Tag Archives: cabernet

Five Tips on Finding Value Wines in Bordeaux

Château Beychevelle

Sun setting on Château Beychevelle in Saint-Julien.

New year, new you, right? How about new drinking goals instead, like finding ways to experience the fabled Bordeaux that sommeliers like to brag ignited their passion for wine — but without going broke. Left Bank or Right Bank, Pauillac or Pomerol, the finest bottles from the chateaux of these vaunted lands, at hundreds of dollars, occupy an aspirational category few can afford to indulge in regularly, if ever. Unfortunately, the cheaper wines miss more often than they hit since quality varies wildly by vintage and producer. Unlike the reliability of a $15 Chilean chardonnay, one needs guidance when shopping for Bordeaux.

Looking for tips on finding value (as defined by QPR, or quality-to-price ratio), I turned to Hortense Bernard. Bernard is the general manager of Millesima USA (1355 2nd Avenue; 212-639-9463), the American arm of France’s leading online wine retailer. Bernard knows a thing or two about wine, and not only because she grew up tasting it as a bébé. Representing the fourth generation of a venerable Bordeaux family, Bernard moved to NYC in 2011 to lead the company’s U.S. operations. Millesima USA offers an impressive selection of fine and rare wines from France, Italy, and the New World, both online and in the brick-and-mortar store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Bernard shared the following five tips, and does the homework for you by recommending wines she carries in each category. If you commit these to memory, however, you’ll be drinking better Bordeaux for a dime no matter where you are (well, more like a quarter).
(For an even deeper look at the region, check out the Bordeaux wine council’s website, which provides info on grapes, appellations, and deciphering a label).

Smaller Vintages: Smaller, according to Bernard, does not reference the actual size or quantity of production, but rather denotes a “classic” Bordeaux vintage that is perfect for drinking but did not make it to the investment market. These wines are ready to consume earlier, are less expensive, and easier to approach and understand by novices than the greatest vintages. Weather is a key factor in determining the characterization of the harvest, but winemakers also have a major impact. Bernard offers the 2002 vintage as an example: it did not get a lot of attention when it was released; the American market ignored it. However, she says 2002 is drinking “amazingly” right now. She adds that for some estates, the 2002 shows the typical aromas of mature Bordeaux without having to find (and pay for) a 20 to 30-year-old bottle. Bernard emphasizes that the wines won’t have the depth and complexity of long-lived vintages, but drinking them will help neophytes familiarize themselves with the pleasures of aged examples.

Chateau Haut-Batailley, Pauillac, Grand Cru Classé, 2006, $51.99
Château Grand Corbin-Despagne, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru Classé, 2004, $37.99

Fifth Growth: The 1855 classification in Bordeaux is one of the most famous aspects of the region’s wine industry. All collectors want classified wines, and the top Grand Cru Classés like Château Margaux or Château Latour have prices commensurate with their prestige and demand. The historic ranking (commissioned by Napoleon III for a world’s fair of sorts) of Sauternes and top cabernet-dominant Left Bank estates into five classes, raises some contemporary issues like the exclusion of exemplary estates and appellations (for example, everything on the merlot-heavy Right Bank), and the fluctuation in quality by several ranked chateaux. Regardless, Bernard advises that it’s easier to learn about this very expensive category by starting with the fifth growths because “most of them are affordable and real treasures.” She offers Chateau Batailley in Pauillac as a fifth growth that consistently receives Parker scores ranging from 88 to 94.

Chateau Batailley, Pauillac, 2012, $43.

Cru Bourgeois: “They are the best-kept secret and most misunderstood of Bordeaux wines,” says Bernard, explaining “the Cru Bourgeois classification is a list of wines from the Médoc that were not included in the Classification of 1855, but are still of high quality and represent great and approachable wines that typically retail for under $40 per bottle.” The wines, she says, are all about fruit, perfect for everyday consumption. Cru Bourgeois gives drinkers the opportunity to experience a renowned vintage from a famous appellation and a famous proprietor, relatively (a key word) inexpensively. For example, one can try the highly-regarded 2009 vintage for $25 with Chateau Peyrabon, or a famed Bernard Magrez property (he is the sole owner of four Grand Cru Classé estates) with the 2010 Grand-Chênes for $35.

Chateau Peyrabon, Haut-Médoc, 2009, $25
Bernard Magrez Chateau Les Grand Chenes, Médoc, 2010, $35

MillesimaNYC

Inside Millesima’s NYC store.

Second Labels: Bernard says that one of the best ways to experience great Bordeaux without spending too much money (again, relative), are second labels. Drinkers can buy wines from top estates, top vintages, and top winemakers, at a fraction of the price. The concept of “second labels”’ came into being in the 18th century when winemakers were deciding what grapes to use for their first bottling. Instead of disposing of the leftover fruit or selling it in bulk, producers bottled a second wine, derived from the same terroir and winemaker. The grapes were not damaged; they simply did not make the flagship cut. Second labels used to be reserved for the family, but they are now a strong segment of the market. Croix de Beaucaillou is a good example of a second label. The first label, Ducru Beaucaillou, a Saint-Julien second growth, on average retails for over $200 per bottle and is consistently a top-selling and highly rated wine year after year.

