food / travel

The Unbeatable Prices Of Top Bordeaux

Don’t let Bordeaux vintages at staggering prices deter you from the impressive array of top wines that are astonishingly affordable. A panel of experts recently selected the most promising.

vintage Bordeaux (Antociano)

Wine collectors are complaining – at Château Lafite Rothschild, a one 2005 can cost upwards of €2,500 per bottle. Other vintages from the same year approach the €1,500 mark.

"Before, I would buy my dozen bottles, then six bottles of premier cru every year. Now, I'm not going to spend the price of a car for six bottles," said one motivated and wealthy collector indignantly.

The best of the best represents only one percent of the Bordeaux region's production. At the other end of the spectrum, the mass of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur produce an ocean of wine, 58 percent of Bordeaux's production at prices that defy any competition. The reasons? A serious rivalry between the numerous châteaux, and challenging global circumstances. Prices therefore remain reasonable, at less than €15 for the most expensive, less than €10 and even less than €5 for the most basic.

On the lower end of the scale, it is possible to find Bordeaux at €2 or even €1 with a deep discount (14 percent of total sales), a minimal profit, some making none at all.

As for quality, in all the appellations, or designations, the worst may stand next to the best, sometimes at the same price. But such is also the case regarding ranked wines. By investing a little time, one can find lovely bottles perfectly aged for less than €10. Bordeaux Supérieur represent the best quality-for-price ratio, but no one knows it just yet.

Blind taste test

A winery such as Reignac* (around €20), a simple Bordeaux Supérieur but which plays with the big boys, is usually the talk of the town at blind taste testings, beating the premiers crus, and not only the young ones. This is not random. The terroir of Reignac is classified as a premier cru, but it is cursed by being situated in l'Entre-deux-Mers; neither the Medoc, nor Les Graves, nor in the Libournais. Moreover, Yves Vatelot categorizes it as sharing the same luxurious technical qualities as the premiers crus that he encounters regularly.

How to find these hidden gems? A panel of judges just convened to elect via blind taste test the top five, which are actually six because of a draw. The selection of six is not by chance. These are the regulars for top accolades. As such, Château Pierrail, which dates back to the 17th century, is situated on a remarkable chalky hillside that gives it enormous finesse.

In the top three, Château Sainte-Barbe established its vines on a wonderful terroir, similar to the river bank in Margaux. "We strictly limit the production, putting quality first, which allows us to export freely to the United States," says owner Antoine Touton. The quantities produced by these châteaux are around 133,000 bottles for the top ranked, with a price of about €9.25 each. A deal not to be missed, especially as 2008 is a very good year thanks to a late autumn that allowed for optimal maturity. First of its class is Château Pierrail.

Bernard Farges, the president of the appellations for Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur remains optimistic: "In spite of a difficult economic situation for the entire wine-producing sector, our appellations are still a global leader, accounting for 55 percent of the Bordeaux consumed around the world. There are also very promising signs for the Asian markets."

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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