The left bank of Bordeaux is home to the legendary First Growth and Second Growth chateaux in the towns of Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, and Saint-Estephe. These gravel-rich areas produce Cabernet-heavy blends that are known for their ageability. Winemaking techniques typically a significant dose of new oak and extended maceration, leading to wines that are not meant to be drunk for at least 5-10 years. These wines command very high prices and are often used as investment pieces rather than drinking wines. This concept can lead to some rather heated discussions among those in the wine industry!
Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Latour, and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild are the First Growths that tend to obtain the highest prices. Their First Growth ranking is the result of an old classification system dating back to 1855, when Bordeaux was a very different place… even the varietal makeup of the vineyards was completely different, with a much higher percentage of Malbec and Carmenere constituting the plantings. Thus branding has really created the wine investment industry in this area. These wines are generally not ready for drinnking for at least 8-10 years, preferably longer. When they are aged properly, they offer an incredible wine drinking experience for those lucky enough to participate… velvety tannins, with a wild, gamey backdrop framing blackcurrant and dark berry fruit, topped off with savory spice.
Vintages are critical as well. Great vintages that are generally higher priced include 1982, 1989, 1990, 1996, 2000 (this vintage is not really my favorite… it was played up quite a bit by the Parker phenomenon), 2005, and 2009.
For those who want to spend a bit, but not a fortune, on a Bordeaux from the Medoc, a handful of other Chateaux offer fantastic alternatives that won’t break the bank. On the higher end, Cos d’Estournel (in fact the 1982 is one of my favorite wines of all time), Leoville-Las-Cases (a classic), Ducru-Beaucaillou (can be a little more elegant), and Gruaud Larose (an intense, funky wine loaded with aromas of fresh earth and a little barnyard) are fantastic examples of chateaux that have been producing great Bordeaux for a long time. Lesser-known labels that offer some excellent Bordeuax as well are Chateau Haut-Marbuzet, Chateau Loudenne, Chateau Haut-Beausejour, and Chateau La Peyre.