Okay, it's really expensive. But . . .
Uncorked by Thor Iverson
Red Bordeaux represents the pinnacle of quality and prestige in winemaking. At
least, that's what its proponents would have you believe. What they
don't tell you is that it also stands alone at the pinnacle of the
and that you may need to sell your parents into indentured servitude to
afford a case or two. But the highly touted 1995 vintage has finally hit the
stores, and so the question for the average wine consumer is clear: is this
stuff worth it?
Bordeaux's long-held position at the top of the wine hierarchy is the result
of a consistent and measured approach to viticulture and winemaking, a
classification of producers that acts as a sort of quality guarantee, and the
early (and continuing) enthusiasm of the British for the wine they call
"claret." Nearly nine centuries of acclaim in Britain laid the foundation for a
reputation that has only increased as the wines have found new markets.
In fact, Bordeaux is so revered that the rest of the world has expended insane
quantities of energy, money, and grapes in a fruitless (sorry) attempt to
emulate it. Bordeaux is one of the very few French wines that are almost always
blends (most of the others are from the Rhône Valley), and the principal
grapes of Bordeaux -- cabernet sauvignon and merlot -- are grown nearly
everywhere wine is made.
The other three important grapes of the region --
cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot -- usually tag along.
But be warned: for those weaned on the tastes of American, Australian, or
Chilean cabs and merlots, Bordeaux is something of an unpleasant shock. The
huge, in-your-face flavor of cabernet sauvignon and the friendly,
blueberry-dominated taste of merlot are MIA in the majority of Bordeaux. And
what fruit flavor there is battles a heavy layer of
tannin and a
generally austere character typical of the region's wines. Otherwise
unappetizing taste descriptors such as cigar box, lead pencil,
leather, and tar are usually employed to describe these
Worse, Bordeaux is expensive.
Really expensive, due to the almost
ridiculous demand for the wine in Europe and America and the exploding wine
market in Asia. It's not uncommon to see price increases of 100 percent
from one vintage
to the next, yet there are waiting lists of buyers ready to
pay whatever premium sellers wish to charge.
So why would anyone want to drink the stuff? Because of what happens to it
when it ages. Mature Bordeaux takes on earthy, spicy, richly complex
aromas and flavors
that seemingly come out of nowhere. Yet the wine's firm structure never
really disappears, which is why many people describe Bordeaux as an
"intellectual" wine (versus Burgundy, the quintessential "sensual" wine). Put
another way, mature Bordeaux makes you want to sip and contemplate, whereas
mature Burgundy makes you want to get naked and dance around in the forest. But
no matter what your state of dress, you'll have to stave off your pleasure:
even Bordeaux from
mediocre to lousy vintages
('91, '92, '93) can take five or
more years to come around, and well-made wines from
great vintages ('88, '89,
'90, and perhaps '95) can be virtually ageless. Take note: people are
still drinking delicious Bordeaux from the 1800s, and some of the top
wines from the 1929 and 1945 vintages are not yet fully mature.
Bordeaux labels are easy to understand. There's the producer's name (often
"Château something"), a vintage date,
and an appellation. The appellation
could be a generic, regionwide one (Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur) or a
more specific subregion (Médoc, Fronsac, Côtes de Bourg), and
though this is important for predicting the flavor profile of the wine
reigns supreme in Bordeaux, too), for the Bordeaux beginner
appellations can also help with aging potential. Good wines from the top
appellations (Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estèphe, St-Émilion,
Pomerol, Margaux, and, to a lesser extent, Graves and Pessac-Léognan)
have the potential to be longer agers than other Bordeaux -- and are usually
Depending on the appellation, there might also be a classification based on
rankings of the châteaux done in 1855 and at various more recent times.
These classifications, often expressed in French -- premier cru means
"first growth," grand cru classé means "classed great growth,"
and so on -- are useful and surprisingly accurate in measuring potential
quality. (For more detail on Bordeaux classifications and the region in
general, pick up a copy of Robert M. Parker Jr.'s comprehensive
Bordeaux, published by Simon and Schuster.)
Young Bordeaux is often poured at retailers' weekly
tastings, but older
Bordeaux is rarely available for tasting. Thankfully for the consumer, the high
price of young Bordeaux often means that older bottles are a better deal,
especially from off-vintages like '91 through '94 (pay close attention to
However, if you're interested in stocking away a few young
Bordeaux, here's a guide to a few of the best I've tasted this fall. All are
from the '95 vintage, and prices are approximate:
Bring your wallet (under $25): d'Arhe (Haut-Médoc),
Beaumont (Haut-Médoc), Belgrave (Haut-Médoc),
Cantamerle (Haut-Médoc), la Cardonne (Médoc),
Citran (Haut-Médoc), Cugat "Cuvée Première"
(Bordeaux Supérieur), Fourcas Hosten (Listrac),
Larose-Trintaudon (Haut-Médoc), la Patache (Pomerol),
Bring your friend's wallet (under $45): Beauregard (Pomerol), le
Boscq (St-Estèphe), la Cabanne (Pomerol), Carbonnieux
(Pessac-Léognan), la Clusière (St-Émilion), la
Couronne (St-Émilion), de Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan),
du Glana Vieilles Vignes (St-Julien), Haut-Bages Libéral
(Pauillac), Haut-Bergey (Pessac-Léognan),
Malartic-Lagravière (Pessac-Léognan), Meyney
(St-Estèphe), Paveil de Luze (Margaux), Picard
(St-Estèphe), Smith Haut-Lafitte (Pessac-Léognan).
Bring your rich uncle's will: Beychevelle (St-Julien), Cantenac
Brown (Margaux), Lafon-Rochet (St-Estèphe), Larmande
(St-Émilion), Léoville Poyferré (St-Julien),
Lynch-Bages (Pauillac), Pichon-Lalande (Pauillac).
Thor Iverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks go out to all the people who made our 2nd Uncorked tasting such a success.
First and foremost, we thank everyone who attended; it was great meeting all of you
and hearing your opinions on wine. Second, many thanks to the retailers who supplied
wine for our event: Howie and Phil from Bauer Wine & Spirits, John from
Vines, Tom from Marty's, Angie from Best Cellars, and Mike from
Brookline Liquor Mart. And finally, extra-special thanks to Sarah and all the staff
at Cosmopolitan for hosting such a great event, and for the excellent food.
The Uncorked archive