The Oeno File: 10 Alternatives to 2010 Bordeaux, Part One — French Options

July 22nd, 2011

By Chris Gill

If you thought futures prices for 2009 Bordeaux wines were absurd, get ready for some serious sticker shock when you see the frankly obscene prices for most 2010 Bordeaux futures. Many are 30 to 40 percent higher or more than the already ludicrously inflated 2009 futures prices, yet preliminary reviews are inconclusive as to whether most 2010 Bordeaux wines are actually any better—particularly Merlot-based wines, which faced many challenges during this vintage. Many 2010 Bordeaux wines have higher alcohol percentages and are more tannic and acidic than their 2009 predecessors, which offers potential for aging well but questionable pleasure for those who don’t want to or can’t wait 30 to 40 years to enjoy a bottle. Unfortunately, sometimes wines with these characteristics do not shed their tannins and mellow over time and can remain austere and aloof even after 20 years. At these inflated prices I don’t think it’s worth the risk.

While I’m sure that some 2010 Bordeaux wines will live up to the hype and may even be the greatest examples of our lifetime (until the next great overhyped vintage comes along, that is), I don’t think they’ll offer that much more enjoyment than many other great wines that are much less expensive and available now. If you’re already in your late 40s, chances are you may not live long enough to experience the best 2010 Bordeaux wines in their prime, but there are numerous alternatives that you can enjoy today or within the next 10-15 years without the heavy hit on your cash reserves.

The following are five of my alternate suggestions for 2010 Bordeaux for traditionalists who prefer to remain faithful to French wines. Next week I’ll highlight five suggestions from California, some of which are indistinguishable from their French counterparts, while others offer incredible thrills from the same type of grapes for considerably less money.

1. 2008 First Growths

If you purchased 2008 futures of Bordeaux Premier Cru Classé wines (Haut-Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild) pat yourself on the back. Thanks to the inflated prices of 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux futures many of these wines have already tripled in value since then. While 2008 Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion did not score as high with critics as their 2009 and 2010 counterparts, they’re still damn good wines. With 2008 Haut-Brion currently selling between $450 and $600, this may be the last time you can purchase a Bordeaux first growth upon release at prices this low.

2. Second Wines

All of the Bordeaux Premier Cru Classé châteaux produce second label wines that offer similar thrills even if they aren’t made entirely to the same exacting, meticulous standards of their first label counterparts. Le Clarence de Haut Brion, Carruades de Lafite, Les Forts de Latour, Pavilion Rouge de Château Margaux, and Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild are all great wines, but unfortunately even these wines are suffering from outrageously overinflated prices for the 2010 vintage. Instead, consider bottles from recent vintages like 2008, 2006, and 2005, which can be great buys.

3. The 2000 Vintage

Following the relatively lackluster Nineties, the outstanding (but somewhat overhyped in retrospect) 2000 Bordeaux vintage started the last decade’s trend for serious price inflation. However, now prices for many of the best wines from that vintage look like incredible bargains compared to 2010 prices, and most of these wines are just starting to enter an ideal drinking window. Since the Merlot grape had a difficult time in 2010, many 2000 Merlot-based wines like Troplong-Mondot are actually better and cheaper, and you can enjoy them today.

4. 1995 Cos d’Estournel

In outstanding vintages Cos d’Estournel offers similar pleasure and impressive character comparable to the finest first growth Bordeaux wines, but recently its prices have inflated to first growth levels as well—even their Pagodes de Cos second label wine has increased in price by more than 30 percent in 2010. Why spend $400 per bottle or more for 2010 Cos d’Estournel futures when you can buy a bottle of the stellar 1982, 1985, 1986, 1990, or 1995 vintages for less? At current prices between $160 to $200, 1995 Cos d’Estournel is practically a steal, and it’s certainly better than many fourth and fifth growth 2010 Bordeaux wines that are selling for much more.

5. 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

While Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are made from different grapes than Bordeaux wines, they’re hard to resist if you love bold, concentrated character and impressive aging potential (factors that have made the 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux vintages critical favorites). Many Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines from the 2007 vintage are considered the best ever made. Prices for the best of the best (Clos Saint Jean Deus Ex Machina and La Combe des Fous, Domaine du Pegau Cuvee da Capo) may not be cheap, but they’re still much more affordable than most 2010 Bordeaux critics’ picks and they offer perhaps even more potential for thrills. Selling for less than $100, Château de Beaucastel, Domaine du Pegau, and Clos Saint Jean Vieilles Vignes offer outstanding value for Francophiles in today’s overinflated market.

Check back next week for five additional options from California.