The perception of Bordeaux in the minds of Americans today is like looking for a restaurant on Yelp. Ever filter by ‘price’ when looking for a place to dine? Of course you have. As far as most of us are concerned, if wine was filtered by price, like it is on Yelp, Bordeaux would be in the four-dollar sign range. Right?
Well, I’m here to tell you that this is not necessarily the case. Sure there are a lot of astronomical price tags attached to bottles from this area of the world, but — whether those prices are justified or not — if you ever have a chance to sip on one that is at the right temperature and has been aged and aerated properly, it just might change your life. I have been in the wine world in a heavy, geeky way for over a decade now and have had the opportunity to enjoy said bottle maybe three times. I’m a downtown NYC wine geek so these experiences don’t often come my way. So, I usually go for Bordeaux’s fun little secret: petits châteaux (“little castles”).
Check these deets: the Bordeaux appellation (also know by its cool abbreviation BDX) has a higher percentage of large estates than anywhere else in France. The town of Bordeaux itself is tucked all cozy-like in the middle of the region hugging the Garrone river that leads to the Gironde Estuary, which gives its name to the town department and all the vineyards in the region the whole way to the Atlantic. The Gironde department is the largest of 96 departments in metropolitan France. This entire area is about 4,000 square miles. Getting a picture here? This is a large area of land under vine.
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There are around 18,000 producers in Bordeaux and about 7,000 specific châteaux (we can also call them estates). Now for the kicker: the most famous examples of Bordeaux, with names like Petrus, Margaux, and Cheval Blanc, represent only 5 percent of the entire production.
Well, damn! Where is all the rest of the wine? It’s right there on the shelf in your favorite wine shop with price tags ranging from $12 to $15 and a few gems in the low twenties. These are wines from what the wine world considers the petits châteaux. Are they small in size? Some are and some are not, but the idea is that these estates are not as famous as the 5 percenters. There is so much great Bordeaux wine at an affordable price and most stores have a wide variety of these bottles. But, with so much wine to choose from, it can be daunting when perusing all of those sexy châteaux sketches that try to look like the big players; so, you need to trust your wine merchant to recommend a great bottle.
That said, there’s one important item to note: although the term petit châteaux is bandied about among wagging wine tongues, it’s not an official term and not every wine merchant is going to know what you’re talking about if you use it (you might have a one up on them, damn). If you don’t have a favorite wine shop, or don’t trust the recommendations at your local store, the key here is to just go for it. Find one that has the coolest châteaux sketch and lancer les dés (“roll the dice”). I could talk about a few I’ve sold in the past, but, remembering those crazy numbers from earlier, there are way too many out there and every market has a slightly different selection of affordable BDX (lovin’ that abbreviation). There is a very good possibility, though, that the $15 Châteaux “fill in blank” you bought blind is going to be a nice, smooth, earthy, medium-bodied wine. If it isn’t your style then you’re only out fifteen bucks (and I’m sure it will still be consumed).
And isn’t it a nice thought to have a good bottle of Bordeaux on the table for your friends knowing you didn’t have to spend a fortune on it and that you have a few more in the cabinet cuz it was only fifteen bucks? Yeah, it is. You go!