On the Trail

Three Bordeaux Châteaux You Need to Own

Alex Pross

One of the best perks of my job is my annual trip over to Bordeaux; there’s a timeless feel that intoxicates you when you’re there. We're living in the modern era, but as you walk the grounds, stroll the vineyards, and peruse through the châteaux gazing at the paintings that adorn the walls, these antiques tastefully make you feel that the châteaux have changed little since 1855. It is easy to fall under the nostalgic mood that these majestic estates evoke and forget that while seemingly unchanged there are still changes afoot in Bordeaux. The classification of 1855 attempted to codify and rank the properties along the left bank from the five communes (Margaux, Pauillac, St.Estephe, St,Julien & Pessac Leognan) by price and quality. Since 1855 many châteaux have clung to their ranking status—some justifying their lofty positions, some falling off the map qualitatively, and others now outperforming their original ranking. Few if any of the producers can assert that their quality has remained consistently high from 1855 on, but in general the rankings from 1855 do serve as a good guideline. If you’re like me you have pretty much been priced out of the first and second growths since the 2000 vintage, don’t despair since there are plenty of fantastic values to still be found amongst both the classified growths as well as the non-classified growths. There are three producers that you would be wise to purchase whom I think are making exceptional wines that provide the very best bang for your buck. They are: Grand Puy Lacoste in Pauillac, Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac Leognan, and Château Cantemerle in the Haut Medoc.

Grand Puy Lacoste sits in the Pauillac region, easily Bordeaux’s high-rent district with three of the five first growths and eighteen of the sixty-one classified growths residing here. As a fifth growth, Grand Puy Lacoste easily punches above its status and in top vintages it can rival the best wines made in Pauillac. Purchased by Jean-Eugene Borie in 1978 this Château has been run by his son Xavier Borie since the sale. A fabulous location, Grand Puy Lacoste sits directly behind another great fifth growth producer Lynch Bages. Xavier has been tirelessly working to elevate the wines and with a newly renovated cellar the wines coming out of Grand Puy Lacoste have never been better. While many (almost all) of Pauillac’s growth producers sell for at least $100, Grand Puy Lacoste will generally be in the high $40 to $80s on pre-arrival, depending on the vintage. Since the famed 2000 vintage Grand Puy Lacoste has been on a roll and has really stepped up the quality from 2008 on. Those of us in-the-know now recognize Grand Puy Lacoste as the greatest bargain in all of Pauillac. The style of Grand Puy Lacoste highlights many of the changes happening in Bordeaux. It's still classically Bordeaux with those gravelly cabernet sauvignon notes, but the wine has great purity and depth of fruit with a distinctive feel for their terroir while being clean and precise. You can grab the 2014 on futures for $69.99 (97pts JS, 95pts VN & 93-95WA) or the 2015 Grand Puy Lacoste $66.99 (94-96pts WA, 94-96pts JS & 92-95pts VN). I recently drunk both the 2012 and 2014 with friends and they all remarked that these were some of the best Bordeaux they had tasted. They couldn’t believe these wines were both available for under $70. If you want a quintessential Bordeaux experience then Grand Puy Lacoste is for you. A string of great wines 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014 and of course 2015 have firmly convinced me of that.

If you head due south from Pauillac along the D2 you’ll eventually hit Pessac Leognan where our second property is situated. Domaine de Chevalier is located in Pessac-Leognan and like many of its neighbors they make not only a stellar red wine, but also a great white and in the case of Domaine de Chevalier the white has actually been their calling card now for years. Domaine de Chevalier has been called a secret garden thanks to its location which is a whittled out area amongst a forest. This ideal location provides protection for extreme temperatures and allows the grapes to slowly ripen and attain the best possible maturation. If you love white Bordeaux then you would be wise to snatch up Domaine de Chevalier Blanc which is one of the best white Bordeaux in the region at a fraction of the cost of its neighbors La Mission Haut Brion Blanc and Haut Brion Blanc. One of the longest lived whites to come out of Bordeaux, many Burgundy enthusiasts buy Domaine de Chevalier Blanc because of its intensity of fruit, mineral notes and balance which is quite reminiscent of Grand Cru white Burgundy. Not to be outdone, the Domaine de Chevalier Rouge has had a remarkable renaissance and clearly challenges the white as to which wine is truly the greatest from the estate on a vintage-to-vintage basis. Loaded with red fruits and intense mineral notes this perfect expression of the Pessac Leognan commune usually sells for between $50-$90 and is amongst the handful of top producers in Pessac Leognan. 

If you’re truly looking for a great Bordeaux value and you’re determined to pay under $50 (and hopefully more like the $20s-$30s) then Château Cantemerle in the Haut-Medoc is for you. A fifth growth just like Grand Puy Lacoste, Château Cantemerle is one of the least expensive of the classified growths. The Haut-Medoc is nestled between Margaux to the north and Pessac-Leognan to the south. A beautiful property, Cantermerle boasts some of the greatest wines to come out of Bordeaux in the 1940s and recent vintages from 2000 on have proven to be some of the greatest values in all of Bordeaux. Classically-styled, Cantemerle offers red fruits, rose petals, and intense mineral notes dominate this traditional wine. Thanks to its close proximity to both Margaux and Pessac-Leognan, Cantermerle shares some of the best qualities of both of these communes. One of the best qualities of Château Cantemerle is its consistency, vintage-to-vintage they seemingly always make a strong offering and they consistently outperform in reagrds to the overall quality of the vintage. Both the stunning 2009 and momumental 2010 sold for the high $30 to low $40s and were some of the best wines I have ever tasted in those price points. Cantemerle offers an incredible Bordeaux experience and an amazingly affordable price.

While prices have gone up over the years in Bordeaux (so far that they are now beyond your comfort level price-wise), don’t despair. With producers like Grand Puy Lacoste, Domaine de Chevalier, and Cantemerle you can still drink great Bordeaux and not ruin your budget.

-Alex Pross