There exists a wonderful phrase in the German language ‘wenn schon, denn schon’ – roughly ‘if you’re going to do it, do it properly’. I find this can be implied to wine and food better than anywhere else and I sometimes avoid buying cheap, average wine every day so that I can drink something a little better every other day.
Whereas we’re all aware of large-brand superfluous Champagne, this way of life fits in well here too. If you’re going to celebrate something properly, ditch the Moët and go for something from a smaller producer or even a vintage wine.
However, I find this phrase much more appropriate when it comes down to the world’s favourite red wine region: the Bordelaise.
I first got into Bordeaux with poor generic cuvees and when a friend of mine said that real Bordeaux started at 25-30€ a pop, I rejected this and carried on in my consumption of bland wines named after non-existent Châteaux. Thankfully, I decided to go down the route of appellation-specific Bordelaise wines a few years ago and will never go back – Bordeaux AOC is, and I’m sorry for saying it, a complete waste of time and usually money as well.
If you’re interested in buying something for a quiet night in and want to spend around 8-10€, stick with Italy, Spain, the new-world or the less complicated wines of the Southern French coast. Bordeaux AOC priced at 8-10€ is usually hideously overpriced and you’ll find yourself drinking generic wine with very little unique character. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one with a bit more Cabernet than Merlot and Cabernet in its cheaper formats is usually a little better. This advice includes wines like Mouton Cadet, which is always a safe (if not dull) purchase.
Although, come to think of it, I’m not even suggesting that you have to spend much more. Recently a string of St. Émilion Grand Crus have been available for well under the 10€ barrier and whilst none of these of world-moving wines, you at least get something authentic for your money. You’ll find some definite St. Émilion characteristics and a crafted taste to the wine even if it isn’t close to some of the more expensive produce that most of us will never be able to afford.
I’ve also seen Haut-Médoc wines priced at around 6€. Again, don’t expect perfection but, after half an hour in the decanter, you’ll find that these wines contain the driving factors behind the popularity of such wines. A really lucky purchase from Médoc or Haut-Médoc might find you enjoying a wine with some real Cabernet structure, some tobacco and leather notes – something that usually first appears in wines priced at 20€. I recently bought six bottles of a fairly well-known Haut-Médoc for 30€ and, whilst it definitely wasn’t the best wine I’ve enjoyed in the last few weeks, for a fiver a bottle: Chateau Larose Trintaudon (08) is a fantastic wine for the price, full of authentic Left-bank aroma, albeit a bit unrefined but nonetheless a real Bordeaux.
There are hundreds of Médoc and Haut-Médoc wines out there priced between six and ten euros and nearly all of them are considerably better than the Bordeaux AOC wines priced at a similar level.
It doesn’t even have to be Médoc though. If you’re more of a Merlot person, I’ve already mentioned St. Émilion. However there are other alternatives. Premier Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac and even Côtes de Blaye offer decent wines that are affordable and considerably better than those carrying the Bordeaux AOC declaration.
When it comes down to white Bordeaux or rosé Bordeaux, I tend to find that the Bordeaux Blanc AOC or Bordeaux Rosé AOC classifications rarely command high asking prices and therefore don't need to be avoided. The best white is however also smaller appellation-specific and sometimes I don’t understand the use of Bordeaux Blanc AOC when nearly all of the white grapes making dry wine are grown in Entre-Deux-Mers anyway – so are most of the red ones for Bordeaux AOC too though.
I don’t see the attraction in buying Bordeaux AOC wine, there really isn’t one. I can understand that an inexperienced consumer might not know the difference and the labels of the mass-produced wines are often a little more attractive (lots of colour and gold print). If you’ve read this and you're a casual consumer, now you know. Either buy similarly-priced smaller AOC wines or spend more and buy more expensive specific AOC wines – Bordeaux AOC doesn’t represent good value and isn't a fair representation of the region it comes from.
What do you think?