with DAVID FALCHEK
Bordeaux often linked with reds, but inexpensive whites worth a try
When people hear “Bordeaux,” their minds wander to grandiose châteaux, stratospheric wine auctions and Chinese millionaires buying it all up.
That seems like great brand-image building. But, in fact, it probably hurts most of Bordeaux. The region is vast, and the majority of what it produces is very affordable.
Bordeaux’s ranking system, appellations and even its distribution and sales systems are Byzantine. The region has more than three dozen sub-appellations, including some, such as Moulis and Loupiac, that have little recognition even among avid wine drinkers. While the so-called First Growth producers, identified way back in 1855, get the headlines with futures sales and auction prices, those are a small fraction of total Bordeaux production. Less growths, or classification, fill in luxury levels, but the rest are quite affordable.
People only see red when they talk or drink Bordeaux, but white Bordeaux wines are reliable and often exceptional go-to, all-purpose selections. Most Bordeaux labels look the same, too, with old-style fonts and the obligatory sketch of a château. Sadly, all of this creates a barrier between Bordeaux and the casual wine drinker.
That’s not to say all Bordeaux wines are great. Bordeaux makes its share of bulk wines of varying distinction.
If you spend more than $25, however, you can get an exceptional red Bordeaux. A class of Bordeaux known as Bordeaux Superieur offers some guarantee of better wine. Government and industry guidelines require Superieur producers to limit vine spacing, which makes for riper, better fruit — and lower yields. Also, Superieur has some oak aging rather than being rushed into the bottle. Many of these come from Pomerol and Saint-Émilion areas, Bordeaux’s Right Bank, so they tend to have plush, drinkable, merlot-dominated wines. (Left Bank regions are cabernet sauvignon-heavy.)
La Chateau Peyfaures Dame de Coeur 2010 Bordeaux Superior is a big, buxom wine. Instead of the label showing a masonry building or family crest, it has feminine curves: a woman in a red shawl in the shape of heart. Complex and well-built, the wine comes from a hot year that resulted in big wines. Dame de Coeur is 95 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc, showing merlot’s blueberry and cocoa notes intermingled with a spicy edge. The wine is complex with fine tannins in the finish — a perfect match for chili or other meat dishes. $28. HHHH 1/2
If you see a color option in the Pottery Barn catalogue called “Bordeaux,” it is probably some type of red-brown. Until the 1970s, most of the wine produced in Bordeaux was white. When I took a swing through Bordeaux about a decade ago, the most eye-opening tasting I had was a line-up of affordable white wines from Entre-Deux-Mer — “Between the waters” — a reference to the location between two great rivers.
Even stateside, much of the Entre-Deux-Mer available is inexpensive and tasty. White Bordeaux blend crisp sauvignon blanc with a plump sémillon, and the two fit together like yin and yang. Some white Bordeaux, such as Entre-Deux-Mer, include a touch of the floral muscadelle for an even more brilliant blend.
Chateau Bonnet 2013 Bordeaux is an excellent example of reasonably priced white Bordeaux. Some vintages are better than others, but 2013 was a better one. It still tastes fresh with honeydew and white pepper smells followed by flavors of kiwi and grapefruit with a hint of tropical and coconut before a mouth-watering finish. $15. HHHH 1/2
The 2010 vintage was famously hot and resulted in unconventional wines that were riper, fruitier and, some noticed, less ageable. Chateau Le Noble 2010 Bordeaux, a so-called “chairman’s selection” in Pennsylvania, showed how uncharacteristic a vintage it was. The wine starts off well enough, with birch and dried-leaf smells preceding black raspberry flavors, but it ghosts out after that, lacking structure and not showing any tannins to keep interest. $14.*** 1/2
Any inexpensive white Bordeaux is worth a try. When you read about great vintages in Bordeaux, that means great wines from all of the region, offering a buying opportunity.
GRADE: Exceptional *****, Above average****, Good ***, Below average **, Poor *.
— david falchek
David is the executive director of the American Wine Society and reviews wines each week.