Before the seventeenth century, Bordeaux’s Gironde estuary was the equivalent of the American Wild West — only a whole lot wetter. The now-famous Médoc was boggy and prone to punishing weather, largely uninhabitable by man or grape. Much of the rest of Bordeaux was already making bank on wines they could easily ship to both the interior of France and, via the Atlantic Ocean, to the rest of Europe and beyond.
Enter Bordeaux’s best buds — the Dutch merchants. Wishing to fully capitalize on the Médoc’s distribution advantage, the Dutch installed a series of gravel drainage channels through the Left Bank, literally laying the groundwork for world dominance in high-end Cabernet Sauvignon.
Adding Napoleon III’s 1855 Classification of Bordeaux Growths — essentially the world’s most glamorous and successful early marketing campaign — the elite wines of Bordeaux became solidly entrenched as luxury items.
Though that genius endorsement of quality solidified Bordeaux’s reputation, 166 years later it can be difficult to say what the wines of Bordeaux have to do with what we actually drink now. “1855” has the sexiness factor of a flashcard, and the most any of us will likely see of Chateau Lafite Rothschild is a documentary shot. Money, as ever, dominates any Bordeaux conversation.
But a rumble of change grows in the distance. There is a burgeoning new guard of winemakers stealing the spotlight from the Chateaux and returning it to the terroir, to an extent that may never have been seen in Bordeaux. Climate change is making production at the entry-level a much less sketchy scenario. These new characters and conditions are opening our eyes to a novel thrill in Bordeaux — there are crazy values to be found!
Our Product Specialist team is thrilled to share with you our 2021 Bordeaux Collection of wines exemplifying the best emerging styles and values available.
Traditionally, Bordeaux is considered to have a maritime climate. As opposed to continental climates (i.e. Napa Valley), the weather extremes of a maritime climate tend to produce wines of higher acid and less boozy ripeness. In Bordeaux, most famous for its massively structured Cabernet Sauvignon-led blends, the frequent squalls that crept inland by way of the river system resulted in wines that needed time and blending to become approachable. Even at an entry-level price, it could be tough to enjoy a current release red Bordeaux without decanting. Kind of a fiddly process for a $10 bottle.
As the temperature patterns in Bordeaux have tended to warm, vintage variability has lessened a touch, and we’re getting wines that actually have a lot to say on release — riper fruit character, softer (but still very present) tannins, and a more accessible balance in youth. Suddenly, Bordeaux offers an enlivened sense of value when compared to the big boys of Napa.
Rich, Smooth, Fresh Black Fruit – Domaine du Chevalier La Petite Lune 2018
Graves doesn’t make the bulk of red Bordeaux, but some highly regarded producers make red blends of impressive heft for a modest price. La Petite Lune is predominantly Merlot, with both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in the mix to lend earthiness and structure. Coffee, plum, and blueberry jam are grounded by dark earth and black licorice, making a richly-fruited but still tres Bordeaux wine.
Ah, the Chateaux of it all. Alas, the vineyards of Bordeaux have remained bizarrely secondary to what would be an outbuilding in much of rival Burgundy. A Chateaux whose quality garnered it a slot in the 1855 Classification may have acquired acres and acres of additional land and vines since being christened Cru, and any of that fruit permitted to bear the Chateau’s brand. All the while, the land is plied for high yields and the vines doused with agrochemicals.
As the climate grows drier in recent vintages, the excuse of Bordeaux’s dampness necessitating chemical treatments is growing thin, and the new school of winemakers is hip to the tides. There has been a boom in individual producers’ research into their land, allowing for wines with a greater sense of place and less intervention. Even at the Cru level, more and more producers are adopting organic, sustainable, and biodynamic principles. The revolution is on.
Sustainable, Complex, Silky Tannins – Chateau Marjosse 2018 Grand Vin de Bordeaux
Sustainably farmed and moving into biodynamic practices, Chateau Marjosse is on the forefront of showing what land stewardship can do for quality. Bordeaux-style earth and red plum open into violet and rose, fresh blueberry, dark chocolate, anise, and black pepper. The balance of earthy spice and fresh aromatics will continue to develop in the glass or the cellar.
It’s no industry secret that many of the Bordeaux big leaguers began leaning into mega-extracted styles they knew would please critics in America. Pick times had a lot more to do with alcohol levels than flavor ripeness, the finish line being ageability and heft rather than balance and freshness. Since investigating their soils’ compatibility with the varieties grown upon them, growers are seeing more expressive and balanced fruit that doesn’t require bombastic oak to do the heavy lifting.
Elegant, Fresh, Developing – Chateau Puyanche 2015 Bordeaux Rouge
From an excellent vintage in Libourne, these 20-40-year-old Merlot/Cabernet vines pack a lot of power while remaining poised and classically representative of Bordeaux’s ability to age. Plum, fragrant red apple, violet, cacao nib, bramble, and baking spice are all lifted and aromatic by the fresh acid retention. Definitely one to let open up for a revisit.
An exciting development for the wine nerds — for the first time in hundreds of years, the strict varietal laws are opening up to brand new plantings aimed at taking Bordeaux into the warming horizon. It will be a few vintages before we see Albariño Blanc or a Pauillac with Touriga Nacional, but it’s a great time to explore some broader options in anticipation. And don’t leave out the Blancs!
Fresh, Floral, Balanced
Chateau Mont Perat 2016 Bordeaux Blanc
From the white wine haven of Entre-deux-Mers, this blend of the three OG white Bordeaux varieties is up the alley of any Sauvignon Blanc fan who wants to keep the party going into fall and winter. Another fresh, sustainable bottle showing lots of pear, green melon, citrus, florals, chamomile, and a light herbal note.
Rich, Weighty, Tropical
Chateau Puyanche 2019 Bordeaux Blanc
With a healthy portion of Sémillon, this is the Bordeaux Blanc to have on the table in the cooler months. Highly aromatic but balanced on the palate, notes of grilled pineapple, butterscotch, ripe green pear, peach juice, and starfruit play out on a long, polished finish.
Dense, Earthy, Smoky
Arbo 2018 Malbec
Go to the Côtes for value! And don’t let Malbec’s infrequent blend dominance fool you, Arbo’s plantings are 10-45-years old and incredibly flavor-dense. Definitely decant for the best expression of dark earth, black plum, baking chocolate, espresso, black cherry, cinnamon, and a smoky, lingering tannin.
-Aimee Hutchinson | Wine Manager Top Ten Liquors