Budget Bordeaux for the Cellar!

If there is one wine producing region most guilty of runaway price inflation (and there are a few), then it is probably Bordeaux. The commodification of this once heralded wine has rendered most of its great names inaccessible to all but the wealthiest collectors, BUT hope remains…

While prices in Burgundy are driven by high demand on exceptionally limited supply (for the best grand crus at least), the Chateaus of Bordeaux actually produce quite a large number of bottles. The classified ‘growths’ are so well regarded for their ability to age for decades, that their popularity has turned them into a commodity to be traded like stocks (futures anyone?) and their prestige attracts those wishing to show off rather than enjoy the darn bottle. The attraction of Bordeaux to wealthy citizens of the world, including more recently China and Japan, has also been stoked aggressively by the Bordelaise, helping to drive up demand among people for whom money is no object.

 

That cynical rant aside, there are still some remarkable cru bourgeois and even some 4th and 5th growth Bordeaux wines that remain firmly in the relative value territory. Today we try two Haut-Medoc wines that trade for < $20 and one that goes for ~ $30 in most vintages. What’s extraordinary about these delightful wines (besides being reasonably priced) is that they have all the legendary longevity of great Bordeaux, offering a fascinating evolution that will please for 20 years at least.

 

Chateau Lanessan

The story goes that Lanessan was not included in the 1855 classification because the proprietor simply did not want to send in free samples to the committee. Their loss, but our gain. Lanessan trades in the mid-teens on release, and given their large production, lots of matured bottles occasionally appear in major outlets like K&L. A new oenologist was brought in starting with the 2015 vintage, and while critical reception has been highly positive (best Lanessan ever, and that sort of thing), the jury is still out as to whether or not it will maintain its classic, age-worthy Bordeaux character.

2007 —

Color was healthy and young, a rich velvet red. Nose was a bit weedy on opening, but fleshed out with air though green tobacco and herbs were quite dominant with only a modest underpinning of red fruit making itself known. Palate was medium bodied with relatively light ripe tannin and still good freshness. On day two, a hearty smoky quality dominated. Pleasant with dinner but needs five more years for my taste.

 

1999 —

Beautifully intact. Nice mature color, nose of green tobacco, purple flowers, leather, small red fruits, and earth. Palate has just enough freshness remaining, tannins are integrated, and it is tasty and smooth. I was surprised that there was fruit left, but it had a nice red berry quality mixed with the mature notes. Peak drinking for mature claret. $19.99!!

 

Chateau Senejac

Another classic Cru Bourgeois for under 20$, is Senejac. Typically more accessible than Lanessan, it show classic Medoc fruit that is much softer and less structured than Lanessan, but quite traditionally styled with appropriate tannin. 2014 was a very good year for traditional Bordeaux. Not overripe, it appealed to long-time fans of particular Chateaus who appreciate a more restrained style.

2014 —

Nice young Bordeaux, showing good typicity and some accessibility at this age. Nose is fresh earth, green tobacco, resin, dark fruits, and smoke, palate is medium fresh, silky smooth/ripe tannin and dark cherry/blackberry fruits. Nice structure for medium term aging, up to ten years at least, less built than Lanessan or Cantemerle at this stage. Quite nice now decanted if you like a bit of oomph. Still plenty of freshness to suggest it will age well for another ten years.

 

Chateau Cantemerle

The only classified growth in my tasting today, Cantemerle was accidentally left off the 1855 list due to a clerical error, which was corrected in 1856. Fortunately today, Cantemerle is a classic Medoc wine that is not only immensely pleasing to drink but will age gracefully for decades. At ~ $30 for all but the most outstanding vintages (2010), (and even then only after the scores are released), it is a very reasonable addition to the cellar.

 

2014 —

Tight as a drum of course. Left open for a few hours, then double decanted and left for a few hours more. At this point it started to show some nice aromas of red fruit, licorice, and oak while the palate broadened into a rich and powerful texture. The tannin was surprisingly ripe and pleasing though the oak unsurprisingly not integrated. Even after another day it improved showing rich spiced red fruit character and well balanced acid. A very very classy Medoc that will age handsomely for 20+ years.

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Affordable Bordeaux: a nod to the elephant in the cellar

My goal, when it comes to wine, is to seek out solid age-able wines for not insane amounts of $$. The Bordeaux region of France could not be more antithetical to that aim. But I would be remiss if I passed on the opportunity to explore one of the last great values from a classified chateau.

 

So enter Chateau Cantemerle, a fifth growth Bordeaux in the Haut (high or upper) Medoc on the left bank of the Gironde. Catemerle is so far one of only two additions or changes to the 1855 French classification of its vineyards, and it was added less than a year later after someone realized it was left off by accident. The importance of classification is an evolving discussion particularly given the Bordeaux merchants success in marketing their products worldwide, leaving any reasonable value in Bordeaux wine to the unclassified producers. Catemerle produces a Bordeaux Superior and a second wine (shown above) that still manage quality red wines from a ranked Chateau for between 30-45$ depending on the reputation of the vintage (don’t get me ranting on the grand silliness of Bordeaux futures).

 

2009 Les Allees de Cantemerle

Price: 20-25$

Where to Buy: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating – *2-8 years  90pts

The second wine of this Chateau is an approachable on release, but I had to include this 2009 because it is still readily available and an incredible chance to try a mature good value Bordeaux. It is much less age-worthy and structured than its big brother and as such is now showing some awesome cedar and dried mushroom notes with a fine cocoa finish. Still some dark fruit left but generally old-world. This is a weeknight wine, but it’ll start some conversation for sure.

 

2010 Chateau Cantemerle

Price: 45-50$ (30$ less for 2012)

Where to Buy: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating: *** 10+ years (the 2012 is more ** 5-10 years)  93pts

 

The flagship Bordeaux Superior of this Chateau is a wonderfully balanced and approachable wine that can still age gracefully for 10 years or much more for those who prefer the smoother, less fruit forward characteristics of mature wines. 2010 was a fantastic vintage for age-worthy wines, and for those who want something more approachable should look at the 2012 But its a nice, rich wine today with rich impenetrable blue fruits, jammy yet still with savory streak to balance the palate.

I love Cantemerle because at <50$ it is far far more affordable than most classified Bordeaux, and especially for the 2010 vintage, it is a wine that can go for a long long time. In other less structured vintages its an even better value and the 2012 is currently available too. 2015 is lining up to be an equal to 2010.

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot.