April 15, 2008

Nice red Bordeaux for less than 10 dollars in Chicago 
  Do not expect miracles; But, to my taste, some offer better value in that price range than their Chilean, Californian, or Australian competitors.

I’m glad you asked me that question Stéphane since in recent months I have been tasting a few of them and I intended to write about my findings on this blog. As you know, even though I have been advocating for years the good value offered by red wines from my native Languedoc, like Costières de Nimes, Corbières, Côteaux du Languedoc, or Minervois, since it is probably the area of France where wine growers and producers have accomplished the most obvious progress in vinification, I still have a deep loyalty to small red Bordeaux. And since this terribly long and depressing winter we had this year in Chicago forced me too often to limit my outdoor activities, I used that occasion to often cook French ‘’comfort food’’ type of dishes on week-ends. So, with simple ‘’cuisine bourgeoise’’ dishes like Fricassée de Poulet (chicken) aux Champignons (mushrooms), Veau Marengo (veal stew), Sauté d’Agneau (lamb) aux Tomates et aux Olives, Boeuf (beef) aux carottes, Gibelotte de Lapin (rabbit), or Filet Mignon de Porc (pork tenderloin) au Thym et à la Moutarde, there was no doubt in my mind that small Bordeaux would be ideal pairs for this kind of food.
So from late December to late March I decided to test as many red Bordeaux as I could find for less than 10 dollars . But this time I did not visited my favorite smaller wine shops (The Bottle Shop in Wilmette, The wine Seller in Geneva, Randolph Wine Cellars, South Loop Wine Cellar, Howard Wine Cellar, Wine Discount Center, and Fine Wine Brokers, in Chicago) because I suspected that my chances to find Bordeaux in that price range would be more limited there. Instead I decided to limit my search to the two largest retailers of wine in the Chicago area, Binny’s and Sam’s, since I knew that their choice of smaller Bordeaux is wider. So I went to 3 different Bynny’s wine stores on N. Clark St., W. Grand Avenue, and the most recent one on Jefferson St. in the South Loop, as well as to Sam’s main store on Marcey St,
(now bought by Binny's in 2010). 
I have to say right away that I found much better deals at Binny’s than at Sam’s, where I could spot only 3 Bordeaux in that price range. So I ended up buying most bottles at Binny’s. I tested 20 Bordeaux, but only 8 of them were, to my taste, interesting enough to be listed here. (see list below). And as usual, I checked a couple of cheap Bordeaux at Trader Joe’s and I selected one of them in this list. I was a bit apprehensive to start with, since a few months before I started this particular search I had bought a few remaining 2003 small Bordeaux and I found their merits sometimes inconsistent, even though I have to admit that some were very good. I was hoping to find some good 2004, a year that has been a bit underrated and that produced some very decent Bordeaux sold at very reasonable prices. In fact I think that 2004 might prove to be a very interesting vintage.

But for some reasons 80 % of the wines I found on the shelves of these 2 retailers were already 2005’s. Now, everybody is claiming the charms of this vintage and some say it might prove as good if not even better than the 1982, 1990, or 2000, in red Bordeaux. Some writers even used, once again, the famous ‘’vintage of the century’’ superlative, which in my opinion is a bit far fetched now. The weather was so warm and dry during the growing season that the grapes, a bit smaller than usual, were very mature at harvest time, but with a high ratio of skin to juice, resulting in wines with a high level of concentration. It also meant a higher level of tannins, especially in the Cabernet-Sauvignons. Fortunately nights were cooler for a few weeks before harvest time, allowing to keep enough acidity in those grapes for good balance. So I think that for the great wines from the Médoc or the Graves, it will be a good idea to wait a few years before we can have a precise idea of the level of greatness of the 2005 vintage. I would like to point out however that nowadays, Bordeaux growers who have been suffering from the competition of ‘’New World’’ wine makers, mainly from Australia, Chile, and the United States, are sometimes trying to imitate them
These “New world” wine makers were successful in their effort to please the taste of the new generation of younger wine drinkers, especially in Europe and in the U.S., who enjoy softer, fruit-forward but too often jammy for my taste, easy to drink mellow red wines. So some Bordeaux wine growers have started to vinify their wines to satisfy this new demand. They now offer wines that do not need long cellaring, can be drunk young, have softer tannins, and unfortunately have much less originality and ‘’terroir’’ personality that their predecessors. To me it is a bit of a shame that not only a few Bordeaux start to taste like their Australian or American Merlots or Cabs counterparts, with no real balance (too much fruit and not enough acidity), but also that so many French liquor and wine groups, have invested massively in these new world countries to produce there what is becoming a large chunk of their main competition in their own turf. However, a few small independent ‘’propriétaires-viticulteurs’’ (small vineyards owners) have continued to make more traditional Bordeaux, with a good fruit-to acidity ratio, some nice tannic properties, and a minimum of body and structure. They do not try to systematically produce soft, immediately pleasing wines, that do not require any effort to appreciate. They still believe in the merits of their own soil and weather, a minimum of aging, often in small oak barrels, and in their own inherent ability to create a balanced blend of Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, perhaps a bit of Petit-Verdot or Malbec (a grape that seems to come back in fashion these days, after its success in Argentina). That is the kind of ‘’petits Bordeaux’’ that I was looking for. They are usually simply labeled as ‘’Bordeaux’’. If you are very lucky, you can sometimes find a Bordeaux Supérieur, and even less often a Côtes de Bourg or Côtes de Blaye, ‘’on sale’’, in that price category. But I have to admit that you cannot expect them to compare to a Médoc, a Saint-Emilion or a Graves. The finish of many of them is a bit short. You will not jump out of your chair in ecstasy after the first gulp...and chances are that most of these wines will benefit from a few minutes of oxygen. In any case: Long life to these brave small producers... And let’s enjoy these wines that are neither for the elitists, snobs, sophisticated “foodies”, or fashionistas, but simply for people who enjoy well-made wines with character and personality. And believe me, dollar for dollar they provide more clean satisfaction and pleasure than some of their presently popular competitors.

