If you are a wine lover, wine connoisseur, wine aficionado or even if you just like to have a couple of glasses on a Friday night, it soon becomes obvious that there are some wines that are held in a higher esteem in the wine world. Sometimes, it is because these wines are very rare. Other times, it’s because the wine has a place in history. Sometimes it’s because the wine is just that good. Here is a list of 75 wines from France that make up that category. A few caveats. I have not tried every wine on this list. Some I have and others I hope to. Many of these wines are rare and hard to find. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be on the list. After all, if the opportunity presents itself, go for it.
Wines to Go Buy This Week: A Crisp Summer White Blend by Chateau Bonnet and a Complex Napa Cabernet by Clark-Claudon Vineyards Labor Day weekend is here and people across the US are gathering to toast the end of summer. As Labor Day marks the tipping point between hot summer nights and cool autumn evenings, my wine recommendations this week will focus on both a cool, refreshing summer sauvignon blanc to savor on these last days of summer and a full bodied Napa cabernet for those upcoming autumn evenings by the fireplace. So as we say farewell to summer 2011, here are two wines to go buy this week: Chateau Bonnett Entre-Deux-Mers Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Muscadelle Andre Lurton, 2010 - Now say that 5 times fast! A quick lesson for those of you who are unfamiliar with French wine: The French label their wines slightly different than we do in the US as they emphasize the place more so than the grape varietal or the producer. In this case, the vineyards and winery are located at Chateau Bonnet, the region is the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation of Bordeaux, the grapes are a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle, and the producer is André Lurton, whose family has presided over the vineyards for over 100 years. White Bordeaux is almost always a blend of primarily semillon and sauvignon blanc, with a few other varietals permitted. So why do I like this wine? It's light, crisp, low in alcohol (12%) and at approx $15 a bottle, a fantastic way to introduce yourself to a white bordeaux without breaking the bank. This wine is ideal for a warm end-of-summer picnic that calls for a cool refreshing beverage.
IntoWine asked our panel of experts to share their recommendations for the best Bordeaux white wines for the buck: We don’t typically think of Bordeaux and white wine. Bordeaux is known for red wines. But there is a small island of white that is in fact quite good and entirely worth its price. Bordeaux white wines typically sell for a fraction of what a red wine from the same chateau would cost. The traditional grapes included in the region’s white wines are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanc, and Colombard. Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are the two grape varieties used for dry white wines. A good example of what Bordeaux does when it’s not making age-worthy and collectible red wines is the Grand Village Blanc, made by Chateau Lafleur. The rich tree fruit of the Semillon (apples and pears) carries the racy citrus of the Sauvignon Blanc to an invigorating finish. At about $15, it is worth seeing what the red wine kings have hidden in their treasure chest. – Ben Spencer is a diploma student with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and an IntoWine Featured Writer.
When considering the unofficial lists of “First Growths of the Right Bank” in Bordeaux, Chateau Pétrus must be included. Pétrus is located in the tiny commune of Pomerol on the right bank of the Gironde River. The wines of Pomerol have never been classified, but there is no doubt that Pétrus is in the highest echelon of wines produced there. It is also one of the most expensive wines sold anywhere in the world. While the name of the estate is Chateau Pétrus, there is no grand Chateau on the premises. There is a modest two story house on the property. Perhaps because of that, or perhaps just due to its reputation, the wines are often just referred to as Pétrus. The name is homage to St. Peter whose picture appears on the label. Pétrus does not have the long history of many of the great Bordeaux wines. Thomas Jefferson most likely never drank it. The estate property was originally owned by the Arnaud family since the mid 1700s. At that time, the estate was 17 acres. The name Pétrus can be found in records dating back to 1837. In 1868 Chateau Pétrus was ranked in quality behind two other Pomerol estates: Vieux Chateau Certan and Chateau Trotanoy, as listed by Cocks and Fèret , one of the leading Bordeaux reference’s of its day.
When the wines of Bordeaux were classified in 1855 all of the wines were from the Left Bank of the Gironde River. In fact, with the exception of Haut Brion, which is from Graves, all of the wines classified were from the Medoc. Since that time, the winemaking areas of Bordeaux have greatly expanded. Some of the best wines in Bordeaux are now made on the Right Bank including some of the most expensive wines in the entire world. While there is no official classification system for all of Bordeaux, there can be no doubt that if such a system was implemented today, at least a few Right Bank wineries would make the list. Perhaps no winery deserves the mythical first growth of the Right Bank title more than Cheval Blanc. In fact, the wines of Saint Émilion, a commune on the Right Bank, were ranked in 1955 and Cheval Blanc was one of two that received the highest rank of Premier Grand Cru Classé (A). Those rankings were redone in 1969, 1986, and 1996 and most recently in 2006 (although that ranking is the subject of an ongoing legal dispute not relevant to Cheval Blanc) and Cheval Blanc has remained a First Growth in every subsequent ranking.
