Wednesday, July 25, 2007

RSVP Tasting: Bordeaux on $20 a day

A leisurely car-trip from Calgary to Victoria, with a few stops at liquor stores along the way yielded the following selection of modestly-priced Bordeaux for the group to try:

Wine Chateau de Callac 2001
Appellation Graves, Bordeaux
Price $18.79 (Superstore, Alta.)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
The slightly higher-priced 2000 vintage proved a bargain when it came out a couple of years back: nice power, with enough finesse that you lingered over your glass. The lower price of the 2001 proves a step down rather than a greater bargain: Not much nose; gentle attack and very mild tannins; hints of earth and gravel. It tastes like it was picked as late as possible in a lesser year---the fruit is there, but it's dull because there's no acid left to set it off. Easy to like, but the conversation's definitely at the high-school level.

Wine Chateau Sainte Marie 2005
Appellation Bordeaux Superieur
Price $13.59 (Superstore, Alta.)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Even warmer and friendlier than the Callac above, (and with a more tempting price) but with the same basic virtues and vices: A cheap but dull date with a nice guy who has money but no brains. You're left with the same choice, too: stay with the inexpensive and unchallenging; or risk a bit more for some enlightenment and excitement?

Wine Chateau Roc Taillade 2002
Appellation Medoc, Bordeaux
Price $17.99 (Superstore, Alta.)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
....and sometimes, the enlightenment comes at relatively little extra cost: from a vintage universally regarded as lousy comes this wise little product that had some tasters reaching for their metaphors: notes of cedar and leather littered the conversation about the nose; an astringent attack with tannins still tasting a bit green; (the vintage in question speaking) but nicely in balance with the fruit and even some complexity to the finish. Of the bunch, this one turned the most heads.

Wine Chateau Cote Montpezat 1998
Appellation Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux
Price $11.49 (Co-op Liquor Stores, Alta.)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
The kind of impulse-buy you can't turn down, even when you know what you're in for: Any ten year-old Bordeaux at this price has to be past it; the only question is, how good was it to start with, and how much can it afford to lose before turning insipid? In this case, the first answer was "pretty good" and the second "not much more". The fruit is starting to fall away from what is still a pretty robust structure; the result on the palate is beginning to feel dried-out. Food helps a lot; in fact, something rich will have the pretense nicely taken out of it by this aging small-college cynic.

Wine Chateau Le Marquisat La Perouse 2003
Appellation Bordeaux
Price $9.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 12.5%
More than almost anywhere else, Bordeaux is the place where a year can make all the difference in the world---even at the budget level. Chateau Marquisat la Perouse is the perfect example: the 2003 vintage was a fabulous overachiever for a $10 wine, carrying a gamey scent worthy of an adolescent Chateauneuf de Pape. Then in 2004... rien. It was back to a nothing-special, entry-level Bordeaux. We'll see if it amounts to anything in the 2005 version (that is, if the BC Liquor Distribution Branch ever makes its way through the warehouses of 2004 they were bait-and-switched into buying.)

Wine Chateau de Courteillac 2005
Appellation Bordeaux
Price $11.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Something of an instant-replay of the Marquisat above, only two vintages further down the 'pike: The Courtillac from the great 2005 vintage represented a terrific bargain, carrying with it the poise and power of a Bordeaux a class above it. Then, the moment you dared to dream of reasonably-priced Bordeaux on demand... bang! in comes the 2006: watered-down vin ordinaire by contrast. The Buddhists have it right: Expectation is the source of all misery.

Wine Chateau de Parenchere 2004
Appellation Bordeaux Superieur
Price $18.99 (BC Liquor Stores)
Alcohol Content 13.0%
Catastrophically matched the day it was consumed (green chicken with Jalapenos---some of us Bordeaux fanciers never learn) this nevertheless showed some genuine weaknesses: one taster found it dry to the point of tasting dried-out---what fruit there was had already faded into the background. What remained was basic Bordeaux for the austere-minded: if you found it for ten bucks (and matched it with the right food this time) you'd count yourself lucky. In its favor: It improved a bit in the hour or so it was open.

1) Even at this price level, vintage years can make a huge difference in Bordeaux; and 2) price figures heavily in your evaluation: $12.99 is fine for competent Bordeaux; but for $20 there is so much competition from interesting wines from (at least) Spain and other parts of France that it’s not worth it. And it’s not the Bordelaise that are to blame; these are the people who are going broke at this level of commerce. It’s Canadian, provincial-government wholesalers, who either have an interest if protecting local wine industries (like BC and Ontario) or simply love the revenue (like Alberta). Every wine in this group would be a world-beating deal if Provincial markups were reasonable. As it is, the world-beating budget Bordeaux gets to you mostly by accident.

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