Bordeaux is back.
It might seem odd to announce the return of one of the world’s most popular and successful wine regions – indeed the Bordelais have been producing and exporting their wine for over 900 years (thank you very much), and their finest cuvées have long topped the list of the most expensive wines in the world.
But fifteen years ago, the region was in a bit of a funk. Burgundy, with its focus on microterroirs, small family farms, and increasingly precocious wines, became the darling of the new celebrity sommelier class. Trendy wine lists would have six different Chablis by the glass, and one wine from the whole region of Bordeaux (on the bottle list, of course). Bordeaux was seen as a bit old and stodgy, either astronomically expensive, or mass-market and cheap, and out of sync with the fashion of terroir-driven wines with balance and freshness.
But Bordeaux is experiencing a resurgence these days. There’s still plenty of $10 plonk, and if you’d like to spend $10,000 on a bottle that’s still possible; but between those two is an ocean of interesting wine. Winemakers have dialed back oak and extraction, and organic viticulture has become prevalent. We’ve long eyed Bordeaux as a region with untapped potential, and are pleased to report that our most recent tasting day of samples from the Left Bank turned up much of interest.
We’ve decided to offer four 2018s from the Left Bank in Bordeaux, one each from Pessac-Leognan, Pauillac, Margaux, and Saint Julién; then two other cuvées (a Médoc and a Pauillac) with a few additional years in the bottle.
Odyssée Pessac-Leognan 2018 ($250)
Pessac-Leognan, just south of the city of Bordeaux, features gravel-rich soils that produce wines with excellent clarity and definition. Odyssée is a cuvée by Château Haut Nouchet, and its vines are some of the highest elevation in the appellation. The blend is about 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, with a splash of Petit Verdot.
We found this wine impressive in its combination of intensity and restraint. The nose is dark and polished with plum and wild cherries, and notes of licorice and spice. The mouth is inky and dark but the fruit is laid over a beautifully clean structure of fine gravely tannin. This is a classy, sleek Bordeaux with a beautifully balanced mouthfeel – and it drinks like a $30-$40 bottle.
Chateau Artigues Pauillac 2018 ($295)
If Pauillac is classic Bordeaux, then Chateau Artigues is classic Pauillac. It’s equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and aged a year in a mix of tank and 25% new oak. Pauillac is known for its powerful wines that are mouthfilling and ageworthy – this will require a decanter for a year, but if you can keep your hands off it should provide terrific drinking for the next five.
The nose is attractive and very dark, with oak melting carefully into the cassis and cherry fruit. The mouth is rich and concentrated, but not exuberant or showy – there’s plenty of definition and stony structure to keep this in line.
Chateau du Courneau Margaux 2018 ($325)
The wines of Margaux are prized for their elegance and perfume, and our find here delivers both subtlety of fruit and richness of palate. The Chateau du Courneau is the second wine of Chateau Haut Breton la Rigaudiere, a well respected Margaux vineyard which Jane Anson MW describes as “excellent and reliable.” It’s a blend of about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and the rest Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The wine sees 70% new oak for a year, but has more than enough stuffing to withstand the wood.
We found the nose beautifully balanced, with the oak already well integrated. The nose shows notes of raspberry jam, wild dark cherries, and violets; the mouth has beautifully fine tannins with a long, very elegant finish. This will drink well with a steak and a decanter later this year, and should be singing by Christmas.
Esprit de Gloria Saint-Julien 2018 ($395)
Our final 2018 from the left bank is the second wine of the well known Chateau Gloria. Jane Anson writes of Gloria, “this has got to be the best value big name in St-Julien, delivering rich fruit structure and great tension without losing the St-Julien sense of balance and finesse.” Esprit de Gloria is made from the younger vines (average 25 years) from the chateau’s three plots.
The Esprit de Gloria is simply delicious – inky, bold, rich and compact. Saint-Julien typically produces wines with sophisticated, often austere backbones, and over this structure the winemakers at Gloria have painted a layer of sleek, modern, mouthfilling fruit. This is bold and seductive but without losing its savory, polished elegance. We expect this to age well for quite a while.
Our final two ideas from Bordeaux are of a different flavor – similar level wines, but with a bit of age on them.
Haut Pauillac 2014 ($395)
Chateau Haut-Pauillac is, as you might expect, a Pauillac, and we’re excited to offer the 2014 vintage. Property of the Peyronie family, who also own Chateau Fondabet, this tiny property (2 hectares) is planted 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 2.5% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec. This wine sees 18 months of elevage with 15-20% new oak.
The 2014 vintage produced Bordeaux of the old-school Claret style, before the recent summer heatwaves became the norm. As such this is not a hard hitting wine, but one with finesse and savory delicacy. There’s plenty of inky fruit left, and the plums have melted into violets, dried roses, and a bit of smoked meat. The mouth is subtle and polished, without the exuberance of a young wine or one from a hot vintage. This is nearly mature, perfectly aged Bordeaux at an impressive price – we’d drink it over the next two years, but doubt any in our cellar will last that long.
Gravette Lacombe Médoc 2015 ($235)
The Gravette-Lacombe Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2015 is a wine for those who lack cellar space and patience. A 60/40 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it’s raised in stainless steel and, even in an excellent vintage like 2015, built for near-mid term drinking.
This is perfectly mature and humble Bordeaux. The nose shows the tertiary, savory, meaty notes that only occur with bottle age – look for dried cherries, leather, and a hint of vanilla. The mouth is smooth and clean, with softened tannins and pleasantly rustic flavors. This has hit peak maturity, and will not improve past this fall. But until then, it’s flat out delicious.
2018 Left Bank Sampler ($295)
All six of these wines are available, as usual, by the case and half case. But because they’re all new, we’re adding a sampler option to encourage experimentation. This case is three bottles each of the four 2018s: Odyssée, Artigues, Courneau, and Esprit de Gloria. Whether you’re looking to explore the terroirs of the Left Bank, or searching for a new house Bordeaux red, we hope this will be a fun mixed case to try.