This text comes from my book which is about to be published ‘Bordeaux Sip by Sip – getting to the heart of Bordeaux Wine’.
The label is almost all wine enthusiasts have to go on. They look for any clue that might lead them to a good wine, something that they have heard of, or impressive words such as ‘grand cru classé’ – what this does do is to drive up the price!
Here’s how to find good value wines in Bordeaux ‘without breaking the bank’;
Poor Cousins: these properties lie ‘just next door’ to famous appellations but are on the wrong side of the boundary line.
A good example is the large Haut-Médoc appellation which covers many different terroirs. The Haut-Médoc appellation surrounds the prestigious village appellations of Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. The terroir might be comparable to their famous neighbours yet the price tag is a quarter or less. (This of course, can have a knock-on effect in terms of the technologies they can afford to use.) Their proximity cannot be mentioned on the label but there is a clue. If you look closely, the village name is written in small at the bottom of the label ‘Propriétaire à …’ You can then check the exact property location. If it shows that the vineyard is near Margaux or Saint-Julien, it might, perhaps, have a similar terroir and perhaps a similar style….
For names of châteaux that lie ‘on the wrong side of the boundary line, see below.
Unclassified: there are some properties with similar terroir to their famous classified neighbours but who themselves were not classified at the time due to a number of reasons such as poor management, political differences or simply that they did not exist. Here are some examples.
Sauternes producer Haut-Bergeron has plots next to classified stars, Yquem and Climens
Angludet missed being classified so offers good value in Margaux
Gloria and du Glana in the hallowed appellation of Saint-Julien
Phélan-Ségur and Haut-Marbuzet in Saint-Estèphe
Saint-Emilion is a large appellation with 800 properties on many different soil types. Only 80 or so properties have a prestigious place in the Saint-Emilion classification. Today this is based on factors outside of the wine quality such as the château building itself and reputation. There are between around 500 of these appellation Grand Cru properties neighbouring famous classified châteaux but do not fulfil the requirements to become classified themselves. Competition keeps prices relatively low.
Béard La Chapelle, Grand Cru Saint-Emilion, has belonged to the same family of vine growers for nine generations. The property is made up of little plots around the village of Saint-Laurent-des-Combes with famous neighbours such as Tertre Rôteboeuf and Bellefont-Belcier. It had a slow start as it used to sell its grapes to the local cooperative but has been making its own wine now attracting a steady following.
Good Value Saint-Emilion Grand Cru: Béard La Chapelle, Rozier, Laroze, Jean Faure, Cantenac, Pindefleurs, Teyssier
Old-fashioned Reputation or ‘out of favour’: villages without the fashionable names that perhaps in the past earned themselves a reputation for producing wines that were tannic and hard requiring years to soften. Historically, this was the sign of a good wine, today tastes have changed favouring ‘fruit forward’ wines.
This applies to appellations Listrac, Moulis and Médoc on the Left Bank and Fronsac on the Right Bank.
Graves, the area to the south of Bordeaux, severed in 1987 from the superior Pessac-Léognan appellation, has since suffered unfairly from an inferior reputation.
Segmentation: within some appellations, due to a certain terroir, there are some areas that are deemed higher quality. Pomerol has only 15 or so properties on its thick clay and gravel plateau that command very high prices. The best value properties may not have the perfect terroir of Petrus but there are some excellent wines produced that lie just off this plateau. The rest of the appellation has sandier soil and produces earlier drinking wines at a 10th the price or less.
Unheard of appellations: Bordeaux is large so there are a number of appellations that consumers around the world have not heard of. These often represent good value for money and, with social media marketing, are beginning to make a name for themselves. For example Fronsac and Côtes de Bourg.
Some of them decided to group together to market their wines as a single force. These are the ‘Côtes de Bordeaux’ and include Castillon, Francs, Cadillac and Blaye.
Here are my favorite examples of good value Bordeaux;
Moulis; Chasse Spleen
Listrac; Saronsot Dupré, Mayne Lalande
Haut Medoc Near to Margaux; Paloumey
Haut Medoc Near to St Julien; Lanessan
Haut Medoc Near to St Estephe; Sociando Mallet
St Julien; Camensac
Graves; des Places, de Cérons, Tour de Pin
Côtes de Bourg; Maldoror
Castillon ; Puy Arnaud, Pillebois
Fronsac; Gaby, Haut Chassagne