Bordeaux wines are divided among Left Bank and Right Bank, defined by the two rivers that run through it. Left Bank red wines are predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly suited to the gravel soils of the region, with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and some Merlot rounding out the mix. The white wines, consisting of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle, can be dry or sweet. Right Bank red wines are mainly Merlot, which grows best in the clay soils that dominate the area, but can be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. To complicate matters further, these wines are classified by the Châteaux, Left Bank properties that were recognized in 1855 for consistently producing superior wines. But other classifications exist, since many good producers were left out of the 1855 list. The Right Bank has the Saint-Émilion Classification, based on a fluid assessment of properties and winemaking that is revised every 10 years. In addition, each Bank has communes within regions that defines the style of wine produced.
All said, buying Bordeaux wine is not for the faint of heart. From intense, firmly tannic wines that take 10 years of age before you can even think about popping the cork to fleshy, softly earthy wines that can be drunk after 3 years, the only way to discover what you like to drink is attending tastings like the UGC, which was sponsored by Wally's Wine in Los Angeles. It’s an excellent way to find out what commune wines appeal to your palate and your pocketbook. For example, Pauillac has many classed growths and is home to Mouton Rothschild, Lynch-Bages, and Pichon-Longueville to name a few. These wines cost more for their finesse, concentration, and ability to age for decades, and can be more of a special occasion wine. But other Bordeaux wines can reasonably priced, from $20-$40, that fall into the Cru Bourgeois classification of the Medoc.
Some of the best UGC wines in 2011 were from the well known Châteaux. Château Figeac, Château Léoville Barton, Château Léoville Poyferré, Château Lynch Bages, Château Pichon Longueville, and my favorite, the exquisite Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, all had elegant aromatics and a hauntingly beautiful palate, but the wines retail over $100. The bargain in the room was Château Beaumont, silky with mellow tannins, it sells for under $20, a budget-friendly way to echo the flavors of Bordeaux. There are many mid-range wines, from $40-$80, such as Château Phélan Ségur, Château Ormes de Pez, Château Lafaurie Peyraguey (Sauternes), and Domaine de Chevalier Rouge. Generally speaking, most of these wines need more time in bottle to develop their full character and complexity, so plan to hold them for a short time before popping the cork.
Keep an eye out for these wines when they hit the market in the Spring and Summer. The 2011 vintage of Bordeaux wines is a pleasant surprise, with many good wines at reasonable prices.