Benchmark Wine Producers in Bordeaux
Bordeaux’s legendary reputation throughout the world is based on its long-lived, earthy reds and, even more specifically, on a handful of elite and expensive so-called first-growth châteaus with such notable names as Lafite, Latour and Haut-Brion. Beyond this sampling of renowned wines, Bordeaux turns out a vast amount of affordable reds, whites and even sweet wines.
Though classified as a less prestigious fifth-growth producer, Château Lynch-Bages has long aimed far above its rank and is responsible today for some of Pauillac’s top wines. Made in a powerful, firmly structured style, the wines are also more reasonably priced than bottlings of similar quality (thanks to the estate’s unfairly low status). Also a smart buy is the estate’s second wine, Echo de Lynch-Bages. Photo courtesy of Château Brane-Cantenac.
This second-growth Margaux estate is owned by Henri Lurton, who inherited it from his father, Lucien, a member of one of Bordeaux’s most dynamic wine dynasties. The younger Lurton is also the winemaker, and although he’s a trained enologist, it’s his focus on the vineyards that has most rejuvenated quality. The winery’s second wine, Baron de Brane, is a great value.
Pomerol does not officially rank its chateaus, but if it did, Trotanoy no doubt would place at the top. Owned by the Moueix family, Trotanoy is small and (like all Pomerol estates) focused on Merlot. Its 18 acres turn out just 2,000 or so cases of the grand vin each year, and the wine’s price reflects its rarity.
Named for a British major general who acquired the estate in 1814, spent a fortune and ran it into the ground, Château Palmer is today among the stars of Margaux. It’s now owned by the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families, who have kept the long-lived grand vin on a steady course while introducing a second wine, Alter Ego, which delivers plenty of class at a more modest price. Photo courtesy of Château Greysac.
Château Greysac is a standard-bearer for well-made, widely available and accessibly priced Bordeaux red wines. The estate, which offers just two bottlings each year (the second is called Château de By), is located north of St-Estèphe in Bégadan, a small town. The top wine gets its supple tannins from a relatively high percentage of Merlot in the blend—a full 50 percent in the 2008 vintage, for example.
L’Aura de Cambon
New vineyards are rare in Margaux. When the town butcher was willing to sell a 1.2-acre plot next to Château Margaux in 2002, vintner Jean-Pierre Marie, owner of Château Cambon La Pelouse, bought it and planted vines. The resulting wine is a stunner.
Château Cantenac Brown
Château Cantenac Brown burst out of the middle ranks of Margaux estates with its latest vintages, made under Simon Halabi, a former billionaire who bought the property in 2006 and has spent lavishly to update it. Halabi’s finances have not fared well—a London court declared him bankrupt in 2010—so whether the estate can continue to invest in such quality remains to be seen.
This Graves estate spreads across a hilly outcrop of especially deep gravel in Pessac-Léognan. The soil is one reason Carbonnieux’s white is among the finest in Bordeaux. Another factor keeping quality high is Denis Dubourdieu, the superstar winemaking consultant who has lent his talents here since the 1980s.
Château de Fieuzal
This historic Pessac-Léognan estate produces more red wine than white, but lately Fieuzal’s stylish white—a flavorful blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon—has generated more excitement. Irish banker Lochlan Quinn purchased the estate over a decade ago and immediately improved it; one of his wisest moves was hiring talented winemaker Stéphen Carrier in 2007.
Wine magnate Bernard Magrez bought this sizable St-Émilion grand cru estate in 1999 and diligently improved the vineyards and the winery—something he has done many times before with other Châteaus in his portfolio, including Pape Clément and La Tour Carnet. Made in a minimalist winemaking fashion under the direction of famed consultant Michel Rolland, the wine has become one of the best values in St-Émilion.
Not long after taking over his family’s Margaux estate in 1995, Emmanuel Cruse began a massive renovation: regrafting vines, building a new cellar and bringing in winemaking star Jacques Boissenot to consult. These days Château d’Issan is making wines worthy of its illustrious heritage (Issan wine, it is said, was served at Eleanor of Aquitaine’s wedding in 1152).
The Moueix family owns several of the most prestigious Châteaus of Bordeaux, including Pétrus and Trotanoy in Pomerol. Winemaker and president of the family company, Christian Moueix also makes lovely, affordable négociant wines from grapes both purchased from select growers and declassified from estate properties. Not surprisingly, the Pomerol stands out.
Château Pape Clément
This Pessac-Léognan estate was turning out fine wine as early as 1305, when its owner was Pope Clement V (hence its name). Pape Clément’s modern reputation can be traced to the 1950s and the involvement of Émile Peynaud (one of France’s best winemakers). Today, part-owner Bernard Magrez and consultant Michel Rolland are the stewards of its benchmark wines.
Château de Pez
The claim to fame of Château de Pez, founded in 1452, used to be that it was one of the oldest estates in St-Estèphe. But since being acquired by the Rouzaud family (who own several top wine houses, including Louis Roederer and Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande) in 1995, it has been attracting equal fame for the pristine quality of its wine.
Château La Tour Carnet
Bernard Magrez owns some 35 luxury wine estates in France and abroad, and he seems to have a knack for bringing out the best in them, often enlisting the help of winemaking talent Michel Rolland. He has succeeded again with La Tour Carnet, an overachieving fourth-growth Haut-Médoc estate that produces exceptionally classy wines at very fair prices.