Back in the States after a year of studying wine at L'Université de Bordeaux, I was worried. How would I quench my thirst for the French region's pricey reds on a limited budget? I craved their restrained sweetness, elegant structure, and long-lasting pleasure. Lucky me. Bordeaux's two most recent vintages—2009 and 2010—hit the weather jackpot: Sunny days, cool nights, and rain at just the right times helped ensure excellence—and lots of affordable wine.
Take the Château Saint-André Corbin ($21), for instance: The black currant and vanilla flavors and smooth tannins of this merlot-cabernet franc blend embody everything I love about the region's wines. Or try the Petit Manou ($19), a fascinating blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc with a plummy, slightly spicy touch of petit verdot. I also adore the aroma of rose, the notes of blackberry on the tongue, and the silky tannins in the Château Picque Caillou ($27), a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Those same grapes deliver a bold cherry-vanilla punch followed by a spicy finish in the wonderful Château Pomeys ($21), which is perfect with steak. The zippy fruit-tinged acidity and dry oak quality of the Château Jouanin ($13) makes it a wonderful match for rich winter stews and pungent cheeses. And it sure doesn't break the bank.