I’m always hunting for cheap-but-good Bordeaux, especially from the lesser-known appellations. Trader Joe’s has a negociant doing some work there, and I’ve tried a few of their wines already – both red and white. Tonight I have a big tri-tip steak on the grill, and I’m opening three bottles for some side-by-side comparisons.
Bordeaux has approximately 40 subzones; I’m a fan of the right-bank (northeastern) subzones of Fronsac, Cotes de Castillon, and the half-dozen St. Emilion appellations, mostly because of their Cabernet Franc content. Two of the wines I’m tasting tonight come from those areas, while the other hails from farther west in the Haut-Medoc zone, where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blend. Full details on the blends are presented with each wine.
The 2011 vintage was a very weird one – the weather was all out of whack, and everyone thought it would be a sub-par year. But it turns out that most critics are now calling the 2011 better than average, and probably a very good value – that’s most likely why the negociant was able to snap up the small-appellation right-bank grapes and sell them on to the US for less than $20. The third bottle is a 2012 – it may be too young, but I thought it worthwhile to crack open at the same time, since it might make a good Christmas present for someone to cellar for 5 or 10 years.
Les Portes de Bordeaux Fronsac (2011) Fronsac, France – $13
90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc
Color: garnet red, right up to the edge, with a just a little purple in the center.
Aroma: spicy and meaty, with strong floral notes, some plum, and some toasty oak.
Taste: decent balance, but a little tight on the finish. More oak influence, definitely some vanilla and toast, and still pretty tannic on the finish. Let’s see what happens with some more air and some food.
Les Portes de Bordeaux Montagne-Saint-Emilion (2011) Montagne-Saint-Emilion, France – $13
70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Color: darker, purplish-red throughout.
Aroma: cherry and kirsch, with only a little spice. Develops into more plum, pomegranate, and cassis with some air.
Taste: thinner; this falls off pretty severely in the mid-palate and doesn’t recover on the finish. There’s just heat and tannin on the end. Not looking good, but again, let’s see what air and food do for this.
Les Portes de Bordeaux Haut Medoc (2012) Haut Medoc, France – $13
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot
Color: purple-red verging on garnet – just barely the darkest of the three.
Aroma: cassis right off the bat! Some sweet nutmeg spice follows, along with oaky vanilla.
Taste: yes, this is still young. There’s a burst of cherry, cassis, and plum up front, followed immediately by a strong tannic mid-palate.
OK – here’s the bottom line. The Fronsac picks up with air and food. The Montagne-Saint-Emilion is still thin. And the Haut Medoc needs at least a couple of years in the cellar. There’s nothing in this batch that’s really outstanding – unlike the white Bordeaux that I reviewed back in September. The Fronsac is reasonable for the price, don’t buy the Montagne-St-E, and take a chance on a couple of bottles of Haut Medoc for the cellar.