Hunting for good bargain red Bordeaux can be like playing the lotto. You consult your horoscope, recite an incantation, clutch your talisman, anxiously make your pick, hand over the cash and brace yourself for almost certain disappointment. That's why I want to draw special attention to the first entry in my list of overachieving $15 to $25 bottles below. It's a sort of Holy Grail wine: not so cheap or common that you'd be embarrassed to give it to a host, yet a smarter, more satisfying purchase than many reds selling for multiples of the price.
Château Canteloup is the humble "second" label of an already modest estate called Château La Gorce, one of those many Cru Bourgeois châteaux that were excluded from the hoity-toity 1855 classification of "important" Grand Cru properties. Founded in 1821, La Gorce had seen good times before falling into a long period of disrepair. In 1980, it was taken over by a man named Raoul Fabre, who has been improving the wines ever since.
The Canteloup, mostly consisting of merlot from the great 2010 vintage, can't be called a bargain-basement wine even in France, where it sells for €8.50 ($12.50) at the winery. But I think it's impressive that the Fabre family can turn out a ripe, fullbodied red this handsome and balanced and still turn a profit.
Speaking of Fabres, the second (and also noteworthy) wine in the selections below was made by Eric Fabre (no relation to Raoul, I believe). The latter Monsieur Fabre has appeared in this column before. He used to be chief winemaker at vaunted Château Lafite Rothschild, one of the top five producers of wines in the 1855 classification; in 2001, though, he planted himself closer to the warm Mediterranean. Now at Château d'Anglès, he produces his own cuvées from the more affordable real estate of the Languedoc, relying on such local grapes as syrah, grenache, mourvèdre and bourboulenc rather than Bordeaux's cabernet and merlot. Lafite's loss is a value-seeker's gain.
Snap up the wines of Château d'Anglès La Clape any time you find them, I say. To do so would be the opposite of playing the lottery. A sure bet.
Château Canteloup 2010 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
This is elegantly poised Bordeaux with great depth of flavour, offering layers of currant, coffee, cedar and graphite. Drink it now or over the next five years. It would match well with roast beef or grilled lamb chops. Available in Ontario.
Château d'Anglès La Clape Classique Red 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $16.95
The winemaker formerly behind Bordeaux's hallowed Château Lafite Rothschild, Eric Fabre has been crafting his own excellent and reasonably priced wines for more than a decade at this outstanding Languedoc estate. Witness this full-bodied, smooth gem, a blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre brimming with concentrated fruit, coffee, smoked meat and spices. Introduce it to braised short ribs. Available in Ontario.
Muriel Rioja Vendimia Seleccionada Reserva 2008 (Spain)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Fans of classic, savoury Rioja should be pleased here. Muriel's 2008 Reserva exhibits the softness that comes with almost six years of age, combining juicy cherry with espresso, herbs, coconut and a nuance of funky barnyard in a medium-full-bodied package. $27.99 in B.C.
Kings Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 (Oregon)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $20.95
A whole lot of pinot for the dough. It's concentrated and jammy but hardly a mere New World fruit-bomb. Medium-bodied, it quickly takes a welcome detour through the land of earth, herbs, spices and bacon. The gently powdery tannins add structure. Drink it now with duck breast or cellar it for up to five years. Available in limited quantities in Ontario.
Gruhier Extra Brut Crémant de Bourgogne 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $20.95
The core is sweet lemon pastry but the wine is bone-dry, with a lovely whiff of bread dough and satisfyingly chalky texture. Complex and balanced, this is serious French bubbly for half the price of entry-level Champagne. Available in Ontario.
Schloss Schonborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Kabinett 2008 (Germany)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $21.95
Off-dry and plump, with sweet apricot and zesty lime flavours, here's a complex German riesling with an added – and wonderful – note of Autobahn fumes. It would evolve well for perhaps a decade or more in the cellar or pair perfectly now with a range of foods, including grilled, smoked or sautéed freshwater fish, cheeses and light curries. Available in Ontario.
Fort Berens Riesling 2013 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18
Light and technically dry but with a core of subtle sweetness, this delivers an orchard-fruit medley balanced with just the right level of acidity. It won a gold medal at the Pacific Rim Wine Competition. Available direct through www.fortberens.ca.
La Ferme du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2011 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
Full-bodied and very ripe, this fruit-forward juice could almost have come from sunny Australia. But it eventually serves up a side dish of French savouriness in the form of tobacco and peppery spice. Introduce it to a hearty red meat dishes. Available in Ontario.
Louis Latour Ardèche Chardonnay 2012 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.10
A consistent bargain, Latour's Ardèche delivered beautifully in 2012. This is poised, clean, medium-bodied chardonnay with good mid-palate depth and apple-like fruit supported by tight acidity. Your search for an affordable house chardonnay ends here. On sale in B.C. for $1 off, at $15.99, until June 28, various prices in Alberta, $17.97 in Newfoundland, $16.95 in P.E.I.
Laurenz V. Friendly Gruner Veltliner 2012 (Austria)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95
Light but flavourful, this is dry, chewy gruner, with sour lemon and orange notes leading to green apple and herbs. It's high-strung with acidity and perfect for this summer's delicate seafood and salad dishes. Available in Ontario.