In their nuanced variations of subtlety, and their individual adaptability to certain soils and climates, no category of red grapes has as much charm and versatility as those known as Bordeaux. Led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, increasingly, Malbec, the family also includes Cabernet franc, petit Verdot and carmenere.
They are successfully made into both upscale and everyday wines around the world and harmoniously blend with each other (and occasionally with Syrah). Even when labeled as a varietal, there are usually some other family grapes added to the mix.
Here are some I recently tasted, organized by price, from low to high:
2012 Gnarly Head Mendoza Malbec ($10)
My Pick of the Litter. Excellent ripe-fruit intensity, yet with a wild, garrigue-like savory spice to it and a lip-smacking gamey/sour cream finish — the kind of wine I could drink all day with barbecued meats.
2012 Trapiche Oak Cask Mendoza Malbec ($10)
Quite nice, especially for the price. Excellent fruit and savory components, moderate body. Good finish with mild tannins. For someone on a budget who wants affordable reds that will age well, buy a case or two of this.
2010 Châteaux Haut-Vigneau Premières Côtes de Blaye ($14)
Basic Bordeaux with ripe cherries, vanilla cream, and some savory notes, good finish, mild tannins, fairly crisp finish. Limited availability.
2011 Wolfgang Puck “Master Lot” California cabernet sauvignon ($14)
Not complex, but very smooth and enjoyable with fruit — forward creamy raspberry tastes and a tight finish.
2010 Wolfgang Puck California “Master Lot” red blend ($15)
Yes, it is a good restaurant wine, but don’t expect too much from it. Good cherry and blackberry flavors, but the finish is a bit “meh.”
2011 Trapiche “Broquel” Mendoza Malbec ($15)
Mixed red and black fruits, big flavors, good structure, moderate tannins and a chocolate sponge cake finish. Not elegant, but charming.
2010 Ad Francos Francs — Côtes de Bordeaux ($19)
A big Right Bank Bordeaux, this wine has aromas and flavors of browned butter, dark fruits, lots of barrel notes, and a brûlée finish. About 15 percent alcohol. Limited availability.
2010 Inama Carmenere Piu Veneto Rosso IGT ($20)
A Bordeaux red from the Veneto? Expect the unexpected from Inama, and expect it to be good. Raspy, red fruit flavors, yet a lean finish with a nice granular texture. A little merlot is blended in. An everyday wine, but one at the top tier of that category.
2010 Château Gigault “Cuvée Viva” Blaye — Côtes de Bordeaux ($26)
Another Right Banker with bright but firm flavors of currants and violets, it’s just a touch hot and has firm tannins. A nice wine to age for a few years.
2010 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($56)
A delicious wine and a great example of successfully mixing the fruity and savory sides of Cab. Lean with nice barrel notes.
2011 Charles Krug Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
Warm and generous, falling into the category of a sipper a little more than a food wine. More circular than linear in structure.