Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Drink like a Robber Baron | March 21, 2011


You’ve heard the names: Latour, Haut-Brion, Lafite, Cos D’Estournel, Palmer, Pétrus, Cheval Blanc
And if you haven’t heard the names, we’re talking wines that fetch $500, $800, $1200 dollars… a bottle. Basically, if you took a blogger salary, multiplied it by ten, then added $1200, you’d have enough to buy a $1200 bottle of Château Pétrus.-
These are the legendary, age-worthy Grand Cru reds of Bordeaux. Powerful, elegant expressions based on Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. They are the wines of English royalty (Bordeaux was under British rule from the mid 12th century to the mid 15th century), presidents, dignitaries, captains of industry, railroad tycoons, and robber barons. Got a fistful of dough and want to make a statement? Nothing says “power lunch” like a lion standing atop a fortress; the trademark of a commanding bottle of Château Latour.

However, most of us are not named Andrew Carnegie or C. Montgomery Burns. We own no hotels on Boardwalk, nor do we go swimming within the gilded confines of our Money Bins. How can we get our grubby, unmanicured mitts on these treasures?
Rather easily, actually. As it turns out, the Grand Cru wines account for a very small percentage of red wine production in Bordeaux (red representing 89% of total wine made). 50% of total production falls under the “Bordeaux AOC” or “Bordeaux Supérieur AOC”, the latter basically meaning 1% higher required alcohol. These designations constitute wines that can be made from grapes grown anywhere in the Bordeaux appellation. While not as age-worthy, complex, or expressive of unique bits and pieces of terroir (a “sense of place” that the French hold in much higher regard than the fruit used- thus, the reason why most wines are labeled by region, not by the variety of grape), these gems can offer great value.
Exceptional value, really. I know this, because I’ve been nursing 5 bottles (lovingly sent to me as samples by Balzac Communications for a “Planet Bordeaux” tasting) all weekend, and I hate that they will eventually go bad. Listen: I’ve been stuck at home with the baby all weekend, and drinking five bottles of wine by yourself is hard. Especially when you know you’ll be waking up at 7 AM to hungry whimpers, no matter where you fell the night before.
All of these wines- spanning a few different vintages- are either 100% Merlot or Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends. Much of the Cabernet Sauvignon sits on some blue-blooded real estate in Bordeaux, while Merlot gets around like Tiger Woods on ecstasy; the most widely-planted grape in the region. Cheaper land = cheaper grapes = more affordable wine. Ergo, these bottlings are Merlot-heavy (and that’s okay). They run the gamut from fruit-bombs to earthy, acidic and tannic, explosively aromatic to as subtle as an outdated and misguided attempt at golf humor.

But while many offer more fruit-forward nature than is typical in lots of “old world” (European) wine, they all demonstrate a “food friendliness” and balance- slightly lower alcohol, more restained fruit, higher acidity- often not found in the wines of California, Australia, or Argentina at this price point… between $12 and $20. I can’t say many wines from the ubiquitous California producers seen in every store and at every party can offer this level of quality and balance for around $15. Oh, you French. Spectacular winemakers, terrible marketers.
Regardless, I applaud their latest efforts to get these wines in the hands of American consumers. In fact, this weekend’s samples represent the second batch of “value” Bordeaux wines I’ve received in 7 days (the remains of the former allotment dispatched after evaluation, courtesy of some large-livered friends). I hope that one or two folks make it this far into the post and feel compelled to try something new.
If you’re one of those people, screw the “buy American” ethos that a global economy has nearly obsoleted and take on chance on a bottle of Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur. You’ll be sure to find value, quality, and hopefully a new favorite.
If anything, you’ll be able to brag that you at least drink like a tycoon.
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