Bordeaux – the word conjures images of sommeliers with their noses held high, pale British aristocrats, and AIG executives cackling madly as they dip into the corporate expense account. It's true that some of the world's best and most expensive wines come from the famous French region, but like e-mails from Nigerian royalty who want to share their millions with you – there's more to the story. In reality, Bordeaux can be found at a huge variety of price points, with plenty of great bottles to be had for a fairly reasonable outlay.
Bordeaux has a wine-making tradition going back some 2,000 years or more, depending on the historian you decide to believe. Some stories say it began with the need to satisfy Roman legionnaires' thirst, but, no matter the reason, by A.D. 71 there were vineyards in Bordeaux. In the years since those original vineyards took root, the region has been a coveted piece of territory, changing hands back and forth between the Romans, English, and French, not to mention raiding Saxons. Even then the wines were regarded as some of the best in the world, with Brits especially being fond of their red Bordeaux, which they called “claret.” Bordeaux's modern reputation was cemented in the 1980s when wine-critic Robert Parker called the 1982 edition “the most sumptuous vintage in decades.”
Like all French wines since 1936, only wines made from grapes grown in Bordeaux can be labeled as such. Winemakers in the region shoot for a distinct sense of place – what the French call “terroir.” Bordeaux has a somewhat different climate and soil than any other wine-producing area on earth, with heavy humidity and rocky calcium-rich earth, giving the wine a certain undercurrent of flavor that makes it distinctly Bordeaux.
In contrast to their aristocratic image, wines from Bordeaux are actually mutts. The reds the region is most famous for are usually blends of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and a number of other grapes. These wines taste of the oak barrels they're aged in and deeply complex layers of fruit – wines to be savored over dinner or by the fire while the snow piles up. The area's whites range from sweet Sauternes to crisp apple-like blends usually made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. They aren't nearly as well-known as Bordeaux's reds, even though they're regarded as some of the world's best, as well This reputation has led to prices to match. A bottle of 2000 Chateau Ausone retails for $1,999, and the prices just keep going up from there. Luckily, this storied region has plenty of affordable bottles to let those of us without government bailout checks have a taste, not to mention impress dinner guests and dates. Below are a few to keep an eye out for:
Chateau Dubraud Cotes De Blaye: A deep garnet red in the glass, this is a fairly dry Bordeaux with huge amounts of fruit and a rich warming feel. At only $17.99, the berry notes combined with a light oak and tannin undertone from the barrel make it seem like a solid accompaniment for a winter meal. The French would suggest a cassoulet, but a Double-Double with fries at In-N-Out Burger would be amazing too.
Chateau Loudenne Medoc: Chateau Loudenne is known for bold wines, and this is no exception to the rule. Not nearly as fruit forward as some others in the tasting, for $9.99 you get a wine with layers of spice – pepper and a little clove being the most prominent. The tannins from the oak barrels could be overbearing for anyone who isn't a fan of big reds, but they also give the wine a great deal of potential for aging should there be a dark corner of the basement just begging for a few bottles to store for the next decade. Those tannins also make it a perfect match for a massive chunk of meat – this wine just begs for steak.
Mouton Cadet White Bordeaux: An almost brutally dry white wine, this pale gold wine is definitely one to remember for the summer. At $7.99, it's a spectacular deal, bringing apple-like crispness to the table and offering a palate-clearing tang that almost tastes of the gravel in Bordeaux's soil – which is surprisingly appealing. Add a baguette, some apples and grapes and a rich gooey brie and you've made an evening of it.
Château de Reignac Blanc: Another one that might be worth tucking away in the basement for five years or so, this $19.99 bottle is heavy enough to stand up to any red for a place in front of the fireplace. Just a little oak mixes with honey, butter and even a little lemon to produce a surprisingly hefty white that's surprisingly satisfying in the depths of winter and helps remind us that the sun will be back someday. Any meal soaked in butter or cream – pasta carbonara or butter-poached salmon would be a great pairing. But if you're still trying to stick to those New Years resolutions, a cheese omelet with a green salad and tangy vinaigrette would be tasty too, and not nearly as hard to work off in the gym.