When it comes to the red wines of Bordeaux, a couple of catchphrases apply:
“What goes around comes around” and “This is not your father’s Bordeaux.”
Yes, France’s most famed wine region has made quite the comeback. Thanks to improved techniques on the other side of the pond and aggressive importers up here in Tundraland, a wave of tasty, hearty, affordable Bordeaux is making its mark on local store shelves and restaurant lists.
These wines are approachable — a far cry from the decades when so many red Bordeaux were what I call “wines that hurt” — but they by and large stay true to their origins.
That means there’s some dust and herb and acidity dancing around with the fruit, which makes them more food-friendly and often more age-worthy. But the affordable ones are almost always well-suited for what a winemaker friend calls the average cellar time for U.S. consumers: in the back seat of the car on the way home.
“Overall, the quality these days is high,” said Dave Kuennen, owner of the BrightWines store in North St. Paul.
Unlike in earlier days, “It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be austere. I don’t think importers can bring in a Bordeaux anymore and slap a $20 tag on it and just expect it to sell,” he said.
Instead, Twins Cities-based importers are sussing out wines that are good to great values at $20, or elsewhere in the $15 to $30 “sweet spot.” In bypassing middlemen that clogged up the process in the past, these local operations pave the way for friendlier prices.
“When these people say ‘We’re going to be the importers here,’ that means they’re dealing directly with someone out of Bordeaux instead of Chicago or New York,” Kuennen said, “which probably saves 20 percent. If they don’t buy the right way, we could end up with a product that has touched several hands before it comes here.”
Even better news: Shoppers can count on some savings by taking a gander at the back label to see if the importer’s address has a “MN” in it. Some of the other proper nouns to look for are importers who are doing stellar work in this arena, including Margron Skoglund, Lompian, Rootstock, New France, Bourget and the Wine Company.
And while the under-$30 wines have changed, so have we. “People now expect that if they spend a reasonable amount of money, it’s going to be good,” said Kuennen.
A half-dozen wise places to spend that money, all for about $15 or less unless noted:
Chateau Sabatey-Bellevue Bordeaux: Fleshy, spicy, herby and plummy, this cab-merlot blend tickles the palate and, not to put too fine a point on it, just tastes like wine is supposed to taste.
Chateau Malbec Lartigue Medoc “Listrac”: Great from beginning (dark, ripe nose) to end (grippy and endless), this gem does a dandy little lush/firm pas de deux in the mouth.
Chateau Lafont-Fourcat: A super-friendly merlot-dominated blend, this is a juicy but focused wine dominated by blue fruit until a surge of acidity and tannins freshens the palate and finish.
Chateau Lamothe-Vincent “Intense”: More than living up to its name, with noble aromatics and robust dark fruit, this dusty delight smooths out beautifully as it unfolds in the mouth.
Chateau Signoret Bordeaux: Starting with a bright, shiny red nose, this beauty is lusty but smooth and balanced. Like many of its peers, it benefits from decanting or at least intense swirling.
Chateau Perron Lalande-de-Pomerol: It might come in at $25 to $30, but this gem drinks like a $50-plus wine. Firm and focused, it is harmony incarnate in the glass. Oh, and seriously delicious.
Perhaps the coolest aspect of Bordeaux’s emergence is the timing, as prices for California cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Bordeaux blends continue to rise, often beyond the buying power of most of us. It’s getting harder and harder to find value in these domestic categories.
Not so in Bordeaux. The region that fairly dominated the wine world in the 1970s and early ’80s is back — and better than ever.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.