Surely, you have an image of Bordeaux. Stately and historic chateaus with massive iron gates, sweeping graveled and tree-lined drives, a formal staff to greet you as you get out of your Bentley, foie gras at a long oak table and decanters of first-growths served on trays a manicured staff.
You may be right if you envision the chateaus of Lafite-Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Latour, or Mouton-Rothschild. But there’s this other Bordeaux. It’s a place where you enjoy the special wines of this historic region without shelling out gobs of money for tightly allocated and expensive wines from these iconic chateaus. It’s the unheralded Bordeaux where new generations are making wine just as their forefathers did -- with humility, pride, and low expectations. It is wine for the masses – their families, neighbors, and, of course, themselves.
In the many times we have visited Bordeaux, we are awed not by the premier or first-growth chateaus, but by the unpretentious, down-to-earth producers who crank out simple wines at reasonable prices. These are places run by men and women who run the business, help harvest, and strap on boots to crush the grapes. Alas, many of these wines never make it to our shores because, to their producers, the idea of international distribution is as foreign as a seat on a shuttle to the moon.
These wines are unclassified, and that means they don’t make the grade of a classified growth – first, second, third, et al – that was established in 1855. They do not have the premier vineyards of, say, Lafite-Rothschild, but they use the same grape varieties and wine-making techniques.
There are more than 6,500 wine estates in Bordeaux’s 60 appellations and most of them are unclassified. Wines from the Left Bank’s Medoc are customarily expensive, but bargains can be found in subregions, such as Cotes de Bourg. Two other things to look for are Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur AOCs. More than half of the wines produced in Bordeaux fall under these labels and most of them are from the Right Bank’s Entre-Deux-Mers region.
Another label to look for is “crus bourgeois.” This title has gone in an out of favor with French regulators and today it is not a recognized classification. But some producers still use it.
These wines are sold in small quantities, so they may be hard to find. Consider internet services, ask your local wine maven, or best, fly to Bordeaux.
Chateau Moulin de Tricot Haut-Medoc 2014 ($30). This splendid wine has developed a cult following. The family has been making wine from cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes grown in a tiny 7-acre plot for three centuries. How could you not love it? It has huge tannins, an earthy personality, and classic Margaux flavors.
Chateau Sociando-Mallet Haut-Medoc 2015 ($30). We have several vintages of this gem starting with 2000. Part of our love of this cru-bourgeois wine was inspired by Jean Gautreau, the winemaker and owner who resurrected this historic property in the late 1960s. We have visited with him and appreciate his insistence that it’s okay to get high yields from vineyards. His wine has been criticized for its green bell pepper flavors, but patient collectors are rewarded if they decant this wine for more than an hour and let it age for at least 10 years.
Chateau Aney Haut-Medoc 2014 ($30). This historic estate fell into disrepair years ago, but new owners restored its justly earned cru bourgeois status in 1978. Ever since then it has been cranking out reliable and value-priced bordeaux. The vineyards are planted with mostly cabernet sauvignon but also merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc.
Légende Bordeaux Rouge 2016 ($18). This is a wine created by Domaines Baron de Rothschild, makers of Lafite-Rothschild. It is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and 40 percent merlot. Simple yet nicely representative of Bordeaux, it is medium in body with raspberry and currant notes. Round and youthful.
Légende Paulliac 2015 ($50). A blend of 70 percent cabernet sauvignon and 30 percent merlot, this wine is more structured than the generic Bordeaux blend. More tannin, more layered with dark fruit character, and a hint of pepper and licorice.
Chateau Bibian Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2015 ($20). Very aromatic with ripe red fruit flavors and a mineral, vanilla nuances. It is largely merlot with the remainder made up of cabernet sauvignon, petit Verdot and cabernet franc. The estate is near Listrac.
Chateau Puygueraud Francs-Cotes De Bordeaux 2015 ($25). This well-priced red Bordeaux from a great vintage is often found discounted. A blend of 80 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet franc and 5 percent malbec, this ripe fruit-driven wine features elements of plum and cherry, with some spice notes. Full bodied, but balanced.
Cambria Estate Winery Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($25). It’s hard to find a decent pinot noir at this price, but every year Cambria manages to make one. Simple, ripe blackberry and cherry fruit flavors with a dash of spice.
The Prisoner Napa Valley Red Wine 2017 ($47). Even though production of this wine has ramped up under the ownership of (Const ellaton), it continues to sell well. A blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah and charbono, it has very ripe and juicy black fruit flavors with evident oak-infused hints of chocolate and vanilla.
Kim Crawford New Zealand Chardonnay 2017 ($17). New Zealand isn’t known for its chrdonnay, but we occasionally come across one that stands out. The climate and soil here create a unique flavor profile that includes stone fruit and butterscotch with a hint of herbs and lemon.
Cuvaison Brut Rose Methode Champenoise 2015 ($50). We loved the vibrant, bold fruit flavors of this blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. It is aged for two years on the lees. Strawberry and cherry notes.
Domaine Bousquet Ameri 2015 ($36). This is a delicious, well-structured blend of malbec, cabenet sauvignon, syrah and merlot. Floral, plum aromas with ripe, raisiny dark fruit flavors and a hint of black pepper. Only 500 cases made of this wine.
Gehricke Los Carneros Pinot Noir 2015 ($32). A good value for a pinot noir, this wine has ripe and luscious cherry flavors a dash of plum and cloves.