At the back end of September 2018 I spent 10 days in the Bordeaux region enjoying their harvest heat wave as the thermometer topped 30°c daily. What’s an Italian wine blogger doing in Bordeaux? I was in Bordeaux expanding my wine horizons beyond Italian wine as I’m currently a WSET diploma student and as such, need to develop a breadth of knowledge on wines throughout the world. In the wine business Bordeaux is king and so a working knowledge of her regions and wines is crucial to pass my exams. During those 10 days I got to try hundreds of Bordeaux wines from St Emilion and Pomerol, Blaye and Bourg, down to Graves & Pessac Leognan and up the left bank through the Medoc. The following are my top 10 Bordeaux wines based on tastings across the region’s vineyards and at MAX Bordeaux in the city centre.
For the first three days of my trip I was based in the city of Bordeaux and explored possibly every wine bar looking for old vintages of the best Bordeaux wines, purely for educational purposes of course. During the last seven days we were based in the small roman town of St Emilion that today serves as the most commercial and touristic centre of wine anywhere in the world. In St Emilion, we rented a car and criss-crossed the vineyards of Bordeaux looking for the very best examples focusing on quality, typicity but also straight up bargains to be found in Bordeaux’s appellations! It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.
The following 10 wines are not a wrap up of the top 10 Bordeaux wines ever to be produced, but the top 10 Bordeaux wines I got to try during my 10 days so unless your wine palate matches mine exactly you’re quite unlikely to agree! Wine is discussion, but if you don’t think some of the wines below are top quality or excellent value for money then you’re just nuts. Prices shown were the prices I paid in Bordeaux.
Top 10 Bordeaux Wines
GRAVES & PESSAC LEOGNAN
A region deserving a blog of its own, these wines, both red and white were the highlight of the trip as they awakened me to the quality of Bordeaux white and the affordability of quality Bordeaux red from Pessac Leognan. Most of my white Bordeaux experience had been Entre-Deux-Mers before this trip and compared to the quality of those I found on this trip, we Brits are not importing the best examples.
Two wines that really stood out for me were DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER BLANC and LATOUR MARTILLAC ROUGE. The Domaine de Chevalier was a free pour at Vignobles & Châteaux and the Latour Martillac was a bottle I ordered in Cap Ferret by dumb luck as we didn’t enter Latour Martillac’s winery. The Latour Martillac was probably the best value to quality bottle I had in Bordeaux and I’ve ordered their white from the Wine Society to see if they’ve scored a full house from the 2015 vintage.
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2014 – The wine that taught me that Bordeaux can hold a candle to white Burgundy. This wine is apples and minerals for days. A crisp, refreshing wine, held in perfect balance with great acidity, the wet rock/delicious apple/fig, clarity and purity of fruit really surprised me. It’s delicious. I’m also very late to this party as it’s well known to French wine drinkers as an incredible wine – 95 Points – 70€
Latour Martillac 2015 – Bargain of the trip. The Latour Martillac and the Lagrave Martillac are both brilliantly made reds to the point where this producer is now my new crush and I’m stalking them daily on Instagram. A deep brooding crimson, a wine to let breath to enjoy deep notes of blackcurrant and dark chocolate, no austerity, rich, bold and savoury. I enjoyed this wine with food and would recommend the same. This is incredible value. Sex on legs! – 93 Points – 29€
We spent two full days in St Emilion and Pomerol. Fortunately for me I had a driver for this trip so could enjoy criss-crossing the patchwork quilt of vineyards merrily while my driver (partner!) took a multitude of no entry white roads while I ducked and laughed. The most memorable visit was with Pierre Mirande, the 4th generation winemaker at the family estate LA ROSE COTES ROL, a stones throw from the town of St Emilion. His story, one told throughout the region by many family owned wineries, is that of China and big business driving up the prices of the land and putting pressure on prices to the point where keeping the estate in his family for future generations may prove impossible.
La Rose Cotes Rol had a disastrous 2017 vintage where frost decimated 95% of the crops. The barrels were literally empty during our visit, but we arrived 12 hours before harvest and Pierre was grateful that this years harvest looks to be one of the best during his tenure. Look out for La Rose Cotes Rol’s 2018 vintage, as this was some of the healthiest fruit I’ve ever seen! The St Emilion Grand Cru was available to buy for 13€ at the cellar door.
We were fortunate enough to try some Premier Grand Cru Classe wines from St Emilion at Bordeaux Max, however, for excellent value outside of the Grand Cru Classe classifications my vote goes for CHATEAU MOULIN ST GEORGES 2013 which was available in the local stores for just 15€.
