Understanding Bordeaux wines is difficult because, within each of the three major areas, there are numerous sub-regions that appear on wine labels. There are the most famous appellations like Pomerol and St. Emilion on the Right Bank, and Margaux, St. Estephe, Pauillac, and St. Julien on the Left Bank.
During the month of February, we've taken a tour of the Bordeaux region and visited many of the famous and the lesser-known appellations. In each area, we've identified several typical wines that are priced under $40 a bottle. Sometimes, you can find the more expensive wines on sale under $25 (our normal price limit in this blog).
What are the lessons learned from our focus on Bordeaux this month? Here are a couple:
1. The wine from each region has its own style and typical characteristics. Within each region of Bordeaux, there are numerous micro-climates that affect how wines develop.
2. Vintages are very important. A wise strategy, to obtain the best value-priced Bordeaux wines for your dollar, is to concentrate on the exceptional vintages like 2005, 2000, 1995, 1990, 1982, etc. There is speculation that 2009 will be another excellent vintage. The initial results from barrel-tasting the 2009 wines will be available in a couple months.
3. The French contend that "terroir" is the single most important factor that produces a good wine. The term, terroir, includes the type of soil, the location (elevation, hillside vs. next to river, etc.), the type and ages of the vines, the micro-climate, and other factors.
4. The skill of the winemaker and the methods used at each stage of the wine-making process can also have a profound effect on the taste and quality of the wine that is produced -- from the initial pruning of the vines and reduction of leaves through the growing season, to the final selection and blending of different vats of wine from different vineyards to produce the final wine in barrels.
5. Many Bordeaux wines need time in the cellar before you can drink and enjoy them. For persons who buy the most expensive and longest-lasting wines from Margaux, Pomerol, etc., should plan on 10-15 years in the cellar and the wines will last for 30-40 years or more. For wines costing under $25, you can usually drink them soon after bottling, if you decant them and let them breath for a couple hours before serving.
6. To obtain the best wine for your dollar, searching for heavily-discounted wines on sale can be very effective. For example, if you like wines from the Margaux region, would you rather purchase a "full-price" wine for $20 -- or a $40 bottle of wine that is on sale for $20? Of course, you need to taste a wide range of wines and determine which wines you like best because personal taste is most important. Most times, however, your preferred wine at the $40 price point will be clearly superior to any of your favorite wines at the $20 price point. Even if you like the $20 wine best, you can buy many more bottles for the same dollars if you can find your preferred wine on sale.
In summary, I find Bordeaux to be a fascinating wine region. Although it takes some time to get familiar with the different sub-regions, Bordeaux offers vast potential for enjoying excellent wine over many years.