Earlier this month, my father celebrated his 70th birthday by opening a bottle of 1986 Chateau Margaux he had been holding onto since purchasing it soon after it was released. It was absolutely stunning, but if I wanted to buy one for myself right now, I’d have to spend more on it than I do each month in car payments.
That’s pretty consistent with the reputation of Bordeaux: The best of them are widely perceived to be age-worthy, often profound, and prohibitively expensive.
But that’s not the case at all, at least not anymore. The region is huge, and just like everywhere else in the wine-producing world, quality has skyrocketed even as prices have gone down.
With that in mind, I went on the hunt for my top Bordeaux under $100, to get the proverbial lay of the land in one of the world’s most famous wine regions. And while no one would ever call wines at $99 and below bargain-basement bottles, it seemed like a number that would allow me to taste wines from appellations around the region, in a range of style—red, white, and sweet—and from producers both renowned and still working a bit under the proverbial radar.
I went into my tastings for this with the goal of including 20 standouts. Midway through, however, I encountered a problem: There was no way, I realized, that I’d be able to keep the number to just 20. So here are my top 30 favorites—that’s as far as I was able to narrow it down!—listed alphabetically. It’s not an exhaustive roundup, as you’d need a list of a few hundred great ones for that, but it’s a good place to start. And it proves that when it comes to that elusive quality-to-price ratio, Bordeaux is absolutely a great place to look. Despite its reputation.
(Note: Bordeaux pricing is notoriously variable. These prices are either based on suggested retail prices or from the average price as found at wine-searcher.com.)
Blanc de Lynch-Bages 2015 Bordeaux Blanc ($50)
Fabulous aromas that sparkle in the glass: Honeycomb, lemon zest, and melon pith are edged with a hint of sweet white spice. These precede a silky palate with excellent textural and a notable sense of concentration. Meyer lemon, white grapefruit, and seashell-like minerality on the flower-flecked finish linger with precision and length.
Chateau Batailley Lions de Batailley 2014 Pauillac ($54)
Expressive of tobacco, lavender, green olives, Chinese five-spice powder, and cherries, as well as a hint of the singed bottom of a sourdough loaf (I mean this as a compliment!). The palate boasts both energy and concentration, with black and red cherries, currants, cocoa powder, and hints of blueberry cobbler. It’s almost salty on the finish, which makes me want to open this with a grilled, rare ribeye.
Chateau Biac 2010 Cadillac - Cotes de Bordeaux ($50)
Mature and beautifully evolved, yet still with a real sense of power and vigor. Aromas of black and red licorice, toasted fennel seeds, plums, and a hint of bacon turn to a palate of notably sweet fruit with that same sense of plush power, boasting blackberries, plums, cocoa powder, and a lingering note of incense on the pink-peppercorn-flecked finish.
Chateau Boutisse 2016 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru ($40)
Plush and somehow comforting on the nose, this really shines on the palate, where red currants, Rainier cherries, whole cloves, cedar, caraway seeds, and leather dance together on an elegant, vibrant frame that’s lithe, balanced, and long.
Chateau Clarke 2015 Listrac-Medoc ($60)
Toasty and generous on the nose, with plenty of pencil shavings and high-end oak finding a counterpoint in spiced plums and black licorice. These precede a silk-textured palate that glides across the tongue and flashes with flavors of currants, blueberries, and the suggestion of cafe mocha and garam masala on the finish. Fantastic now, and will continue to evolve for another decade or more.
Chateau Climens 2014 1er Cru Barsac ($90)
A remarkably vinous wine in the glass: Aromas of lemon zest and quince don’t come off as sweet as you might expect from Barsac, likely because the acidity is so perfectly proportioned. The palate here is beyond precise, with white licorice and a subtle sense of salinity balancing out the more generous flavors of candied lemon, honeysuckle, and nuttiness on the finish. This is a serious wine of real purity that was certified biodynamic in 2014.
Chateau Coutet 1er Grand Cru Classe 2016 Barsac ($23)
Apricots and grilled white peaches rise from the glass and set the stage for flavors of honey, lemon verbena, candied ginger, and loads of white spice alongside orange marmalade and freshly cut pineapples. Nice acidity to balance the sweetness, too. This is excellent already and has a long future ahead—the finish lasts for well over a minute.
