Discover more from Tannic Panic!
Tannic Panic! Issue #4: They Don't Bank Em Like They Used To
Value Reds from the Left Bank of Bordeaux
AS WE ALL KNOW, a well-balanced diet consists of a glass of wine in each hand — and as such, no place supports a healthy lifestyle better than Bordeaux.
Here, they've been perfecting the art of winemaking since your ancestors were just amoebas in the primordial soup (MY FAVORITE DISH). They bang out some of the boldest, most complex, and age-worthy wines in the world — with some of the best vintages continuing to develop for decades after bottling — and with thousands of châteaux sprawled across the region, you've got more wine tasting options than Netflix reality shows about meeting your future ex-wife.
A typical day in Bordeaux could include anything from sipping on a glass of Merlot while pretending to appreciate the 'subtle notes of plum and oak' (NOTE: WE DO NOT PRETEND), to infuriating the locals with your blasphemous pronunciation of the word ‘terroir.’ And, of course, nibbling the food. Because what's a glass of wine without a freshly baked baguette and a hunk of aged camembert? (Ping me when the plant-based cheese scene takes off in La France).
In the evening, stroll the cobblestone streets of the city, which are as charming as the polite disagreement over whether the Left Bank or Right Bank has better wine. (SPOILER ALERT: They're both great, the only real difference is whether you turn left or right out of your hotel).
“But, Tannic Panic!” you whimper, “Everyone makes fun of me for not knowing the difference between the banks! If you don’t take this seriously and explain it to me, I’m afraid the bullying won’t stop. :'( ”
Well, beloved wino, we hear you, and we’re here to help — but we all know the bullying will never stop.
Bordeaux, located where the Garonne and Dordogne rivers meet, has two main wine regions: the Left Bank, west of the Gironde and Garonne, and the Right Bank, east of the Gironde and Dordogne. (Click here for a more detailed map.)
Remember, if French winemakers want to use the region's name on labels, they must use regulated grape varietals. For red wine in Bordeaux, these traditionally include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carménère (though Malbec is now rare and Carménère is almost obsolete, and new grapes have recently been added due to climate change.) The Left Bank uses more Cabernet Sauvignon in their blends, while the Right Bank prefers Merlot and Cab Franc.
Don’t worry, the Right Bank won’t be on the test. Today, you need only fill your little notepad with indecipherable scribbles about the Left Bank.
When it comes to prestige and price, the Left Bank has historically hogged the spotlight. It's home to all the famed “First Growths” (the crème de la crème of Bordeaux as classified in 1855) and is typically more expensive. But that’s why we’re here, babyyyy — SO LET’S TALK VALUE!
Today we’re taking a good long look at the 2019 vintage — a year to remember when searching for Bordeaux value buys. Why? 2 reasons:
Quality (a key factor in value, duh): 2019 is an excellent year, yielding wines with intense flavors, vibrant acidity, and strong tannin structure, making them worthy of drinking now, or saving for a rainy decade.
COVID-19: The pandemic had a significant impact on the en primeur campaign (where merchants, journalists & critics from around the world descend on Bordeaux to taste & review the latest vintage), and by extension, on the pricing of these wines. It also introduced economic uncertainty, which led many producers to further adjust their prices, releasing their 2019 wines for less than their 2018 counterparts. The combination of the discounted sales & the loss of hype from the en primeur campaign synergize into a 5 letter word: VALUE.
Let’s dive into the juice.
2019 Château Pierre De Montignac, Médoc [$21 / 90 Points] (VALUE PICK!)
COME ONE, COME ALL — the 2019 Château Pierre De Montignac is a great entry level Bordeaux that promises not to scare off those who are gingerly dipping their sensitive little toes into the Left Bank for the first time.
This wine is aged for 12 months in barrels before bottling, infusing a subtle oaky character to the dark fruits (plum & black cherry) on the nose. It also shows some earthy characteristics, like bay leaf and even hint of mushroom.
It is a well-balanced and straight forward wine that finishes off with the length of a polite conversation — it says what it needs to say, gives you a friendly pat on the tongue, and saunters off before it gets awkward (unless you’re into that sort of thing).
Not too layered or complex, but a nice wine that is very accessible and drinkable now (even if a few years in the cellar would boost its self-esteem).
I'm scoring it a solid 90 points.
Purchased for $21 at Total Wine & More.
2019 Château La Tour de Mons, Margaux. Cru Bourgeois. [$27 / 88 Points] (WE’LL PASS)
This little number offers a more red fruit-driven profile than some of the others we are looking at today — a byproduct of its higher than typical percentage of Merlot in the blend (61%). We’re talkin’ cherry and strawberry, supported by some notes of mint and vanilla, with a slightly floral soapy note.
The soapiness carries through into its relatively staccato finish, leaving a bit of a bitter aftertaste that dampens the experience. The good news? That soapy character and bitterness really dissipates after a few hours of decanting — and drinks even better the next day.
Not an all around bad choice, it shows a slightly different style than the others we’re recommending, and it’s an excellent illustration of how you can improve a bottle of Bordeaux by letting it open up. That said, the reality is that this doesn’t drink so well in its young age and we think you can definitely do better with your $27 at Total Wine & More.
2019 Château Siran Margaux. [$35 / 95 Points]
Pour a glass of the 2019 Château Siran Margaux and give it a swirl. At $35 a pop, this saucy little minx is almost as expensive as my monthly streaming bill, but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it doesn’t deliver more drama.
The wine is a deep ruby color that makes Dorothy’s slippers look like a pair of faded red crocs, and features a French bazaar of aromas and flavors. You’ve got your fruit stand with blackcurrants and blackberries, wrestling for center stage two blocks down from the local bakery, with the chocolatier in the corner grating a chunk of dark cocoa into a cedar box. A hint of rose petals add yet another layer of intrigue.
It’s a rich, full bodied wine, with medium+ acidity, pompous tannins and a good long finish.
It's a wine that shouts, "I’m not here to make friends. I'm here to win," and win it does — BUT IT ALSO MAKES FRIENDS. I’m reaching into my tiny little bag of points and pulling out a whopping 95 for this bad boy.
2019 Le Petit Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac Léognan [$41 / 92+ Points]
Step 1: Pour glass, Step 2: Insert schnozz, Step 3: BEHOLD — a delightfully complex bouquet of aromas, like that of a decadent black forest gateau; rich black cherries, chocolate, vanilla and spice. Black pepper and pencil shavings add layers to the nose.
Full-bodied and well-structured with rich tannins and high acidity. It is pretty nicely balanced, but there’s a bit of sharpness to the structure that will improve markedly in the years to come — this puppy will last a long time in the cellar (unlike the real puppies I have stored down there).
I’m scoring this 92+ points.
$41 at Total Wine & More
Wondering what to gobble with that silky smooth goblet of Zeus juice?
Because of the typically high tannins & high acidity, hearty, fatty, acidic and salted foods will pair well.
Some of our favorite couplings include grilled eggplant (could be Asian style, or Italian, or any way you like it!), lasagna, mushroom risotto, and Impossible bibimbap. You should try ALL OF THE ABOVE — but also experiment. The best pairing you’ve ever had is yet to be discovered.
Isaac & Zach
Tannic Panic! is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Cheers!