Wine of the Week: Betting on the (Bordeaux) future

If you’re interested in acquiring some of the best wines in the world, you might be interested to know that the least expensive way to buy them is to buy them before they’re actually on the store shelf.

Once upon a time, buying fine French Bordeaux wines were only for the serious — and wealthy — wine consumer. But with many domestic wine prices climbing into the stratosphere, Bordeaux wines represent a relative bargain, as long as you’re willing to bet on the “future.” This means plunking down some money today and buying wines that are generally not available for another year or two in the traditional retail market.

Since many Bordeaux wines, particularly ones from popular vintages, can be expensive, buying wines at “future” prices can provide wines of excellent quality at a relatively good price. The 2016 vintage is an excellent example of good wine and fair prices.

But just how do you know which wines to buy? The good news is that the internet can be a good source of information, assuming you know who to believe — and I assume that you found this article on the internet (congratulations!).

After tasting many of 2016 Bordeaux wines, I found that I concurred with most of the wines reviewed by the staff at K & L Wine Merchants in San Francisco. Their talented staff made a pilgrimage to the Bordeaux region of France, located approximately 300 miles southwest of Paris, in April 2017 to taste through hundreds of wines. And while they are definitely in the business of selling wines, I found that their notes were fairly consistent with my own, based on the wines I recently sampled.

Before I give my own recommendations, it is important to note that vintages in Bordeaux are variably variable. That is to say that the region can have very good years and very poor years, and everything in between. In addition, there can be excellent weather in one end of the region and devastating weather in the other, so it is critical to know what specific appellation you are buying wine from in a particular year.

The good news is that the 2016 vintage was excellent throughout the region providing a plethora of good wine at great prices.

Over the years, American-born and French-raised Aline Baly has become a good friend. She has spent the last decade or so in Bordeaux, assuming more responsibility at her family’s estate Chateau Coutet in Barsac. She is as sweet as the wine she produces, and her 2016 Chateau Coutet is spot on. Wine critic Jeb Dunnuck put it best: “One of the top sweet wines … is the 2016 Château Coutet, which has the vintage’s plush, opulent style, as well as thrilling purity and good acids. Pineapple, white flowers, sugared peach and honeyed notes all emerge from this full-bodied, layered, balanced Barsac that’s already impossible to resist yet will evolve gracefully two-plus decades.” I can’t wait to try this with warm peach cobbler, and hopefully Aline will join me. $40

K & L’s Clive Beffa and I agree that one of the best values in Bordeaux is the 2016 Chateau Fombrauge from the Saint-Emilion appellation. This wine is predominantly a merlot-based wine with about 7 percent Cabernet Franc added for structure. It is a lovely wine with notes of black cherry and baked plum aromas on the bouquet and flavors of blackberry, red cherry and dark fruit jam on the palate. The finish is supported by velvety tannins providing a long, satisfying finish. $30

A perennial favorite of mine from the St. Julien appellation is Chateau Talbot. The 2016 Chateau Talbot is fun and sexy, with flavors of black cherry, fresh black plums and rich blackberry jam. A touch of oak and vanilla on the finish adds a nice counterbalance to the rich fruit. This is a Bordeaux wine for California Cabernet wine lovers. $58

The star of the show was the near-perfect 2016 Pontet-Canet from the Pauillac appellation. It is simply breathtaking. Estate manager Alfred Tesseron has done it again, producing a wine with amazing complexity and elegance. A blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot, 3 percent Cabernet Franc, and 2 percent Petit Verdot, the wine features scents of thin-mint cookie, lead pencil shavings and wet stone. Flavors of blackberry, cassis and tobacco mingle with wood smoke and black tea on the incredibly long and descendant finish. Polished tannins provide an abundant structure that will keep this wine fresh for decades. $160

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