Fact Sheet: Bordeaux
Located in a corner of southwestern France, Bordeaux is where the very notion of wine snobbery was invented. Snob appeal aside, the wines of Bordeaux are some of the greatest in the world; they're the perfect holiday present for the hard-to-please oenophile.
Geography Lesson Bordeaux is divided into two sub-regions: the Médoc, Graves and Sauternes (the Left Bank), and, across the Gironde, Pomerol and St-Émilion (the Right Bank). Left Bank reds are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, while Right Bank reds are mostly Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc.
Château Count There are 12,000 producers in Bordeaux—most called Château whether they have an actual château or not, though many sell less-than-great wines.
Vintage Facts The best wines from the monumental 2000 vintage won't arrive until next year. So look for wines from the solid 1998 and 1999 vintages at prices much lower than the 2000s, plus Sauternes from the 1996 vintage.
10 TOP BOTTLES
2000 Château Haut-Vigneau ($25) Graceful and medium-bodied, this red from a winery on the outskirts of the city of Bordeaux offers an early glimpse of an already-legendary vintage.
1999 Château Haut-Brion ($200) This is Bordeaux's oldest château-bottled red and perhaps its greatest aristocrat. After decanting, it shows a highly refined combination of coffee, plum and spice.
1999 Château la Grave à Pomerol ($33) This wine shows why the prices of many Pomerols have gone so high. It's spicy, lush and filled with red cherry fruit.
1999 Château Palmer ($90) The Margaux region produced some of the most filled-in, satisfying Bordeaux reds of 1999, but this rich, elegant wine seems to have come from an even better vintage.
1999 Cos D'Estournel ($65) This property can be mentioned in the same breath as the greatest Bordeaux châteaus—but charges a fraction of their prices. This dense, fleshy red is a star of the vintage.
1998 Château de Sales ($38) One of the most widely available wines from Pomerol, this luscious red, full of succulent fruit, is also a real bargain.
1998 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc ($60) Though red wines are the source of Bordeaux's reputation, there are top whites made there too—including this rich, seductive wine from the Pessac-Léognan region, packed with mouth-watering flavors of grapefruit and fig.
1998 Clos des Jacobins ($45) The 1998 vintage was spectacular for Right Bank vineyards, and this ripe, chewy red from St-Émilion is an absolute steal at the price.
1996 Château Raymond-Lafon ($40) The other glory of Bordeaux is, of course, the sweet wines of Sauternes. This beautiful, complex white from a top older vintage offers aromas of vanilla, candied apricot and lemon.
1999 Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild ($50) A gorgeous "second wine" made from the young vines of the fabled Château Mouton Rothschild, this mouth-filling red captures all the famous estate's elegance with an extra bit of cassis-plum fruitiness.