The notion of “budget Bordeaux” might seem like an oxymoron—such is the gaudy reputation of France’s most lauded wine. But, I’m here to tell you that you can drink French Bordeaux on a budget—even a writer’s budget, like mine. Sure, if you’ve got money to burn, here in Utah you can pick up a nice bottle of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2008 at $871, Chateau Latour 1988 for $741, Chateau Haut-Brion 2000 priced at $698, or go really big with a 2005 Cheval Blanc that you’ll want to put away for a couple decades, priced at a whopping $1,302. There’s even a 6,000-mL bottle of 1999 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild awaiting purchase for a mere $6,052.
But where’s the fun in that? Isn’t it more rewarding to track down the bottle of excellent Bordeaux priced well under $100? I think so.
One way to get into name-brand Bordeaux without a big Bordeaux budget is to settle for seconds. “Second” wines from top-tier Bordeaux winemakers date back to the 18th century. Essentially, it’s the practice of using the same blend of grapes used in their No. 1 wines, made by the same winemaker, but often using younger grapes or those of lesser-quality lots than go into their more expensive bottles. At a fraction of the price, you can get a glimpse into the flavor and aroma characteristics of wines like Château Haut-Brion, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Margaux by purchasing their “second” wines: Bahans Haut-Brion, Carruades de Lafite-Rothschild, Le Petit Cheval and Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux, respectively.
These second wines will be less polished, less intense, less distinguished, structured and complex than their big brothers. But, as I said, you’ll get some insight into the wines of these world-class wineries at close to an entry-level price. And some are very good. One such example of a great “second” Bordeaux is Clos du Marquis 2008, priced at $64, which is the second of Château Léoville-Las Cases, the 2008 vintage of which sells here for $243.
Another way to find affordable Bordeaux is to look beyond the prestigious appellations like Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Estephe, Saint-Julien and such, to lesser-known regions and appellations of Bordeaux. For example, Listrac and Moulis in The Médoc, or Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac, two communes near Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. Even lesser appellations include Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Graves de Vayre, Lalande-de-Pomerol and Montagne-Saint-Emilion. It can get pretty confusing; let your tongue and nose be your ultimate guide to Bordeaux.
A good inexpensive Bordeaux from the Bordeaux appellation I’ve been enjoying is 2010 Château Blouin ($10.75). This is a solid, entry-level Bordeaux, made by a family-owned Right Bank Bordeaux producer: a medium-bodied Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend, but with lots of depth for $11, soft and smooth and showing dark cherry notes. This could easily become my house Bordeaux for the year.
Another great bang-for-the-Bordeaux-buck is Château Loudenne Medoc 2006 ($26.49). The Loudenne estate is situated on the banks of the Gironde estuary, where it grows 132 hectares of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The 2006 vintage is rich, yet elegant, with subtle vanilla notes and a long-lasting finish. At close to the same price ($25), Château Cruzeau Pessac-Leognan 2009 is nicely concentrated and shows vibrant plum, red currant and cherry flavors, along with hints of juniper. It’s a young wine, however, and benefits greatly from aeration. So, I’d suggest opening and decanting the wine a couple hours before drinking.
One more very good budget Bordeaux is Château Potensac Medoc 2008 ($39.49). Robert Parker called this “perhaps the finest Potensac made since the 1982.” Get it while you can!