Here are a few small Bordeaux that I found in Chicago which in my opinion are decently made. Most of them can be drunk now

The numbering corresponds to my own preferences in decreasing order after only one tasting. 1. CHATEAU COMBRAY Bordeaux 2005 Produced by Ginestet, Bordeaux, a large old distribution house that owns vineyards and has its own winemakers to blend wines. Imported by Glazers, Dallas Distributed locally by Chicago Wine Merchants 7.99 dollars at Binny’s Gold Medal at the Concours General Agricole, Paris 2006 Merlot 70% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Cabernet Franc 20% Seductive dark ruby color Pleasant nose, slightly smoky Good balance fruit-acidity Relatively soft tannins Some body . Rather dry structure. Notes of ripe black cherry and black currant Decent but finish is a bit short Altogether a nice little wine that will please the more “traditional” palates, as well as the more “contemporary” American wine drinker.  
2. CHATEAU LESTRILLE Bordeaux Supérieur 2003 Estelle Roumage, viticultrice (wine grower) Imported by Fine Vines, Melrose Park, IL 8.99 dollars at Binny’s (The 2005 to come out now will be a bit more expensive and will be a bit over this present price range) 100% Merlot Great nose Good body and structure Very smooth tannins Good fruit but well balanced. Notes of cherry A touch of leather Very nice finish A very pleasant wine that will satisfy young American drinkers.  
3. CHATEAU ROLAND LA GARDE Premières Côtes de Blaye 2005 Produced by Bruno Martin in a legendary castle where Roland, Charlemagne’s favorite Knight who was killed while passing the Pyrenees Mountains. 9.99 dollars at Binny’s Hand harvested 67% Merlot 33% Cabernet Sauvignon Aged in new French Oak barrels Very rich dark color Pleasant earthy nose with notes of dark cherry and a touch of coffee Rather tannic but no harshness Some elegance that should develop with age Still a bit thin in terms of structure and complexity but full bodied Nice finish Obviously the result of good vinification, this wine is already quite drinkable but it should improve considerably in a couple of years . 
4. CHATEAU MICHEL DE VERT Lussac St. Emilion 2006 Produced by Vignoble Laubie in Lussac. But bottled by Ginestet. Imported by Plum Ridge 7.99 dollars at Trader Joe’s 80% Merlot 20% Cabernet Sauvignon Nice dark ruby color Decent structure for such a young wine Good Fruit-acidity balance Still a bit thin Not as good as the 2004 but still a very good value. In spite of its youth is quite drinkable
5. CHATEAU NODEAU Côtes de Bourg 2005 Vignobles De Pardieu 7.99 dollars at Binny’s Essentially Merlot. Very good feeling of ‘’terroir’’ Tannins are rather masculine but relatively soft Some notes of berries A ‘’real’’ Côtes de Bourg’’ Will certainly mellow a bit over the next 2 years, but quite drinkable now.
6. CHATEAU NICOT Bordeaux 2005 Vignobles Dubourg 7.99 dollars at Binny's
Merlot and Cabernet-Sauvignon
A very pleasant, well balanced, round wine with soft tannins.
7. CHATEAU DES JUDES Bordeaux, 2005 Vignobles Lavaud Imported by Glazers in Dallas. Distributed locally by Chicago Wine Merchants. 8.99 dollars at Binny’s Gold Medal at the Concours General Agricole, Paris 2006 Merlot 70% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Cabernet Franc 10% Dark purple color Pleasant nose Good body Relatively soft tannins Notes of dark red cherry and some licorice Pleasant to drink now but short on finish Has potential. Will probably improve in a couple of years
8. CHATEAU BOESSIE Bordeaux 2005 7.99 dollars at Binny’s Merlot 60% Cabernet-Sauvignon 40% Dark color Rather bland nose Powerful but already softening tannins Strong body Notes of grilled bread and ripe black berries Will probably develop nicely but needs at least 2 more years Again, good potential but still lacks distinction and finesse at this time 

Some other low-priced Bordeaux wines that I tasted, but that for one reason or another did not seduced me enough to prompt me to go back to the store to buy a second bottle. However they are quite drinkable. 

Château la Raballe Château Mylord Châteu Val Darel Château de Lisennes Château Grand Montet Mouton-Cadet Château de la Taille Château Prignac Château les Remises

A ta santé

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