve and evolve over the midterm in your basement.
The challenge with budget Bordeaux can be sifting through the options. Thin, austere duds abound, however, you can greatly increase your odds with a few tried-and-true buying strategies.
Harkins suggests, “consumers should look for Bordeaux with the designation of ‘Cru Bourgeois’ on the label if they want a great quality wine without breaking the bank. This phrase is granted to producers who were not involved in the original 1855 stratification of Bordeaux wines but still make a high-quality product.
Mis en place
Seek out bottles that say “mis en bouteille au château,” meaning the wine is grown, fermented, and bottled at the estate without being blended with wine from outside the property. Masses of inexpensive Bordeaux are bottled under the generic Bordeaux AOC designation by large co-ops. In general, steer clear of these.
The Import of Importers
Note the well-reputed importers, listed on the back of the bottle, and you move the odds further in your favor. Sommelier Peter Vars of Thomas Liquors puts his trust in a handful of importers. “Bordeaux is such a large region. It can be a roll of the dice if you don’t know the producer or importer. As a buyer, I partner with a handful of trusted importers. Kermit Lynch, Rosenthal, and Charles Neal are all French wine specialty importers I have faith in.”
Peter also respects a handful of local boutique importers, including Lompian Wines. I add local importers New France, The Wine Company, and Bourget to the shortlist that should inspire confidence.
Finally, befriend your local, independent wine shop staff and you will have done your wine life the greatest service. Stores like Thomas Liquors, France 44, South Lyndale Liquors, North Loop Wine & Spirits, and Solo Vino, to name only a few, have talented staff doing the hard work of culling the herd. Once in the door, open up conversations with the staff about your preferences, and you have dramatically improved your odds of pulling the cork on a solid bottle of wine.
Bordeaux, grown and cellared with care, gives you an honest and authentic expression of one of the world’s historic “red blends.” The marriage of these grapes in this specific place smells and tastes like only Bordeaux can, and that novelty is worth experiencing and celebrating.
- Château Croix du Trale 2015 Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois (First Grand Liquor, Shorewood Liquors, Wayzata Wines & Spirits)
- Château Argadens 2015 Bordeaux Supérieur (Thomas, First Grand Ave, Lunds & Byerlys)
- Château Argadens 2015 Bordeaux Supérieur (Ace Spirits, Thomas)
- Château du Vieux Puits Cotes-de-Blaye (Kowalski’s, Stinson)
- Château Cap d’Or Saint-Georges Saint-Emilion Rouge 2014 (Dennis Brothers Liquor, Mendota Liquor Barrel, Solo Vino)