30 Second Wine Advisor: Quest for good cheap Bordeaux

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Quest for good cheap Bordeaux

Bordeaux. It's a name to conjure with, a French wine region that has been producing highly regarded red wines since before the 12th Century, when Eleanor of Aquitaine brought the land that is now Bordeaux under the English crown, at least for a while, with her marriage to King Henry II.

The British have been drinking Bordeaux ever since, and just about all the rest of the world eventually followed suit. After all, there's plenty to like about this stylish blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, often, splashes of juice from other local grapes including Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Over many centuries of experience, the Bordelaise have really got the wine-making process down pat.

But a funny thing happened around 1855, when the wine merchants of Bordeaux's Medoc region got together and settled on a formal classification, a regulatory process that created a hierarchy of value based, crassly enough, on the prices each producer ("chateau") earned in the marketplace. It was at that point that top-rank producers Margaux, Lafite-Rothschild, Lafite, Latour and Ch. Haut-Brion (joined about a century later by Mouton-Rothschild) earned the title "First Growth" and began commanding prices well beyond everyday drinking for most of us.

The rise of popular, widely published critics like Robert M. Parker Jr. and Wine Spectator's tasting panels in the 1980s put the icing on the cake, until it has come to the point that classified Bordeaux is simply no longer within a range that I am usually willing to pay for wine.

Okayfine. That's life in the fast lane. But it occurred to me recently that, in what can only be described as a Bordeaux-related tantrum, I've been unconsciously boycotting the entire Bordeaux genre.

That's not so smart.

After all, even if I can't sip Chateau Pétrus with the big dogs, there's still plenty of modest Bordeaux around, so much that it makes up about one-third of the value of all French wine exports.

No, it's not at the same rarified level; but it's worth bearing in mind that even the most generic category of the region, the controlled appellation just-plain Bordeaux, is still made from the classic Bordeaux grapes by producers who share the region's DNA and its tradition. We're talking about dry, acidic varietal blends with a substantial heritage, everyday wines with character in their own right, wines that for centuries have been made with the dinner table as their destination.

I promptly suited action to idea and got out among the bargain bins. Here's one for $12, there a tenner, and wait, what's this? Le Cluzet 2009 Bordeaux Rouge for $7.99? In this day and age when it's getting hard to find "interesting" wines under 10 bucks, I'm willing to risk eight bucks on simple Bordeaux, figuring that at worst I'll be able to choke it down.

This goodie proved far better than mere choke-able, though. While it's no wine for the ages, it gave me what I expect of basic Bordeaux: Crisp and tart, cherry and plum aromas, and a good, snappy acidity on the palate to make it a friendly companion with food.

The bad news? Searching online, I can't find this wine except in a more pricey version with a different label that seems to be available mostly in Holland and France. I'm not at all certain whether I got lucky and nabbed a tiny shipment that happened to find its way here, or if more is on the way. With regrets that it's not going to be easy for you to find, I present it so you can keep the name handy in hope it does show up.

Meanwhile, the moral of today's sermon is simple: Don't boycott cheap Bordeaux. Keep your expectations within reason, but when you spot a fresh vintage at an appealing price, give one a try. The "Find this Wine Online" link in the tasting report below may help you get started. Also, don't be shy about asking advice at your friendly neighborhood wine shop. The results may be well worth the small effort.

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Today's Tasting Report

Le Cluzet 2009 Bordeaux Rouge ($7.99)

Le Cluzet

Garnet, with a clear edge. Cranberry, red plum and a whiff of brown spice on the nose. Tart red fruit flavor, fresh and dry, appropriate table wine alcohol at 12.5%; snappy acidity lingering. A blend of 75% Merlot with 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. U.S. importer: Prestige Wine Group, Princeton, Minn. (Nov. 6, 2011)

FOOD MATCH: Excellent pairing of an autumn dish of roasted pumpkin and potatoes with lots of browned onions to bring the roasted veggies up to meet the dry red wine. The back label suggests more traditional matches with lamb, steak, burgers and Cheddar, all of which should work fine.

VALUE: If you can find this serviceable, balanced and food-friendly table red anywhere near this price, I suggest buying it by the case.

WHEN TO DRINK: Low-end Bordeaux from the generic Bordeaux-wide appellation isn't made for cellaring, but I have no reason to believe this one wouldn't fare well under good storage conditions for a few years. No rush to drink it up.

WEB LINK: The U.S. Importer's Website doesn't seem to show Le Cluzet at this time, but you might use this link for more information about it and other wines in their portfolio.

This link to Wine-Searcher.com a random selection of Bordeaux Rouge under $10 from vendors around the world.

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