Chateau Fleur Haut Gaussens 2010 Bordeaux Superieur ($16)
Deep, dense, and earthy on the nose, with lots of loamy aromas that are joined by cherry skin, cigar humidor, venison carpaccio, and black licorice. The palate is marked by a distinct balsamic note, which keeps the otherwise beautifully mature flavors of cassis, espresso beans, and leather fresh. Balanced acidity and melted tannins make this particularly delicious right now.
Chateau Gloria 2016 Saint-Julien ($50)
Such a complex nose as soon as you pour it into the glass, with flashes of currant and pencil lead and a subtle eucalyptus note that rolls into the concentrated, acid-seamed palate, marked by brambly berries, grilled sage and vanilla pod. The finish is flashed through with incense, sandalwood, and cassis. This is fantastic.
Chateau La Garde Blanc 2015 Pessac-Leognan ($40)
Beautiful nose, with acacia leading the way for wood-tinged notes of mashed pears and verbena, and a palate of presence and energy, with the lingering finish preceded by flowers, baked pears, preserved lemons, sweet spice, and a lasting mineral note.
Chateau Lalande-Borie 2014 Saint-Julien ($35)
Sneakily beautiful herbal tones precede mixed berry fruit aromatics, and a palate bursting with black cherries and raspberries, as well as mineral and subtle floral notes. There is serious structure here—decant it now, or lay it down for another five years or so. I expect this to really shine with some more time in the bottle. Worth the wait.
Chateau La Prade 2014 Francs Cotes de Bordeaux ($23)
There is a real sense of unexpected power, with licorice, plum cake, currants, and an undercurrent of grilled sage all paving the way for a palate every bit as powerful yet still balanced, with flavors of cassis, kirsch, chocolate, and roasted coffee beans, as well as a tobacco-tinged finish.
Chateau Larose Perganson 2010 Haut-Medoc ($30)
Beautifully mature and marked by cracked green peppercorns, pencil shavings, and subtly plummy Christmas cake, with a still remarkably vibrant palate cut through with energetic acidity that carries flavors of red currants, rhubarb, spice, and a bit of well-aged cigar tobacco. This is delicate yet still nicely structured, and in a fantastic place right now.
Chateau Lassegue 2015 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru ($65)
Aromatically broad and generous, with savory cedar complicated by blueberries and blackberry liqueur. Plenty of sweet spice on the palate, which beguiles with licorice, figs, and hoisin sauce. Cedar sweeps back in on the finish, lending the wine an excellent sense of symmetry.
Chateau Malmaison 2015 Moulis-en-Medoc ($40)
This Baron Edmond de Rothschild property, like neighboring Chateau Clarke, has a lovely sense of muscle, with structural bones shining through at this stage of its evolution, as well as finely detailed flavors of mixed currants, black raspberries, and a distinct sense of minerality, all of it lifted on the finish with hints of sweet spice and laurel. Drink this now with air and on through 2029.
Chateau Malescasse 2016 Haut-Medoc ($22)
Lots of effusive primary fruit, but there’s a density to it that I kept on going back to: Blackberries, blueberries, and black cherries enrobed in dark chocolate, with a hint of something balsamic at the edges. I love the plushness of the palate here, which carries rich flavors of plums, blackberries, and huckleberries joined by violets and, on the finish, a lingering note of sandalwood.
Chateau Monbousquet 2015 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru ($70)
Dark and brooding, with aromas of bacon and rendered duck skin, plum coulis, and a nod in the direction of vanilla pastry creme, this bursts from the glass with tapenade, hoisin sauce, black plums, and mulberries, all finishing on a somewhat briny note that makes me think that this would be exceptionally versatile with dinner.
Chateau Olivier 2015 Pessac-Leognan Grand Cru Classe ($39)
Swirling with purple plums, blueberries, mountain flowers, and high-toned licorice yet anchored by forest floor and freshly picked golden chanterelles, this is concentrated and built for the cellar, yet delicious already with flavors of red and black currants, black raspberries, sachertorte, licorice root, and a long seam of mineral that courses through the lengthy finish.
Chateau Pedesclaux 2015 Pauillac ($50)
Phenomenally attractive as soon as you stick your nose into the glass: A plank of cedar carries aromas of cherries, allspice, and rose petals, which translate to a palate of sweet, ripe plum cake spiced with cloves, lots of currents, a hint of bay leaf, and more of that cedar peeking back in on the finish.
