For most wine consumers, the days of purchasing $500 bottles of first growth Bordeaux are long gone. Even for industry professionals looking to replenish depleted cellar stocks, buying a $500 bottle (and quantity of it) for the cellar is not exactly attractive anymore. And to be honest, with advances in winemaking, it may not be all that necessary. Such was the conversation my brother and I had as we worked our way through a bottle 2000 Ladera Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (still too young). My brother and I decided to shift our focus toward “smart wines”. These are wines that show tremendous potential to relax in the cellar for 10 years and continue to soften, develop and provide loads of complexity at their peak. What’s really smart about them is they won’t require a second mortgage or a secret withdrawal from your retirement account.
Smart is sexy, knowledge is power and there’s nothing better than being sexy and powerful. Armed with the right information you can amass a sexy Bordeaux collection without tapping into your retirement fund. If you are purchasing Bordeaux as financial investment, stop reading, this article is not for you. If you are purchasing Bordeaux as a lifestyle enhancement, by all means, read on.
Focus on lesser known regions.
Just as you would shell out more green for a bottle that says Napa versus a bottle that says Paso Robles (in theory), you’ll also be relieved of more money by purchasing wines from the following appellations (regions) in Bordeaux:
The wines from these regions command high prices because they are believed to be the best regions in Bordeaux to grow grapes. But there are 60 official wine regions within Bordeaux, many producing top scoring wines. Of course, it’s easy to get lost and confused - right bank, left bank, premier cru, grand cru, etc. Thinking outside the box (er, region) and exploring the Bordeaux’s not so famous appellations will afford you great wines without emptying the bank. Here are three appellation that offer incredible values if you take the time to search for the right wines:
Having said that, don’t simply give up on the more popular regions because you think you can’t afford them. There are plenty of values to be found by doing your homework. Get to the wine store, purchase a few different bottles and explore. There’s an enormous amount of Bordeaux that can be found in the $30 -$40 range that will provide pleasurable drinking for years to come.
Watch That Vintage
If you are a regular reader of the major wine publications it’s easy to succumb to the totality and hype of the vintage score. While it is true that some vintages are better than others, vintage scores are a huge generalization that mislead wine drinkers (drinkers, not collectors). Limiting your purchases to only the “best” vintages will limit your chances of scoring a real value. Here’s a great example. The 1997 vintage in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux was given an overall score of 82 points by The Wine Advocate. The Moulis appellation (tucked just north and west of Margaux) is not considered for a vintage score. Clearly The Wine Advocate is not a big fan of 1997 vintage. About six miles separates Chateau Poujeaux and Chateau Margaux. So while there are certainly microclimates and other factors, I don’t think one can say that Moulis had a better or worse growing year than Margaux. So If the famous and well respected Chateau Margaux didn’t have it’s best year, could the smaller Chateau do any better? Compare the reviews of their wines below taken from The Wine Advocate’s April 2000 edition:
1997 Chateau Margaux - 90 Points
Price at Time of Release - $185 per bottle
Undoubtedly a success for the vintage, this immensely charming, dark ruby/purple-colored wine exhibits floral, black currant, and smoky, toasty oak aromas. There is admirable richness, excellent ripeness, not a great deal of density, or superb concentration, but plenty of finesse, suppleness, and character. It can be drunk young, or cellared for 12-15 years.
1997 Chateau Poujeaux - 89 Points
Price at Time of Release - $25 per bottle
Undoubtedly a sleeper of the vintage, and probably the finest 1997 cru bourgeois, Poujeaux's 1997 exhibits a dense purple color as well as a sweet nose of black fruits complemented by toasty oak and loamy soil scents. Textured, layered, and rich, with low acidity and an excellent ripe finish, it can be drunk now and over the next 10-15 years. Bravo!
You bet your bottom dollar the smart shopper stockpiled Chateau Poujeaux. I’ll take 7 cases of Chateau Poujeaux to the one case of Chateau Margaux. There’s more to spread around and share with friends. Look for sleeper wines in “off” vintages. You’ll find real value through due diligence. When doing your research, ignore the points and focus on verbiage. As California winemaker Randall Grahm (more on him soon) stated, “You can’t drink a point score”. By eliminating prejudice based on both vintage scores and wine ratings, you can free yourself to find values based on smart research, tasting and overall enjoyment of the wine.
Here are a few recommendations for wines that will hold steady in the cellar and provide great enjoyment for years to come. They can all be found for under $40 per bottle and most for under $30.
2001 Chateau La Vieille Cure Fronsac
2006 Chateau Greysac Medoc
2007 Chateau Godeau Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
2006 Chateau Guitignan Moulis en Medoc
2008 Chateau Tour Puyblanquet Saint-Émilion
2003 Chateau Poujeaux Moulis en Medoc