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October 24, 2019

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A Bordeaux makes every meal an occasion

The art of lovely wines is an evolutionary process, with our preferences and tasting habits changing over a period of time. There was a time when I drank a lot of Bordeaux, perhaps more than any other style of wine. Those days are long gone. It’s not that I don’t still have affection for Bordeaux wines, I do, but the reality is that the rest of the wine producing world offer so many Bordeaux style blend alternates at decidedly better prices.

Bordeaux still produces a larger quantity of quality red wines than any other region, but the region’s competitive advantage has narrowed. Today, both New World and Old World regions are making wines from traditional Bordeaux varieties that offer greater bang for the buck. My daily Bordeaux drinking might be gone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally revisit an old friend.

Ripeness issues

Bordeaux is technically not a warm weather region and therefore ripeness is often an issue the best winemakers tend to be very selective in the grapes they use in their chateau wines.

The leftover unripe or otherwise imperfect grapes are sold to volume Bordeaux producers of cheap supermarket wines. On the shelves of discount stores here in Shanghai and elsewhere there’s always a plethora of cheap and insipid 11-11.5 percent alcohol Bordeaux reds. You should avoid these wines.

One helpful and easy-to-follow rule when purchasing inexpensive Bordeaux wines is that you should never buy a red wine below 12 percent alcohol content. However, even when purchasing reds with 12-13 percent alcohol, that doesn’t guarantee a good drinking experience. Instead you really have to taste a lot of wines and get to know those quality producers in Bordeaux who still spend the money and take the time to make good wines.

Understanding the different quality levels is helpful when picking a lower cost Bordeaux. A majority of Bordeaux’s most-acclaimed wines are the 1855 Grand Cru Classe wines or the famous right bank wines; unfortunately, they’re by far the priciest.

Flipping the coin, we’ll start with basic AOC wines and end with some exceptional Cru Bourgeois wines that routinely outperform many Grand Cru Classe wines. Your starting point for finding inexpensive Bordeaux red wines begins at the AOC level. Many wines in this category don’t make the grade but a few do. Avoid wines with alcohol under 12 percent. Instead, pick a wine like Chateau Pasquet, a balanced wine offering robust dark fruit flavors, good ripeness at 13 percent alcohol.

Owned by the Beaugency family, this wine has a higher contribution of the Malbec grape. Other good wines at this level include Chateau Naudeau and Chateau Lamothe Sandeaux.

One step up from basic AOC level is Bordeaux Superieur wines that range from ordinary to quite good. Superieur doesn’t really mean superior, but these can be really good wines. The predominantly Merlot Chateau Pey Latour Bordeaux Superiore wine is a fine example of a well-made Bordeaux red with plenty of fruit and good structure. Another very nice wine in this category is Chateau Timberlay Superieur, a large producer of consistently good-drinking, affordable wines.

Paying a little more to get a Cru Bourgeois wine is one of the most reliable ways to experience a high-quality Bordeaux red wine. Some of the better Cru Bourgeois wines routinely outperform many 1855 Grand Cru Classe wines. Proof of this is the Saint Estephe Chateaux Meyney. For many decades this has been one of my favorite Cru Bourgeois wines featuring the concentration and depth that one expects from a top Saint Estephe wine. Another even less expensive Cru Bourgeois is the Medoc Chateau Ladignac, a silky-smooth and balanced wine.

Over the past decade one of the most reliable ways to get a well-made budget Bordeaux is to choose wines from lesser-known, right bank sub-appellations. This means selecting wines from regions surrounding the famous Saint Emilion appellation. Two fine examples are L’as de Roudier from Montagne Saint-Emilion and Chateau du Courlat from Lussac-Saint-Emilion.

In Bordeaux, vintages matter. This is especially true of good value wines. I recommend picking wines from the very good to excellent 2009, 2010 and 2015 vintages as well as the equally excellent but in many cases still too young to drink 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages. To ensure optimal performance, serve Bordeaux red wines about 18 degrees Celsius and allow at least 30 minutes for breathing.

Food pairings

Even bargain Bordeaux reds demand some fairly serious food companions. All good Bordeaux wines are structured, meaning they feature some pretty serious tannins. Some classic Bordeaux red pairings include beef rib steak with a rich sauce of Bordeaux red wine, shallots, herbs and bone marrow, rack or leg of lamb liberally sprinkled with fresh herbs and roasted or grilled or an assortment of locally produced soft, semi-hard and hard cheeses.

Bordeaux reds also pair nicely with many Chinese dishes, especially robust meats. I often enjoy structured Bordeaux reds with Mongolian lamb ribs and lamb sausages as well as with Yunnan-style fried lamb chops.

In all these cases the dark fruit flavors in the wines add flavor dimensions to the meats, while the tannins cleanse the palate and facilitate digestion.

Varieties: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most popular Bordeaux grapes with Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot increasingly playing important supporting roles.

Key term: Ripeness in the wine world refers to the amount sugar in a grape that after fermentation dictates the level of alcohol in a wine.


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