John Poplin on July 29, 2016 0 Comments If you’re a wine drinker, you really don’t have to look far to see a Mouton here or a Rothschild there. Whether you are reading the latest news or scrolling through your social media feed, the upper tier of wines from around the world always seem to make their appearance. But for many, those wines seem far from reach, and just the mention of Bordeaux can make our wallets cringe. It may be touted as the largest vineyard of fine wines in the world, but if you dig a little deeper, Bordeaux offers a wide variety of wines even at “daily drinker” prices. To fully understand Bordeaux wines, first you must understand the region and also where to look to find the best deals. Find Your Perfect Bordeaux Wine Here A lot of producers are starting to put their varietal blends on the back of the labels, which is helping Bordeaux seem less confusing and intimidating. While most people associate red wines with the Bordeaux region, it also produces a number of whites, roses, dessert and even a few sparkling wines. In regard to red wines, one tip I always tell people is to think “left bank” vs. “right bank”; Cabernet Sauvignon based wines from the left, and Merlot & Cabernet Franc based wines from the right (for the most part). The “banks” are referencing the sides of the Garonne River that runs through the Bordeaux region. Very few Bordeaux wines are 100% varietal, so depending on the producer and the region there may also be Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere in their blends. But the main three varietals mentioned are what make up the majority of red wines from the region. When it comes to white wines, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are used in both the dry and dessert wines. Of course, like any wine producing region these days, there is a classification system in place to ensure that what you are buying is actually what’s in the bottle. For France, it’s the “Appellations d’origine controlee,” or A.O.C., which translates to “controlled designation of origin”. Knowing just a little about both the regions and classification system comes in handy when you go to pick out a wine. So let’s get to a few of the regions. Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur When value shopping for Bordeaux, one of the more common things you will see on a label is Bordeaux Supérieur, or maybe even just Bordeaux. A lot of these wines can be found for under twenty dollars. These wines can be produced from anywhere in the Bordeaux region, and are mainly made from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, with maybe some Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The vines for the Bordeaux Supérieur wines are generally older and more densely planted, resulting in lower yields; both of these classifications typically aged for at least one year before being released. But again, these wines can come from anywhere in the region, so they are a great introduction but don’t offer some of the distinct characteristics or finesse of other Bordeaux wines and their regions. It’s also in these two wine classifications that I’ve run across more négociant producers; those who purchase fruit from growers to produce their wines. This is a pretty common practice in all regions, but it can result in more “hit or miss” purchases. I recently opened a 2013 Chateau L’Orangerie Bordeaux Supérieur, which, in my opinion, was a Bordeaux on training wheels. It comes from a family owned estate that dates back to the late 1790’s, with their estate vineyards located in the south eastern Entre-deux-mers region. With soils of limestone and clay, the region’s red wines are often a little softer in style than those of regions of the north and west. This surely was the case with this wine. Though a Merlot-based wine at 85%, the balance being Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine showed many of the key characteristics when it came to fruit and floral aromas. There wasn’t a lot of terroir with this wine, nor tannins, though it did show a touch of minerality. Again, I’ll emphasize that this wine was “soft”, as it lacked depth, but overall it was a very approachable wine that was about the price of an Alexander Hamilton. I also stumbled upon a little gem: the 2012 Sirius Bordeaux AOC. The label is very non-traditional when it comes to Bordeaux, but it a) hit the under $20 category, and b) noted Merlot and Cabernet right on its front label, which, for many consumers, knowing the grape varietal is half the battle. Dark and intense, this wine right off the bat was what a big red wine drinker would be looking for from an inexpensive Bordeaux. The nose had great fruit and floral aromas, and my favorite quality (when it comes to Bordeaux wines): a touch of that Old World funk. I did a little research on this wine and discovered that it comes from the Maison Sichel family, who owns over 300 hectares of vineyards, including the esteemed Chateau Palmer from Margaux. And suddenly it all made sense. Peter Sichel created the Sirius label in 1985 and set out to prove that by using the same techniques that the family employs for their Grand Cru wines, that exceptional wines could also be produced from some of Bordeaux’s less prestigious vineyards. As this wine opened up, it certainly showed more depth and more complexity than I had originally anticipated, and it quickly found its way on to my shopping list. When looking up other well-known families of the region to see if there were others like it — ding, ding, ding — we have some winner’s folks. Cru Bourgeois For French wines, 1855 was a big year. It was when the A.O.C. began classifying Medoc wines, and though it specifies which grapes are allowed to grow in certain regions, the A.O.C. also became a means by which to ensure quality. However, there are a lot of wine producers that simply weren’t around back then, or didn’t make the cut in the Classification of 1855. And so the Cru Bourgeois are wines from the Medoc region that simply were not included, so there is a lot of value to be found in their wines. These wines may even be one of the best kept secrets of Bordeaux. I recently found the 2009 Chateau Haut-Logat from the Haut-Medoc region with the Cru Bourgeois classification, at a very affordable price of around twenty dollars. This wine comes from vineyards that overlook the village of Cissac-Médoc between Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe, and is more blended out with 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the remainder Cabernet Franc. It certainly had more depth, which one would expect from a Bordeaux wine, with dark fruit and very fragrant floral notes. I found it to be a great value and representation of a fruit-forward style Bordeaux. Second Labels I personally have found second labels to be one of the best ways to experience some of the complexities and finesse of Bordeaux wines without breaking the bank…at least not too much. The concept has been around for a very long time: By using younger vines or grapes that don’t make the cut for estates Grand Cru wines, a great wine can still be made. This is the case for many of the most sought after producers from Bordeaux. Last fall I opened up the 2004 Les Forts de Latour, from the Pauillac region on the Left Bank. From the highly acclaimed Chateau Latour, the Les Forts de Latour is the middle child, if you will, of the estates three wines. First produced by the family in 1966, the wine was created to showcase wines from their collection of vineyards, from fruit that had been downgraded or from younger vines. Though this one in particular is a little more expensive than other second labels (around $180 today), there are others from producers like Beaucaillou and Grand-Puy-Lacoste that come in around the $50 mark. Some of these producers also bottle their wines in the 375ml size, making the opportunity to try them even more affordable (and smaller bottles age faster too). So if you thought Bordeaux was only for those with large bank accounts, it’s only a misconception. There are a lot of less expensive options out there, and when it’s under $20 there’s nothing wrong with taking a chance and trying something new.