The Bordeaux producers group rolled into town yesterday with a roadshow tasting of 100 Bordeauxs priced under $25. I went feeling more dutiful than optimistic, but walked out at the end both surprised and impressed by some of the wines.
Bordeaux, of course, is a vast region—it produces some 60 to 70 million cases of wine per year, only 3 to 5% of which is the classified growths and top St. Emilions and Pomerols that US wine buyers typically associate with the region. To geek out a bit more on the factoids, the region has more than 9,000 wine producers, 300,000 acres of vineyards and 57 different appellations. (And Merlot is the most widely planted grape variety—take that, Sideways!)
In other words, there's an ocean of Bordeaux out there beyond the Château Margauxs and Lafite-Rothschilds we all know and pretty much all wish we were drinking. (I did hear it once said that Mick Jagger's house wine was Château Margaux. No idea if this is true, but I do like the sound of it.)
In any case, here are a few good affordable Bordeauxs to look out for, based on yesterday's tasting:
2005 Château Lamothe de Haux ($14) This blend of Semillon (40%), Sauvignon Blanc (40) and Muscadelle (20) has appealing, grassy Sauvignon notes in the aroma, and melony, round fruit.
2004 Château Villa Bel-Air Blanc ($22) The Cazes family owns Villa Bel-Air, and their reputation for quality is borne out in this full-flavored white: waxy citrus and stone fruit notes dominate the flavors.
2003 Château Lestrille Capmartin ($18) Spicy vanilla oak notes on the nose lead into savory flavors, and an appealing, gamey ripeness shown by a number of the '03 Merlot-based wines I tasted (this is 95% Merlot).2004 Benjamin de Vieux Château Gaubert ($18) Very Graves-like—appropriate, since that's where it's from—the scent here is of smoky, spicy French oak. Meaty notes and that classic burnt rocks Graves character follow up (not sure quite how you burn a rock, but that's really what it suggests).
2004 Château La Grande Clotte ($22) This is uber-winemaker Michel Rolland's own property; the wine is made by his wife Dany. A blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc, the scent recalls ripe cherries, and the forceful tannins and spicy, seemingly oaky notes are actually the result of 60 year old vines grown in deep clay; the wine is made in glass-lined cement vats, and sees no oak at all.
2002 Château Gueyrosse ($23) A year of additional age has brought out the pretty currant and berry aromas in this medium-bodied, Merlot-driven wine. It finishes on a light touch of mint.
2003 Château Fleur de Jean Gué ($23) Appealing plum notes and a bit of that classic Bordelaise brett/bandaid-box scent. Dry, rich and smoky, with black plum flavors (again, this is primarily Merlot (80%). Evidently I was on a Merlot-binge at this tasting.)
2004 Château Ampelia ($25) François Despagne, the owner and winemaker of Grand Corbin Despagne, makes this focused red from the Côtes de Castillon region; it's very aromatic, with a leathery note that a number of the '04s I tasted were showing. Round, dark and worth aging a few years.