The $10,000 Cellar, Part Three

Topping off the cellar with Cabernet-based wines


Here we are at the final installment of the $10,000 cellar. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, this installment, which focuses on Cabernet-based wines at around the $85 per bottle price range, is just a small part of what ends up yielding the buyer a very nice cellar of over 170 bottles of wine!

That breaks down to just about $55 per bottle. While this is not inconsequential to be sure, in the world of fine wine it is a very reasonable sum. Of course, you don’t have to buy any or all of these wines. You can cherry pick beginning with the $20 options I suggested in the first installments of this series, the $2,500 cellar!

This installment completes my basic suggested cellar. I do plan on following up with one final set of wines, those very rare wines that are arguably worth more than $100 a bottle! Until then, enjoy my final suggestions for the $10,000 cellar.

Photo courtesy davidballardphoto via Flickr/CC


Bordeaux is the 900 lbs elephant in the room when talk turns to Cabernet-based wine, even if they’re not always mostly Cabernet and sometimes don’t have any Cabernet in them for that matter. This doesn’t bother me since the point of this discussion is focusing on the group of grapes that make up Bordeaux. Cabernet is certainly king, but one that generally benefits from having an entourage.

Bordeaux has been on a roll as of late, with great vintages in 2010, 2009, 2005 and 2000, as well the very good 2001. 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 all have their high points as well. In fact, there have been good wines produced in every vintage of the decade!

Photo courtesy Nikki from Oz via Flickr/CC


G-P-L has been something of an insider’s wine for years, not for any real reason other than it having been classified as a fifth growth in the not entirely representative 1855 classification. It’s a well regarded Château whose vines lay over deep gravel beds in the north of the Pauillac commune. The vineyards and the wines heavily favor Cabernet Sauvignon over Merlot, the only two varieties planted here.

What you end up with is classic Bordeaux, tough when young with terrific structure and the ability to evolve into something nuanced and rich, if perhaps a little less than elegant.

Grand Puy Lacoste $85


If a rough and tough, masculine Pauiliac is not your thing, an elegant and refined Margaux might be a better match for your palate. Problem is, there really aren’t that many elegant Margaux left. In fact, very few are. The second growth Brane-Cantenac, while moving with the pack, tends to express its Margaux roots quite well.

A wine made of barely more than half Cabernet Sauvignon (the rest primarily being Merlot with a dollop of Cabernet Franc) will tend to be rather opulent and rich as Brane-Cantenac generally is. This is what Margaux tends to be about, along with supple tannins and elegant red fruit. Give these a few years in the cellar and you’ll be able to experience classic modern Margaux.

Brane-Cantenac $75


If you’re looking for a true classic, look no further than Calon-ségur, a third growth for the northern reaches of Bordeaux’s left bank in the appellation of Saint-Estèphe. In contrast to the gravel beds that mark many of the region’s best vineyard locations, St. Estèphe’s soil tends to be heavier with lots of clay. These conditions have made the region famous for a rich, powerful yet rustic style of wine.

Even though Calon-ségur has become a bit more refined and polished over the year, it can’t lose its St. Estèphe toughness. These are wines that have an abundance of ripe tannins but plenty of fruit to buffer that toughness. Given time, the wines really transform into wonderfully complex and complete Bordeaux.

Calon-Segur $85 – The last classic St. Estephe?


Another appellation that lends itself to a more elegant and fruit-driven style of Bordeaux is St. Julien. This is the land of happy Bordeaux, plump and famous for blackberry and black currant fruit in a rather easy drinking style. For that reason, St. Julien has traditionally been a consumer favorite for relatively early consumption, but the best of the appellation can certainly be cellared for decades.

Gruaud-larose is among those best, though in past years it was a very divisive wine. Funky and animal in the past, today’s Gruaud starts out much the same way, slowly and a bit tough for a St. Julien. This second growth wine eventually does reveal all of its richness and earthy fruit with a nice touch of elegance balanced by edge of austerity.

Gruaud-larose $85


And now for something completely different: Merlot, or at least some 50 percent of it. That Merlot is blended with a nice chunk of Cabernet Franc and a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon in a fairly typical St. Emilion blend.

Château Canon-la-Gaffelière is a property in St. Emilion, located on the right bank of the Gironde estuary that divides Bordeaux into its two banks. This is the land of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and Canon-la-Gaffelière uses both to produce their trademark opulent, supple and almost silky wines. This is a house in transition, moving towards a richer, more powerful and certainly oakier style than they had in the past. This is rapidly becoming the style of St. Emilion, so it might be time to embrace it.

Canon-la-Gaffeliere $85

Château la Fleur de Gay

While Merlot shares its starring role in St. Emilion, it is the star of Pomerol, particularly in wines like La Fleur de Gay which is 100% Merlot. Unlike the wines of the left bank with their stern Cabernet-induced structure, Pomerol Merlots tend to be exuberantly opulent, rich and plush. La Fleur de Gay comes from old vine Merlot, so it tends to have a bit of a spine and fine acidity which helps keep all that richness balanced and in check. By any measure, it is a fine example of Pomerol’s style.

Fleur de Gay $90

California Cabernet

Moving on to a different beast, we now set our sights on Cabernet in its adopted home, the rather lush and certainly warm environs of the Napa Valley. Yes Cabernet is grown elsewhere, the Santa Cruz Mountains for example, but Napa is pretty ideal for a certain expression of Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly when it is bottled on its own.

These wines are decidedly richer and fruitier than most Bordeaux, though the changes Bordeaux has introduced over the past decade have certainly narrowed that gap. In truth, I prefer wines that tend to fit an old school model, which to me means less obvious fruit, more earth, a bit of herb if we’re lucky, slightly lower alcohol and less obvious oak. All that being said, these all are bold wines intense in all regards.

Photo courtesy jimg944 via Flickr/CC

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    Apr 18, 2012 at 4:23 PM

  • Snooth User: wine o200
    108738 14

    Just trying a Tardieu Laurent 1997 Bandol at the moment, yes rustic, but those tannins are fine and dusty now. Should go with the lamb strips, capsicum , tomato, caramellised onion and bonconcini, or perhaps one of your right bank Bordeaux might fit the bill.

    Apr 20, 2012 at 9:09 AM

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