Is it safe to go back in the … Bordeaux?

Why, yes, we can go back into the Bordeaux aisle of our friendly local wine shop again. But be careful! Bordeaux has long been scary ground for the budget-conscious, as this historic region’s sought-after wines – like those of Bourgogne – can sport alarming price tags.

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Two years ago last month, the Trump administration dropped a 25 percent tax on French, German and Spanish wines, as well as Parmesan cheese, mussels, coffee, single-malt whiskeys and other agricultural goods from Europe. The tariffs rose from a long-running U.S. complaint over subsidies given to the European plane maker Airbus, lifting it in competition with the American plane maker Boeing.

When the tariffs landed on October 18, 2019, the prices of French wines in the U.S. started rising, and availability slid as many producers and exporters took their products off the American market.

This past summer brought good news for French wine makers and U.S. wine lovers, though, as the Biden administration lifted the tariffs in a new deal with the European Union. “French wine and spirit producers have reacted with relief to the news that heavy customs tariffs will be lifted for exports to the U.S.,” reporter Joanna York wrote in the English-language “The Connexion – French News and Views.

A stormy summer day in the Côtes du Bourg vineyards. (Wikimedia Commons)

A stormy summer day in the Côtes du Bourg vineyards. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nicolas Ozanam, representative for the French Federation of Wines and Spirits Exporters, told the news agency Agence France-Press, “We are relieved because this gives our businesses clarity for the future. We are very happy with this decision in the short term.” The export organization estimated that the sanctions caused a €450 million decrease in American imports of French wine between October 2019 and December 2020.

So all this is good news, but wait! If you’re like me, you probably haven’t been buying much Bordeaux since around 1990 anyway. Market pressure and critical acclaim for most of the classified growths and other sought-after labels had pushed their prices out of my reach even before the tariffs took hold. I certainly don’t expect them to drop back into my financial comfort zone now that the trade battle has eased.

Still, the quest for really good low-price Bordeaux can be tricky. You have to kiss an awful lot of frogs before you find a princess, as the old saying goes. But let’s not give up, because when we do find a budget winner it can be a real treat.

How can you navigate this vinous minefield? Let’s summarize a few tips that I shared in a 2009 article, “Bottom-feeding Bordeaux.

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Is it safe to go back in the … Bordeaux?


• Avoid the big names. Steer clear of the classified Bordeaux growths in favor of the lower steps of the hierarchy: Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux Superieur, even just-plain generic Bordeaux.

• Stay out of the pricey neighborhoods. Instead of Pauillac, Margaux or Pomerol, go hunting in the “satellite” Bordeaux appellations such as Moulis, Listrac, Cotes de Blaye, Cotes de Bourg, Lussac and lots more.

• Look for the French “Mis en bouteille au chateau” (“bottled on the property”) on the label. This assurance of estate bottling at least theoretically signals that the owner and winemaker worked on the premises with their own grapes.

• Don’t insist on Cabernet Sauvignon. If you can discern the components of the blend from the label or a quick web search, you may find more value in blends heavier on the Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Or not. Did I mention that Bordeaux is a minefield?

• Don’t be shy about asking for advice. A good local wine-shop owner can be your friend in the quest for value. Accept that you’ll sacrifice some complexity and cellaring potential with low-end Bordeaux. But the tradeoff may be a lighter, fresher, drinkable wine good for immediate enjoyment.

Today’s featured wine is a Côtes du Bourg, a Merlot-dominant blend made from vineyards around the village of Bourg on the right bank of the Gironde estuary. Bourg, like its neighbor Blaye, is a name to look for if you’re seeking decent, affordable Bordeaux.

According to Bordeaux Magazine, Côtes du Bourg is one of the oldest wine producing regions in France, “in large part due to its highly trafficked location off the river and vine friendly soil. Historians date Côtes de Bourg’s viticulture back to the Second Century where Romans planted Vitis Biturica, an ancestor of Cabernet.”

Have you enjoyed a Côtes du Bourg or for that matter, any good, affordable Bordeaux? Do you have a favorite producer or importer whose Bordeaux offerings appeal to you? Please drop by our WineLovers Discussion Group and tell us about it!


Today’s Sponsor:

Explore Wine-Searcher is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.


Today’s Tasting Report

Chateau Tour de Tourteau 2016 Côtes de Bourg ($15.99)

Côtes du Bourg

A typical Bordeaux blend of Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), and Malbec (10%), Chateau Tour de Tourteau 2016 C&irc;tes de Bourg offers good, characteristic Bordeaux character. Dark purple in color with a thin garnet edge, its aromas speak of intense currants and cranberries, with back notes of dried cherries and a hint of licorice. Red-fruit flavors carry over on the palate, firmly shaped by a sturdy mix of mouth-watering acidity and drying tannins. It’s rough around the edges and perhaps still a bit young, but it’s worth cellaring for a few years or enjoying now with appropriate food to mellow its swagger. 13.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Heidelberg Distributing Co., Independence, Ohio. (Oct. 29, 2021)

FOOD MATCH: Red Bordeaux calls for lamb, beef, or game; but it went nicely, too, with a meatless asparagus pasta dish brought up to meet a red with a luscious Pecorino Romano cream and plenty of garlic.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s worth noting that has several bottles of the 2000 vintage on offer for an average of $44, suggesting that if it isn’t a cellar treasure, at least it’s a good ager in proper cellar conditions.

It’s a serious Bordeaux from a good if less sought-after sub-region, potentially ageworthy, and definitely a value at my $16 price.

Here’s a short fact sheet in English from the wine’s French distributor.

Other than a few bottles of a limited and pricey 2000 vintage, lists few sources for Chateau Tour de Tourteau Côtes de Bourg. However, you can follow this Wine-Searcher link to browse vendors and prices for dozens of other Côtes de Bourg wines.


Wine Focus: Wine 402 – Bordeaux Style Blending

The end of the year is in sight, as is the 2021 Wine Focus series. For November we turn to the classic blending of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. We will even allow a little Malbec and Petit Verdot! Grab a bottle of Bordeaux, a Bordeaux-style blend, or if you want, a single-variety bottling of one of the three (or five) grapes. Here’s your link to share your notes and your questions: Wine 402 – Bordeaux Style Blending


Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!

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