A Smattering Of Two Dozen French Wines To Sample This Summer
In Bordeaux, France, wine vintages for 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020 were all excellent. If you can sample 2017 wines—considering that most grapes succumbed to a wicked frost that year—you will find some reds exceptional, while whites from that vintage may be the best produced in Bordeaux in perhaps 50 years.
Below are 26 wines (two ‘bakers’s dozens’) to consider sampling this summer. These are from the last six vintages, although many are from 2020. One rosé is from Provence, while the rest originate in Bordeaux. The commonality they share is excellent price to quality ratios.
Rosé and Whites –
Clos des Lunes. Lune d’Argent. Grand Vin Blanc Sec. Bordeaux. 2016.
Inspired by (and associated with) Domaine de Chevalier in Bordeaux, Clos des Lunes produces this 70/30 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. A fresh and sparkling wine with aromas of grapefruit and a rich, oily mouth feel. Tastes include honey and citrus. Pair with shellfish, or butter doused roasted poultry.
Château Bel Air La Royère. Sauvignon Blanc. 2019. 94 points.
This 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the right bank appellation of Blaye includes fresh aromas of white flowers, grapefruit and a little mint. Silky mouth feel, with a taste of pears mid palate and slight mint on the finish.
Solicantus. Mélodie du Sol. Entre Deux Mer. 2019. 90 points.
From Namratha Prashanth, who moved to Bordeaux from India and studied viticulture at the University of Bordeaux, comes this wine made in coordination with a family-owned Entre-Deux Mers estate. The 60/25/13/2 blend of Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc/Sauvignon Gris/Muscadelle inlcudes rich and juicy aromas—green apples, cantaloupe, grapefruits—as well as honey. In the mouth—tastes include lime and green apples, with the open and rounded texture characteristic of Sauvignon Gris. Well balanced, with perky acidity and a hint of mangos on the finish. Pair with prawns or slices of Emmental cheese.
Château Bel Air La Royère. Ambre Inattendue. 2019. 93 points.
From a female wine producer based in Blaye, Bordeaux, comes this beautiful orange wine with aromas of rum and tropical fruits. Flavors of honey and oranges in the mouth, with a hint of sultanas on the finish.
Domaine de Tamary. Côtes de Provence. 2020. 93 points.
A blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Rolle from 20 year old vines. Light salmon colored. Brisk, precise aromas of grapefruit, lime, mandarins. In the mouth—a medium to light weight mid palate that is creamy and rich with beautifully balanced acidity and a pleasing finish.
Domaine de Chevalier. Pessac-Léognan. 2016. 93 – 95 p0ints.
A 55/35/5/5 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This Grand Cru Classé of Graves includes aromas of blackberries, cocoa, cranberries. In the mouth, a wispy light wine with sleek acidity that integrates well with tannins. Pair with foie gras, linguini and truffles.
Château Lilian Ladouys. Saint Estèphe. 2015. 94 points.
62/33/3/2 blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Cherries and licorice, brownies and a lick of butterscotch aromas. A rich and rounded wine with shining acidity—a bright example of the focused, sun flooded 2015 vintage.
Fleur de Pédesclaux. Pauillac. 2018. 93 to 95 points.
80/15/5 blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Rich and silky deep black fruit aromas, as well as figs and cherries. Gorgeous balance of acidity and tannins.
Château Pédesclaux. Grand Cru Classé. Pauillac. 2018. 93 to 95 points.
A 64/27/5/4 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. 14% alcohol. Although from the left bank, this is as elegant and rounded as a right bank Saint-Émilion wine with unobtrusive tannins. Aromas of figs, lavender, tar morels. Opens up after five minutes to a sexy, supple and silky wine.
Château Bel Air La Royère. Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux. Justin Malbec. 2019. 93 to 95 points.
From winemaker Corinne Chevrier comes a signature Malbec with suave aromas of plumbs, raspberries and tastes that include black cherries and black pepper—a rich and juicy wine with excellent structure. Pair with hearty fare: T-bone steak and shiitake mushrooms.
