IN THE last few years we have seen top Bordeaux escalate in price to ridiculous levels.
The Chinese are now the world’s largest consumers of red wine and Bordeaux in particular, so many of the great clarets are heading into Asian-owned cellars.
What many forget is that Bordeaux is a vast region. With 120,000 hectares, it is almost as large as the whole vineyard area in Australia, larger than South Africa’s vineyards and four times the size of Burgundy. Bordeaux has thousands of humble petit chateaux in lesser known outlying appellations which can still offer good value at realistic prices.
The key is knowing where to look. Petit chateaux can be found bordering great chateaux vineyards in Haut Medoc, in lesser known Listrac and Moulis. Higher up the Gironde estuary, north of St Estephe, is Medoc with its heavier clay soils – another good source of cheaper claret – or Blaye across the estuary. On the right bank, rather than heading to well-known St Emilion or Pomerol, check out Fronsac, Lalande de Pomerol and St Emilion’s largest ‘satellite,’ Montagne St Emilion.
In our under £20 tasting from supermarkets and wine merchants, we had a fascinating diversity of vintages on offer from the petit chateaux. The hat-trick of great vintages 2008, 2009 and 2010 are now in our shops. At this level, 2009 and 2010 are ripe and accessible for drinking now, although some would merit more time in bottle. The 2008s need more careful selection, suiting those who like a classic claret with its firmer tannic grip. The 2007s are a little lighter, but the 2005s shone, opening up beautifully with ripe, mature flavours.
It is important to remember that claret (the name used for all red Bordeaux) is a style of wine that needs food. It is not for sipping as an aperitif on its own. Bring out the Sunday roast rack of lamb this weekend and enjoy one of my star buys.
Haut Medoc Chateau De Sainte Gemme 2008
(£9.99, Majestic Wine, until 28 April)
Popular with tasters for its juiciness and succulent fruits for the price. Still a little nippy on the finish with drying tannins, but shows some attractive mellowness.
Medoc Chateau Le Barrail 2011
This was the best value in our tasting, but it appears to be out of stock on Tesco’s website. If you can track down any of this soft, ripe, affordable cabernet/merlot Tesco Finest bargain from northern Medoc in the shops – buy it. GREAT VALUE
Medoc Chateau Panigon 2009
(£9.95, The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com)
Still tasting very young, despite being 2009. Bright, crisp, cherry fruits with sweet oak nose, a ripe modern cru bourgeois cabernet/merlot blend which might appeal to those who like New World wines. A bit simple compared to the competition at this price.
St Emilion Marks & Spencer St Emilion 2009
(£13.99, Marks & Spencer)
Succulent plummy blend of 85 per cent merlot and 15 per cent cabernet franc, made by the great Christian Moueix of Chateau Petrus fame; it has juicy fruits and a leathery tannic feel – a good buy. GREAT VALUE
Pomerol Ronan By Clinet 2010
(£11.75, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com)
Pomerol means merlot – but don’t expect something lush and velvety here yet. This is still very young and closed, but it has lots of ripe muscles in all the right places and great fruit concentration – it just needs a bit more time. Buy it at this keen price and tuck it in the cellar for a year or two.
Listrac, Medoc Chateau Fourcas Dupre 2004
(£12.99, Majestic Wine, until 28 April)
This was very enticing on the bouquet: all cedary, tobacco and mellow fruitfulness. A touch disappointing on the palate with a short finish compared to the 2005 from the same chateau – but pretty good at this price.
Haut Medoc Chateau Caronne Sainte Gemme 2007
(£14.99, Majestic Wine)
Cabernet sauvignon dominant, with merlot and petit verdot in the blend: this progressive cru bourgeois comes from a light vintage which is definitely at its drinking peak. Popular in our tasting for its accessibility.
Fronsac Chateau Moulin 2009
(£16.99, Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh)
Starts well with a very enticing, mellow, cedary bouquet with ripe cherry underlying fruits. It has an elegant light fruit palate with a firm tannic grip – but finishes a little short for this price range.
Montagne St Emilion Dourthe Reserve Montagne-St Emilion 2011
Dark cherry fruits and peppery notes, quite savoury with drying short finish. A bit young in comparison to the rest of the wines in the tasting – and generally disappointing.
St Emilion Chateau Grand Faurie La Rose 2009
(£18, Majestic Wine, until 28 April)
Surprised to find this a bit subdued on nose and palate; juicy, ripe fruit on the mid-palate as you would expect from 2009, but just not very exciting for the high price. Needs more time in bottle.
St Julien Petit Caillou 2008
(£19.75, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com)
Starts well with inviting cedary, cigarbox aromas so typical of classic St Julien. Well balanced, ripe fruit palate, but the tannins are a little grippy when tasted on its own. Quite classic claret in style. Served with roast lamb, it was transformed as the firm tannin is absorbed by the protein in the meat.
Listrac, Medoc Chateau Fourcas Dupre 2005
(£16, The Wine Society)
Our star of the tasting: very attractive silky smooth palate with lovely all-round balance, it showed better than some more expensive bottles. Could develop further in the next year or two. Buy it.
Join Rose’s Fine Rhone, Languedoc and Provence wine tasting in Edinburgh on Wednesday 2 April, £40, email@example.com