During a private wine tasting that I conducted a couple years ago hosted by a very wealthy man (who was convinced he knew more about wine than I did), I had a rather unfair gauntlet unexpectedly thrown down. I had offered his friends tastes of several wines I had brought with me, all of which retailed for less than $20 a bottle. At the end of the tasting, “The Client,” as I will refer to him herein for legal reasons (he was a corporate lawyer), pulled out a ringer of his own that I knew nothing about.
A pristine bottle of 1945 Chateau Latour.
I reeled at his audacity, but quickly collected myself and, like a true sport, poured his much more expensive wine for everyone at the tasting.
There are two things that I know to be absolutely true in this world: You can’t buy black slacks at Brooks Brothers, and Bordeaux is either cheap and disappointing, or expensive and mind blowing. Is it fair that a legendary wine like an older vintage of Latour should cost more than $2,000 for four measly pours? Of course not. Is there a way to cheat the system? You better believe it.
For you, the worshippers of les vins du Gironde, I offer the following alternatives to amaze and astound your friends and family with the deepest of pockets and least regard for frugality: If you are craving the deep, concentrated flavors of a Left Bank Bordeaux, like Chateau Latour, you don’t need to take out a third mortgage to access that kind of flavor.
A century ago, a grape called Carmenere was regularly used in Bordeaux as a blending grape. At the same time, it was being planted in Chile, and it thrived. Now the grape is no longer grown in Bordeaux at all, but in Chile it produces some of the richest, most robust reds that South America has to offer: big structure and supple mouth feel, with notes of espresso, cocoa powder and baked cherries.
If you have a sweet tooth and have a hankering for a pricey Sauternes like the famed Chateau D’Yquem, look a little farther east. All the way to Hungary, as a matter of fact. The famed dessert wine Tokaji (pronounced toke-eye) is made in the same manner as the ultra-expensive Sauternes of Bordeaux, but sells for a fraction of the cost. Truly excellent bottles of Tokaji can sometimes sell for $40 or $50, but considering once it’s opened it has a shelf life of several weeks due to its high sugar levels, it is still a bargain compared to the $700 one would pay for a half-bottle of D’Yquem.
If, in fact, you are craving an actual bottle of 1945 Chateau Latour, save your money—even if you have it to spare; 1945 was a spectacular year for many of the chateaux on the Left Bank…but not for Latour. It’s regarded as one of the five worst vintages for that house in the 20th century, yet bottles still regularly sell in the thousands.
After The Client had me open and pour his expensive bottle of rancid juice for his confused guests, I promptly opened a spare bottle of Carmenere I had with me and relieved their palates with something that actually tasted like wine.
Drink what you like, not what you think you should like. I do, and I haven’t second-guessed my palate once.
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