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There was a time in the 1970’s and early 1980’s that much of French wines available in American wine shops and on restaurant wine lists came from negociants or “shippers.”
Rather than the wine being made and bottled at a single estate or château, French wine merchants — the negociants or shippers who also distributed châteaux wines — would buy grapes or raw wine from farmers or excess wine from the estates and “elevate” it by aging and blending. The idea was to get good value and a consistent style to represent individual wine regions. In difficult vintages, the shippers wine could actually be better than higher-priced château wine.
During that time, names such as Sichel, Cruse, and B&G were very familiar signs of quality with American wine drinkers. Then, two things happened. One was a wine scandal in Bordeaux about mislabeling — something that happened with enough regularity that the market would normally forget about it. At the same time, the idea of estate bottling — wine from one source — became popular with American drinkers.
Negociants didn’t go away — they still sell a lot of blended wine — but they became less popular. One very big brand — B&G or Barton & Guestier — was passed through several hands in the intervening years. Recently, the brand — now 290 years old — has gone through a bit of a marketing revival by Castel Frères, its current owners.
Here are some of the currently available B&G wines.
B&G “Château Magnol” Haut-Medoc 2011 ($24).
A nice everyday wine with smooth, light-cherry flavors, accents of oak, and a hint of gaminess.
B&G “Héritage” Rhone red wine NV ($20)
A syrah-dominated blend — it is a little spicy with some forest-floor or mushroom flavors at mid-palate with muddled red and blacks fruits. A little like marmalade without the sweetness.
B&G Thomas Barton Medoc red private reserve ($41)
A mellow, full-bodied medoc, blending well the fruit and barrel flavors with good finishing acidity and light tannins.
B&G “La Villa Barton” Provence rosé 2014 ($16)
Light strawberry flavors with a pleasant carbon-like edginess.
B&G Vouvray 2014 ($13)
Not really up to B&G standards — a little like sugar water with fruit flavors added.
B&G Thomas Barton Saint-Emilion reserve 2012 ($22)
Very nice merlot-dominated blend with ripe cherry flavors and a crisp, herbal finish.
B&G Cotes du Rhone rouge 2014 ($11)
A quintessential Cotes with ripe cherries and a lingering prickly spiciness – a wine you definitely want to drink more than one glass. The quality is of Cotes du Rhone Villages status.