Back in February, Times wine writer Eric Asimov published an article about the slow turning of perceptions w.r.t. Bordeaux. In a sense, he writes, Bordeaux has become a sort of underdog in the world of hip sommeliers and young wine drinkers. It's an odd way to position wines whose exemplars currently fetch upwards of $1500 per bottle, but I sort of know what he means.
When I first starting drinking wine, Bordeaux seemed stuffy and out of reach. The cheap bottles seemed boring, while the expensive bottles were reserved for serious collectors only. And studying the region's tertiary and quinary appellations in search of purity seemed like, I don't know, a waste of time? At least I felt like my time was better spent elsewhere. I had a lot to learn! When done right, basic Bordeaux transcends its name and delivers a truly peculiar greatness. Power and finesse combined with an everyday drinkability. What holds it back, for the average consumer, is really a combination of economics (at the high end) and lack of effort on the part of buyers (on the low end). Here's what Asimov had to say:
Bordeaux at least seems to have transcended its period of disregard. Sommeliers and many younger wine drinkers now acknowledge the region’s history and importance, while expressing appreciation of the wines. What had been a sort of faddish dismissal of Bordeaux has evolved into at least grudging affection and a useful discussion of the region’s problems.
Part of that "grudging affection" comes from a shift in focus, if not away from the big players, at least a little more inclusion of the small farmers of the region. One of the things I've come to learn in the years since that first snub is that it comes down to who's in charge. There's a lot variation these days in methods, from the farming to the cellar to the bottling and marketing. It's worth the extra work to find the smaller producers doing things with a special care for the land and the culture that make their wines what they are.
In this spirit, we've decided to show off a few top notch (but affordably priced!) entry-level Bordeaux. They're all hand-harvested, minimally treated and greatly expressive. After all, with a little research and a lot of tasting, there is plenty out there to love. It's just a matter of finding it.
Free Tasting Saturday, April 20 | 3-5pm
Chateau Tire Pé Bordeaux 2009 — $16
From importer Jenny & Francois: David and Hélène Barrault took over this small vineyard in ’97. Blessed with rich clay and limestone soils this vineyard possesses fantastic southern exposures and overlooks the Gironde River. The chateau takes its name from a colorful local tale about what small animals “leave behind” before climbing the Tire Pé hill. The Barrault’s farm there ten to fifteen year-old vines organically and great care is taken to gently extract the supple fruit and terroir, that Bordeaux is so well known for, into each cuvee they produce.
Chateau Belregard Figeac Tellus Vinea Bordeaux 2009 — $18
From importer Neil Rosenthal: The Pueyo Family has owned Belregard Figeac since 1853. The estate has remained in the family and this continuous ownership is accompanied by the priceless and intimate knowledge of the best parcels of each vineyard gained through seasons of observation. This is the kind of understanding that no amount of time at university can replace. It shows through in the wine, a true example of the character of their particular corner of Saint Emilion.
Chateau la Peyre Haut-Medoc 2010 — $26
From importer Neil Rosenthal: The Rabiller family has a long tradition of growing grapes in Saint Estephe. However, in the past, the entire harvest was sold to the local cooperative. Dany and René Rabiller, the current proprietors, recognized the potential of their vineyards. They decided to build their own winery on the family estate and, since 1994, they have vinified and bottled their own wine. The careful attention given to the vineyards follows through to the winemaking process. Grapes are only harvested by hand. Before going into the fermentation tanks, the bunches are carefully sorted by hand to remove any underripe or damaged grapes. The Rabillers follow traditional winemaking techniques, preferring a long "cuvaison" or maceration period in the fermentation tank. This allows gentle extraction of color, tannins and flavor components and results in a naturally concentrated and well-balanced wine.