Real estate is the name of the game of when it comes to finding extreme value in Bordeaux.
Because the astronomical prices commanded by the top classified "growths" (i.e., vineyards) keep the wines out of reach for the ninety-nine percenters like me (and presumably you), value-conscious Bordeaux lovers seek out châteaux that lie in close proximity or even adjacent to the marquee names. (The hierarchy of Bordeaux wines was codified in the nineteenth century with the so-called "1855 Classification," which divided the top domains, otherwise known as châteaux or houses, into five crus or growths. Certain houses, not included in the classification, like the wine I tasted the other night, were called Cru Bourgeois.)
The trick is to find expressions of Bordeaux that share growing conditions (in other words, soil type, exposure and climate) with the more famous grape growers and winemakers.
According to its website, the Château Bernadotte "lies in the Commune of Saint Sauveur which borders the Pauillac appellation to the west close to a number of classified growths and only a few kilometers away from Pichon [Longueville Comtesse de Lalande]," a "second growth" in the 1855 Classification (first growth is the top category).
I certainly can't claim to be an expert in the wines of Bordeaux (Italy is my gig). But I recently asked Houston wine legend Bear Dalton, wine buyer at Spec's and one of our country's leading experts on Bordeaux, to put together a mixed case of under-$25 wines for me. He included a number of bottles of Bordeaux like the Château Bernadotte (and I'll be reviewing the wines here in coming weeks).
A few nights ago, I opened the wine and paired with a pan-seared porterhouse pork chop.
I liked the wine a lot: It had healthy acidity and juicy red fruit, a good balance of minerality, and the wonderful lightness that Bordeaux blends like this (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with a smaller amount of Merlot and other classic Bordeaux grapes in certain vintages) can attain with proper aging. It went well with the fatty meat.
According to the Wine Doctor (a great education resource that I highly recommend), 33 percent of the wine is aged in new, small French casks (barriques), which impart some woody flavors. The oakiness was present in the wine although it didn't dominate the flavors. When I tasted the wine again the next morning, I was curious to see if the wood had "blown off," as we say in wine parlance. But alas, I was afflicted with an acute case of morning wood (this was my only lament about the wine; personally, I don't like woodiness in my wine, although I recognize that a lot of folks do).
The good news is that Spec's has a beefy selection of aged Bordeaux like this one and a lot of it is affordable for bourgeois folks like me.
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I'm looking forward to digging deeper into the mixed case selected for me by my "personal shopper" this weekend.