Leslie Williams: Frustrating wine regions and weekly suggestions

Bordeaux is one of the most frustrating of all wine regions, mainly because it is also the biggest. 

The top wines at Grand Cru Classé level are (almost) all over-priced and poor value these days but please don’t despair, drinkable, digestible wine can still found at all price levels. Drinkability and digestibility are the two reasons I have not given up on the region as even at the top level Bordeaux is never showy and matches food brilliantly. 

Economics mean I have given up on the likes of Cháteau Lynch-Bages which these days sells for between €160-€220 depending on the year. Early in my wine drinking career I remember buying off-year Lynch-Bages for under 30 punts, these days there are no off-years although you will find the 2012’s a little cheaper than more famous vintages.

Vintage does still matter in Bordeaux but as elsewhere good winemakers make good wine most years. Bordeaux is a rather marginal climate (especially for Cabernet) but these days there are tricks that can be employed in both the vineyard and the cellar to mitigate against under-ripe or soggy grapes and even smaller ‘petit-château’ are much more reliable.

The best vintages of recent years are (in my order of preference): 2010, 2009, 2008, 2015 and 2014. You will find lots of 2012 around and it is frequently charming and excellent value but stick to names you know — Ch Lanessan is excellent to name one (Vintry, Grenacres), but be careful of lesser Château — the same goes for 2013 and 2011. So far the 2016’s seem promising and the only vintage I would avoid is 2007 which I have found charmless at all levels.

Château Loudenne is one classic Bordeaux you should get to know, it has new owners and branding and is converting to fully organic viticulture. A tasting last Autumn showed off some lovely older vintages including the soft savoury 1996, an elegant beautifully balanced 2009 and a big bright 2016. The current vintage you will most likely find is the rather charming 2012 which I review below. My suggestions this week include the current Loudenne red and white plus a couple of suggestions from Wines Direct who have always had a keen nose for good Bordeaux under €20. Supermarket Bordeaux is notoriously variable so buy with caution.

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Chateau Bois-Pertuis 2015, Bordeaux, France — €12.50

Stockist: Dunnes Stores

From the Right Bank of the Gironde Estuary near the Double Forest around 20km north of St-Émilion. Merlot flavours dominate, with bright juicy plum and chocolate-tinged fruit on the nose, supple and ripe with textured black fruits on the palate and a touch of spice.

Le Petit Courselles ‘Les Copains’ Blanc, Vin de France — €14.95

Stockists: Wines Direct Arnotts and Mullingar, winesdirect.ie

This is from the Gironde but contains a portion of Chardonnay for richness so can’t be called Bordeaux. Citrus and tropical fruit aromas, creamy and soft on the palate, with some apple freshness and textured balanced crispness. The bright juicy red version contains some Syrah and is also recommended.

Château Haug Garriga 2015, Bordeaux, France — €13.15

Stockists: Wines Direct Arnotts and Mullingar, winesdirect.ie

Warmer years such as 2015 allow the petit-château wines to shine a little brighter. This is 100% Merlot and drinking nicely now — aromas of plums and strawberries, supple and soft with more red fruits on the palate and a touch of structure for balance. Excellent value.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Château Haut Rian 2015 Côtes de Bordeaux, France — €15.95

Stockist: Wines Direct Arnotts and Mullingar, winesdirect.ie

From a small family-owned producer who trained in Australia so he understands the importance of fruit. Côtes de Bordeaux is underrated and often a source of value-focused, Merlot-dominated wines. This has chocolate and black fruit aromas, full flavoured with lingering plums and chocolate, texture and a little structure but with a pleasing, Merlot-dominated finish.

Loudenne Le Château 2012, Médoc Cru Bourgeois — €29.95

Stockists: Shiels Londis, Callans Dundalk, Sweeneys, wineonline.ie

While 2012 is one of the weaker years of the last decade, producers with more Merlot plantings generally did better. It also helps that Loudenne has 300 years of practice. This is 50-50 (with Cabernet Sauvignon) and has cedar, cherry, and spice on the nose, a soft, subtle palate with an overall savoury character. Classical rather than opulent but drinking well now.

Loudenne Le Château Blanc 2015, Médoc, France — €29.95

Stockists: Molloys, wineonline.ie

This is 70% Sauvignon and 30% Semillon with all the Semillon fermented in barrel, along with a good portion of the Sauvignon. The barrel conditioning softens out the Sauvignon and gives aromas of brioche and candied pear, supple and textured with white peaches and tropical touches and a mineral, citrus-fresh core.

- Contact Leslie Williams at wine@examiner.ie

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