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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Le Grand Chai, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 2009, Laithwaites

This Laithwaites Le Grand Chai 2009 is being promoted by the Good Food Would Choose Bordeaux campaign as one of their recommended Bordeaux wines to showcase the best and highlight how they go with food; the wines were selected by the Association of Wine Educators based on the following criteria:

- readily available
- priced between £5 - £20
- representative of Bordeaux

Now, the AWE features some fairly heavyweight wine professionals, its Chairman is an MW (Richard Bampfield) and it has a quote from Jancis Robinson on its website, so clearly the reviewers know their stuff.

And whilst First Growth Bordeaux sells for eye-watering amounts of money to Asian billionaires who then typically drink it several decades too young mixed with Coke, at around £10 you can start to get some of the texture and finesse of a great red Bordeaux - and decent whites cost even less.

Sadly, I was underwhelmed with this wine and I think the problem perhaps lies in the first requirement of being readily available - this seems to mean generally "stocked by a major national retailer", as all the usual suspects are there.

And whilst some supermarkets do a reasonable job of sourcing good wines at fair prices, the reality is that, at around a tenner, better wines are generally to be found at independents rather than supermarkets.

The major exception to this, perhaps, is the presence of The Wine Society about whom one hears only good things and which also manages to have a national presence (to be fair, Majestic, Waitrose and M&S also have above-average reputations as national wine retailers).

Now you can't build an effective national awareness campaign around Britain's highly-fragmented independent wine merchant network, so that really does leave only the nationwide players such as the big supermarkets and a couple of dominant online retailers.

But that also means, I firmly believe, that you will struggle to showcase the best of what Bordeaux has to offer if you limit yourself to businesses that only deal in tens of thousands of pallets as a minimum order - for a major retailer, volume and pricing have to come first before any considerations of quality can be entertained.

That's not a criticism, merely an observation of the world they operate in given their size.

Of course, some retailers are better at sourcing good wines than others but one that has historically disappointed me, albeit perhaps now taking steps to sort out its act, is Laithwaites - as this article by Jamie Goode from June 2010 suggests, http://www.wineanorak.com/laithwaites.htm.

As to the wine itself, it is rather pale in the glass and, in short, is a pleasant-enough quaffer with nothing to dislike but little of interest to any wine enthusiast.

There is red plum fruit on the nose, rounded acidity and slightly drying tannins on the finish - that's about it; no structure, no complexity, no development on the palate, no real length. Nothing to let you know what a good Bordeaux should be like or why it is worth getting to know and fall in love with this region.

Overall, then, there is nothing to offend the casual drinker here - most people I imagine would merely find it rather underwhelming, overpriced and not as enjoyable as, say, an equivalent-priced New World red, reinforcing the view that Bordeaux is overrated and overpriced which is precisely what the GFWCB campaign is trying to overcome.

This is sad, because good Bordeaux is a great food wine and does not need to cost a huge amount of money; £10 - £15 spent with a good local independent plus a bit of guidance thrown in for free should get you something quite interesting and impressive.

I just feel rather disappointed that, despite all the money spent on the GFWCB campaign, they were not able to come up with any better wines than this for the campaign. It feels a bit like watching one's child not really trying properly in the sports day egg-and-spoon race; you know they can do better and should be up there with the leaders, but languishes at the back in full view of other parents showing themself up in public.

Come on, Bordeaux, I know you can do much better than this ! Please try a bit harder.

£10.99 from Laithwaites; provided for review.


Good Food Wood Choose Bordeaux - http://goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.com/
Association of Wine Educators - http://www.wineeducators.com/

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