Seems like 2 percent of Bordeaux get 98 percent of the publicity. You all know Lafitte, Margaux, Haut Brion -- with prices beginning in the mid-three figures a bottle and skyrocketing astronomically thereafter. A f'r-instance: Chateau Latour from the well-regarded '05 vintage brings in $1,500 to $2,000, depending where and if you can find it. And, yes, that is per bottle, not per case or per Lexus-load.

But Bordeaux bargains are to be had, if you just know where to look. And the French are now making it easier for us to find those vino values.

On the Right Bank, in the Cotes region, a wine that once was labeled "Cotes de Chateau-Name-Here" with an underlying "Cotes de Region-Name-Here" will now be labeled "Chateau-Name-Here / Cotes de Bordeaux." This new nomenclature has only begun this year, with the 2008 vintage, and makes it easy for us on this side of the pond to identify the wines (both red and white) as Bordeaux. You no longer have to have a program to know the players. On the racks, you will know it is Bordeaux because, finally, it says so.

The wines of Cotes de Bordeaux will not be mistaken for First Growths, but these are serious and rewarding pours usually retailing for $15 to $30. Soils in Bordeaux are gravel, with underlying clay and chalk -- and a terroir that favors merlot-based blends and sauvignons.


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A roundtable tasting recently held on the banks of the Garonne overlooking the lights of Bordeaux was impressive and convincing. Highlights: Chateau La Rame's '05 St. Croix du Mont Reserve, a late-harvest (which is to say sweet) Semillon was elegant and balanced, especially with salad or scallops. Chateau de la Meuliere's '06 Eleve en Futs de Chene, a cab-based premium, had great equilibrium and balance. And, across the board, Chateau Sainte-Marie's portfolio was illuminating.

So look for it: "Cotes de Bordeaux," coming soon to a bottle shop near you.

New and recommended:

Frank Family Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay, Carneros, 2007 ($55): Remember when you loved Chardonnay? This is the kind of chard you were so enamored of - that graceful hazelnut, butterscotch approach with the long, stylish finish. Grade: A

Bennett Lane Winery Turn 4 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2007 ($20): Remember where winery owner Randy Lynch's NASCAR entry always gets smashed by the No. 2 car, dooming its chances? Right: Turn 4. But this new wine is a winner, in much the same style as the house's stunning reserve Cab and Maximus, but at a fraction of the cost. Grade: B+ 

Down Under by Crane Lake Chardonnay, Southeastern Australia, 2008 ($3): Remember Two-Buck Chuck? Well, consider this Three-Dolla Koala. Clean and crisp, with actual varietal style. It's this year's holiday party wine. Grade: B