Chateau Phelan Segur 2010 Saint-Estephe ($63)
Mature yet almost youthfully vibrant immediately after it’s poured, this wafts from the glass with marvelously integrated aromas of purple flowers, sweet spice, and a gorgeous melange of blackberries and cherries: The definition of mouthwatering. The palate is every bit as delicious, with waves of kirsch-filled dark chocolate, espresso, hot stones, toasted fennel seeds, star anise, and a fantastic acid-tannin balance that promises another 15-plus years of evolution, easily.
Chateau Rabaud-Promis 2003 Sauternes 1er Cru Classe ($50)
Expectedly, this is taking on a beautiful burnished gold color. In the 16 years since the fruit was harvested, this has become a textbook mature Sauternes, with a stunning balance of mushrooms and loam perked up by aromas of apricot conserve, all of it finding an even more exciting palate of honey tuilles crushed over coffee ice cream, vanilla-spiced butterscotch, and, somehow, fresh-baked bread on the finish.
Chateau Recougne Blanc 2018 ($11)
Flowers and sweet spice join mandarin orange zest and a hint of lemongrass on the nose: Very complex, especially for the price! On the palate, there is a very appealing plushness to the texture, which carries flavors of fennel bulb, honeydew, lemon blossom, and beeswax. (Their $19 2016 Bordeaux Superieur red is also delicious, with aromas of still-somewhat-primary plum and cassis layered atop an undertow of forest floor and floral peppercorn, and flavors of plum, spice cake, and dried violets.)
Chateau Teyssier “Pezat” 2010 Bordeaux Superieur ($15)
Utterly classic nose of mature Bordeaux, with tobacco and currants leading the way, both kissed with grilled sage and cedar. Tobacco flavors are mixed with currants and gently toasted Indian spices, finishing with purple flowers and iron-like minerality.
Clementin de Pape Clement 2015 Pessac-Leognan ($37)
Appealingly meaty, with brambly berries, cedar, and an unexpected touch of garrigue, all of which turn to a silky and fresh palate of mixed berries and cherries, blood orange, and a finish that strikes a beautiful balance between almost saline minerality and blueberry financier. With air, licorice and oolong tea notes emerge.
Clos Beauregard 2012 Pomerol ($68)
What an unforgettably exotic expression of Pomerol: Cured venison aromas mingle with goji berries, peppercorns, chocolate, and mint, and sweet-souled flavors of purple plums, fresh-picked spearmint, caramelized bacon, and chocolate flecked with fleur de sel rounds it all out.
Clos de l’Oratoire 2014 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru ($40)
Lifted and so energetic, even at five years of age, this is a wine of finesse and detail, which washes over the tongue with waves of black raspberries, cinnamon-spiced cherries, and a bit of chocolate ganache. Absolutely charming. No wonder this was one of the winners at the recent Somm’ Like It Bordeaux tasting and competition in Washington, D.C.
Clos Lunelles 2009 Castillon - Cotes de Bordeaux ($50)
Transportingly powerful and dense on the nose, with gobs of black licorice, black plums, chocolate, torrefaction notes, and sweet vanilla pod. These precede a palate with a velvety texture and real power, joining waves of spice, kirsch, black-cherry liqueur, and peppercorns with a touch of porcini that carries through the finish.
Domaines Barons de Rothschld (Lafite) Légende 2014 Pauillac ($50)
Great aromatic balance between damp earth and mint alongside mushrooms and black currants. This is subtle and savory when you sip it, yet cut through with excellent acidity, enlivening flavors of peppercorn, mushrooms, cherries, and currants.
La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou 2015 Saint-Julien ($60)
When I first stuck my nose in the glass, I actually let out an audible hum that distracted my wife in the next room. This is so lifted, with cigar humidor, sandalwood, violets, pencil lead, hot stones, and plums. The excitement continues on the palate, where the balance between generous, ripe fruit (plums, black cherries) and more savory elements (licorice, lavender, black peppercorns, schawarma spice) is stunning.
L’Hospitalet de Gazin 2016 Pomerol ($40)
This hovers from the glass as soon as the wine hits it: Beautifully concentrated wild strawberries, goji berries, sweet paprika, and incense, all of which transition to a palate of stunningly generous mouthfeel, plush yet still structured for medium-term aging, with flavors of mulberries, graham cracker pie crust, chocolate ganache, and walnuts.