Sometimes we get jaded, sometimes we forget, but then you try a wine and glorious memories come flooding back and you are revitalized, well that is what happened recently when a bottle of Bordeaux was opened. We have such wonderful wines here in California that it is hard to see why you’d want anything else and the thought of buying a fuddy duddy old mans claret just does appeal, but this Bordeaux easily pushed these conceptions aside and left me wondering why I didn’t drink more Bordeaux, especial when you can find beautiful and elegant ones available at half the price or less then comparable Napa Valley wines. Honestly, I’m not kidding here, if you know what to look for or do a bit of researching you can find magical Bordeaux that come in at well under $60 bucks that will drink as well if not much better than Napa Meritage in the 150 to 200 dollar range, like Opus One or Dominus! Here’s a hint, the 2001 vintage is wildly under-rated and you can find some real bargains, the two that hit me as easy choices are Calon-Segur ($40-55 Est.) and Leoville Poyferre ($60-100), but there are some hyped 2000 vintage now finding their way to the market at reasonable prices, wines such as Brane-Cantenac Margaux and Haut-Bailly Pessac-Leognan are pretty easy to find at under $70 even and are wonderful wines.
France as a whole is still a good value for quality wine and if you find a good wine merchant, you can drink very well at a bargain price. Buyer beware though, if you shop at super markets or Trader Joe’s you’ll be wasting your time and getting really boring plonk if not just plain crap, so if you want to drink French wine or just want to try it, please go to a fine wine merchant and ask them for advice and recommendations, as at least these people will have tried some, at least like wine! I really laugh when I see so called wine critics or writers telling the average person that they should not be afraid to experiment and try a $5.99 super market wine, they all say at that price you can’t go wrong, well I hate to break it to you, at that price you can’t go right! Especially if you want to try French wine! Now you can find very good wine under $20 and I’ll tell a few to look for, but most people should at least try a few in the 25-60 dollar range, which is the same average price that you’d find California estate wines at.
Now, First Growth Bordeaux, the top Chateaux and Grand Cru Burgundy Domaines are going to cost you dear, I mean outrageously dear! Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and the like are anywhere from $300 to thousands of dollars and are more considered investments rather than drinking wines. So for more everyday or less special occasions, I would suggest a few of the Chateaux I mentioned before, or try some other regional wines from France, a few of my favorite are places like are, the Rhone, the Loire Valley and Cahors to name a simple few. A very good Grenache based Cotes-du-Rhone runs in the $12 to $16 price point and offer solid value and nice drinking wine, then there is Cahors an area in the Southwest of France that produces many Malbec based red wines, just be sure to buy an estate made wine and look for a good importer, such as Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, California. Then for clean whites the Loire Valley has some fantastic values and wines, and the easiest to enjoy is Sancerre, which is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, again just try to find a grower producer to find a more interesting version. The one that stood out for me recently was the Daniel Chotard Sancerre, again brought into the US by Kermit Lynch, but North Berkeley Imports also have a fine Sancerre made by Vacheron that is very serious and a great drinking wine. Sancerre is, when you drink estate wines, more intriguing and subtle than the new world Sauvignon Blancs, as in New Zealand and California. Sancerre is when done right, a wonderful wine that has depth and vigor showing lemon-lime, subtle grapefruit, mineral, earth, river stones and gooseberry flavors. The reason you search out estate wines and good importers is that there are some poor generic versions out there that are at best bland, and at worse not classy or subtle in style with a “Cats Pee” essence that is over powering, and don’t be put off by the term “Cats Pee” either as it isn’t meant as a real taste descriptor, and it is not a flavor on the palate.
Interesting French Wine Picks
2001 Chateau Leoville Poyferre Saint-Julien Medoc, Red Bordeaux, France.
This pretty and rich Bordeaux is the real deal with lots of character and layers with elegance and refined style. This wine right out of the bottle is fresh still and has a grapey essence before revealing pretty and classic flavors. The dusty blackberry, currant, plum and black cherry fruits unfold seamlessly on the palate…. super! This wine reminds me of Chateau Margaux meets Ridge Monte Bello, and that is saying a lot. There are interesting layers and hints of tobacco, mineral, licorice and spicy wood notes with flashes of pencil lead, forest floor, smoke and vanilla. This wine should go on filling out and drinking well for another 6-10 years, though it is very approachable now. ($60-107 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2007 Daniel Chotard Vigneron Sancerre, Loire Valley, France (Sauvignon Blanc)
This is only the second vintage I’ve tried from this super small estate, but I can tell you Chotard is for real and a wine you should locate! Lucky for us, or me, is that Kermit Lynch is the importer and seems committed to bringing in this wine. It is hard to beat this Sancerre for style and terroir, no question; this is a beautiful and interesting Sauvignon Blanc that has bright fruit and surprising depth. Chotard makes a clean wine, but a wine that has character and unique charm with subtle and crisp flavors that persist on the palate. This vintage shows lots of citrus with lemon-lime, grapefruit and orange blossom that unfold smoothly across the palate. This Sancerre has earthy mineral, river stone and gooseberry to add depth and complexity. ($25 Est.)
91+ Points, grapelive
Kermit Lynch Imports
2006 Delas Freres Cotes-du-Ventoux Rhone Red, France (Grenache and Syrah)
With vineyards that lie on the slopes of the impressive Mount Ventoux, made famous as the last grueling stage of the Tour de France, it stands out in the eastern Rhone Valley, this wine is an enticing blend of about 80% old vine Grenache and 20% Syrah. It is hard to find a better value in red everyday wine than this cuvee from Delas, with ripe flavors and earthy spices this wine is a joy. The nose is earthy with hints of game, raisins and wildflowers as well as red fruits leading to a palate that has plum, cherry, blueberry and grenadine flavors with pepper, espresso, lavender and bacon bits in the background. Don’t think about it, just enjoy it, I’ve been drinking this wine since the 1996 vintage and have never been let down. ($15 Est.) 87-89 Points, grapelive