In the series on the 1855 Classification of the First Growths, I spoke exclusively about red wines. In that same year, however, the sweet dessert wines from the Bordeaux communes of Barsac and Sauternes were also classified. All of the dessert wines listed were rated as either premier cru (first growth) or second growth status. That is, all but Yquem which was rated Premier Cru Superieur (First Great Growth), a higher rating even than any red wine achieved in their 1855 Classification. Yquem is quite possibly the greatest wine made anywhere and has a history dating back four hundred years! While every wine region has its stars, there is probably no other winery that so dominates the quality of a region and has such as a lofty reputation as Chateau Yquem. What makes these wines so special is that they develop a rot called botrytis cinera also known as Noble Rot. When certain grapes are attacked they get moldy which, in a wonderful twist of fate, causes the grapes to lose much of their moisture, concentrating the flavors. The resulting grapes look like moldy shriveled raisins that produce a sweet nectar.
Bordeaux, the world's most famous wine region and France's largest by AOC volume sold [i] , produces many of the best-known wines on Earth. With 60 appellations and over 8,600 growers, Bordeaux exports wines to over 150 countries [ii] . Winemakers around the world strive to emulate the Bordeaux style, carefully blending red wine grapes to produce a wine that reflects the best influences of its terroir.
In the original 1855 classification, there were four chateaus granted first growth status. Over the ensuing years there has been one major change. In 1973, Chateau Mouton Rothschild was granted an upgrade from second to first growth status. It was a promotion that was deserved for many reasons. Foremost, of course, the quality of the wine, but Chateau Mouton Rothschild has long been an innovator and leader of Bordeaux.
Chateau Haut Brion – A Bordeaux First Growth Loved by Poets, Philosophers and Presidents for 350 years
My favorite of all of the first growths is Chateau Haut Brion. Back in 1855, when the first growth classification was created, it was the only chateau that was not located in the Medoc. Haut Brion at the time was in the commune of Graves. Since that time, the Pessac-Loegnan appellation was carved out of Graves and is now the AOC home of Haut Brion. Graves is a bit further south than the Medoc but still on the left bank of the Gironde. It is likely grapes have been cultivated on the property since Roman times. The first records, however, date back “only” as far as 1423. There was a mansion house located on the property called Aubrion. After a succession of owners, the property was owned by Jean de Ségur in 1509 whose family would someday own many of the preeminent chateaus including Lafite and Latour. In 1525 the owner, and the mayor of Libourne, Pierre de Bellon, gave it to Jeanne de Bellon to include as part of her dowry to Jean de Pontac. The mansion house was built in 1533 and the Chateau in 1549. The Estate was known briefly as Chateau Pontac. In 1649, Lord Arnaud III de Pontac became the owner of what was now undoubtedly called Haut Brion. This began a new era in which vineyards were acquired and developed. Around that time, Arnaud Bellon III, a great great grandson of Jean Bellon, took control of the winery.
Chateau Margaux is in the Bordeaux commune of Margaux on the left bank of the Gironde River. The wines made in Margaux are some of the most feminine in style of all Bordeaux wines. Among the wines of Margaux, the wines of Chateau Margaux are the best of all of those. From their perfumed nose to their lithe complexities, they are wines that reflect their terroir in a most elegant way. The history of Chateau Margaux can be traced back at least to the twelfth century when it was known as “La Mothe de Margaux” from motte meaning a small rise in the land. Sometime during the 16th century, the first grape vines were planted under the direction of Pierre de Lastonnac. Within the next hundred years, Chateau Margaux expanded to cover 654 acres, approximately one-third of that with grape vines. In the 1700s, an estate manager named Berlon introduced many “new” improvements. Today, his ideas are common sense, but back then they were radical. Ideas such as not picking grapes when they were wet and vinifying the red and white grapes separately led to a much higher quality of wine. The result was evident as by 1771 the wines of Margaux were featured in the catalogues of Christie’s. Around that time, America’s first wine lover, Thomas Jefferson, rated Chateau Margaux as the top wine in Bordeaux. His meticulous records document an order he placed in 1784.