The 2009 Bordeaux harvest isn't being heralded as "the vintage of the century" ... yet.
Canny French marketers -- the folks who that convinced Americans to eat snails and pay for water -- wouldn't cash in that time-tested banner with 91 vintages yet to ripen on the vine.
Ross' choiceBordeaux Rouge
• Suggested retail and availability: $10.99 at Mallory's and other wine and liquor shops (distributed by Eagle Eye Imports, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.)
What's Bordeaux got that New World Merlot/Cabernet blends don't? That would be dark, forest berry flavors (as opposed to overly ripe berries), complexed by herbs and meaty flavors (as opposed to oak), with fine tannins that define flavors (as opposed hard tannin), moderate alcohol and pleasing acidity to make the mouth water (as opposed to 14 percent-plus alcohol and flabby acid that dulls the mouth). Serve this and other moderately priced Bordeauxs with medium-bodied, not-too-spicy meat dishes like lamb tagine, and the richest poultry dishes.
But in an age with an under-abundance of good news, the 2009 red Bordeaux vintage is a winning situation for us all.
For the consumer, these are classic Cabernet Sauvignon- and Merlot-based wines, rich in texture and beautifully balanced with seamless interplay of ripened black fruit, fine tannin, pleasing acidity and clear expression of Bordeaux's unique soil, climate and culture.
For producers, the consistently excellent quality in all price categories can attract new drinkers to a category that has steadily lost business to New World regions, especially those in the U.S. and Chile.
"This is an opportunity to purchase a classic wine of outstanding quality, that is very approachable now, but will really improve with a couple of years age," says Simon Lambert, senior wine consultant for The Chicago Wine Company, retailer and auctioneer of fine wine. "With delicious, top-ranked wines for $30 and up, it simply disproves the common perception that all Bordeaux is expensive."
"Top rank" refers to Bordeaux's Classification, which has defined the relative value of each property's output since 1855. Note: the classification defines value -- much the same as a website's "Sort by Price" tool -- not necessarily quality or appeal. The Premier Grand Cru's (First Great Growths) sell instantaneously for dizzying prices ($2,000 per bottle before release), but "Super Seconds" through Fifth Growths all have ardent customers.
For top quality coupled with value, Lambert recommends wines below top Cru's, including Chateau La Lagune (Third Growth, Haut Medoc; currently $63.50 at The Chicago Wine Company) and Chateau La Croix de Gay ($36.50; Pomerol was not included in the Classification.) Details at www.tcwc.com or (630) 594-2972.
You'll need to wait until spring 2012, however, to pick up your order. Such is the worldwide demand for Bordeaux (and the skill of the French marketer), that wines are sold in advance of delivery; in fact, in advance of bottling.
Lambert, for instance, traveled to Bordeaux to taste the wines from barrel in 2010. "They've been going up in price ever since," he says with mixed emotion.
But outstanding quality is also available in Bordeaux Superieur -- the more casual tier -- already on retail shelves.
"I want my customers to try before they buy," says Jeff Sukowski, general manager of Malloy's Finest Wines & Spirits in Glen Ellyn, Lisle and Naperville. "Even though I can offer excellent wine for under $20, (see Ross' Choice), I want to know people are comfortable with the flavors of Bordeaux." (Visit MalloysFinest.com for tasting dates and online shopping.)
Then he adds, "I've enjoyed every 2009 Bordeaux I've tasted."
Check with Sukowski, Lambert and other local retailers for their selection and tastings of red Bordeaux. Then you can decide if 2009 is the vintage of your century.
• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine twice a month. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.