Bordeaux is known for being a rather posh wine region. The land of regal chateaux — and home to Château Petrus, Château d’Yquem, five “first growths” and multiple trophy wines — even many of its lesser-tier wines are pricey. Yet while the famous, expensive wines get most of the attention, there are many small producers who just go about their business and make tasty wines that will please your bank account.
Red wines from Bordeaux can be made from five grapes: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petite verdot. Merlot is the most widely planted and usually accounts for the heaviest proportion of the blend in the AOCs (appellation d’origine controlee) that offer the most value. They are:
Bordeaux: If a label simply says “Bordeaux” it can come from any area within the region’s 95,000 acres of vineyard land. Generally, these light wines are made from young vines and live for about two to four years.
Bordeaux Supérieur: Bordeaux Supérieur wines come from older parcels of land, have more body and can age an extra year or two more than the Bordeaux AOC. Close to 55 percent of Bordeaux that is produced is Bordeaux Supérieur AOC.
Côtes de Bordeaux: The Côtes de Bordeaux AOC was launched in 2009 and encompasses four satellite appellations on the right of the Garonne River. They are: Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux and Francs Côtes de Bordeaux. Côtes de Bordeaux is used for blends from more than one of the areas. These wines generally come from better terroirs and can live from five to seven years.
While I don’t have the same expectations of Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur and Côtes de Bordeaux that I have of the wines from the top communes, they need to be balanced, express terroir and be worth the money, no matter how inexpensive they might be. Here are three that overdeliver:
Château Puy-Marceau Bordeaux AOC, 2009: Bruno Baylet, who owns the properties Château Landereau and Château de l’Hoste Blanc, makes Puy-Marceau. Composed of 60 percent merlot and with the rest being equal parts cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, this gem offers a classic Bordeaux nose with dried herbs, blackberries, cocoa and vanilla beans. Suggested retail: $12
Château Croix du Grand Jard Bordeaux AOC, 2009: Made on an unassuming family-run property to the right of Gironde River, this was a superb surprise. A blend of 80 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, it has a mound of bittersweet chocolate and blackberries with strong mineral currents. Suggested retail: $12
Château Cazat-Beauchêne Bordeaux Supèrieur AOC, 2008: Château Cazat-Beauchêne is located on the northern edge of the Saint-Emilion border and shares a similar limestone and clay terroir. The two chateau, Cazat and Beauchêne, made wine separately until after World War II. Merlot makes up the majority of the blend, with 15 percent each of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. This wine has a richness to it, with notes of espresso beans, spice, black cherries and minerals. Suggested retail: $14
Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.