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Taking the house out of a good house wine: Château Lalande Bellevue 2003

Château Lalande Bellevue Premières Côtes de Blaye 2003
Yesterday, I pointed to a great picnic wine named Bellevue. Today I suggest another Bellevue. It's about the same price and has a similar French provenance, but this is no picnic wine. This is a Bordeaux, the wine enjoyed in drawing rooms and in Michelin-endorsed restaurants everywhere. But when a Bordeaux is a tremendous value and at an affordable price, why not take this wine out of the house and let it flow on a picnic? Instead of fresh salads and antipasti, bring lamb sandwiches. This stuff is a treat.

I was turned on by the 2002 vintage of Château Lalande Bellevue Premières Côtes de Blaye last year. It was marked down during a promotion. The discounted price was ridiculously low, especially for a wine with a Bordelais appellation. And one that earns the respect of a three-star review from Michel Phaneuf (who won Gourmand's best wine guide for the second consecutive year). The 2003 bottle made an appearance in stores several months ago, and after tasting it myself, and I can imagine Phaneuf giving it a rating just as good if not better than its predecessor.

A GOOD YEAR FOR BORDEAUX WINES

The 2003 harvest in Bordeaux is considered a good one. But it's important not to place too much emphasis on vintage. Plenty of bottles from lesser vintages end up worthy wines. What is important is cost -- because I'd like to know when the lauding of a vintage by experts ends up sending up the sticker price. Good news here is that there's been no jump in price for the Lalande Bellevue of the 2003 vintage -- just click on the bottle image above for pricing details.

Indeed, this vintage carries with it the graces of a vintage as valuable as 2003 was, and then some.

It's slightly vegetal in a perfectly delicious way. Nice nose, and as dark baked cherry and cassis ooze across your palate, the astringency kicks in: perky tannins and a dry and long finish, with vanilla and a hint of fruit. On the first night, the wine seemed tight but charming and perfumed. I served it with pork filet, sautéed red peppers and mashed potatoes. At the table, its echoes of acid melded to every mouthful of tenderloin like a match made in heaven. After aeration -- in this case a two days in the mini bottle -- Lalande Bellevue rendered itself strong in matter, yet deft and structured. The balance between the fruit and acid is really quite phenomenal. The finish is delicate but so persistant. This medium-to-full-bodied wine strangely seems lighter than air.

J. Espiot, Marcillac, Gironde, France. 12.5%.

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