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Wines can carry value, pleasure without hefty prices

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Friday, April 13, 2012, 4:06 p.m.
 

In Bordeaux, as in most of France, the 2009 growing season shined favorably on the vineyards. Fully ripened, undamaged grapes produced wines of marvelous concentration and elegance across all Bordeaux appellations.

Harvesting at just the right moment became critical to preserving vital acidity to balance hefty alcohol in the final wines. Most producers succeeded admirably.

Buoyed by enthusiastic early press reports and Asia's strong, growing demand, top Bordelaise producers did not shy away from eye-popping prices. According to www.Wine-Searcher.com , a single bottle of the First Growth, 2009 Ch?eau Mouton-Rothschild, carries an average U.S. national price of $1,051. Yes, you read correctly.

Meanwhile, the marvelous Ch?eau L'?angile in Pomerol averages $360, the reliably delicious Ch?eau Palmer in Margaux clocks in at $335, and even the Haut-M?oc's less renowned, yet consistently well-made, Chateau Sociando-Mallet averages $51.

But, within Bordeaux's vast ocean of 2009 wines, good values for everyday drinking exist. Plucking out tasty bottles at more sane prices simply requires going further afield to find solid, but less-glamorous producers toiling faithfully to make good wines.

Forget the hype, play it smart, and focus on value and pleasure with these tasty offerings:

For a white, try the 2009 Ch?eau de Navarro Graves Blanc, France (8629; $15.99). Grape grower Hel?e Biarnes-Ballon carefully tends vines in gravelly soils that force the vines to struggle. The resulting complex fruit retains lovely acidity and refreshing mineral traits.

A blend of S?illon (80 percent) with Sauvignon Blanc (20 percent), the wine's enticing honeydew melon, honey and fig aromas have a touch of smokiness. Bright, mouthwatering grapefruit and melon flavors balance nicely with subtle creaminess and oak notes.

Vibrant acidity enlivens a round, fruity, yet dry, finish that lingers pleasantly. Try it with pan-fried sea scallops with citrus sauce. Highly recommended .

Traveling across the Dordogne River to the "Right Bank" appellations for a red, try the 2009 Ch?eau La Pierri?e, Castillon C?es de Bordeaux, France (Luxury 18668, $11.99). Proprietors Oliver and Christine de Marcillac trace their estate's roots to 1607 in this historically charged landscape. Important battles in the Hundred Years War took place nearby.

Today, in more placid conditions, merlot and cabernet sauvignon vines grow in mainly clay and limestone soils similar to the famous nearby Saint-?ilion appellation. The wine's enticing red fruit aromas open to ripe, round cassis and raspberry flavors. Bright, refreshing acidity and silky tannins complete this charming, little gem.

Try it with Parmentier de Confit de Canard, Bordeaux's interpretation of classic shepherd's pie combining tender, flavorful duck-leg meat with mashed potatoes and grated cheese. Highly recommended .

Neal Rosenthal of the Mad Rose Group focuses on importing superb, terroir-focused offerings. He collaborates with producers using careful, attentive vineyard practices in well-situated sites.

Vineyard work, rather than manipulation in the winery, should account for at least 90 percent of a wine's final character, according to Rosenthal. If a winemaker starts with quality fruit, then, essentially, the wine should make itself with the least amount of winemaker intervention.

The 2009 Ch?eau La Rame Bordeaux Rouge, France (Luxury 18651, $15.99) represents just such a wine. The producer's merlot and cabernet sauvignon vineyards lie in sand, limestone and clay soils near the Garonne River just outside Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, an appellation better known for its sweet white vins blancs liquoreux.

Harvesting at optimal maturity ensured ample ripeness balanced by proper acidity. Fermentation and aging in temperature-controlled vats captured the fruit's innate freshness.

Black-cherry and light herbal aromas open to ripe, round cassis and plum flavors. Pleasing acidity and smooth tannins carry through the fruity, dry finish. This wine presents an attractive, balanced approach instead of overpowering fruit with excessive oak. Try it with grilled flank steak. Recommended .

With the 2009 Ch?eau La Croix Romane Lalande de Pomerol, France (Luxury 29558; $23.99) , the Dubard family uses merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon vines growing in gravel and clay near a 12th-century Romanesque church. Dark-plum and smoky aromas open to similar flavors with a touch of new oak. Refreshing acidity adds fine balance. Recommended .

Correction: Last week's article on Mardi Gras beers incorrectly identified Victory Brewing Co. as being in Erie. The brewery actually operates in Downingtown, Pa. Details: www.victorybeer.com

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