Eating & Drinking

TASTING NOTES: Celebrating bordeaux from the smaller wineries

Bordeaux from small wineries rival those of grand estates — at a fraction of the price 

by David Lawrason

Illustration by Stéphane Denis

In May, I spent 10 days in Bordeaux, France, with fellow wine enthusiasts who had bid high for the pleasure of a tour that took in France’s great châteaux. (The auction, for the record, took place during last year’s Gold Medal Plates chefs’ competition, which raises funds for Canada’s Olympic athletes. This year’s food and wine soiree takes place November 16 at the National Arts Centre, www.goldmedalplates.com). Our excursions through the Médoc, Saint-Émilion/Pomerol, Graves, and Sauternes landed at many impressive grand cru classé, or top-ranked, wine estates. The wines were splendid, the aura of the properties was splendiferous, and the wine prices were — well — stratospheric. A barrel sample of a stunning premier Grand Cru Classé 2009 Château Cheval Blanc was priced at about $500 a bottle. Given the acclaim of the pitch-perfect 2009 vintage, it could fetch up to $1,500 by the time it passes through commercial markups and government levies to show up at the LCBO in 2012. (The unacclaimed 2006 currently lists at $1,099.)

So, yes, we were awestruck and very fortunate. But when we weren’t sipping once-in-a-lifetime bordeaux reds, we were actually buying and drinking “petits chateaux” from less vaunted vintages. And though they lacked the swooning refinement and soul-probing depth of their grand cru peers, they somehow demonstrated more personality and individuality — for far less money. The 2006s are authentic, slightly less ripe, and more tannic. The 2007s are lighter, fruitier, and more charming, without the flavour depth of 2006 and the terrific structure and deep fruit of the 2005s. (I love the 2005s.)

The most stunning revelation, however, was the quality of the white wines — both dry and the sweet sauternes — made from sauvignon blanc and semillon, usually with barrel-driven spice and smooth texture. These refined wines are in danger of fading into history, at least in Ontario, where the global competition through the LCBO is intense. (In Quebec, the selection of mid-range red and white bordeaux is infinitely better.) On October 16, LCBO Vintages stores released several more affordable bordeaux whites and reds that yanked me back to those heady tasting adventures last May. Get them while you can! I have supplemented my recommendations with a couple of pleasant surprises widely available at the LCBO.

RED
Château Reverdi 2006
$25.95 I Listrac-Médoc I 91 points
Many 2006s from the cabernet sauvignon-dominated Médoc vineyards are classic in terms of flavour profile but lose their way in tannic, astringent finishes. This is a stylish, complete, and authentic bordeaux with a generous, well-proportioned nose of cedar, herbs, currants, and coffee. It has very good density, concentration, and extension without being coarse. Best 2011 to 2017. Vintages 194209

Château Haut-Vigneau 2006
$24.95 I Pessac-Léognan I 89 points
This is a charming, maturing, supple, and loose-fitting bordeaux that combines the pine-scented nuance typical of the Graves coniferous forests with blackcurrant fruit, leather, and cedar notes. It is very smooth and finely balanced, earning points over depth of flavour, although the length is very good. Best 2011 to 2014. Vintages 29678

Château Moulin de Canhaut 2005
$19.95 I MÉdoc I 89 points
Located at the northern tip of the Médoc peninsula on sand/gravel soils that produce lighter wines, this blend of 50-50 merlot/cabernet shows a fragrant, sweet, supple nose of raspberry/currant-jam toast, herbs, and earth. I
t’s light, a bit sweet and supple, quite charming. Best now to 2015. Vintages 190983

Calvet 2007 Saint-Émilion
$18.05 I Bordeaux I 88 points
A great buy in everyday bordeaux. It typifies Saint-Émilion merlot with a soft, charming, fairly complex nose of raspberry-pie fruit layered with classic cedar and dried herbs. It’s supple, slightly creamy, and gentle, with lovely definition and length,
if not much structure for cellaring — typical of 2007. Best now to 2013. LCBO 31898

Château Grand-Maison Cuvée Spéciale 2006
$16.95 I Côtes de Bourg I 88 points
Bourg is known for lighter reds, but this is a buxom old-school bordeaux with leather/cigar notes and dark currant/prune fruit. It’s mid-weight, smooth, dense, and quite ric
h — a hearty, earthy red for the roast, stew, or cheese plate. Bags of flavour for the money. Best now to 2013. Vintages 194217

Château Pey La Tour 2008 Bordeaux Supérieur
$13.95 I Bordeaux I 88 points
From a grand estate midway between the Médoc and Saint-Émilion comes a tidy young merlot-based red. The new vintage is a bit subdued, with some youthful grapy-plumy and vaguely floral aromas. The palate is appealing, with smooth texture, sweetness, and richness. There’s dry tannin,
but it’s not severe. Stick it in the cellar for a year or two. Best 2012 to 2015. LCBO 264986

Seigneurs d’Aiguilhe 2006
$19.95 I Côtes de Castillon I 87 points
This second label from Château d’Aiguilhe — a leading property in Castillon upriver from Saint- Émilion —
 is a fine example of a modern bordeaux: a light, supple, juicy, young merlot-based red. Definitely not structured for long aging, but it has charming raspberry-jam fruit and subtle herbs and spices, with a fresh, lightly tannic finish. Try it with roast pork dishes. Best now to 2014. Vintages 195172.

Château de Courteillac 2008
$11.95 I Bordeaux I 85 points
While this doesn’t have nearly the depth and weight of its more expensive bordeaux peer
s, it’s quite refined, savoury, and ready to drink, with ripe raspberry and rhubarb seasoned with earthy notes and oak spice. Chill lightly and consider with a lamb chop. Best 2011 to 2104. LCBO 360552

WHITE
Château Loupiac-Gaudiet 1998
$28.95 I Loupiac, Bordeaux I 92 points
Amazing quality and value for a 12-year-old sweet wine. From an appellation near Sauternes, this is intense, mature, yellow-gold with a resinous beeswax, dried apricot, and pine-needle nose, plus hints of caramel and rosemary. Wonderful complexity. It’s sweet, yet elegant, fine, firm, and savoury. Enjoy with cheeses and dried fruit and nuts. Vintages 194100
 

Château de Cruzeau 2007 Blanc
$24.95 I Pessac-LÉognan I 90 points
This mature barrelled sauvignon-semillon blend glows yellow-gold. The nose is generous and gorgeous, with exotic cedar/balsam, persimmon, pineapple, and spice.
It’s medium-weight, fleshy, and soft, with some sappy bitterness bolstering the finish. A classic white bordeaux that calls for grilled herb-scented poultry or cedar-plank salmon. Vintages 966010

Reprinted from the November 2010 issue. Prices current at that time.