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Value Vino

Semi-cellaring Bordeaux

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The big boys with super cellars and the bucks to fill them are likely to brag about their big Bordeaux, their Burgundies, and maybe even their Brunellos; the rest of us are buying wines to drink tomorrow, next week, or maybe within a month or two if we happen upon a case-lot deal. And our cellars? Well…

Mine, in any case, is an interior closet also shared with stereo equipment. A while back I had an adjustable AC register installed so the tiny space could be cooled in summertime, the idea being that I would simply close it off during heating season. It's the coolest room in the house in summer; winter I'm going to have to work on.

But despite these less than ideal conditions, I did buy some allegedly sorta-cellar-worthy Bordeaux a while back — about 2008, if memory serves. (Memory, too, needs some work.) They weren't first-growth châteaus, to be sure, but rather of the cru bourgeois persuasion — to be specific, Château Caronne Ste. Gemme 2005 Haut-Médoc. Apparently somebody at the time of release suggested that even the lowlier classifications were worth putting away for awhile. There's one left for future evaluation; this was the penultimate bottle. You will have noted that shy of seven years in the so-called cellar hardly makes this a hoary old veteran.

I should have noted the price, of course, but knowing how cheap I generally am, it's a safe bet that I didn't pay more than the mid-teens for the bottles. If you look them up online now, the average price is somewhere around $27 — better than the stock market in the same time frame, but not why I did this. Nope, I did it out of curiosity, and here's the result:
In a burst of uncharacteristic transparency for the French, the grape blend is listed on the back label; it's 60 percent cabernet sauvignon, 35 percent merlot, and 5 percent petit verdot. And the cabernet does dominate. The color is a deep, dark ruby with no signs of turning bricky around the edges. On the nose there's slight tar, leather, even coffee, plus a respectable fruit component that suggests dark plum. A hint of licorice seemed to linger. On the palate, there was still a tannic residue, but it was well integrated; good acid kept the fruit lively. A day in the refrigerator later, everything had smoothed out further, suggesting that decanting might be a good idea.

In sum, it's a keeper, but for another year? I just need to put a Post-it on the bottle.

P.S. The wine website has just released a list of Bordeaux "futures" for purchase in advance of their arrival on our shores. The 2009 vintage of the Caronne Ste. Gemme is highly rated and selling now for $16.99 — just in case you'd like to play this game.

Veteran food, wine, and spirits writer Ron Bechtol has been a Current contributor since 1993 and is the local editor of the Fearless Critic restaurant guide to San Antonio.

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