by Anne Martin

With the global competitors nipping at their heels and, in many cases, overtaking the former pinnacle of the wine kingdom; the Bordelaise have had to figure out a way to market their “non-grand cru” wines to the international market more aggressively. The luxury brands only count for 5% of the region’s total wine production which in some years, depending on the vintage, can be enough to fill over 900 million bottles. That’s alot of wine to sell which means good news for the consumer.

Bordeaux’s  mild maritime (Atlantic) climate makes for wines that are subtle, refreshing and food -friendly rather than in- your- face fruity blockbusters. And, to ensure a consistent product with the region’s variable weather conditions, Bordeaux wines are almost always blended – 80% of them being red. Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most famous of the region’s grapes, in fact; it is Merlot that accounts for most (40%) of all the vineyard plantings.  They are complimentary to one another as Merlot ripens earlier and gives the wines flesh while Cabernet takes it’s time to ripen and provides the structure/aging potential. The elegant Cabernet Franc is the red grape of third most importance in the red Bordeaux blend followed, in much lesser quantities, by Petit Verdot and Malbec. The dry white wines are less well-known than their sweet cousins like Sauternes, but they’re worth seeking out as they are balanced, crisp and as food friendly as the reds.  The main white grapes are: Sémillon (rounder texture, nutty flavours) Sauvignon Blanc (crisp acidity, citrus elements) and, to lesser degrees, Muscatelle and Ugni Blanc.

Look for these appellations on a Bordeaux label for good value finds:
  • AOC Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur (must be a half a percent higher in alcohol than the former) which make up for 55% of the region’s total production  – These wines can be from anywhere in the region and they often use be disappointing (thin and acidic), but this has changed due to more foreign investment and better grape growing and winemaking techniques.
  • Wines from the “Côtes” (hillsides) – The lesser known appellations that have had vines planted on them since Roman times. They don’t have the finesse or aging potential of the Haut-Medoc wines, but they offer great value and are ready to drink at a younger age. Look for names like Premières Côtes du Bordeaux, Premières Côtes du Blaye , Côtes du Bourg.
  • Satellite regions on the right bank of the Gironde like Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion and from the left bank like Listac-Medoc offer fine value at lower prices.
I recently led a consumer seminar called Affordable Bordeaux where I found and tasted through the great wines list ed below that are available in the LCBO now.
The Whites:

2008 Dourthe La Grande Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc Bordeaux France $15.95 (159640)
A business-like Sauvignon Blanc (100%) for those that enjoy a dry white. It’s crisp, clean and grassy with a nice seam of minerality running through it. Perfect with fresh Ontario asparagus.

2008 Château D’Argadens Blanc Bordeaux France $16.95 (159111)
This is a more traditional example of white Bordeaux with rounder edges and good balance. It’s a blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Sémillon. An elegant white well suited to a food pairing like delicate fresh water fish (i.e.) trout.

The Reds:

2006 Château Ducla Bordeaux Supérieur France $14.95 (162461)
Good every day quaffable claret (as the Brits often refer to red Bordeaux). Very accessible and good on its own or with roast chicken.

2006 Château Saint-Nicolas Premières Côtes de Bordeaux France $18.95 (138602)
A more modern style red – ripe, smooth, fragrant and made from 100% Merlot. This is a good example to give to those New World wine lovers that need encouragement to come over to the “dark side” of Old World reds.

2006 Château Haut-Grelot Cuvée Tradition Premières Côtes de Blaye France $15.95 (165738)
A very well-priced good quality red with accessible juicy red fruit and some nice structure. Ready to drink now and excellent with roast beef.

2007 Château des Laurets Puisseguin Saint-Émilion Bordeaux France $18.80 (371401)
This General List beauty is elegant and well-made from the classic ’07 vintage. Merlot and Cabernet Franc meld together to make for a finely- woven gem. It rocked a roast lamb leg on Mother’s Day.

2006 Château Reverdi Listrac-Medoc Bordeaux France $23.95 (165415)
More $ = more bang for your buck… in this case. This is a classy, tighty-wound red from the Medoc with dark cassis fruit dense textures and lashings of cedar. It needs some time in the cellar – drink in 3-5 years.

Anne Martin is a Toronto-based sommelier, writer and wine consultant. Learn more about Anne, including her cellar and tasting services at