Expensive they might be, but it is easy to find out about the Grand Cru Classé and Cru Bourgeois wines of Bordeaux. Wine commentators galore give tasting notes on each and every vintage, so if you can find one whose palate matches your own, you can buy with confidence.
But for those of us who don’t have Grand Cru Classé budgets, Bordeaux is a daunting prospect. Either high prices pose too big a risk, or cheaper wines seem too cheap – how can the wine be any good? Finding great wine at a fair price can be tricky.
Luckily, The Wine Shop Winscombe recently hosted a masterclass in Bordeaux wines presented by Frazer Mott, of Department 33, a wholesaler buying wines only from family run estates. Frazer promised us that in two hours we would not only know our right from our left bank, but also know which style we preferred. He failed in this mission as far as I am concerned – but in a good way. Read on to find out why.
Les Cordeliers Brut Crémant de Bordeaux
Sparkling wine made using the same method as champagne, but with 100% Sémillon grapes. The producers have a base in St-Émilion where the exhausted tourist can rest and sip their wine in a former cloister, but the grapes are grown some way away in Entre-Deux-Mers. Pale with a pretty slightly pink hue. A refreshing nose of red apple, lemon and jasmine led to a dry, red apple peel and honeyed palate with a fine elegant mousse and a medium finish. Although Frazer didn’t think “autolytic” (or yeasty) flavours (like those of champagne) were that marked in this wine, I thought there was a distinct hint of brioche on the nose and bready flavours on the palate. I think this wine over delivers on its modest £15.99 price point. Delightful with canapes, it would also make a cracking kir royale.
Ch. Vignol Entre-Deux-Mers 2017
Entre-Deux-Mers is the part of Bordeaux between two large rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne. Much of the region’s white wine is made from grapes grown here, and much of this has been uninspiring, albeit crisp and food friendly. Not so this one. The nose was very fruit forward with gooseberry, passion fruit, lemon and lime, and even apricot stone fruit aromas, along with a grassy nettle edge. No oak aromas were evident. On tasting, the wine was surprisingly weighty, round and rich, with a long lifted elderflower finish. Made from a blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle, the wine was not overtly acidic – so this could be a winner if you like the pungent and fruity Sauvignon Blanc flavour profile but not the acid that goes with it. Easy to enjoy on its own, this is a very good wine and excellent value at £11.49.
Chartreuse de Prieuré Marquet Bordeaux Supérieur 2015
A Right Bank 100% Merlot from a recently revamped estate just north of St-Émilion with a very swanky hotel and a pristine cellar. A deep ruby wine with a dusty black cherry jam, cassis and cigar box nose. Medium bodied, smooth, plummy and chocolatey on the palate with a dab of vanilla and sawdust (it spent 18 months in oak), and a medium finish. Although not wildly complex, this is a tasty, smooth, good quality wine, justly priced at £14.99.
Ch. Mangot St-Émilion Grand Cru 2015
Right Bank again, and I was prepared to be sniffy about its quality given that I teach WSET L2 students that Grand Cru in St-Émilion is not as elevated a classification as it is elsewhere. However, for me, this wine had it all. Deep in colour, with pronounced aromas and flavours of fresh blackcurrant, raspberry, rose hip, brambles, fresh cut hedgerow, black cherry, mint, tobacco, smoke, leather and an enduring smokey finish. The tannins melted into the ether. Tasted with chorizo, it became very intense and smokey. Being partial to Cabernet Franc, it all made sense when Frazer told us the blend was 80/14/6% Merlot/Cab Franc/Cab Sauvignon. This wine spent 14 months in oak. Outstanding in my biased assessment, but more objective critics might say it was not quite complex enough to score top marks, and I noticed hot alcohol from the Merlot. Not an every day price (£25.99) but it isn’t an every day wine. It is a treat!
Ch. La Gorce Médoc Cru Bougeois 2011
The creation of Denis (pronounced as in the Blondie song…) who built up his Left Bank estate from 2 hectares and a caravan, and who makes one cuvée (or blend) only each vintage. There is now an imposing chateau and this wine was Frazer’s best seller last year so Denis goes from strength to strength. A slightly garnet colour with enticing ripe strawberry and raspberry, plum and cherry jam, cinnamon, leather and cedar aromas. The palate was cool blackcurrant and herbal herbaceousness with soft tannins, impeccable balance and depth of flavour. A well made wine; my only disappointment was that I wanted to enjoy it longer than it endured. 50/50 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon, with a complete flavour profile, this is well worth £16.99.
Ch. Peyreblanque Red Graves 2014
A deep ruby Left Bank wine with a typical and powerful Cabernet Sauvignon nose – blackcurrant, eucalyptus, cedarwood, with hints of forest floor vegetation, tobacco, ink and blueberry, to which clove and hedgerow elements were added on tasting it. High tannins quickly softened, and the finish was lovely and long. A very good wine which many of us liked. A word of warning however – don’t eat cheddar cheese with it – I did and it was horrid! This is one for steak. The blend is 70/30% Cab Sauvignon/Merlot. £23.99 is a fair price.
Ch. Beau Site Haut Vignobles St Estephe 2012 (NB NOT the same as Ch. Beau Site, its more well known neighbour)
An Haut Médoc (Left Bank) village wine from revered St Estephe made from a blend of 75/20/5% Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Petit Verdot which spent 20 months in barrel. Still ruby in colour, the nose is elegant, understated and spicy. Sandalwood aromas coalesce with black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. On tasting these flavours combine with high dusty tannins which soften readily. The best bit is the long curranty sandalwood finish, evolving through leather and mushroom to rest on a lingering waft of spicy smoke. £24.99 buys a classic wine for those who like to sip, savour and contemplate.
Ch. Gombaude Guillot Pomerol 2009
Back to the Right Bank, and who can resist the approachability and silky smoothness of Pomerol. Frazer billed this as his best wine and advised that this estate lies close to famous names Ch. Clinet and Pétrus, so great things were expected from this 85/15% Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend. A deep dark brooding colour with equally deep dark brooding aromas of intense brambly black fruits and violets. The palate was inky, dusty, grippy and a little hot but balanced with plenty of ripe succulent black fruits. A new experience for me was a crescendo of flavour before a long powerful finish which alternated between sweet and sour. The undeniable concentration of this wine from this fêted vintage was appreciated by all – not least when the £63.99 price tag was unveiled. An outstanding wine in every sense.
Having found lots to love in all of these wines, I appear to be a Right Bank, Left Bank and In Between person – so to that extent Frazer has failed in his mission to get me to choose. I did notice, however, that my outstanding wines both had a splash of Cabernet Franc in them – either this therefore completes the wine, or I just like wine better with Cab Franc in it!
I hope my fellow tasters will comment on their favourites.