Now that summer is all but over, it's time to get serious about red wines again. Prominent on any good summer-to-fall transition list should be crisp, medium-bodied reds that are neither too light for the heartier fare of harvest time nor too heavy for meals attuned to the lingering warm days of the season.
The following three outstanding choices are arriving in retail shops now. Since supplies are sometimes limited, it's a good idea to call ahead if you are interested in a particular wine. Prices are approximate.
Chateau Loudenne 2000 ($19-$22; France): Only 100 cases of this wine from the legendary 2000 Bordeaux vintage are available in the Washington area. If you don't get a piece of the action, you'll be missing a chance to snag this momentous vintage at a modest price. At around $20, the Cru Bourgeois (see sidebar) Chateau Loudenne 2000 provides many of the thrills of the $100 bottles, tasting much like one of the better Pauillacs of the vintage.
A blend of 55 percent Merlot, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the 2000 Loudenne epitomizes what makes Bordeaux from a great vintage so special. A thrilling cedar and vanilla nose, set off by smoky notes, leads to a textured interplay of cassis and black cherry fruit, followed by a long finish. There are plenty of tannins for aging from five to seven years if desired, but there is no need to wait that long because the tannins are in harmony with the complex fruit. This is a wine to savor now and over the next five to seven years, offered at an eminently fair price. (Imported nationally by Maison Marques and Domaines; distributed to retail shops in the Washington area by NDC.)
Osborne 2001 Solaz ($7; Spain): One of the world's great unexploited winemaking resources is that of Spain's sherry bodegas. Most of the talent there is devoted to turning out sweet and fortified wines in the Jerez region, but the skill level of the winemaking is very high. Osborne (pronounced oz-BOAR-nay) was founded by Englishman Thomas Osborne in the late 18th century. It also makes the excellent Bodega Montecillo Rioja. More recently, it has expanded into Tierra de Castilla region (Land of Castille) near Toledo with this excellent offering, called Solaz. Don't let the low price of Solaz fool you. Winemaker Maria Martinez-Sierra has crafted a delectable, delicate blend of the Spanish varietal Tempranillo (80 percent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20 percent). Light to medium-bodied, the 2001 Solaz is a notch better than the excellent 2000, which is still available in some stores. It will be superb with light meats and poultry, or as a charming aperitif by itself.
Alice White 2003 Shiraz ($9; Australia): Though marketed as a so-called fun wine aimed at casual imbibers, this new release is serious about quality. The Syrah (Shiraz) fruit is expressive and appealing, with light tannins providing a good finish. Similar in style to a French country wine, this Shiraz is a great house wine and is versatile enough to serve with pasta, red meat and salmon.
What Is a Cru Bourgeois?
In 2003, the Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois, which rank just below the ultra-prestigious 59 Grands crus classes of the Medoc on the Bordeaux hierarchy, underwent a major reclassification, the first in more than 40 years. (The Grands crus classes have been classified only once, by Napoleon III in 1855.) Of 490 chateaux that applied for the classification, only 247 were deemed worthy. They were divided into three tiers, led by the Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel (only nine chateaux, all of which would almost certainly be made Grands crus classes in the unlikely event that the 1855 classification were revisited). Next on the hierarchy are the Cru Bourgeois Superieur (87 chateaux, including Loudenne), followed by Cru Bourgeois (151 chateaux).
The results of the reclassification, based on a tasting of wines produced from 1994 to 1999, proved surprising, largely due to the absence of several seemingly deserving chateaux from the top category, most notably Chateau Meyney (St-Estephe) and Chateau d'Angludet (Margaux). Chateau Sociando-Mallet, perhaps the most highly regarded Cru Bourgeois, was not included because its owner, Jean Gautreau, refused to submit it, feeling that it would not benefit from inclusion among the Cru Bourgeois.
Despite these flaws, the classification serves as an excellent guide to the often-confusing abundance of Bordeaux chateaux, and there are many excellent values. Note, however, that like the 1855 classification of the Grands crus classes, the wines of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the so-called right bank of Bordeaux, are not eligible for the classification, which is limited to the left bank wines of the Medoc and Haut Medoc. These wines are made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon, with a substantial amount of Merlot blended in.
(Recommended wines in each catgory; chateaux with ** or * are especially worthy of consumer interest.)
Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel: **Chasse-Spleen (Moulis) Haut-Marbuzet (St-Estephe); Labegorce Zede (Margaux); Les Ormes de Pez (St-Estephe); de Pez (St-Estephe); *Phelan Segur (St-Estephe); Potensac (Medoc); Poujeaux (Moulis); **Siran (Margaux)
Cru Bourgeois Superieur : **d'Agassac (Haut-Medoc); **d'Angludet (Margaux); Le Boscq (St-Estephe); Brillette (Moulis); *Cambon La Pelouse (Haut-Medoc); La Cardonne (Medoc); **Caronne Ste-Gemme (Haut-Medoc); Chambert-Marbuzet (St-Estephe); *Charmail (Haut-Medoc); *Citran (Haut-Medoc); *Coufran (Haut-Medoc); *Le Crock (St-Estephe); Dutruch Grand Poujeaux (Moulis); d'Escurac (Medoc); *Fourcas Dupre (Listrac); **Fourcas Hosten (Listrac); Fourcas Loubaney (Listrac); *du Glana (St Julien); Gressier Grand Poujeaux (Moulis); Greysac (Medoc); **La Gurgue (Margaux); Hanteillan (Haut-Medoc); Haut-Bages Monpelou (Pauillac); Labegorce (Margaux); Lanessan (Haut-Medoc); Larose Trintaudon (Haut-Medoc); **Loudenne (Medoc); Malescasse (Haut-Medoc); *Maucaillou (Moulis); **Meyney (St-Estephe); **Monbrison (Margaux); Moulin a Vent (Moulis); Moulin de la Rose (St Julien); Les Ormes Sorbet (Medoc); *Paveil de Luze (Margaux); Pibran (Pauillac); *Saransot-Dupre (Listrac); Senejac (Haut-Medoc); *Terrey Gros Cailloux (St Julien); La Tour de By (Medoc); *La Tour de Mons (Margaux); Tronquoy-Lalande (St-Estephe).
lCru Bourgeois: *d'Arcins (Haut-Medoc); Beau-Site Haut (St-Estephe); Bel Orme Tronquoy de Lalande (Haut-Medoc); *La Bridane (St Julien); **Capbern Gasqueton (St-Estephe); Deyrem Valentin (Margaux); Dillon (Haut-Medoc); La Galiane (Margaux); Granins Grand Poujeaux (Moulis); *Haut-Beausejour (St-Estephe); *Larruau (Margaux); *Magnol (Haut-Medoc); **Marbuzet (St-Estephe); *Marsac Seguineau (Margaux); Moulin Rouge (Haut-Medoc); **Pontac Lynch (Margaux); *Semeillan Mazeau (Listrac); Tayac (Margaux); La Tour de Bessan (Margaux)