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Beginners Bordeaux

A quick sip of illustrious red

French wines have always intimidated me. Without ever having studied a word of French the labels make virtually no sense and generally it's a matter of knowing what grapes are grown in what region to even begin to guess what you might be drinking. That is, if you can even figure out from what region the wine comes. In an effort to begin to understand, I picked one of the major regions, found out what grapes were grown there and then sought out reasonable examples to get a feel for what to expect.

I started with red Bordeaux which is always a blend of at least Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but can also have one or all of the following: Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The primary grape and percentages used will vary greatly depending on the area of Bordeaux. Made to be elegant and full of flavor, most are modest dinner wines with flavors of blackberry, plum, cedar and tobacco. Compared to the same varietals grown in California, Bordeaux will be much leaner, refined and discreet.

Chateaus that produce Bordeaux are classified first through fifth growth (first being the best), Bordeaux Supérieur, and Bordeaux, these last two being more of the "table wine" variety but still held to a minimum standard of alcohol percentage and grape yield. So as not to break the bank, I first tried two wines of the Bordeaux Supérieur classification.

Chateau Le Peuy-Saincrit 2001 ($8.00 @ Coit Liquor, 585 Columbus) was very restrained and bracing at first with mostly cedar, tobacco, and dried herbs on the palate. It did open up after a bit of time to let the richness of blackberries and plums come through. There was a nice balance of flavors as well as a solid backbone without being too heavy or cloying. This would be a great wine with roasted lamb, just as the Bordelais intended.

My second foray was Chateau Fantin 2000 ($9.00 @ Coit Liquor, 585 Columbus). Initially it's very soft on the palate, but a bit more rustic and dusty. There is also a darker, richer flavor of candied cherries here. This wine is a bit easier to sip without the presence of food, but has the depth and strength to stand up to grilled steak; the smokiness of each would be enhanced.

So if you find a Bordeaux within your price range, pick up a few bottles for a demure table wine with more class than anything you'll find in the supermarket.

Vineyards Genevieve Robertson can be reached at [email protected]