Croix de Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien, 2008, $42. 
Lacoste Borie, (the second label of Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, a fifth growth), Pauillac, 2004, $34.99.

Lesser-known Appellations: Bernard suggests looking for quality-minded estates in lesser-known appellations such as Moulis, or any satellite of Saint-Emilion, Barsac, Médoc, etc. Generally, those areas do not have the same reputation as the best-known appellations, since they lack classified estates, but they still have great terroir. Treasures can be found, but hunters should engage a Bordeaux connoisseur to help discover them as most estates will not have scores.

Chateau Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes, Bordeaux Superieur, $17

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Mindful Drinking Will Make Your Wine Taste Better

LittleFarmWines

Over the last few years, the term “mindfulness” has steadily crept into mainstream American lingo, becoming an accepted secular pursuit rather than a “New Age” hippie philosophy ripped from the pages of Eastern religions (i.e., Buddhism). Articles outlining the benefits of mindfulness and techniques for observing it in daily life are published across a spectrum of media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal to the estimable HuffPo, which felt compelled to declare 2014 the year of the timeless concept of “mindful living.”

Mindfulness, at its core, is a simple idea: It means to be present, in the moment, intentionally and non-judgmentally. Tasting wine can be an exercise in mindfulness.

Wine professionals are trained to engage their senses, noting the details of color, smell, texture, and taste, blocking out distractions to do so, while putting aside evaluation and conclusion for afterwards (even if it is a mere minute or two later).

How often do you actually taste what you are drinking?

Perhaps you recently gulped down a glass with a friend while rehashing last weekend’s drama or fretting about a looming work deadline, without knowing whether the red wine the waiter dropped in front of you was the Côtes du Rhône. Or did you ask for Rioja?

Our brain runs like an endless chyron, constantly distracting; our thoughts filled with agonies and regrets of the past or worries about the future. If last week no longer exists and next year is still fiction, why do we avoid the present so frequently?

The constant barrage of technology and social media doesn’t help us focus either, while supplying us with new ways to manifest guilt.

The growing number of wine apps encouraging users to photograph, record, grade, and transmit each tasting experience, while earning “likes” and “followers,” makes it difficult to just sit and be quiet with the wine. Can the bottle be as dazzling as we claim if we ignore it while submitting to the compulsion to tweet, Instagram, and Facebook the details of our good fortune? And if it was dazzling, and we — gasp — didn’t take a photo and mark our impressions, are we lazy failures doomed to repeat a cycle of self-reproach?

Moving on to tasting techniques: If you want to be a more mindful drinker, but don’t (yet) trust your ability to analyze wine, consider how you might engage with a pet.

When I need to disconnect from the overload of the world, I break to pet my red Dobie. She’s usually curled up (adorably) and dozing on her bed nearby. I sit down on the floor, observe the warm chocolate color of her fur, and run my hand down her soft head, feeling her warmth, her life, and perhaps catching the scent of her breath (which, admittedly, has its bad days, but I’m not judging, remember?). I pet my dog mindfully, and doing so delivers a few minutes of calm and awareness of the moment.

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Apply this same technique to wine tasting; “pet” your wine, if you will, noting its qualities without worrying about your lack of training or whether the wine fits some subjective notion of good or bad.

Consider the color: Maybe it sparkles in the glass, and mirrors the deep golden hue of straw bales or the Burmese ruby your grandmother wore on her finger.

How does it smell? Is it dull and lifeless? Perhaps a funky Roquefort cheese or barn odor floats from the glass, or a lively fragrance of flowers and citrus inhabits the wine.

Taste it. Do strawberries, stewed with rhubarb and baked in a pie, spring to mind? What about leather, or smoke from a campfire? Lemons and lime? (Highly unlikely you’d detect all of these flavors at once, unless someone mixed white and red in a glass and cruelly gave it to you blind.)

How is the texture? Are the tannins astringent, like oversteeped tea, or silky and smooth? Does the wine linger in the mouth a few minutes, or vanish like a phantom?

The truth of the wine lies in these details.

While you needn’t judge the wine while tasting — we are being mindful, not awarding scores — you should evaluate the experience afterwards. Did you like it? Why did you buy it: because of the price or brand or grape? If you discover you don’t like it (which you may, when drilling down into the details), then why not try something else next time?

Paying attention to your wine, consuming it consciously, will also reward you with another benefit: awareness of your level of intoxication. It’s easy to get carried away with a second or third round of drinks or crack that second bottle, so savoring each sip keeps you focused on your intake.

Along with the rest of your 2015 resolutions (how are those going, by the way?), consider adding mindfulness when drinking your next glass of wine. You may find you love — or loathe — that Chardonnay more than you’re now unsure if you remember.

(For more information on mindfulness, and meditations that help you achieve it, start by looking into the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. He launched a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program back in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He’s written lots of books on the topic that are easily downloadable onto Kindle for subway self-improvement sessions.)

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