Today’s Bordeaux Won’t Break the Bank

Courtesy of Tasting Table.

Courtesy of Tasting Table

I don’t write much about it here, but I love wine. When I lived in France for a year, it was all I drank, besides the odd demi-pêche at the pub from time to time. Because I’ve traveled there frequently and have family there, I’m particularly partial to Alsatian whites, but the truth is I never tasted a French wine I didn’t like.

Stateside, it’s not always affordable to slake my thirsts with French vintages; most for sale in my neighborhood tend towards the higher-end—good for special occasions, but not priced for my daily drink. Or at least, I thought they did. I rarely look at the French wine shelf because I just assume it will be too expensive.

I won’t be making that mistake again.

Courtesy of Tasting Table.

Courtesy of Tasting Table

Last week, I sampled nearly 50 Bordeaux priced under $55—and the majority under $35. Bordeaux have a reputation in the US as high-quality (read: expensive) wines suitable for older drinkers, in part because their so-called “old world” characteristics have fallen out of fashion as more fruit-forward (and affordable) offerings—like those from Argentina and Chile—are in their ascendency. It hasn’t helped that Bordeaux futures have led to some producers overpricing certain vintages, creating a difficult market situation where many bottles are priced beyond what consumers are willing to pay. (See this excellent Wine Spectator article for a detailed explanation, and take a look at the comments to see the disenchantment of many US consumers.)

But let’s put those notions aside for a moment. I’m here to tell you that there are remarkable, delicious Bordeaux in reach of even budget-conscious non-profit workers. Some of my favorites from the tasting were priced well under $15. If you’re not obsessed with labels and if you can get past the “expensive=better” hangup that so many of us seem to fall for, you too can enjoy high-quality Bordeaux without breaking the bank—or even bending the budget.

The tasting, presented by the Bordeaux Wine Council, featured 100 wines representing 22 appellations as part of the Today’s Bordeaux selection, “value wines [that] can be enjoyed by wine aficionados and novices” alike. I put myself firmly in the latter category, as well as the “value wine buyer” box. (In general, most of my booze budget goes to whisky.) And while I might not drop $20 on every bottle I tasted, there were quite a few that I intend to look for in my liquor store. If you’re in New York, every bottle listed is available here, while other states may offer a selection.

Courtesy of Tasting Table.

Courtesy of Tasting Table

The wines were poured by professionals in the industry who were more than happy to talk about the characteristics of these Bordeaux. One of the comments I heard again and again was that wine doesn’t have to be complicated to be good—and that’s something I can agree with as a whisky-drinker. Sure, who doesn’t love to spend an hour or two rolling the liquid around in the glass, sniffing and sipping and contemplating the deeper mysteries of the bottle? I take deep pleasure in those moments. But when it comes to everyday life, they are rare. I’m much more likely to pour a glass of something familiar and comforting just to soothe my soul after a wearying day, enjoying the taste for itself and nothing more.

These Bordeaux fit that bill nicely, being fairly uncomplicated (many were young, 2011 or 2012) and well suited for food. As I was tasting, I ran through pairing possibilities in my mind, and I couldn’t think of any food without one wine or two presenting itself as a suitable accompaniment. To be fair, French wine, like most Old World wines, evolved to be drunk with food. That attitude—that wine is meant for everyday consumption—pervaded this tasting, and was well supported by the pricing.

It doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. I learned this when I spent a year drinking on a student’s budget in France, and I’m happy to continue in this vein stateside. I have no doubt that $300 bottles would excite my palate and transport me to realms of ecstasy hitherto unknown—but I don’t need that. I’m just looking for what tastes good!

Check out the Bordeaux Wine Council’s website for full list of the 2013 Today’s Bordeaux, searchable by color and tasting notes, grapes, price range, and occasion. You can read more about the tasting here. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite pours of the day, all well under $20. If you see these, snatch them up! They are a delicious bargain, albeit by no means a complete list of the top affordable offerings from Bordeaux.

Courtesy of Tasting Table.

Courtesy of Tasting Table

Whites

Château La Maroutine, 100% Sauvignon Blanc. $11.

Château Fonfroide, 76% Sémillon, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Muscadelle, 2% Colombard. $13.

Château Les Clauzots, 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sémillon. $16.

Reds

Château de Ricaud, 90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc. $12.

Château La Croix Saint-Pierre, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec. $15.

Château de Paillet-Quancard, 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. $15.

