Bordeaux Tasting: Values from a Vaunted Vintage

Post date: Nov 29, 2010 1:35:13 PM

The results of the Bordeaux tasting were particularly gratifying to me.  I had taken a chance and pulled a bottle of 1978 La Dominique from the commune of St. Emilion out of our cellar.  I was pretty sure that the wine was over the hill.  1978 wasn't a classic vintage, but it was pretty good.  Since I was suffering from a cold, I needed an assist in evaluating the wine.  There was no telltale sign of brown color at the edge of the glass indicating oxidation.  Our friends, Chip, Allen, David, Ray, Nick and Joost all concluded that the wine, although mature, still was fantastic.

The favorites among the red wines were the:

Clos Du Marquis,  Saint Julien 2007            $35

Chateau Gloria, Saint Julien  2004                $40

Chateau Vrai Canon Bouche, Canon Fronsac 2003        $25

La Vielle Cure, Fronsac 2003                              $25

Each of these wines is considered to be a "best ever" in 2009.  You can purchase these on line as futures or pray that the Euro declines vis-a-vis the dollar by the time that they are released to the public in the Spring of 2012. 

The white wine that caught everyone's attention was the Chateau Graville Lacoste, Graves 2009.  I really enjoy Sauvignon Blanc but I rely on Ronnie to discern the very good from the merely OK.  This got a 10 on Ronnie's scale and best of all can be purchased today for under $18. 

It looks like 2009 will be another historic vintage. Yes, yes I know that I just told you that about the 2005 vintage. However, the praise for wines of this vintage is near universal. I’ve seen all the hype before so I was skeptical until I experienced the depth of reporting from the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, JJ Buckley, and Stephen Tanzer. Their insights weren’t just some frothy overload from a PR flack. The good news for you California Cab lovers is that 2009 was an exceptional year for the Left Bank wines.

2009 is the real deal, however ...

This is going to be a difficult year for finding extraordinary values in Bordeaux. The problem is that much of the First Growth wines have been snapped up by Asian buyers sending future prices into the stratosphere. The current futures price for 1 bottle of Chateau Margaux is $1,680. That is the per bottle price! Who can afford such a ridiculous tariff?

Where the hell is the recession when you need it? When the market gets so over exuberant I follow some simple strategies to get great value from an outstanding year.

My Strategies for Getting Value in a Vaunted Vintage.

Rising Tide Floats all Boats. There are some yeoman like wine makers in Bordeaux that in exceptional years really ramp up their quality. Consider Potensac. In most times it is little more than an afterthought, but its 2009 offering is considered even better than the classic 1982.

The Little Sister. In the finest years, the cuvees rejected for First Growth bottling that get dumped into a secondary label produce extraordinary wines. The 2009 Leoville Las-Cases is rated by Parker as 96-100 points and is available on future for $400 per bottle. The little sister of L L-C is the 2009 Clos du Marquis (WA 91-93) for only $50 per bottle. OK, this is not an “any Tuesday evening wine”, but something worthy of cellaring. Not ready to shell out $4,974 per bottle for Petrus (WA 98-100)? You should try the La Fleur Petrus (WA 96-98) for only $136 - $320 per bottle. Can 2 points on Parker’s scale really be worth $4,650 per bottle?

The Breakout The rigidity of the French classification of 1855 can blind the market to the up and coming wines. I’ve long admired the wines of Clinet and the 2009 vintage produced a legitimate 97-100 knockout. Getting your hands on a 100 point wine typically sets you back at least $750 and as much as $4,800 per bottle. The lesser known Clinet can be purchased at MacArthur’s Beverages in DC for $162 per bottle.

The Fallen Angel Some of the wines that made me fall in love with Bordeaux have fallen on hard times. If you’ve been disappointed several vintages in a row, you may treat the wines like a date that stood you up several times. Talbot is that type of wine for me. In 1982 it was a 95 point wine ($200 - $310) that snapped me to attention. The intervening years weren’t kind with some thoroughly insipid offerings. 2009 holds the promise of a return to the glory years. Parker rates it as 92-94 points and is only $55 per bottle (Binny’s in Chicago and MacArthurs in DC)

Wrong Neighborhood You really can’t judge a wine by a GPS code. But often you can find a wine from the wrong side of the tracks that stomps on its tonier neighbor. Belle Vue (Haut Medoc, Left Bank) and Bellevue (St. Emilion, Right Bank) provide such a comparison. The Belle Vue from Medoc is a 92 pointer that you can pick up at Binny’s for $17.95. The St. Emilion Bellevue is also a 92 point wine but will set you back $64 at the White House in SF. Look for outstanding values from Fronsac, Canon Fronsac and the Cotes de Castillion and in particular Domaine de l’A and D’Aiguillhe Querre and Chateaud’Aiguilhe.