Retail Education: Bordeaux Wines Not Out of Reach

We’ve read over-the-top articles about over-the top prices for the most famous Bordeaux châteaux, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many really delicious Bordeaux alternatives for you and your customers. Take heart!

When you follow the levels of the AOC/AOP regulations, the broadest area is Bordeaux, followed by a stricter level — Bordeaux Supérieur. This is just below the single regions of Bordeaux, where the top châteaux reside. Bordeaux Supérieur is sitting in a very nice place. FYI — the Bordeaux designation was established in 1936, while the Bordeaux Supérieur designation was established 7 years later in 1943, in response to growing demand for more specific quality designations.

While Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur account for more than half of the total area planted in vines in the Bordeaux winegrowing region, the larger ‘Bordeaux’ designation may include red, white, rosé, a deeper pink clairet, and sparkling (Crémant de Bordeaux) wines, while the ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’ wines may only include red and white wines. What makes them different?

The Bordeaux Supérieur wines have lower maximum yields, later release dates including mandatory 12 months of cellaring, and slightly higher minimum alcohols. Often, but not required, these wines are made from older vines. Their goal is complexity and a sense of Bordeaux place. The reds often have a predominance of Merlot. Many come from Entre-Deux-Mers, which has clay and limestone. Happily, the wines are not that expensive.

At a recent tasting in NY, there were 74 wines present, both Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, white and red. Of those, only about a dozen were Bordeaux Supérieur, illustrating the ratio of both categories. In order to avoid palate fatigue, I began by tasting only the Supérieurs at every table that had them. At other tables that were only showing AOC Bordeaux wines, I asked each pourer to point me to the single best wine at the table. Those servers had a pretty good idea of which wines they were, and it saved me time and palate burn-out!

Château de Camarsac is a great value at $11.00.

Château de Camarsac is a great value at $11.00.

Here are my favorite red AOC Bordeaux Supérieur:

  • Château Julian 2010 (BNP) – very floral nose
  • Château Le Calvaire 2009 (Cheval Quancard) – tannic, still not ready
  • Château de Camarsac Cuvée Prestige 2011 (Monsieur Touton) — has 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon, grown on gravel
  • Domaine de Montalon 2009 (Roadhouse Wine Merchants) — good balance
  • Château Saincrit 2012, and Château Saincrit ‘Vieille
  • Vignes’ 2011 (Roadhouse Wine   Merchants) – good fruit balanced with tannin
  • Château Argadens 2006 (Sol Stars Wines) — traditional style, from Maison Sichel

 

Here are my favorite red AOC Bordeaux:

(Note: in the hands of a fine producer, these can be exceptional as well)

  • Château Loumelat Cuvée J-J Lesgourgues 2011 (Baron François) — tannic structure
  • Château Bonnet 2011 (Deutsch Family) — good rich fruitiness
  • Château Saint-Suplice 2010 (Frederick Wildman) — some earthy notes
  • Château Tire Pé Les Malbecs 2010 (Jenny and François Selections) — slightly smoky
  • Beau Père 2012 (Metrowine) — aromatic, modern style
  • Château Mirefleurs 2010 (Luneau USA) — oaky, from 12 months in barrel
  • Quien 2010 (House of Burgundy) — very fresh, stainless with minimal oak

 

One more AOC Bordeaux wine of note: Clarendelle, named for Clarence Dillon and created by his grandson Prince Robert of Luxembourg (Clarence Dillon Wines), which is a ‘top-end’ branded AOC Bordeaux collection ‘inspired by Haut-Brion.’ It is available in red, white, rosé, and amberwine (sweet dessert wine). The wines are held back longer than required before release.

Moderate prices vary on all of these wines, especially when there is extra aging, but there is nothing listed here that will scare off your customers.

 

Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSS is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. To reach Harriet, email hlembeck@mindspring.com.

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