Pomerol is a strange little place. Seemingly with no village centre and no real heart, everyone either owns, runs or works at a vineyard but from large to small winery they seemed less inclined to talk to visitors. As we pulled up to varying chateaux the automatic gates quickly closed and it appeared that Pomerol was less welcoming to visitors than its near neighbour. To be fair, this was harvest day for many producers and the fields were busy with small teams bringing in the grapes. As we moved through Pomerol and St Emilion that day, it appeared that St Emilion had a greater number of machine harvested properties than Pomerol. I formed my own opinions! Which like a bad blogger, I’ll keep to myself!
The wines of Pomerol though were anything but uninviting. For a newbie to Bordeaux, these were probably the most fruit forward and most accessible red wines of the trip. From a handful of wines, including Clinet, Bellegrave and Le Clos du Beau Pere, my favourite wine came from Clos Rene at just 29€.
Clos René Pomerol 2015 – Rich, round and deep with fresh aromas full of dark ripe fruit. Punchy on the finish but long with firm tannins, will go on but superb today. A favourite from this week in Bordeaux and great value at under 30€ – 93 Points
ENTRE DEUX MERS
Bordeaux is famous for its oysters and being close to the bay of Arcachon and Cap Ferret has superb seafood. My french partner doesn’t like red wine (yes, you read that correctly – its a source of constant tension) so almost every meal had to be ordered with a bottle of white wine. Whilst I’d have loved every evening meal to feature a top Graves white the budget didn’t allow so we probably drank about seven bottles of Entre-Deux-Mers during our ten days together.
The best Entre Deux Mers we tried during our stay was the CHATEAU MARJOSSE, the home estate of Pierre Lurton, CEO of Yquem and Cheval Blanc. It’s not a wine I’ve seen in the U.K although a quick check on Wine Searcher reveals it is indeed sold but only by the case. We paid about 12€ in a restaurant in Arcachon for this wine.
COTES DE BOURG
Across the Gironde from the Medoc you’ll find the Cotes de Bourg. This appellation is well known in the UK for being the source of some great value Bordeaux reds and whilst we didn’t drive through the region we did get to taste 10+ Cotes de Bourg wines in the wine shops of Bordeaux for pennies. My favourite was the ROC DE CAMBES, not sold for pennies and the most expensive wine of the Cotes de Bourg but available for about 7-8€ a glass in Bordeaux.
These are the big boys. The wines everyone knows whether you’re an Italian wine drinker, a weekend enthusiast, or have ever read a book or watched the TV! These are inescapable and world-renowned labels that need no introduction.
At Bordeaux Max around 75% of all the wines to taste from the enomatics are from the Medoc. During my blowout at Max we spent hundreds on tasting the greats, from the Leovilles to the Rothschilds, Pavies to Palmers, it was an experience of a lifetime for a wine blogger. Of all the wines from the Medoc I tried during those 10 days two stand out, LEOVILLE POYFERRE 2015 and CHATEAU MOUTON ROTHSCHILD 2003.
The Leoville Poyferre was enjoyed at a restaurant next to Bordeaux’s Notre Dame on a Saturday evening where I won the red wine-white win tug of war. I’ve commented many times on this blog how Leoville Poyferre for me is the bargain of the Medoc and so it proved once more. We paid 90€ for this bottle.
The Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2003 was on taste at Bordeaux Max, a few cls for 30€ and totally worth it. Without doubt the best French wine I’ve ever tasted. We should talk about Bordeaux Max. This wine shop/mecca/enomatic heaven gives wine enthusiasts the rare opportunity to taste wines that are out of their price range. Had I wanted to buy a bottle of MR 2003, I’m looking at £500+
Sadly we didn’t get the chance to explore Sauternes and Barsac but again we did find many wines available to try in the city of Bordeaux and in Bordeaux Max including the legendary CHATEAU D’YQUEM. This is only the second time I’ve ever tasted Chateau d’Yquem and every time the experience is so intense that you fall in love with sweet wine all over again (and are consequently disappointed by every sweet wine you order in the meantime – apart from Rieussec perhaps).
Chateau d’Yquem 1999 – Gold in the glass. Delicious, concentrated and rich, honeyed fruit with a depth of flavour found from swirling sniff to one minute plus finish. If I’ve ever been tempted to lick the inside of a wine glass (which there’s no photographic evidence of me ever having done) it would be with this wine. A touch more acidity would have been welcomed. – 94 Points
So there you have it. My top 10 Bordeaux wines from my recent trip to Bordeaux. Having been bitten by the wine tourism bug I plan to go to either Alsace or Burgundy in the new year to carry on with my French wine education. But does this mean I plan to abandon my love for Italy? I’m with Madonna on that one.