Special thanks to Creative Feed and Tasting Table who graciously presented the tasting and provided the photos.

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An Evening with Gordon & MacPhail

Photo 10

Although it’s been nearly two months since Hurricane Sandy devastated many parts of New York, the city is still trying to pick itself up.* While clean-up and rebuilding will go on for months, other activities have resumed with the typical get-up-and-get-on-with-it attitude ingrained in most New Yorkers. Although a lot of events were interrupted by the storm, with some even being canceled, the inaugural whisky tasting at The Morgan Library & Museum went on as planned five weeks late. (And fortunately for me, the lovely and incredibly busy Allison Patel of Brenne passed on her ticket when another obligation kept her from going. Merci bien, Allison!)

The evening promised to be special just for the setting itself. If you’ve never visited, the Morgan is a repository of fine art and literature mixed with other rotating exhibitions; an archive of priceless artifacts, documents, and antiquities; and a truly unique architectural amalgam comprising J.P. Morgan’s purpose-built library/study, his son Jack’s family home, and a soaring modern space designed by Renzo Piano tying it all together. In a city chock-full of beautiful buildings, it has taken my breath away more than once. I am mostly serious about my desire to move into the East Room (a room lined floor-to-ceiling with books, with two hidden staircases to access them).

This is a safe. A safe of books.

This is a safe. A safe of books.

The tasting was held in the less fragile  Morgan Dining Room and introduced by none other than the Coopered Tot himself, Josh Feldman, who works at the Morgan. I was meeting Josh for the first time but any nervousness I might have felt was easily dispelled by his hospitality and relaxed personality. Together with Malt Maniac Peter Silver and Kate Massey, the Whiskey Dame, we enjoyed some amazing drams and good conversation with the enthusiastic guidance of Chris Riesbeck from Gordon & MacPhail who led the tasting.

The assortment of drams represented six different distilleries from all over Scotland. I enjoyed them all, and a few really stood out.

Connoisseurs Choice Clynelish 11 yo
Nose: Cherries, currants, sugar and hints of tangy smoke

Palate: An initial peppery whack slips in luscious rich fruit–cherry, apple–and a tinge of cloves.

Finish: Fades gently to a final fruity (melon? grape?) note.

Connoisseurs Choice Jura 12 yo
Nose: Brine and light peat with lots of kale and cucumber and a sharp spicy note.

Palate: Thick and chewy–eggplant and beans. The heavy spice lingers throughout.

Finish: After such an intense initial flavor and mouthfeel, the finish is surprisingly light and quite balanced, with the spice carrying through all the way to the end.

Old Pulteney 21 yo Exceptional.
Nose: Salt and brine–very much the sea in a bottle. Also some hard fruits–apple, pear.

Palate: Strong initial spice with vanilla and cinnamon too. Slightly thick and lovely, retaining the saltiness of the nose.

Finish: A lingering heat.

Benromach 10 yo
Nose: Peat, mint and watercress–very fresh despite the smoke.

Palate: Plenty of smoke, some baked bread, but that fresh note shines.

Finish: Didn’t note.

Imperial Port Finish 15 yo Exceptional.
Nose: Beautiful fruits, a total feast for the nose of grapes, cherries, and plums.

Palate: Full of fig jam and cherries, cherries, cherries. A beautiful, rich, indulgent dram.

Finish: On and on and on with fruit to the end.

Caol Ila 11 yo Cask Strength Exceptional.
Nose: As to be expected, smoke, salt, and brine with some vanilla sugar.

Palate: Packs a wallop but manages to maintain an even keel of sweetness and brine — incredible with a few drops of water.

Finish: Didn’t note, probably because I was too deep in the whisky at this point and enjoying this dram far too much.

Ready to review

Tasting toolkit

In sum, I drammed myself silly and so, it seemed, did everyone else. I also came away with a renewed passion for what I do and why. Chris said something in the course of the evening that resonated quite deeply with me and, frankly, the whole philosophy behind this blog.

“Whisky,” he declared, “should be what tastes right.” You shouldn’t feel that you have to put water in it–or that you don’t. Ignore the people who try to tell you how to drink. Like what you like–there isn’t a right or wrong way to drink whisky (or to drink, or eat, anything!).

To that I say, amen! Life is too short to eat (or drink) poorly.

*If you want to help New Yorkers rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, consider volunteering at NYC Service or donating to Occupy Sandy, Waves for Water, or another charity.