Complex, powerful, cellar-worthy, exclusive—all are traits clinching the appeal of Bordeaux’s First Growths and their top-tier Napa Valley counterparts for connoisseurs and collectors. The corollary, of course, is that those bottles are rarely enjoyed by a broad swath of wine lovers without exclusive access—especially younger ones. Now, though, producers on each side of the pond aim to change that by offering a line of more approachable, more affordable wines.
In France, Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) has developed a series of five wines sourced from growers across Bordeaux, which together they’re calling Légende. With wines specific to five of the region’s appellations—Bordeaux Rouge, Bordeaux Blanc, Médoc, Saint-Émilion, and Pauillac—Légende isn’t a generic version of Lafite. “We wanted to offer our consumers a discovery of the different terroirs and tastes of Bordeaux,” says Christophe Salin, president and CEO.
The Légende Saint-Émilion 2014 ($45), 85 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernet Franc, offers classic Right Bank character, with soft, rounded tannins and high-toned aromatics from the Merlot-Cab Franc partnership. It’s a delightful wine in its own right, but also an exceptional one for the price. The Légende Pauillac 2014 ($55), 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 percent Merlot, has power, structure, and spicy dark fruit—the profile that makes people fall in love with Pauillac for life.
At Napa Valley’s Dana Estates, it’s very nearly the reverse of the Lafite picture. Dana’s core wines are made from four different estate vineyards, ranging from Rutherford up through higher elevations and appellations to Howell Mountain. Those single-vineyard wines, at $475 a bottle, offer a fascinating taste of vastly different terroirs. But so few cases of each are made every year that there’s scant room on the mailing list.
The happy truth about that scarcity, though, is that about 85 percent of the fruit from those estate vineyards don’t get chosen for Dana bottles. It’s fruit that has been farmed in the same vine-by-vine way, and it gets the same hand in the cellar (if a little less new oak). Dana has been bottling this wine under the Vaso label and is releasing it now at the winery across the States.
The current release of the Vaso Sauvignon Blanc, interestingly, is the 2012 vintage ($50). It is captured proof of the ageability of great barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc, with exotic florals and fruit leaning toward dried apricot, herbs, and boxwood.
Even though the 2013 Vaso red is labeled Cabernet Sauvignon ($85), its attitude runs more along the lines of a Bordeaux blend, with Merlot-like aromatics over exuberant dark cassis, spice, pepper, and leather, with impressive structure.
According to winemaker Chris Cooney, “These wines should have structure, ageability, freshness, and energy—philosophically, they’re no different than Dana. But they do get less new oak, which highlights the fruit a little more, so they’re a little more approachable.”
Speaking of approachability, even if you’re not on the Dana mailing list, you can make an appointment to visit and taste Vaso. The tour takes you through the stunning remodel of the estate’s historic stone winery and new caves and then brings you up to a cozy-chic old barn (also reimagined) to taste the wines.
All of this might be good news for the millennials among us who haven’t made their way onto mailing lists yet. But even collectors need great wines to open on casual occasions.