Château Bel Air La Royère. Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux. 2016. 91 to 93 points.
A 65/35 blend of Merlot and Malbec. Billowing aromas of German chocolate cake as well as strawberries. In the mouth—red plums and cocoa. A hefty and well-structured dark wine with generous acidity. An entire meal. Pair with pork loin or a dessert that includes chocolate.
Château Brand Bergère. Cuvée O’Byrne. 2020. 94 points.
The previous CFO for Château Cheval Blanc bought a remotely beautiful right bank château and estate at a location where the Dordogne, Charentes and Gironde regions meet. From there comes this 60/40 blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc. A layered, approachable fruit explosion of plump red cherries underlain with cocoa, cinnamon and spices. A bucket of flavor in this Merlot dominant blend that include flavors of Dutch licorice and black pepper superimposed on subtle but firm tannins. Pair with a rich curry dish, grilled sirloin or a dessert of butterscotch pie.
Cháteau La Brande. Castillon – Côtes de Bordeaux. 2020. 93 points.
From the Todeschini family comes this 67/22/9/3 blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot. Aged in steel as well as in 400- and 500-liter oak barrels for up to 18 months. Aromas include vanilla, blackberries, red currants and sage. In the mouth this is a delicious drop of fruit with a subtle tannic backdrop—easy drinking with a little spice. The suave style of a Pomerol, but produced within Castillon: subtle, rich and vibrant. Consider pairing with sheesh kebab with pineapple chunks and green peppers.
Château Bellefont-Belcier. Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé. 2020. 97 points.
This 70/25/5 blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon is vinified in concrete before it ages in 30% new French oak. A walloping slap of fresh, powerfully fruity aromas—red and black cherries—as well as a sliver of spearmint. Lush, plush and gorgeously rounded mouth feel and flavors that include ripe cherries, cacao, cumin and black pepper. Clementines and plums mid palate, bright acidity on the finish. A harmonious beauty. Pair with magret du canard and foie gras, or a four-cheese lasagna.
Enclos Tourmaline. Pomerol. 2020. 96 points.
This 100% Merlot is made from grapes that grow above blue clay and gravel soils. The wine is integrally vinified and then aged in the same barrels—100% new French oak. Characteristic Pomerol ethereal aromas—like sniffing clouds—that include cherries, honeydew melon, wet earth, a lick of mint and freshly sliced mushrooms. This includes a completely rounded and well integrated dose of cheerful fruit, bright acidity and excellent tannic structure. Consider pairing with medallions of deer or lamb, or a semi-spicy sheesh kebab.
Enclos de Viaud. Lalande-de-Pomerol. 2020. 93 points.
This 85/15 Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend ferments in steel and ages in 10% new French oak. Aromas include those of pine cones, cedar, a hint of dark fudge, concentrated strawberries and leather. In the mouth—well integrated flavors include fruit, chocolate, slight spice and the finish is lingering and doused with a taste of licorice.
Château Mangot. Distique 13. Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. 2020. 97 points.
From Karl and Yann Todeschini comes this memorable red wine. The blend is approximately 40/40/20 of Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon. It is aged in 25% new oak for up to 16 months. Aromas are crisp, bright, coherent and precise and include cherries, shortbread, pine cones and toffee. In the mouth this is a wispy light beauty with tightly concentrated dark fruit, gripping acidity and layered tannic complexity. Creamy cherries, toast and mandarins mid palate. This is a wine to steal a second and third sip from in the tasting room.
Château Le Rey. Les Rocheuses. Parcels 5 & 6. 2020. 92 points.
An 80/20 blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc aged in 40% new oak. Huge aromas of freshly sliced cherries, a little black pepper, licorice, orange rind and sultanas. Cherries and pepper on the attack, a suave mid-palate of cocoa and red fruit flushed with well-integrated acidity and slight clementines on the finish. Pair with mushroom stew or even a dessert of orange sorbet.
Château Haut-Brisson. Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. 2020. 92 points.
