Bordeaux – over-valued or over the moon?

15 Mar

This past month the Wine Wanderers have been mainly drinking Bordeaux.   This is an unusual state of affairs, as while we’ve had our socks knocked off in the past by exquisite swigs of Pauillac, Margaux, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, it’s been 20 years since we felt like investing a small fortune in a famous-name bottle.

 
The reason is that the elegance of these wines from houses which have been in the wine-making business for hundreds of years has led to many becoming investment vehicles which are now horribly over-valued.   The wine may be good, but not so great that you can’t find much better value from star winemakers in other parts of France, not to mention Spain, Italy, Israel and the New World.

 

Nevertheless, we jumped at the chance to taste a few glasses of Chateau Angelus, one of the most famous Saint-Emilions, whose wines command three figures per bottle.   One Wanderer had already met Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal,  the eighth-generation chatelaine now taking the helm at a house established in 1782.   That was in Bordeaux itself; this time it was in London, at a Connaught lunch to launch a handsome tome Angelus has produced about its history.

 

The cost of lavishly entertaining wine writers and drinks buyers at meals cooked by Michelin-starred chefs is part of keeping these big names alive at a time when wine-lovers are gaining confidence  no longer seek a prestige name as a badge of approval.    Although the reds of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, which rely heavily on merlot, are less likely to disappoint those shelling out than the left bank wines of the Medoc peninsula which are based much more heavily on cabernet sauvignon – one of the five permitted grapes in a classic Bordeaux blend along with cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot and  malbec.   The result of cab sauv domination is lots of structure and ageing potential, but also heavy tannins which can take years to soften and become approachable.

 

One answer is to explore the“diffusion” wines of the grand chateaux, like the Carillon d’Angelus 2012, a mere snip at £42 per bottle, the Wanderers would happily have chosen to imbibe over the grand 2008 and 2006 vintages which followed, and which command three-figure sums.  Angelus has a distinctive character, thanks to an unusually large proportion of cabernet franc; it is more elegant but less seductive than most right bank wines, which are almost universally voluptuous.

 

A good way to explore Bordeaux without breaking the bank is to invest £10 to £20 in a bottle from the high street, where superior buying power can bring the cost down a tad.   Lidl, who made headlines a couple of years ago with an affordable “claret offensive”,  is fielding a decent enough Chateau Jean de Gue Lalande de Pomerol 2012, £14.99, but more sumptuous is Marks & Spencer’s Moueix Saint-Emiliion at £14.   Extraordinary value this month is Watirose Saint-Emilion, normally £13.49 but a positive steal on promotion at £9.99 from March 16 to April 12 – the perfect partner for your Easter lamb.

 

M&S also fields a lovely Margaux – Chateau Notton 2012 –  but while a great special occasion bottle, it’s not exactly everyday drinking.  That’s the thing about Bordeaux; mostly you have to pay dear for it, and you have to like that slightly austere inkiness which is the opposite of the easy-drinking, fruit-driven wine we have all become used to quaffing for single figures.

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