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Drinking Bordeaux

October 5th, 2017

This week we are hosting another wine class for cellar pass members, and our focus is on Bordeaux. There are certainly a number of superb reference books on Bordeaux available to consumers these days, each of which will tell you more than you’d probably ever want to know about the region, its history and evolution, acclaimed producers, and much else. Personally, I am partial to Benjamin Lewin’s What Price Bordeaux?, which offers a helpful analysis of the region’s technical characteristics, but which also focuses on economic considerations of Bordeaux wines, particularly focusing on the Bordeaux wine industry.

For most of us, the economics of Bordeaux are simple: we can’t afford the wines. If you follow wine trends in magazines, on websites, or on social media, you are bound to see snapshots of first-growth Bordeaux wines on someone’s dining table, accompanied by some commentary about how well it is drinking at that moment. Fear not that you are the only one cringing with envy at such a post, for you are not alone. For many of us, drinking top Bordeaux on the regular is a financial impossibility. Though we could certainly purchase a bottle of Château Latour or Margaux if we so desired, doing so would also likely prevent us from paying our rent and other bills, which does not seem like the best tactic to employ. (But come check with me again if I am ever diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.)

So, how do the current economics of Bordeaux wine impact our abilities to regularly enjoy the wines?

I suppose my overarching perspective is to promote drinking Bordeaux wines with food. Considering that drinking wine with no food accompaniment is a bit more common here than it is in many parts of Europe, typical Bordeaux may not be as common in your household as it is for others who tend to limit their wine consumption to mealtimes. I understand this practice, as a juicy California Zinfandel seems much more appetizing by itself than a wine from Bordeaux, though this runs the risk of coming off as a gross generalization. But when I think about ‘best practices’ for drinking wines from Bordeaux, I’m pretty intolerant of enjoying them without some sort of food present in the equation. As I have learned more about wine and consumed it more regularly, I have become more and more enamored by its ability to enhance a meal. Bordeaux wines have historically been complementary with a broad range of cuisines and individual dishes based on the noteworthy acidity and less ripe fruit flavors on the palate. Your average bottle of Bordeaux is also likely to show off more secondary aromas and flavors (earth, vegetal, floral, etc.) than most New World wines. These non-fruit flavors may at first be off-putting for consumers accustomed to drinking wines most from California, but can add awesome complexity to the wine itself, as well as to many meals for which the wines may be paired.

Both red and white Bordeaux wines offer something special, and certainly don’t always have to break the bank. Plenty of red Bordeaux exists outside of the astronomically priced growths of the Médoc. For example, wines labeled Cru Bourgeois are generally much more affordable, and will provide you with a quality drinking experience at a fraction of the price. These wines are generally considered to be slightly lower in stature than the classed growths we hear so much about, but can still provide you and your guests with experiences that are more or less representative of the stylistic differences between traditional Bordeaux and other more opulent, fruit-forward wines.

And what about Bordeaux’s white wines? If you are at all like me, the mention of Bordeaux inspires thoughts of robust red wines and squandered paychecks. But as I have refined my own preferences, I find myself more enamored with the white wines of the region. Entre-Deux-Mers (“between two seas”) is a region caught between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, which produces lighter, crisp, acid-driven wines. Delicious for a lunch outside during most seasons here in California. If you desire a white wine with a bit more weight and ripe flavors, I encourage you to look out for a wine from the commune of Pessac-Leognan, located in Graves. Red and white wines from Pessac-Léognan are both of reputable quality these days, but I find the whites to be especially impressive.

Bordeaux is a region that regularly produces an assortment of wines appropriate for many different types of consumers. Those of you with plenty of discretionary cash to spend can act like kids in candy stores when shopping around for classes growths from renowned vintages, and may even be able to splurge on an expensive bottle of sweet Sauternes to pair with a dessert. For those of us with more modest wine budgets, it may be easy to forget that Bordeaux is still a region whose wines we can enjoy, and that can easily elevate a meal with its food-friendly offerings.