wine-buying trip to France now almost a decade ago, but it's only since we had a rather special bottle last Christmas that I have begun to start looking for the kind of wines whose texture really sets them apart from the everyday.
Last weekend, I went to the 2010 Fine Wine Fair in Chelsea and decided to use the opportunity to sample a range of Bordeaux wines to get familiar with the more-nuanced differences of this region and its vintages. Almost all Bordeaux wines are blends, so as well as variations due to vintage and terroir, there are also variations from the different grapes that dominate in the blend.
We started with two whites; Bordeaux's reputation rests on its dry reds and sweet whites, but the dry whites in the mid-range are worth a look, too - the first was a Sauvignon-based Pessac-Leognan which had a great citrussy, herbaceous nose, followed by a Semillon-based Graves with a fuller, waxier texture. Next up was a rosé which was 100% Merlot and rather neutral.
However, the main event was the reds. We started with a young red from St Estephe - with plenty of Merlot in the blend, it had a ripe, earthy nose and is drinking well now without too much more aging potential.
An Haut-Medoc from the same year with more Cab in the blend had a more restrained nose, but a fuller and slightly chewier texture. The sensory distinction between the Merlot-dominated right-bank wines with their earthy, more hedonistic and perfumed nose and the Cabernet-dominated left bank wines with a more mouthfilling texture became increasingly clear as we moved along.
There were then two slightly older reds from the superior 2005 vintage; these are still quite youthful and have further aging potential, but both had typical blackcurrant fruit and good, smooth tannins. The next logical group of wines was a threesome with the first from St-Emilion (softer, lusher and more perfumed with a high proportion of Merlot), a superb Pomerol with less perfume but a wonderfully mouthfilling texture and a Lalande de Pomerol which felt a bit like the little brother of the previous wine.
The final red was a much older red from St-Julien - if 2000 was one of the great Bordeaux vintages of recent years, 2001 was not bad either and this Cab-based wine is drinking wonderfully now.
After all those serious reds, it was time to lighten up a bit with a wonderfully indulgent dessert wine from Chateau Coutet in Sauternes-Barsac - full of rich tropical fruits, toasty butterscotch, a dash of botrytis concentration and a refreshing acidity it was one of the stand-out wines of the show.
Trying so many similar, but all subtly different, wines together was fascinating - I've been to plenty of wine-tastings before and had my fair share of Bordeaux, so the basics were all in place; but to try 12 different wines within the space of about half an hour and discuss them one-to one with someone who really knows their stuff really brought me to a whole new level of appreciation of this great region.
Château Tour Léognan 2008 Pessac-Léognan, £12.34 from Waitrose
Vieux Chateau Gaubert, 2008 Graves, £10.95 from The Wine Society
Le Rose de Larcis Ducasse, 2008 Bordeaux rose, £10.99 from Averys
Chateau Haut Barandieu, 2007 St Estephe, £19.99 from Oddbins
Chateau Barreyres, 2007 Haut-Medoc, £10.99 from Sainsbury's
Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, 2005 Haut-Medoc, £13.99 from Majestic Wine
Chateau Fourcas-Dumont, 2005 Listrac-Medoc, £14.99 from Tesco
Chateau Carteau, 2006 St-Emilion Grand Cru, £16.00 from The Wine Society
Chateau Monregard La Croix, 2006 Pomerol, £17.99 from Averys
Chateau Haut-Chaigneau, 2005 Lalande-de-Pomerol, £16.99 from Laithwaite's
Terre du Lion, 2001 St-Julien, £11.69 from Marks & Spencer
Chateau Coutet, 2006 Sauternes-Barsac from Laithwaite's
Entry ticket provided by CIVB.
Fine Wine Fair - http://www.finewinefair.org/
Bordeaux website - http://www.goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.com/
Waitrose - http://www.waitrosewine.com/
The Wine Society - http://www.thewinesociety.com/
Averys - http://www.averys.com/
Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/
Majestic Wine - http://www.majestic.co.uk/
Marks & Spencer - http://www.marksandspencer.com/
Tesco - http://www.tesco.com/
Sainsbury's - http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/sol/index.jsp