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Library Vintage: Château de Bellevue

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It's not often we find affordable wines that are a decade old, and it's even less often we find them from Bordeaux. But it's absolutely rare that we get older vintage Bordeaux that's been cellared in limestone caves beneath the very vineyards where the wines were made—and for less than 30 bucks, to boot. In fact, this whole situation is a bit of an anomaly. And for you, that means an opportunity to score big. André Chatenoud bought Château de Bellevue in 1971 and has been harvesting his vines by hand ever since. He farms organically, and he makes and bottles and cellars his wines right at the estate. This may not seem like much of a point, except that we're talking about Bordeaux, a land run primarily by multinational corporations and their middle managers. André does it the old way, a man of the land.

A friend of mine recently visited the estate. Upon arrival, André took him down into the caves, which are actually an old limestone quarry that's been built-out for cellaring purposes. Striations in the walls are still visible, marks left from the picks of the quarrymen who dug here hundreds of years ago. And the caves are literally beneath the chateau's vineyards—in some places one can see cracks along the ceiling and tendrils of life crawling in from above. They're vine roots that have pushed down through the layers of soil in search of moisture and broken through.

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Later in the evening, André prepared huge local duck breasts over an open flame and served them rare alongside several library vintages of his own wine ('98, '03, '05). He even made his own foie gras, which he served with, of course, a Sauternes that a friend of his had made.

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My point here is that this is an honest, handmade wine, unassuming but magnificent in character. This is a wine that's had time to come of age, which is rare in a market-driven world where a great majority of wines are opened much to young. Right now, the '03 Bellevue is really singing. If the terms "older Bordeaux" and "great value" give you cognitive dissonance, this one's for you.

Château de Bellevue Lussac St-Émilion 2003 — $28 (95% merlot, 5% cabernet franc)