Bordeaux beauties on the cheap 

Bordeaux has been the standard in quality for centuries. No other region has been held in such high esteem without interruption for as long as this port city on the Atlantic Coast. The phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century devastated France’s vineyards, but Bordeaux was one of the first areas to get back on its feet, and picked up where it left off as the world’s most prestigious wine region.

There is no question that today, other wine regions in France and elsewhere offer the same quality. But on the whole, Bordeaux is the most expensive region and internationally is often the standard by which other wines are valued and even judged.

All this said, what is the actual state of Bordeaux today? This subject is a huge topic, but there are a few things we can briefly consider. First, Bordeaux has gone through internationalization. It used to be that California and other areas looked to Bordeaux for guidance. Today, there are plenty of wines made in Bordeaux that barely resemble their forbears and instead wear new world sensibilities.

While the 1855 classification applies to six left-bank areas and Pomerol and St. Emilion have long held right-bank glory, superb wines are being made outside of the major communes. The Haut Medoc and satellites like Lalande de Pomerol are providing, for the money, some of Bordeaux’s best wines.

While a huge amount of wine is made in Bordeaux every year and at all price levels, there are the good, the bad and even the ugly. Luckily, there are also the beauties, and here are three that won’t break the bank.

Chateau Lavagnac Bordeaux, 2005: Owned by Maison Riviere, a négociant, this is simply Bordeaux AOC — but I would take it over many wines twice its price. Composed of 70 percent merlot, it has surprisingly good structure with plums, mocha and a dollop of vanilla. Suggested retail: $14

Tellus Vinea Bordeaux, 2006: This little treat comes to us from the Pueyo brothers, who own Chateau Belregard-Figeac and Chateau La Fleur Garderose in St. Emilion. Located on the Lalande de Pomerol border, this wine is also dominated by merlot. At first, I got a little whiff of dough — unusual for Bordeaux — but an explosion of black cherries with an occasional hint of cocoa and minerals came storming through, leaving a long finish and impression. Suggested retail: $17

Chateau Couronneau Volte Face, Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux, 2006: Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux is the most eastern area in the region and it is known for both its dry red and sweet white wines. Merlot is king, though cabernet sauvignon is also used in small amounts. Couronneau is a historic castle, once inhabited by the descendents of Jacques Cartier. Aromatic with chocolate and black cherry fruit, this wine has body yet it is not very tannic — giving it a rich, impacting mouth feel. Suggested retail: $18

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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