I spent my junior year abroad in Strasbourg, France, which was my first trip out of the country (I grew up in suburban Detroit and we did not consider a trip across the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor going “abroad”). That was many, many years ago now, but it has had a lasting impact.
Directly or indirectly it led to me meeting my future wife, a career path, a slew of very dear friends, and it was the beginning of my life-long love of wine. I was paired with a French family the matriarch of which, other than being incredibly racist and xenophobic, was an incredible cook and devoted œnophile.
The first interaction I recall having with her was when she inquired about my favorite wine region. Being only 19 at the time, I had absolutely zero experience with alcohol in general (other than a few regrettable nights in the basement of Theta Delta Chi playing beer pong) and no knowledge whatsoever about wine.
So I lied.
I told her that Burgundy was my favorite region for no other reason than I did not want to sound stupid and I was fairly certain that wine was made there.
Her response was brief and to the point: “Young people always say that because they are stupid. All mature drinkers prefer Bordeaux.”
Well, these many years (and bottles) later, while plenty might argue whether I am “mature” or not, I still find myself preferring Burgundy. Why? Good question. Part of it stems from the fact that I have cycled through Burgundy countless times (but not so much as once in Bordeaux) and I have a fairly good understanding of the region, its towns, and of course, the wines.
Burgundy is small, contained, manageable. Bordeaux, on the other hand is gigantic, it is the largest wine region in France (and nearly five times the size of Burgundy) and perhaps the largest in the world (depending on the metric used). With 57 different appellations to consider, it is clear:
Bordeaux can be confusing.
Many producers have attempted to make understanding the region easier for consumers worldwide (instead of changing the rather antiquated rules and regulations that govern wine production–a rather French approach: “Zee problème iz not uhs, but wather you zilly Américains.”).
Perhaps none has tackled that task better than the Domaines Barons de Rothschild, producers of Château Lafite-Rothschild, one of the iconic (and most expensive) wines in the world.
A few years ago, they began the Légende series of wines which are meant to be much more approachable and consumed upon release (many wines from the region can require several years of aging before they can be appreciated).
Recently, over Zoom, I sat down with Diane Flamand, the winemaker for the Légende brand, to taste through the latest releases.
The first was the only white in the lineup. As recently as the late 1960s, white vines outnumbered red but today, only ten percent the vines planted in Bordeaux are white wine grapes. That’s too bad since I think the white wines of Bordeaux represent some of the best values in the market today.
2019 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Bordeaux Légende Blanc, France: Retail $19. 85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Sémillon. Meant to be consumed within 1-2 years of release, this bright and lively wine sees no oak at all. Quite citrusy (is that a word?) on the nose with significant minerality and salinity. The palate is fresh and tart, quite lovely, in fact. Good fruit, nice balance, lingering finish. Under twenty bucks? I am not sure you can ask for much more. Excellent. 90 Points.
We then moved onto the reds. The first, the Bordeaux Rouge, is made from fruit from all over the appellation.
2017 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Bordeaux Légende Rouge, France: Retail $18. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot. This is the flagship of the Légende brand and exhibits a lovely color in the glass with a smokey nose of red berry fruit. The palate is tart and lively with subtle fruit and a bit of that smokiness. A fine entry-level Bordeaux. Very Good. 87 Points.
Next was the Saint Émilion, one of the classic appellations of Bordeaux, situated on the Right Bank of the Dordogne River, and having Merlot as the dominant variety in the blend.
2016 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) St. Émilion Légende, France: Retail $45. 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. Brilliant crimson in the glass with aromas of black pepper, anise, blackberry, and just a touch of smokey oak. The palate is both classic St. Émilion and classic Lafite: refined & reserved with subtle power and grace. The red and dark fruit is balanced by the racy tartness and the silky but evident tannins. While this is drinking fine now, I am certain that it will improve over the next 3-5 years. A wonderful St. Émilion. Excellent. 91 Points.
The final two wines come from the Left Bank, which is where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme.
2016 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Médoc Légende, France: Retail $19. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot. A classic Left Bank blend with a dark purple-crimson robe and aromas of tart cherry, blackberry, plum, and hints of black and white pepper. The palate is, as one would expect from a Lafite Médoc, refined, elegant, and subtle. This wine needed a bit of time to open, but once it did? A lovely, expressive wine emerged. Good balance, drying tannins, and the fruit, though present, takes a bit of a back seat. Nice. Very Good. 89 Points.
2016 Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Pauillac Légende, France: Retail $55. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot. Another classic Bordeaux blend from the Barons de Rothschild family. Fresh, tart, and peppery on the nose, loaded with dark fruit (blackberry, cassis), black pepper, spice, and some earthiness. Whoa. Bright (albeit subtle) fruit, followed by an intense yet balanced acidity on the palate. This is a perfect example that there is a nuance to Bordeaux, that it takes more than a glass to “get it.” Case in point here. Upon first taste, this is austere, for sure, but as it opens, this is pretty close to gangbusters. No, it is not a huge Cali Cab, but it is well-made, balanced, and delightful. Excellent. 92 Points.