Like This, Try That: Bordeaux Edition - IMBOLDN
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There is a certain mystique around Bordeaux. These wines, which come from the Bordeaux region of France and only the Bordeaux region of France*, can be either red or white, still or sparkling, and even sweet (helllloooo Sauternes). For our purposes today, we’re concentrating on red Bordeaux, which can legally contain one or all of these five grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. (Carmenere used to be a common addition, but today the varietal is almost exclusively found in Chile.) All that is just details, though – the big takeaway is that Bordeaux is one of the most highly coveted, highly revered wines on the planet.

Of course, that kind of reputation and refinement comes with a hefty price tag. If you live in a house of gold and frequent your personal library filled with leather-bound books, our “diamond wine” might be just fine for everyday drinking. If you’re like the rest of the 99% (<raises hand>), then you’ll want to check out the three scrumptious alternatives offered up below.

*Bordeaux-style blends in the U.S. are sometimes called “Meritage” (a designation trademarked by California’s Meritage Alliance), and Brits often use the term “claret”, but the main takeaway is that if it’s not made in Bordeaux, it’s not actually Bordeaux.

Chateau Pontet-Canet, 2009

Bordeaux has one of the most recognized class systems in the wine world, and those legal rankings have ensured that the “first growths” – Chateaus Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion, and Mouton Rothschild – carry some serious cache. And yes, those budget-demolishing wines are indeed incredible, but that doesn’t mean it’s five-figure spending or bust.

This 2009 Chateau Pontet-Canet isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s still a remarkable value. The wine comes from one of the largest estates in Medoc, a Bordeaux sub-region on the left bank of the Gironde known for Cabernet Sauvignon-led blends of the highest quality. There’s a reason this bottle, in this vintage (yes, you’re paying a bit for the age), garnered perfect scores from the likes of Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast, and Jeb Dunnuck: The wine’s stunning deep purple hue is enthralling, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the layered bouquet of blackcurrant, blackberries, crème de cassis, smoke, and graphite that follows. Those aromas are echoed on the palate, along with a smack of dry tannin, wet earth, and roasted coffee carried through the long finish by a hum of acidity and a broad, full-bodied mouthfeel.

This is balance and finesse incarnate, but with enough chew and character to ensure you’re never bored.

Local: Chateau Cantemerle, 2003

There are a few things you should know about the Chateau Cantemerle compared to the one discussed above:

- It’s four years younger

- Its ratings are about 10 points lower

- It costs almost five times less

- It’s still a damn good drink

This is another Cab-heavy blend, just like the Pontet-Canet, and also from Medoc. There may not be quite as much prestige (which is all relative, anyway), but the question is this: How likely are you to notice that 10-point dip in ratings? Can you tell the difference between a 1999 Bordeaux and a 2003? Most people can’t, and that’s not a bad thing. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, and this wine is very enjoyable.

This is classic Medoc Bordeaux: Medium weight, a ton of blue and black fruit, spice, loamy earth with a flick of wet leaves, and a solid structure that will help the wine age nicely. Above all, this is a smooth, supple drink the maker describes as “charming”, and we agree.

A Little Far-Flung: Foley Johnson Estate Rutherford Meritage, 2014

California is home to myriad red blends made to mimic Bordeaux’s elegance and complexity, but don’t conflate homage with knock-off – there’s a definite difference.

The Foleys – Bill and his wife Carol – only launched their Rutherford-based winery in 2012, and already they’re swimming in acclaim. Their 50-acre estate is almost entirely planted with Bordeaux varietals, and the portfolio includes several stellar examples of single-varietal wines as well as blends.

Speaking of which… Here you have a wine with the backbone and dark fruit of Cabernet Sauvignon, the elegance and spice of Merlot, the purple fruit and florals of Petit Verdot, the acidity and inky allure of Malbec, and the silky, graphite-edged taste of Cabernet Franc. It’s a surprisingly nuanced wine that’s both harmonious and complex, characteristics you rarely find together in a wine at this price point.

One caveat: though this wine is tasty now, it’ll be at peak drinkability in about a decade.

Out There: Alcance Bravura Red Blend, 2013

Chile, you say? Okay, so this choice might be bending the rules a bit, but hear us out. Alcance’s Bravura Red certainly takes inspiration from Bordeaux, but consider this wine Bordeaux’s wilder, more demonstrative cousin. It’s 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, so there’s the black plum, blueberry, chocolate, and cedar you expect, but the addition of the long-last Carmenere and splash of Petit Verdot introduces a “what was that?!” factor that’s tons of fun. There’s an herbaceousness and salinity that evoke alfresco, family-style dinners under trees draped in fairty lights. Each sip makes you want to sit on the porch and laugh with friends as the kids chase lightning bugs. It demands a grilled steak but would be equally happy with a muffuletta.

As with most bold Bordeaux blends, this wine could use a few more use to mellow and come into its own. Grab a few bottles and drink them a few years a part. It’s fun to see how these wines evolve, and how our own tastes develop too.