Although it hasn’t been the main intention of the challenge, I’ve been staining my lips red on a regular basis throughout 2011. In late 2010 I decided that, although I knew a fair bit about Bordeaux, I know literally nothing about most of the individual appellations dotted all over the region. Of course, I’d heard of Pauillac, Margaux and Pomerol but the amount of funny Euro notes in my wallet rarely allowed me to reach up so high in the wine rack, often having to settle for something much cheaper and much lower down.
But I started to put a bit of money aside and started, in January of 2011, to experiment with some of Bordeaux’s 57 appellations. I substituted a few of the generic ones because I’ve been drinking such wines for years: Bordeaux Blanc, Bordeaux AOC, Bordeaux Rosé and Bordeaux Superior AOC are to name but a few.
The Left Bank
I started with Médoc and Haut-Médoc as it seemed a price category that was almost immediately affordable and enjoyed a few decent wines along the way. Although the word Médoc seems to grace hundreds of bottles in my local shops, I soon found a few wines that I could safely come back to. Château des Granges d’Or 2005 was a decent surprise and at less than 12€ a bottle, quite good value as well. I also discovered a supermarket Médoc AOC wine: Château la Pirouette which, albeit not excellent, was a seriously drinkable claret for just over a fiver – I have since enjoyed many more evenings with said wine. 2011 saw me drinking several wines from Haut-Médoc although, to be honest, my general feeling towards this appellation is one of moderate quality wines for quite a high price. One exception was a lovely Château du Camensac 2002 that I enjoyed – a great wine and at less than 20€, quite a good buy!
But the smaller appellations of Médoc were the ones that interested me most. In October I enjoyed an excellent (but unfinished) Moulis-en-Médoc 2005 claret with lashings of structured Cabernet and deep closed senses of tobacco and coffee which would’ve opened had I left the bottle in the rack for a few more years.
Pauillac was the most expensive appellation I covered in 2011. I drank two separate wines from there: one good, one not so good but I have also invested in several bottles for the future. My first experience with The Appellation was a modest but delicious Château Pédesclaux 2002. I immediately loved it and was quick to declare Pauillac as my favourite Bordeaux appellation. In December 2011 however, I had a fairly poor experience from a little known Château called Bellegrave. It’s 2003 was not unpleasant but seemed to carry all of the notes about aged Bordeaux I like to be covered up with red fruit and Cabernet: too much vanilla, too much oak – not enough spice and not enough tart red fruits, no cassis. At more than 20€ a bottle, I was a tad annoyed and hope that the rest of the wines in my rack offer a bit more jazz.
Pauillac served as my favourite appellation of Bordeaux for less than a month. I tried my luck and bought a 14 year old St. Estèphe from a supermarket that had only been only for one year. The 1997 Lafon-Rochet was at its turning point and only after an insanely long amount of time in the decanter, did it open up and stop smelling strange. The wine was however immense and it opened my eyes to the potential of storing wine for a long time. Its Cabernet skeleton was much more robust that that of the Pauillac wine I’d tried and its red fruit was a lot fresher. Late in 2011 saw me trying a young but affordable St. Estèphe from a supermarket: Château Commanderie 2006 which was a very enjoyable experience and one that I hope to repeat sometime soon (a second bottle is in my possession). It offered most of the experience of the more expensive wine (Lafon-Rochet) but with half of the guilt – it costs less than 15€ a bottle.
Margaux let me down though in 2011. I’d heard a great deal about how great its wine were but after trying two, I wasn’t much impressed. The wines seemed like buffed-up Haut-Médoc wines with doubly buffed-up price tags. I plan to experiment with a bit more Margaux in 2012.
2012 will also see me wander into Graves and get started with Pessac-Léognan, Sauternes and Barsac. I’ll also be finishing off Médoc with, aside from a few more bottles of Margaux and Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Listrac.
Over the Gironde
Most of the bigger appellations of the right bank are still to come in 2012, I’ve still not tasted Pomerol, nor have I enjoyed anything from Fronsac, Bourg or Lalande-de-Pomerol.
In 2011, I enjoyed a lot of Saint-Émilion. Many supermarkets in Germany have increased their range and, whilst I know that the proper stuff isn’t affordable to people like me, was impressed by the mid-range wines. All of them were priced between 6-12€ and all of them were pleasantly drinkable.
Côtes-de-Blaye was a big surprise though. Whilst living in Münster, a wine store next door recommended I take a bottle of Merlot from old vines, which I did and enjoyed immensely. I’ll be looking at trying some more wines from here in the coming year alongside the neighbouring appellation of Bourg as well.
South of Bordeaux
In 2011 I enjoyed many a Premier-Côtes-de-Bordeaux wine. A young but excellent Croix-Mouton 2009 opened my eyes to this small and barely-respected Entre-deux-Mers appellation and this quality was reflected in another wine I’ve enjoyed on a regular basis that sources its grapes only from 1er Côtes and neighbouring Cadillac. Château Grimont retails at just over 5€ in a nearby supermarket and it serves as one of my house wines.
Entre-deux-Mers white was briefly hit upon by me in 2011 with a simple 2010 bottle opened and enjoyed with a seafood dinner. In 2012 I hope to experiment with Bordeaux’s dry white wines a little more.
As above mentioned, I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge of Bordeaux even further in 2012. Hopefully, in a year’s time I’ll be able to complete my guide to Bordeaux wines and, if I’m lucky, summer 2012 might even see my visit the region. I’ll keep you up to date.