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Modest Bordeaux reds are ready to drink without aging

| Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Synergy — the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts — provides a time-tested approach with Bordeaux red wines.

For centuries, the region's wine growers have separately cultivated and fermented cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec and, occasionally, carménère grapes. After aging the wines in barrels, they blend the varieties with an eye toward offering rich, yet beautifully balanced, elegant final wines.

Bordeaux, the region, lies in southwestern France at the Gironde Estuary near the Atlantic Ocean. A large pine forest buffers the vineyards from the sea's coldest influences and allows proper ripening.

Typically, wines from the Médoc along the Gironde's “left bank” feature mainly cabernet sauvignon — often up 70 percent — with healthy doses of merlot and cabernet franc. And despite famed Château Cheval Blanc's notable exception in Saint-Émilion, those from the “right bank” vineyards typically lead with merlot — again often 70 percent — balanced with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

Blending underlies each château's “house style.” Cabernet sauvignon-dominated blends tend toward understated fruit with herbal notes, whereas merlot-based blends present more forward, plumy fruit. All well-made Bordeaux reds should incorporate a core backbone of fresh acidity and smooth tannins while avoiding clumsy high levels of alcohol.

Red wines make up 89 percent of Bordeaux's enormous 700-million-bottle annual production. The most expensive, classified red Bordeaux benefit from — indeed, require — years of cellar aging before reaching full maturity and maximum pleasure. But the region also exports tremendous amounts of more modest reds.

The latter wines offer immediate enjoyment just a year or two after release. Pair the following tasty bottles with grilled steaks, lamb chops — and even burgers:

The 2009 Château Argadens Bordeaux Supérieur, France (Luxury 39371; $11.99) comes from the Sichel family, co-owners of the famous Château Palmer in Margaux. After purchasing Argadens in 2002, the family implemented an ambitious work plan to maximize the quality of fruit coming from the property's approximately 100 acres of vineyards located south of the city of Bordeaux in Entre-Deux-Mers.

Argadens' vineyards occupy the highest elevation of Entre-Deux-Mers' broad swath of clay and limestone rolling hills between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Superb drainage preserves the fruit's innate acidity while maximum sun exposure enables full ripening.

Hand harvesting ensures only clean, undamaged fruit being used at the winery. Temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel captures the fruit's natural aromas and flavors. Aging in French oak barrels — 25 percent new — adds structure.

The blend of merlot (55 percent) and cabernet sauvignon (45 percent) unfolds lovely cassis, bell pepper and mint aromas opening to dark cassis and plum flavors. Fine acidity and elegant tannins balance the dry finish. The wine delivers incredible quality for such a modest price. Highly recommended.

The 2009 Château de Paillet-Quancard Cadillac — C ôtes de Bordeaux, France (6368; $12.99) uses primarily merlot (80 percent) with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc grown in clay, limestone and gravelly hillsides near the Garonne River. Reflecting the philosophy of the property owner, Maison Cheval Quancard, the wine embodies subtle, refined understatement.

Dark-plum and chocolate aromas open to dark fruit flavors with fine acidity and elegant tannins. The effortless balance carries through the rich, lingering finish. This workhorse red delivers ample pleasure for the money. Highly recommended.

The 2010 Philippe Raguenot Blaye — Côtes de Bordeaux, France (Luxury 46625; $14.99) relies primarily on Merlot grapes. In a noteworthy local interest connection, Philippe Raguenot's son-in-law hails from York in Eastern Pennsylvania. He serves as vineyard manager.

The wine's deep plum and floral aromas open to rich, dark fruit flavors with tobacco and spice notes. Fresh acidity and soft tannins balance a lingering, dark fruit finish. Recommended.

The 2010 Château Dupray Saint-Émilion, France (Luxury 46450; $20.99) comes from Cordier, a highly reliable shipper working closely with Bordeaux producers to deliver high-quality wines at reasonable prices. This example uses primarily merlot grown near the commune of Saint-Émilion, an UNESCO world heritage site featuring one of Bordeaux's most ancient collection of vineyards.

The wine's predominant blackberry aromas mix with intriguing cedar and smoky notes. Fresh acidity and firm yet smooth tannins balance delicious, dark-fruit flavors lingering pleasantly. Decant the wine an hour before drinking. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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