A 90/10 blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc aged in 35% new French oak. Aromas of moist earth, ferns and sage. Lovely mouthful of light red fruit that includes oranges, as well as earthier tastes—such as mushrooms. Bright acidity on the finish. Consider pairing with chevre chaud (hot and melting goat cheese).
Château La Patache. Pomerol. 2020. 95 points.
This 85/15 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc ages in 30% new French oak. Bright aromas of cedar, minestrone, black cherries and mushrooms. A wispy light beauty in the mouth—with red fruit melding with clean and focused acidity. Subdued tannins, but providing a firm structure. Classic Pomerol suaveness and approachability. Earthy notes on the attack, a textured mid palate and bright acidity on the finish. Pair with French dip or seafood linguini.
Solicantus. Melodie du Sol. 2020. 92 points.
From the Blaye appellation of Bordeaux comes this 90/5/5 blend of Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/ Malbec that includes aromas of treacle, dark fudge, cassis as well as slight violets and orange peel. This is light and cheery red to drink—with inconspicuous acidity. Tannins are well integrated with fruit and tastes include cocoa and cherries. Has the smooth heft and stature reminiscent of a Tuscan Sangiovese, but with the characteristic fruity approachability of a Right Bank Bordeaux. Pair with veal, duck or wild game.
Château Tour Saint Christophe. Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. 2020. 94 points.
An 80/20 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc from vines that grow over clay and limestone soils. Silky Merlot aromas with a slight nuttiness, as well as spice and pine. Vibrant and luscious mouthful of flavors that include black pepper. Textured mid palate and a dose of cherries on the finish. Acidity and tannins well integrated, letting fruit and spice take center stage. Consider pairing with a lamb curry or a dish with a side of mango chutney.
Château Le Rey. Les Argileuses. Parcels 1 & 3. Castillon—Côtes de Bordeaux. 2020. 93 points.
This 80/20 Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend originates from vines growing over green and blue clay. Aged in steel as well as in amphorae—no oak. Jumping aromas of country lane fruit: wild strawberries and the scent of bramble. Energetic unabashed, nasal passageway soaking aromas. This is a wheelbarrow of wild red fruit on a spring afternoon. A lovely silky mouthful that is well-integrated with blasts of fresh fruit such as raspberries. Whereas the aromas are wild and rambunctious, this wine is domesticated and tame in the mouth. Well-structured but unobtrusive tannins. Pair with lobster claws, or burnt molasses/chocolate brownies. It has the fresh fruit of a Beaujolais, the light structure of a Loire Cabernet Franc, and the easy drinking pleasure of a village from Burgundy.
Chateau Haut Peyrat. Prelude 2016. Bordeaux Supérieur. 93 points.
From Isabelle and Didier Gill—who spent seven years renovating their château on the edge of a deep and gorgeous Castillon valley—comes this second wine named after the prelude to an opera. They produce 60,000 bottles a year of this unoaked 70/15/15 Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend that is fermented in cement tanks (which are produced by the same manufacturer who supplies tanks to Château Cheval Blanc). Exported to Europe and Asia
Sweet and approachable aromas of cassis, cocoa, red cherries. This is a wine for before or during dinner. In the mouth—a light and rich taste of black fruit with bright acidity and inconspicuous tannins. A bargain at less than 10 Euros a bottle retail. Pair with charcuterie, lamb or a chocolate cake dessert.
Chateau Haut Peyrat. 2017. Bordeaux Supérieur. 94 points.
This 70/15/15 blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from Cadillac in the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux has aromas that include black pepper, bright and light cherries, vanilla and licorice. At less than $18 a bottle-the value is excellent. Pair with steak tartare or strong cheeses. Their 2018 is similar but even more structured and rounded—though it may need two years before it is ready to pour.
Chateau Mangot. Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. 2020. 95 points.
80/15/5 Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromas of licorice, smoke, cranberries, red fruit. In the mouth—molasses and fudge. This is a darkly inviting beauty, chewy and with juicy acidity enfolded into suave tannins. A well-integrated package. Gorgeous—pair with rotie de bouef or Mexican spicy enchiladas.