These 12 wines, made by vignerons and not grand estates, are classically refreshing and altogether inviting.
By Eric Asimov
Published March 31, 2022
Updated April 1, 2022
Sales of Bordeaux in the United States took off last year, rising by 24 percent in volume, according to the Bordeaux Wine Council, a trade group.
The rise spanned all categories of Bordeaux, the group said, from inexpensive, mass-produced wines to the most prestigious bottles. Partly, it said, it was because of the elimination of the 25 percent tariffs on certain wines from the European Union that had been imposed in 2019 by former President Donald J. Trump in a trade dispute. The tariffs were suspended last year by President Biden.
This is great news for Bordeaux producers who have struggled to rebuild their once-robust market in the United States after both the financial crash of 2008 and a series of image problems that damaged the wine’s standing, particularly among younger drinkers and sommeliers.
To these people, Bordeaux seemed a stodgy place where the estates were owned by billionaires, banks or luxury goods corporations. They associated Bordeaux with wealthy status seekers and those obsessed with high scores from established wine critics. Bordeaux producers, they thought, were aristocrats more interested in silk cravats than vineyard dirt.
These consumers turned their attention instead to Burgundy, a region seemingly made up of vignerons, farmers who grew the grapes and made the wine. They were attracted to the sensual pleasures of pinot noir, Burgundy’s red grape, rather than Bordeaux’s stolid cabernet sauvignon, and the intellectual challenge of understanding Burgundy’s fractional differences in terroir — wines from neighboring plots in Burgundy can be quite different — rather than Bordeaux’s grand estates.
But apart from what Bordeaux might symbolize in wine’s culture wars, I have always believed in the importance of its centuries of history and the greatness of its wines, whether from the most serious of the major chateaus or the best of its small farmers.
Here is the truth: Despite the vast amount of attention paid to the most prestigious and expensive chateaus, most Bordeaux producers are small farmers — vignerons who farm the vineyards and make the wines. I have spent much of the last decade seeking out Bordeaux vignerons whose wines can be soulful and joyous, and I have found a surprising number.
In the waning weeks of winter I went shopping in New York wine shops for Bordeaux made by vignerons and found these 12 bottles, which I recommend enthusiastically. Some of these producers are tiny, others midsize. Most farm either organically or biodynamically — Bordeaux as a region was late to this, but I’m seeing more and more major producers moving in the organic and biodynamic direction, which I believe is good for the wines, for the environment and for the health of workers.
Most important, these are delicious wines. Some are classic inexpensive Bordeaux: light, dry and thoroughly refreshing. Others offer a little more substance and complexity. They are almost all red, though I did include one white Bordeaux because I love it.
If you are in the camp that has dismissed Bordeaux, I would urge you to give these wines a try. If you already love Bordeaux, these may add a new dimension to your expectations.
While these 12 bottles offer a nice cross-section of Bordeaux vignerons, I did not include some of my favorites, either because I did not see them in the stores or, in the case of Domaine du Jaugaret, a tiny but exceptional St.-Julien, because of the rising cost. I also highly recommend Château Moulin de Tricot, Château le Puy and, if you like Sauternes, Cru d’Arche-Pugneau.
I also did not include any Pomerol, which is a prestigious appellation made up largely of vignerons. They are absolutely worth exploring.
Château Auney l’Hermitage Graves Blanc Cuvée Cana 2018, 13 percent, $30
The virtues of dry white Bordeaux are a hard sell, possibly because good examples from the best areas, Pessac-Léognan and Graves, are expensive and not easy to find. I love white Bordeaux and I love the succulence of the sémillon grape. (Cuvée Cana is 50 percent sémillon, 35 percent sauvignon blanc, 10 percent sauvignon gris and 5 percent muscadelle, an unusual blend in a region where sémillon and the other grapes have lost ground to sauvignon blanc.) Like chenin blanc, sémillon has a floral, honeyed flavor, a mineral tang and a luscious texture that keeps me rolling it around in my mouth because it feels so good. Auney l’Hermitage farms its vineyard organically on gravelly sand and clay. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)