WSJ: Bargains in Bordeaux

WSJ posted an article about the summer bargains that can be found in Bordeaux. I’d be on the look out for such bargains, but what was more interesting to me was the part on wine brokers trying to get rid of their surplus supplies on hand. Indeed, my wine broker sent me a couple of “exclusive” offers on 2003 Margaux today, as well as several 2008 second growth en primeurs. I see the rationale – now that there is a glut in supply, prices have come down quite a bit, so it could make sense to snap up a couple cases now and hold on to them for a couple years until demand starts to exceed supply. That said, I have no excess cash right now.

A Surprise Summer Bargain in Bordeaux
Once hyped, now overstocked, midrange 2005 vintage offers quality and promises long life
31 July 2009

Good wine stores are awash in 2005 Bordeaux. Remember 2005? It was yet another “vintage of the century.” Prices on good Bordeaux—not just the famous first growths, but most of the well-known names—rose to ridiculous heights. Even regular folks on Main Street were somehow convinced that an ever-more-valuable case of 2005 Bordeaux would be the ticket to an early retirement, which created even more demand and even higher prices.

It wasn’t exactly a tulip craze, but it was close. Now prices have come back to earth—or at least they’re somewhere in the lower atmosphere—and it seems to us that stores are stuck with boatloads. Not a day goes by that we don’t get an email alert from a store shouting about its OUTRAGEOUS DEALS on 2005 Bordeaux. They seem to be getting louder as the 2006 Bordeaux hit the shelves, much like car dealerships trying to move last year’s models. While few people are calling 2006 the year of the century, we assure you that merchants are preparing ad copy even now explaining that the Bordeaux they personally are selling happens to be the exception and, in their own way, are indeed the deals of the century. So those 2005 models must go!

We are always looking for bargains, so this certainly seemed like a good time for us to pounce. To get an idea what was out there and whether it was indeed a good deal, we decided to check out midrange red Bordeaux from the 2005 vintage. We set our price limit at $65 and bought 10 wines that have been among our favorites for many years: Châteaux Beychevelle, Brane-Cantenac, Duhart-Milon, Giscours, Gruaud-Larose, Gloria, Haut-Batailley, Lafon-Rochet, Lascombes and Phélan Ségur. Other people have different favorite midrange Bordeaux, but these are some of ours. They have been our go-to fancy Bordeaux reds for decades. We have drunk them young and with age. They are old friends. In each vintage, they give us a good snapshot of fine Bordeaux and a hint about their ageability. We bagged all 10 wines and tasted them in small blind flights over three nights. In each case, we tasted the wines first when we opened them to confirm that they needed decanting—they did—and then we let them sit for an hour before we tasted. Each night, we then also tasted them with steak or a roast (not just for the tasting but because, geez, if you’re having fine Bordeaux, it just seems like a shame not to have some good beef).

At the end, here’s what we would say: Depending on where you buy them—because prices are so variable—these wines are tremendous bargains and a wonderful departure from the whites you’ve been drinking this summer. They are classic Bordeaux, with layers of tightly wound fruit, hints of tobacco and cedar, fine acidity, balanced oak and the kind of mineral underpinning that tastes like true earth. These are the kind of wines you want to sip, not gulp, because every little taste includes so many different, interesting flavors and such great texture—not to mention that the wines seem to change with each passing minute, as they get more air and warmth. They are wines with the structure of a beautifully crafted building.

These days, so many of us are so comfortable with our California Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot that it’s really important to pick up a fine Bordeaux from time to time just to remember how different they are—more textured, more challenging, less eager to be loved and more confident in their own pedigree. That doesn’t make Bordeaux better, just different, and different is good.

We were least impressed with Brane-Cantenac and Phélan Ségur, which were good but not as impressive as the other eight. Our favorite was our very old friend Gruaud-Larose, which brings back warm memories going back 50 years (50 years of vintages, not 50 years of drinking). It’s so classy and so beautifully made that it’s a bargain at about $60.

While these wines are good now—your friends would be blown away if you served one of these with a steak off the grill this summer—we really would suggest that you lay some down. It’s impossible to know when wines will be at their peak, but in general, we’d say these will be better 10 years from now. They have all the stuffing needed to have a long, beautiful life. In some vintages, the wines are excellent but too expensive for us to think about laying down a case or two. In other years, the wines are affordable, but not built for the long haul. We find the combination of prices and age-worthiness in the mid-range 2005 Bordeaux to be unmatched in many years.

Even more than usual, it’s important to shop around for these. We bought Beychevelle, for example, in one store for $47.99 and at another for $89.95, almost double.

We don’t know about you, but, for us, there’s a big psychological difference between paying $48 for a wine and $90—in fact, it’s the difference between a wine we might actually drink and enjoy for no particular reason and a wine that falls into the dreaded “save for a special occasion” category.

One more thing: Because 2005 was such a good vintage, we have found that the lower-priced, more-obscure Bordeaux wines from that year also can be great deals. While they generally are not made to age, and in fact should be drunk soon, there are quite a few of them on shelves, too.

Because they are often quite inexpensive—sometimes less than $10—it’s worth taking a chance on one. Their names are generally unfamiliar—like Château de Lugagnac, Château Au Grand Paris and Château Les Tours de Peyrat—but they can offer a lot of bang for the buck.


4 thoughts on “WSJ: Bargains in Bordeaux

  1. i thought of you when i saw the article…wait did i send this to you? anyway, my place is open for upcoming dgs things if you want just bring your own glassware!

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