The '82 bordeaux have arrived in force, and there are still bargains to be had among the wines of this remarkable vintage. Most of the classed growths -- the top-rated bordeaux wines in the classification of 1855 -- are very expensive, or unavailable, or both. But the crus bourgeois, the "petits chateaux" and bordeaux superieur all harbor excellent wines, some of them drinkable now and most promising even greater pleasure in three or four years.
A cru bourgeois is a vineyard of at least 17 acres whose owner belongs to the Syndicate of Crus Bourgeois, and who makes his own wine that the Syndicate approves. There are further distinctions within the bourgeois category: a cru grand bourgeois rating means the wine meets the above requirements and is aged in 225-liter oak barriques; a cru grand bourgeois exceptionnel must meet the above requirements, must be located in a commune between Ludon and St-Est,ephe (the area of the famous crus class,es), and the proprietor must bottle his own wine.
In practical terms, these ratings mean the wine is usually less complex -- and always less expensive -- than that from better-known ch.ateaux. The same can be said, only more so, about the petits ch.ateaux, which are often just smaller operations. There were once thousands in Bordeaux; many have since joined cooperatives. Many of the petits ch.ateaux reproduced on labels do not in fact exist; they are marketing inventions. But that does not necessarily mean the wine isn't worth the price. "To the claret lover with an open mind," Hugh Johnson writes in his Encyclopedia, "they are always worth exploring, offering some of the best bargains in France."
Bordeaux sup,erieur, another category of modest wines, is a step up from ordinary wines labeled simply "bordeaux." Bordeaux sup,erieur comes from lesser regions outside the M,edoc, Graves, Pomerol and St-Emilion areas; the wines must have a minimum alcohol level, and some limits have been set on the amount of grape production per acre. The year 1982 produced unusually good bordeaux sup,erieur, some of it better than the petits. As always, you must shop around and settle on the wines that please you.
The following '82s from these less-exalted categories cost between $4 and $8 a bottle and are exceptional values. The list was not compiled according to quality or aging potential. These wines are generally available and provide a good opportunity for claret lovers to enjoy the vintage.
They are Ch.ateaux Bellevue (M,edoc), Verdignan (Haut- M,edoc), Monbousquet (St-Emilion), Tour des Termes (St- Est de Pomerol), Lamothe (Haut-M,edoc), Gloria (St-Julien), Moulin de la Bridane (St- Julien), La Terrasse (bordea sup,erieur), Les Vielles Pierres (Lussac-St-Emilion), Bertineau St-Vincent (Lalande de Pomerol), Garraud (Lalande de Pomerol), Valrone (bordeaux sup,erieur), Haut Sociondo (C.otes de Blaye), Caronne Ste Gemme (Haut-M,edoc) and Moulin Rouge (Haut-M,edoc).
One of the best buys for current drinking is the Ch.ateau de Pitray, a bordeaux sup,erieur from the C.otes de Castillon, close to St-Emilion. Another is Ch.ateau La Tonnelle from Premier C.otes de Blaye. Robert Parker described it in the Wine Advocate as "wonderfully fruity, spicy, immensely enjoyable wine. Dark ruby with a ripe seductive bouquet of berry fruit, this lush, full, round, concentrated wine has real character and class."
That was six months ago. The Ch.ateau La Tonnelle cost $4 then. Today it costs more and is still a bargain.