Life on the vine

I comment on wines, and the industry. I believe that you can enjoy good wine, sometimes even great wine, without spending a fortune.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Go ahead: Buy some bordeaux. You can afford it

I drove to Atlanta this weekend with two objectives in mind:
One, we wanted to visit our 19-year-old son, a freshman at Morehouse College. Two, it was time for our periodic trip to the Dekalb Farmer's Market, a huge grocery store stuffed with about very sort of meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetable from all over the world.
We like to visit the store, which is about 10 miles east of Atlanta proper, as a good alternative to the plain-vanilla grocery stores in our town -- Macon, Georgia, about 80 miles south of Atlanta.
Personally, I like to visit the store because I prefer to shop for my wine and my food at the same time. It saves time and, candidly, since so much of my wine drinking is everyday consumption, I really don't need to go to a fancy wineshop that often each year. I make about five visits a year to a really good wineshop, stock up on fine wines and leave it at that.
Anyway, the Dekalb Farmer's Market has a decent wine section. I'd estimate there about about 2,000 different brands to choose from -- most of them in the reasonable $10-$20 range.
I usually head straight to the bordeaux section. That's because not many stores in my city sell bordeaux -- not even the wineshops. The best wineshop in Macon has, at any one time, no more than four different bottles of bordeaux for sale.
That's a shame since bordeaux, in my estimation and that of many, many others, is clearly the best wine there is. It certainly should be the most popular. Every year, the growers in the bordeaux region of France produce 700 million bottles a year, and 80 percent of that is red wine.
The perception is that bordeaux is not a wine the average U.S. consumer would want. That perception is fueled by a myth. Yes, bordeaux can be damned expensive. The best bordeaux can sell for $1,500-$2,500 a bottle at auction.
But don't let that figure scare you away from bordeaux. You ought to be able to get a good bottle of bordeaux at a well-stocked grocery store, like the DeKalb's Farmer's Market near me, for under $30. You can also get a bottle for under $30 at many good wine shops.
Last weekend, I paid $16 for a bottle of mid-grade, 2000 bordeaux from Chateau Bel Air.
A few tips of how to get the best out of your bordeaux buying experience. I'll stick to the reds. We'll discuss the white and sparkling wines from the region in another post:
1. Try to buy bottles from the 2000 vintage. That, of course, is consider the very best vintage since the famous 1961 vintage.
2. If you can't find a bottle of 2000 bordeaux, buy anything from 1995-on -- except wine from 1997 or 2004. The incredible string of good bordeaux wines started in 1995, by many accounts and continued until the 2003 vintage.
3. Wine from 1998 and 1999 is pretty good -- about the closest there is to the 2000 vintage.
4. Don't worry too much about trying to decipher the label. It looks complex, but here is the bottom-line: Bordeaux wines from the Left Bank -- as in left of the Gironde River, which bisects the Bordeaux region -- are made primarily with cabernet sauvignon grapes. That's the tough, deep-colored grape. If you like really hearty meat, such as steak, with your wine, bordeaux from the Left Bank is what you want. It won't say "Left Bank" on the label, but look for wines from these chateaux: Medoc, Haut-Medoc, Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Estephe, St.-Julien, Graves. These are names that command high prices in the marketplace for their very best wine. Still, there you can buy some good bordeaux from this region for $35. Secondly, the bordeaux from the Right Bank is made primarily with the merlot grape. That's a little bit easier-to-drink. In the U.S., merlot has been among the most popular wine because it matches well with a lot of meats. In fact, merlot and a hamburger or ham-and-cheese sandwich is a perfect match. OK, you want to look for these chateaux on the label: Pomerol, St.-Emilion. These two wine producers are the best of the best from the Right Bank.


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