The name seems familiar ...
I've been sipping some wines with great names lately ... over the past couple of weeks such familiar labels as Cheval Blanc and La Tour have graced our dinner table.
Before you become too envious, though, let me clarify: I'm not talking about the storied Chateau Cheval Blanc of St.-Emilion (which is currently commanding $300 and up for the 1998 vintage) or the fabled first growth of Pauillac, Chateau Latour (now $350 or more at vendors that can find you the 2000).
No, these wines are in an entirely different category: The 1998 Chateau Guiraud-Cheval-Blanc from Cotes de Bourg and the 2000 Domaine de La Tour, a generic Bordeaux from vineyards in Entre-Deux-Mers, are $10 bottles, connected to their more sought-after brethren only by a coincidence of names.
Can they do that? Well, yes. Similar and even duplicate names abound in Bordeaux, and for that matter throughout France and around the world. If I had a nickel for every California wine name with "Ridge" in it, or even "Napa," I could buy a lot of wine. Common names like La Tour/Latour ("The Tower") and Cheval Blanc ("White Horse") aren't subject to copyright; and in fairness, the chateau at Domaine de La Tour, for example, goes back to the 1400s, so this can't be described as a modern effort to separate the gullible from their bucks.
But we do find two useful lessons in today's sermon:
When you see a familiar name on a wine label, take a closer look. I hate to be a cynic, but I've seen restaurant wine lists that wouldn't be above implying that the $10 Bordeaux was somehow related to the $350 first-growth.
As I've said before, when you're looking for value, take advantage of the wines from less sought-after regions. No, Domaine de La Tour is not Chateau Latour. But for $10 against $350, it's arguable that it delivers more than 1/35 of the value. That's a winning equation, at least for everyday enjoyment.
Chateau Guiraud-Cheval-Blanc 1998 Cotes de Bourg ($9.99)
Very dark garnet, with herbal, cedar and blackcurrant aromas, characteristic Bordeaux; a bit thin and tannic, but good fruit and acid balance makes it a decent partner with food. Opens up with time in the glass, showing more black fruit and herbal notes of anise and tarragon. U.S. importer: HB Wine Merchants, NYC. (Dec. 26, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Lamb chops with garlic and rosemary, a classic pairing with Bordeaux, work well here.
VALUE: Delivers more Bordeaux quality than you might expect for $10.
Chateau de La Tour 2000 Bordeaux ($9.99)
Very dark ruby in color, this wine shows distinct cassis (blackcurrant) aromas with earthy overtones of leather. A bit austere at first, lean, tart fruit flavors are medium-bodied and earthy, consistent with the nose; it opens up a bit with time in the glass and marries well with appropriate food. U.S. importer: William Grant & Sons, NYC. (Jan. 13, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Excellent with rib eye steaks, demonstrating the truism that rare beef or lamb can improve a young red wine.
VALUE: Fair price for a low-end Bordeaux.
WEB LINK: The U.S. importer's Website will be found at
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Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003