Friday, June 3, 2011

A Visit with Planet Bordeaux

I was lucky enough to have a recent conversation with some representatives of Planet Bordeaux centered around the seeming disinterest from many Americans in the wines of Bordeaux. While there is certainly awareness of the handful of classified growth wines, and the excitement of recent vintages bringing a surge in auction prices for these wines in Asia, there is no denying that Bordeaux wines are increasingly a smaller part of restaurant wine lists, and left off of the best shelf placement at wine shops. This is despite the fact that it is the largest AOC in France, produces wines at all cost levels, and offers wines in a wide variety of styles. You can drink a deep brooding red wine, a dry, crisp white, an easy quaffing but complex rose, or even a beguilingly complex sweet desert wine without stepping outside of the Bordeaux genre.

And yet it seems that Bordeaux carried the mantle of fine wine for so long that it has run its course for many Americans. It is simply not interesting, not new or hip. This is confusing and frustrating to the winemakers that I met from Bordeaux, and now that I have had a chance to be exposed to their wines it is frustrating to me. Planet Bordeaux, a PR effort of growers and interests in the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur, has taken it upon themselves to change this perception and make Bordeaux as appealing in the consumer's mind as it can be in the glass (and honestly to the wallet). Among the 10,000 winemakers that work in Bordeaux there are stories to be told that remind me that it is not the stodgy, corporate place that may come across in some of the region's storied reputation. Rather these are farmers, entrepreneurs, families that call these amazing terroirs home and believe in what can be produced.

Take Laetitia Mauriac who along with her brothers bought a small vineyard in the north of Bordeaux to allow the family to return to the region and industry that had sustained earlier generations. Their grandfather had been a negociant in Bordeaux, and a small parcel near Blaye on the Right Bank of the Gironde River seemed like a perfect place to come back home. Producing wines for their own palates, Chateau la Levrette pushes the boundaries, but manages to meet the Bordeaux requirements, creating excitingly different wines that remain uniquely Bordelais.

The Chateau la Levrette 2008 Blanc has a strong oak influence to its guava, papaya, and pineapple notes. The full barrel fermentation creates a rounded, viscous wine with hints of vanilla but enough acid to hold the big body together. This is an entirely different animal than the typical, more austere white wines of Bordeaux and yet the hints of smoke and chalk bring it back home.

Chateau la Levrette 2007 Rouge is a blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon that balances a deep dark fruit aspect with a higher-toned red fruit profile that is delicious. This wine also has obvious wood influence bringing a cedar and spice profile to meet the typical Bordelais notes of graphite and earth.

Mauriac lost her brother this year, and in her early 30's, balancing this upstart business with raising a family, she is an entirely charming character. As she tells me her story, frequently apologizing for her impeccable English, I can not help but think that these are not the wines of the auction house, nor necessarily of the overwrought steak houses that so many Americans associate with a powerful cabernet. No, these are wines of beauty, for exploration and weekend dinners at home, wines that will not break the bank and yet will surprise the drinker with elegance.

Another member of the panel, Regis Chaigne, always wanted to be a pilot. As he grew older, like most of us, his dream got replaced with the necessity to pursue a living and he studied to become an engineer. While he enjoyed engineering there came a call that his family's small chateau in the middle of nowhere-Bordeaux (look that up) was going to be sold if he did not wish to leave his career in the city and come save it. He couldn't bear for this to occur so he dropped his career, took a few classes in enology, and moved to the country. This was in 1990 and now for 21 years he has dedicated himself to producing white, rose, clairet, and red wines with an eye towards the palate the consumer. Chateau Ballan-Larquette hits this mark, and surpasses, with very affordable wines offered widely in the U.S. through BevMo, and throughout the world.
We tasted the Chateau Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux Rose and found it brimming with fresh strawberry aromas, flavors of tart strawberry, herbs, and rhubarb, and a very fresh, bright, and refreshing finish. This is an easy drinking, warm weather, crowd pleaser to say the least. Again I found this wine to be unique, interesting, and very worthy of a place in most American's repetoire.

The conversation at this point turned to how Americans buy their wine, and what influences them to stay in their comfort zone versus explore the unfamiliar. While I believe the answer is complicated it is obvious that we move in trends and stick to what we know. There is such a huge amount of options when we enter a wine shop, or a bar, that it can be overwhelming. We look to critics, to sommeliers, to wine shop attendants for some assistance and settle into things we know we like. I am here to tell you that I know you will like paying $12 for a well crafted Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur that has a story, a sense of place, and a delicious taste, and you really should rotate them into your purchases.

For the short term (as in while you are getting dressed to go out and get your Bordeaux bottlings) check out the very easy and informative Planet Bordeaux website for more information. It will only increase our enjoyment of wine to be a part of bringing this intensely valid region back into our habits and homes.

1 comment:

  1. The Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux Blanc '09 is a really nice easy drink. I love it!! Thanks for the review.