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Bordeaux

Anyone who knows me knows I’m crazy about Bordeaux. Not a guy who goes nuts over the en primeur tastings in April, those early barrel tastings that get wine journalists salivating, mostly because I don’t buy based on hype alone. Nor do I drink the top tier Médoc monsters – Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, and so on… because who can drop $1200 on a bottle on a typical Friday? But still, something about the region – its heritage, its complex classification system, and its astonishing wines – brings me back, reliably, month after month. I can count on my hands the number of months I’ve gone without Bordeaux in the past five years.

A few points to keep us all on the same page. Most people, when they’re talking about Bordeaux wines, are talking about wines from the Médoc – the most famous wine-growing region in France, I’d say, nested along the Gironde river. All of the Bordeaux wines in the famous 1855 Classification are produced in the Médoc , with the exception of Château Haut-Brion, which hails from Graves (another favorite spot of mine for its stony, delicious Cabernet and Merlot-based reds). I won’t get into the classification system, except to note that the Wikipedia article does a good job, and don’t try too hard: it’s pointless to memorize something subject to change. Beyond that, it’s important to keep in mind that five grapes are legally permitted in red Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. White Bordeaux (especially esteemed when from Graves) can include the grapes Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle, although you’ll find odd birds like Ugni Blanc and Colombard in the blend as well.

Tonight’s wine, the 2009 Chateau La Grolet, is an odd bird as well. For all that hubbub above about the Médoc, this wine is actually from the Côtes de Bourg, a little-known, tiny appellation located just across the Gironde river from Margaux. It is produced by the winemaker Jean-Luc Hubert, entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Shows a nice crimson color in the glass. On the nose, you find very forward, savory ripe fruit and a touch of cocoa and smoke. Nice and soft in texture, medium-bodied, with just enough acid to keep things going. In the mouth, it bursts with cherry fruit backed by definite mineral notes, kind of jammy – something I love in my wine. Medium finish, with the acidity keeping you coming back for another sip. Total crowd-pleaser. Totally Bordeaux. $12.

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Bordeaux: my ongoing drinking fetish, the ultimate wine in terms of structure, power, and complexity. Nothing grips like great red Bordeaux. With this in mind, it is time to reveal my latest love from the wine region I most often associate with greatness: Château Latour-Martillac, a grand vin from the Pessac-Léognan appellation exhibiting everything I love about the appellations of Graves. First, some information from the Wine Doctor, one of the preeminent wine bloggers. The name “Latour” is, of course, derived from the 12th Century stone tower which stands in front of the chateau, the chai or wine cellars, and the surrounding vineyards. Red and white vines both lie on Pyrrenean gravel, the common terroir of this region, with 33 hectares devoted to red plantings including 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot, and 9 hectares reserved for white grapes including 55% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle, with an average age of 30-40 years for all the vines.

Such terroir, along with improved winemaking techniques in recent years, results in wines with intensity and wonderful balance. The 2004 Château Latour-Martillac, comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and which received some mixed reviews in early tastings, has bloomed into a wine I would recommend for any table over the next 10 years. I found it to be a glorious dark ruby in the glass, with a highly perfumed nose full of ripe black fruits, cassis, violets, hints of smoke, and dried herbs. Over time it opened up in the glass, and emitted aromas of figs and stony earth. In the mouth, more blackcurrants and cassis paired to chocolate and silky tannins. Powerful, yet harmonious and balanced; far more velvet glove than iron here. Superb. $29 for a half-bottle.


Chateau Noaillac has a very dark presentation (purple/ruby) in the glass. Stiff tannins, but only from youth; it’s big enough to afford decanting for a half-hour, or 10 minutes of glass time. The nose consists mostly of mineral redcurrant and savory hung meat, with cassis and blackcurrants in the mouth preceding a long, round finish – maybe with a hint of rosemary or sage. Its acidity is just enough to balance the fleshy fruit, and the bite from the tannins makes it a perfect compliment to roasted meats. I really, really liked this one. I was told it’s aged in a combination of new and old French oak. Chateau Noaillac is classified as a Cru Bourgeois, which means that it is considered one of the high quality wines from the Left Bank Bordeaux regions that were not included in the 1855 Classification. While there is a high degree of controversy surrounding this label, Cru Bourgeois is still a term to look for when seeking good value in Bordeaux. This wine hails from the Médoc, one of the most famous wine-growing regions in France. With the exception of Château Haut-Brion from Graves, all of the red wines in the 1855 Classification are from the Médoc. Because it costs around $18-20 retail, I recommend trying it immediately.


I will freely admit that I am a Bordeaux fiend. No other wine generally excites me as much as Bordeaux; its beautiful structure and complexity make it a gripping experience. The Chateau La Croix de Queynac, with its blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, is easy drinking, and ready now. Soft mouthfeel, solid black fruit, and moderate tannin. Its finish is long and fascinating, with a hint of burnt match, or tar. Probably the result of natural sulfur dioxide. Definitely a good, complex wine for the $10 price tag.


The 2005 Chateau Bonnet Blanc, a white Bordeaux from the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation, is comprised of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. At first, the nose wasn’t expressive, but as the wine opened up I was increasingly impressed with its distinct citrus overtones, focused on lemon and grapefruit. Light-bodied, good balance of sweetness and acidity, and the flavors play well together. Soft mouthfeel thanks to the Muscadelle, with some good lemon fruitiness and a quick tingling finish. At around $12 a bottle, this is a surefire keeper to watch in future vintages.

Here we have some 2001 Chateau des Graves, a straightforward Bordeaux from the Graves region, where the reds are generally of higher quality than the whites (particularly those of Pessac-Leognan). Though Château de Graves evokes a famous appellation in Bordeaux, its name is
actually derived from the gravelly soil composing part of this vineyard’s terroir. This wine had a distinctly earthy quality to it, with aromas of ripe red berries, and was nice and soft, probably due to a high percentage of Merlot in the blend. Tasty, and a good introductory Bordeaux Supérieur. 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. $12 in more recent vintages.