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Bordeaux 2008: A glass half empty

Critics are pleasantly surprised by the 2008 vintage. Here are William Echikson's recommendations.

A picker empties his basket of white grapes in France's Bordeaux region at the chateau Haut Brion vineyard Aug. 13, 2003. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

BRUSSELS — Since filing my story about Bordeaux’s 2008 vintage, the first results of the annual tastings have come pouring in.

The world’s capricious economic climate is creating a potential hangover, forcing many winemakers to lower their prices. The famed St. Emilion chateau Angelus decided on April 7 to put half its 2008 production on sale for 50 euros a bottle — still expensive, to be sure — but 40 percent less than last year. Another famed Chateau, Giscours, is offering a free 13th bottle for every dozen purchased.

At the same time, critics have expressed surprise about the quality of the actual wine produced in 2008.

“Bordeaux 2008 is, quite frankly, a vintage that has taken most of us by surprise,” noted U.K. wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd on its blog this weekend. “Who would have thought that after months of continuous bad weather and setbacks in the vineyards, and weeks of speculation about the quality of the wines, that we would actually come away with anything better than mediocre praise for these specimens? But there’s no denying that many of the wines surpassed our expectations.”

Jancis Robinson, the venerable U.K. wine critic, said many of these refreshing wines will be “an agreeable shock" to those who had doubted the vintage.

With prices coming down in 2008, some long overpriced, delicious Bordeaux finally may become affordable. Before giving some recommendations, let me express two caveats. First, I have not tasted the 2008 vintages, which remain in barrels and are only sold now as “futures” to be delivered in two years time. I have only tasted older vintages. And second, Bordeaux is a giant appellation, with wines running from $5 to $500 a bottle, with quality stretching from the barely quaffable to the sublimely exquisite. This means it is necessary to sift through the massive offering before buying.

My tastes are markedly modernist: I like wines with fresh fruit and a forward, pleasing favor, not traditional Bordeaux that I often find has too many notes of tough leather. I admire the new generation of Bordeaux winemakers who are leveraging technology and hard work to produce riper grapes and more full-bodied wines. Among my favorites, in a wide variety of price ranges, are:

1. Chateau Reynon, Clos Floridenne and Chateau Doisy-Daene: These are the family domains of oenology professor Denis Dubordieux. More than any other single individual, he has revolutionized the making of white wines in Bordeaux. Instead of stuffy, heavy whites, he produces clean, fresh wines. Chateau Renon, less than $10, is a flavorful, almost 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. Clos Floridenne, $20 to $25, is a much more ambitious, full-bodied, oak-aged white. Doisy-Daene, a Sauternes selling for about $40, is one of the nicest sweet wines I know — tangy, not cloying.