In his penultimate “12 Wines of Christmas” article, Peter Ranscombe picks Bordeaux to suit every pocket.
FEW words in the world of wine epitomise poshness like “Bordeaux”.
Its five “first growth” chateaux produce some of the most expensive labels on the planet.
Yet Bordeaux is also one of the largest production regions in France, which means there are bottles to suit every budget.
Two recent online tastings illustrated the diversity available from both banks of the Gironde estuary.
“Bordeaux” is the all-encompassing term that covers the whole region – and is occasionally still called “claret” in oak-panelled restaurants.
Made in the Fronsac area near Saint-Émilion on the right bank of the Dordogne river before it flows into the Gironde, Château La Fleur Coterie Bordeaux 2016 (equivalent to £10.75, Goedhuis) is a classic example of the style.
It’s made from merlot grapes – the variety best suited to the right bank’s soils – and has those classic damp earth aromas on the nose, alongside dark fruit, wood smoke, and a touch of violet.
There’s decent fruit concentration on the palate too, along with soft tannins.
I founded it hard to justify the £10-plus price tag, but master of wine Lydia Harrison – who led the online tasting – pointed out that it’s about context; it’s good value for a cooler-climate merlot, which is a different beast to warmer climate examples, where more reliable weather makes it easier to produce larger quantities.
Hitting the côtes
As well as “Bordeaux”, other terms to spot when seeking good value include the “côtes” or slopes, such as Côtes de Bordeaux and Côtes to Bourg.
The Château Mérigot Côtes de Bourg 2018 (£12.49, Strictly Wine) – made from merlot with a 5% dash of malbec – again hails from the right bank of the Dordogne, but closer to its confluence with the Garonne.
The tannins are stringer than the Château La Fleur Coterie, making this the textbook match for roast beef, while there are plenty of dark fruit flavours for balance, along with some dark chocolate on the finish.
Similarly, the Château Mille Anges Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux 2016 (equivalent to £13, Goedhuis) displays more tannic structure and so needs food, but the couple of extra years in bottle are already producing more developed fruit flavours, with a touch of prune in amongst the dark plum and black cherry.
It’s also got that classic astringent and slighty herbaceous flavour that Bordeaux fans adore, and features a blend of 71% merlot, 21% cabernet franc for structure, and 8% cabernet franc for freshness.
Shifting up a gear
Stepping up the ladder from the generic Bordeaux and côtes bottles, we reach more specific areas, including Fronsac, which is home to the Château George 7 Fronsac 2018 (£23.95, Davy’s).
A step up in price, but also a step up when it comes to the velvety feeling in the mouth and the more rounded tannins.
Blackberry jam, black plum, heavy dark chocolate, and spicier cloves and black pepper all put in an appearance, striking an enjoyable balance between the merlot and its 18 months in oak.
The Château des Laurets Puisseguin Saint-Émilion 2016 (2015: £23.95, Waddesdon) from the Puisseguin satellite around Saint-Émilion offers a similar level of concentrated fruit, with more tell-tale Bordeaux damp earth aromas on the nose and then sweeter and riper red fruit on the palate, stretching from red cherry through to raspberry jam, before hitting the darker fruit notes too.
Its tannin structure is quite stringy, again lending itself to accompanying red meat, with a 20% block of cabernet sauvignon added to its merlot.
Over on the left bank of the Girdone, cabernet sauvigon is the preferred variety, with Château Meyney – one of the estates that forms the Saint-Estèphe area – having 60% of its vineyards occupied by the grape, alongside 30% merlot and 10% petit verdot.
The estate’s recent virtual vertical tasting, hosted by Anne Le Naour, chief executive of owner Crédit Agricole Grands Crus, revealed why the label has done well at the “Southwold Tastings”, when Bordeaux experts gather to assess each year’s wines.
Le Naour recommended decanting the Château Meyney Saint-Estèphe 2016 (£32.95, Mumbles Fine Wines) for two hours before serving, but – even straight from the bottle – it was already racing with intense blackcurrant, dark chocolate, vanilla, and dry earth on the nose, followed by a kick of freshness on the palate and tannins that are already displaying a nicely rounded polish.
The Château Meyney Saint-Estèphe 2015 (£52, Highbury Vintners) was slightly more muted on the nose, with some redcurrant and raspberry aromas creeping in amongst the blackberry, but it was much more expressive on the palate, with blackcurrant joining the red fruits, along with another healthy dose of acidity and slightly grainier but still well-integrated tannins.
Savouriness was the order of the day for the Château Meyney Saint-Estèphe 2014 (£42, Oddbins), with a touch of leather already edging onto the nose, but fruitier cranberry, blackcurrant, and cassis standing guard over the well-integrated tannins and more harmonious acidity on the palate.
Tomorrow: the 12 wines of Christmas finish with classic styles from Rioja.
In the meantime, catch up on yesterday’s article about wines from New York state, and then read more of Peter’s vinous adventures on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.