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What I've Been Drinking Lately: Under $25 a bottle, All Red or Rosé-and French
By John Anderson
Aug 16, 2023
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The Ole Professor here.  Students, take your seats, pull out your stemware and your notebooks—er, laptops!  Class is back in session.

Let us return to the topic at hand: Good French wine that retails for under $25 a bottle.  And, I do mean, good French wine.  Today, we turn our attention to some outstanding value reds and to one very special rosé.

But first, let me proffer some advice that is especially relevant to us in times of upward pricing volatility.  That is to say: When French wine prices start going through the roof, look to full and mixed case discounts, scheduled and advertised sales, and, above all, one day flash sales at reputable retail wine stores. Merchants you trust and whose advice you know to be sound.

That said, let us proceed to the goods!

The 2020 Cahors “Clos la Coutale” has long been a staple of everyday gastronomic life, chez Anderson.  This terrific Kermit Lynch wine is a bargain at $18.  While so many Cahors reds are rough, rustic and overpoweringly alcoholic, this beauty, a 100% old vine Malbec wine, is the exact opposite:  Smooth and sophisticated, the 2020 version has a stated alcohol of 13.5%.  Restrained, and all the better for it.  Would be marvelous with all sorts of (red) meat off the grill, lamb and duck in particular.

The time when Cru Beaujolais could safely be counted on to be cheap is coming to an end.  Some of the biggest name small producers are already fetching retail prices starting at $40 and even $50 a bottle, and I think it’s safe—or, rather, unsafe and sad—to say that this is the future.  Fortunately, there are still some great values out there, beginning with my favorite recent vintage, 2019.  These should be snapped up. Why?  Because the ’19s have a lovely balance between upfront ripe fruit and underlying acidity.  I prefer them to the ‘18s, which really can be overripe, and the ‘20s for much the same reason, though they are generally speaking better than the ‘18s.  The ‘21s are the opposite, sometimes seeming to lack stuffing.  Light and airy, to be sure, though.  Not heavy.

The Michel Tête wines are always good values, beginning with their own Domaine du Clos du Fief in Juliénas.  I bought bottles of the 2020 and 2021 vintages at 20% sales that brought the price down to $17.58+ tax.  The 2020 came in at 13% stated alcohol and is very Juliénas in character—minerally, iron-tinged red fruit, famously like a very dry Fino sherry (minus the alcohol).

The Domaine des Billards in Saint-Amour is a year-in-year-out fave in my household.  The American importer David Bowler married into the Barbet family, for many years owners of the famous Beaujolais merchant Loron.  Following the sale of the négociant side of their business to Jadot, the Barbet-Lorons were left with many of their individual estates.  These are unequivocally fine examples.  Tasted numerous times, the 2020 and 2021 are beautiful examples of Saint-Amour.  The 2020 has a stated alcohol of 14.5%, but still seems fresh and delicious.  The 2021 came in at 13% and is slightly spicy on the nose, smooth and well balanced.  Both wines were purchased at the same 20% off sale, for about $20 a bottle.  Both are very well made—and are real bargains.

The 2019 Morgon from the great Château des Jacques in Moulin-à-Vent comes from a very fine vineyard with a long and convoluted history, albeit a distinguished history.  The property for many years belonged the Princesse de Lieven (Madame Charles Piat) and was commercialized under the Château de Bellevue label.  The aforementioned Barbet-Loron family now own the château and some of the vineyards and produce Morgon under the Château de Bellevue label.  Jadot owns the rest—which they used to sell as Château des Lumières, but which they now commercialize under the more famous Château des Jacques label.  Confusing!  Mais, oui!  But the wine is very good and is a snip at under $25 a bottle.  Classic Morgon that can be rather grand, especially given a decade or more in bottle.  “Rich, robust, generous and fleshy,” in the words of Serena Sutcliffe, M.W., with a characteristic nose of dark, wild cherry fruit.

One 2021 Beaujolais cru that I am wild about, not surprisingly, is the always marvelous Côte de Brouilly from the Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes made by Nicole Chanrion and her son Romain.  Very light textured, obviously low on alcohol (13.0% stated), but also fragrant with rose hips and wild red fruits (raspberries in particular).  Lovely wine at a brilliant price ($21.50+tax at that same 20% off sale).

Nothing better bespeaks the sharp, even shocking rise in Côte d’Or Burgundy prices at the lower levels than the 2020 Bourgogne “Pinot Noir” from Volnay-based Domaine Michel & Marc Rossignol.  I got lucky. I bought a case of this, at a one-day flash sale, for $180+tax ($15 bottle).  That was maybe six-seven months ago.  The same wine now sells, at the same store, for $28.96 bottle!  The wine itself has only gotten better.  It tastes like a mini-Volnay.  Soft and perfumed, ripe without being overripe.  Really nice wine.

Well, actually, the same story could be said about the 2019 Saint-Aubin “Les Argillers” Rouge from Domaine Henri Proudhon & Fils, one of the most dedicated family estates in Saint-Aubin.  I bought bottles of this wine at that same 20% off sale in the spring.  This one cost me $27+.  Today, the same wine goes for about $40.  I prefer—slightly—the Proudhon whites, but the reds are very lovely.  Minerally, fresh and never overripe or over alcoholic (12.5% stated).  Great purity and real family-run purpose behind these wines.  I admire them.

Well, now, at last we come to Bordeaux.  What can I say?  The really famous wines cost a fortune.  The host of Left Bank Cru Classés and the equivalent Right Bank wines are beyond my means.  I was lucky.  I grew-up on these kinds of wines when mere mortals like myself could still buy them, and the 1982s and ‘83s were abundant and dirt cheap:  Think Gruaud-Larose for well under $20 a bottle.  Those days are LONG GONE!

The best and best-known of the non-classified Left Bank wines are now $40 a bottle.  But that leaves many, many estates fallen into obscurity and unable to command any possible premium.  They are the Lost Wines of Bordeaux.  Many of these should probably stay lost.  For others, it’s just a sad situation.

My two recommendations—neither of which fit into the High & Mighty or Just Plain Lost categories—are the 2016 Château Bernadotte in the Haut-Médoc ($21) and the 2019 Château Chantegrive in Graves ($23).  They are both excellent examples of terroir and commitment and come from good indeed fine vintages.  The Champagne Roederer people own Bernadotte in succession to the famous Madame de Lencquesaing, who sold them both this property and the neighboring Pauillac Second Growth Château Pichon-Lalande in return for a large fortune.  Both the Bernadotte and the Chantegrive are what they are:  Really good, largely merlot-based Bordeaux blends that perfectly reflect their soil, exposition and history.  Bernadotte tastes like an Haut-Médoc that might have come from Pauillac.  Duh!  Chantegrive has that lovely red Graves je ne sais quoi of soft red fruits.  Delicious.

Finally, I want to sing—I must sing!—the praises of one rather grand rosé—yes, a Grand Rosé!  There is such a thing—from the famous Château Pradeaux in Bandol.  OK, it’s regularly about $40-$45 retail, but, again, I got lucky and bought a half-case at a flash sale online for $25 per bottle.  Really good texture, shockingly dark red orange-red color, long finish.  A rosé with body and a lot of character, it will age.

You may now put away your notebooks—er, laptops—and go romp outside.  The Ole Professor will satisfy himself with another glass of that rather grand rosé.  Yum!

Class is dismissed!

For now.