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Dining | Wine: Budget Bordeaux

Even as the U.S. dollar is getting clobbered by the euro and foreign exchange rates are dismal, it is possible to find Bordeaux bargains. Do not abandon hope. In fact, French Bordeaux is pretty much a steal compared to the inflated prices of say, American Pinot Noir ever since Sideways. Hopefully, no one will make a movie about Bordeaux anytime soon.

First things first, the 2005 Bordeaux vintage is touted by the experts as one of the best in a lifetime—the Second Coming in Bordeaux. What that means to you and me is that 2005 Bordeaux will be some of the most expensive in a lifetime. So don’t expect to find any bargains from the prestigious chateaux. If you can afford a bottle of 2005 Chateau Margaux—which will sell for somewhere around $1,500—by all means, go for it. But while you’re waiting for the Big Guys to release their 2005’s, you can enjoy Bordeaux from smaller, lesser-known producers for a very small fraction of that. Best of all, you can drink them today.

Although many of us are only truly familiar with a handful of Bordeaux reds, there are 9,000 wineries in Bordeaux. And hey, it can’t all be sickeningly expensive. When shopping for Bordeaux on a budget, there are some money-saving tricks. First, many of the famous wineries have second labels. Frequently these are wines produced from a winery’s younger vines. Some names to try remember Pavillon Rouge (Margaux), Les Forts de Latour (Pauillac), Carruades de Lafite (Pauillac) and Alter Ego de Palmer (Margaux). And look also for Bordeaux from areas that are lesser known like Canon-Fronsac, Médoc and Lalande-de-Pomerol. Finally, check out cru bourgeois Bordeaux from the region’s petits chateaux.

A beautiful, affordable wine from the 2005 Bordeaux vintage is Chateau Providence Pomerol ($85). Powerful, rich cherry aromas fill the glass and make you think about swooning. On the tongue there’s more red cherry, along with blackberry, black cherry, licorice and currant flavors. This is a steroidal Pomerol with massive muscle and structure. You can drink it now but it’ll be righteous in 2025.

OK, when I said the $85 Chateau Providence was affordable, I wasn’t talking about my budget. For that, we need to look for something considerably less pricy, like Chateau Tour D’Auron 2005 ($13.35). I absolutely love this stuff. You will, too, if you like red cherries. It’s medium-bodied with soft, silky tannins and ripe red cherry flavors along with hints of licorice and mocha. The Tour D’Auron is so fruity that it drinks a little sweet but is actually dry thanks to good acidity—enough to cut through a pepper-crusted rib-eye fresh off the grill.

Another economical Bordeaux in the same price range as Tour D’Auron is Chateau Damase Bordeaux Supérieur 2005 ($15). You’ll get high just sniffing the stuff. Pop the cork (yes, a real cork!) and you’re enveloped in aromas of black cherry, roses and lavender. You might be surprised to learn that the Chateau Damase is 100 percent Merlot. The tannins are a tad austere; let this wine breathe for a half-hour or so and you’ll be rewarded with a smooth, graceful, uncomplicated and easy-drinking Bordeaux Supérieur.

Satisfying Bordeaux for under $13? Absolutely. Chateau Sauman Cotes de Bourg 2005 sells for a measly $12.50. It’s loaded with juicy red fruit, along with an unusual minerality. Smooth tannins and good structure all around, but consider decanting this wine before you drink it or at least handling the bottle carefully. Although it’s a young wine, the bottle I sampled had a lot of sludgy sediment in the bottom.