Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants
Good affordable Bordeaux may seem like a contradiction in terms, but away from the headline-grabbing en primeur prices of first growths, Bordeaux actually produces more wine than Australia - most of it at the more "everyday" end of the market.
Bordeaux wines are almost universally blended and the key distinction is between the left bank (where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates) and the right bank (Merlot).
In general, Merlot produces softer, more perfumed wines for earlier drinking, so it is the obvious place to look for more affordable examples.
Earlier this week, I sat down with a group of Cambridge Wine Merchants staff, owner Hal Wilson and a number of other guests to blind taste our way through a dozen samples, all retailing at around £10 - £12 and give our opinions.
Into the mix, Hal had added one "ringer" - a non-right-bank wine to see if we could spot it, and had arranged to taste blind himself.
The wines had all been uncorked an hour or so before the tasting started, but there was no decanting or aeration and we had been told that all the wines were 2006 - 2009 vintage.
Because Bordeaux wines are blends both of varieties and vineyards (second wines apart), the key driver is vintage, so where guesses were made at a wine's identity, it tended to start with year - young, ripe wines generally proved to be from 2009 (a warm year), whereas thinner, less concentrated wines turned out to be 2007s (a cold, wet year).
Below are my notes in the order we tasted the wines - my 3-tick scoring system is:
- good (1 tick)
- very good (2 ticks)
- very good indeed (3 ticks)
Everything else is either passable / pleasant enough (no ticks), or where there are stylistic / technical faults, these are noted as comments (harsh acidity, drying tannins etc)
Ch Pay La Tour Reserve Bordeaux Superieur 2008 smokey, truffley aromas on the nose with some bramble fruit, starting to become secondary; palate shows pencil shavings, good acidity and grip, structured and persistent - Good.
Ch Grand Village Bordeaux Superieur 2008 bramble fruit, vanilla spice on the nose; less going on generally. Vanilla sweetness, juicy acidity, good grip, rather stalky.
Ch Brondeau 2009 Bordeaux Superieur cassis and pencil shavings on the nose, with coffee and spice; good complexity. Plump and ripe on the palate with bramble fruit, sweet vanilla, a soft velvety texture, mouthfilling. A spiciness develops and there is a good, long, grippy finish - Very Good.
Ch Reynon Bordeaux 1er Cotes de Bordeaux 2007 truffley, mushroomy nose, with vanilla, coffee grounds and liquorice but less intense and complex; mintiness and bramble fruit on the palate. Perfectly competent, but less interesting overall.
Ch de Fontenille 2009 Bordeaux on the nose, spice, liquorice and coffee dominate, some bramble fruit; palate is soft with some minty-pepperiness. Pale in the glass, it feels light and rather insubstantial but was popular with the group.
Ch Reynon Bordeaux 1er Cotes de Bordeaux 2006 dark and dense in the glass, complex blackcurrant aromas and a touch of funkiness (Brett ?); good, mouthfilling texture, pepperiness and cool mint, good finish, firm and structured - Very Good.
Domaine de Courteillac 2009 Bordeaux Superieur fruit and boozy on the nose, lots of sweet vanilla and raisiny fruit, tannins drying and generally unbalanced.
Ch Marjosse Bordeaux 2007 truffley aromas with some furniture polish, insubstantial on the palate and disappointing texture.
This proved popular, with one college buyer declaring it his top wine so far - on resampling, I found a little more of interest, but nothing tick-worthy here.
Ch Val du Roc 2009 Bordeaux Superieur dark in the glass with blackcurrant and vanilla aromas, hints of eucalyptus and orange peel, ripe bramble fruit on the palate, mintiness and good mouthfilling texture and grip. Long, structured finish - Good.
Ch Pey La Tour Reserve Bordeaux Superieur 2009 aromas of leather, woodsiness and cedar on the nose with a touch of brettiness. Soft and juicy on the palate - a grippy pepperiness develops.
Initially, I felt the tannins on the finish were overly prominent and drying, but as the wine proved popular with the group, I decided to go back and try it again at the end of the tasting. On re-sampling, however, I found it much improved and thoroughly balanced.
Ch Faizeau Les Chants 2009 Montage St Emilion ripe bramble fruit, blackcurrant, violets and meaty aromas; soft, plummy fruit, juicy acidity, mouthfilling. On the finish, good length and grip, ripe tannins - Very Good.
Rousseau de Sipian 2002 from the Medoc on the right bank, this was the ringer. Meaty truffley aromas, with pruney fruit, iodine, cedar wood and vanilla. On the palate, bramble fruit and sweet vanilla, with a minty eucalyptus; good juicy acidity, a peppery grippiness develops.
Amazingly fresh and youthful for a 10 year-old wine.
Long palate and good grippy finish - Good.
Ch Curton La Perriere 2009 cedar and iodine on the nose; soft and juicy on the palate with some red fruits. Nicely balanced, mouthfilling and long.
Overall, my favourite wine of the evening was the 2006 Ch Reynon Bordeaux 1er Cotes de Bordeaux for its mouthfilling texture and good structure.
It also proved popular with chef Mark Poynton of Alimentum and Mark Anstead of Cambridgeshire Wine School.
Other Very Good / two tick wines were the Faizeau Les Chants St Emilion 2009 and the Brondeau Bordeaux Superieur 2009.
A special mention also goes out to the Rousseau de Sipian 2002 - it is also currently my September Wine of the Month.
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/