The Médoc produces what still must be considered the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. Across the river, Pomerol and Saint Emilion produce arguably the world’s best Merlots. However it is neither easy nor cheap to produce these beauties and basic red Bordeaux is often neither good value nor even good wine.
Bordeaux lies near the North Atlantic, often cold and rainy. The top Châteaux spare no expense to make the finest wines. Yields are kept low. Then a strict selection is made in the cellar, with often only 50% going into the “Grand Vin”. Lavish use is made of new oak. Viticulture and winemaking are meticulous. In lesser years these expensive steps allow the production of good to very fine wine. If the Clerk of the Weather is in a good mood, these can be the greatest wines of all.
Basic Bordeaux is cropped at higher yields. Aging is rarely entirely in oak and often only in tank. If oak is employed at all, it may be older barrels of lower quality. Little or no selection is made in the cellar. Due to lack of capital and sun, basic red Bordeaux ripens fully and produces really good wine only about 2 years in 10. There are a plethora of wines between Château Lafite and Château Ordinaire – sound Médocs, Graves, ‘satellite’ Saint-Emilions. Good values can be found here, however these wines usually require at least a few years of bottle age, which few consumers are willing to give them. For a generation basic red Bordeaux has been losing market share to the dramatically improved wines of sunny Mediterranean France, and more recently to the wines of the New World.