Well, it's been awhile -- about five and a half years since my last post. I think I'll try my hand at a few posts, and we'll see where it leads.
These days, my main interest is Bordeaux wines from the Left Bank, especially the areas of Margaux, St. Julien, and Pessac-Leognan. Whereas the Right Bank wines of Bordeaux are primarily Merlot-based (with maybe a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc), the Left Bank wines are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon (usually 35-75%), Merlot (10-50%), and smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petite Verdot.
In future posts, I'll attempt to provide my perspective on Left Bank wines -- including vintage differences, assessments of individual wines, and my philosophy for developing a first-class collection of Bordeaux wines from the Left Bank -- at a reasonable price, with a focus on the quality-to-price (QPR) ratio of alternative wines and vintages.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Today is the last day of February and the last day of "Bordeaux month." Using a very broad brush, there are three major areas to search for high-QPR Bordeaux wines: the Left Bank, the Right Bank, and the region containing Graves and Pessac-Leognan.
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.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
How to understand Bordeaux wines - part 9 - summary of St. Julien, Pauillac, St. Estephe, and Haut-Medoc
Here is a quick summary of the wines that were discussed for St. Julien, Pauillac, St. Estephe, and the Haut-Medoc:
$43 - La Tour Carnet (91 points from Robert Parker)
$40 - La Dame de Montrose (88 points from Robert Parker)
$39 - Reserve de la Contesse Lalande
$36 - Chateau Hortevie (88 points from Robert Parker)
$35 - Chasse-Spleen (88 points from Robert Parker)
$32 - Chateau Coufran
$32 - Belgrave (89 points from Robert Parker)
$31 - Lalande-Borie (90 points from Robert Parker)
$31 - Reignac (90 points from Robert Parker)
$31 - Meyney (86 points from Robert Parker)
$30 - Marquis de Calon
$30 - Clarke (90 points from Robert Parker)
$28 - Du Glana
$28 - Charmail (90 points from Robert Parker)
$27 - Clement-Pichon
$27 - Lanessan (90 points from Robert Parker)
$27 - Conseiller (91 points from Robert Parker)
$27 - Les Grands Chenes (91 points from Robert Parker)
$26 - Rollan de By (90 points from Robert Parker)
$22 - d'Escurac (89 points from Robert Parker)
$19 - Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes (89 points from Robert Parker)
$19 - Beaumont
$18 - Verdigan
$17 - Sorbey
$17 - Caronne St. Gemme
$17 - La Tour St. Bonnet (88 points from Robert Parker)
$16 - Bernadotte
$13 - Haut-Nadeau
$12 - Haut-Belian "Prestige"
For wines with a list price under $25, the best are La Tour St. Bonnet, Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes, and d'Escurac (from a Robert Parker points perspective). I purchased Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes on sale for $16 from J.J. Buckley, and it was definitely a high-QPR wine IMO.
Of the two lowest-priced wines, Haut-Nadeau has more body and somewhat more structure and tannins, but I think the Haut-Belian "Prestige," with good fruit and toasty oak flavors, is also a very good everyday table wine. K&L Wines has noted that Haut-Nadeau was their #1 seller among all 2005 Bordeaux wines (and they are a premier wine shop for Bordeaux). Last year, K&L also offered the Haut-Belian "Prestige" for $9.49 a bottle for their wine club members -- which represented incredible value for that price IMO.
In the Medoc, "Cru Bourgeois" is a collective name that refers to approximately 200 chateaux that were not classified among the elite estates. The quality of the Cru Bourgeois wines ranges all the way from mediocre to excellent. Since we have focused on wines costing less than $40, we have already identified many of the better Cru Bourgeois wines in the Medoc. It should be noted that there are other petit chateaux in the Medoc that are also excellent, but not identified as cru bourgeois. Here are 42 of the Cru Bourgeois producers that are commonly identified as excellent:
Poujeaux, Chasse-Spleen, Siran, Haut-Marbuzet, Lebegorce Zede,
Ormes-de Pez, Phelan Segur, Potensac, d'Angludet, Fourcas-Hosten,
Meyney, Maucaillou, du Breuil, Les Ormes-Sorbet, Sociando-Mallut,
Senejac, Bournac, Griviere, du Moulin Rouge, Clarke, Coufran,
Gloria, du Glana, Greysac, Paloumey, Ramafort, Rollan de By,
La Tour de By, Caronne St. Gemme, d'Escurac, Cambon la Pelouse,
Beaumont, Clement-Pichon, d'Arche, Charmail, Les Grands Chenes,
Lanessan, Verdigan, d'Aurilhac, Gironville, Larrivaux, and Poitevin.
This wine received 89 points from Robert Parker, "Made from a blend of half Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, this sensational wine exhibits excellent texture, medium body, and soft tannins. It is a beauty to enjoy over 5-6 years." The list price is $19.