We tasted wines to illustrate “lunchtime clarets” – affordable workaday red Bordeaux – from three excellent vintages. I wanted to show that we don’t have to drink famous wines at high prices to enjoy a glass of claret.
Vintage is important for Bordeaux wines. The weather can vary from year to year, and throughout the growing season and harvest. The vigneron’s choices made in the vineyard, at harvest and in the wine production according to the effects of the weather will affect the taste, quality and longevity of the wine. For example, a cold spring can reduce the growth, and therefore quantity. A wet, cold miserable summer can affect flavour, depth and complexity. Rain at harvest time threatens quality.
But the effects are less significant than they used to be, thanks to scientific and technological advances in the vineyard and in wine making. And importantly, good producers can make good wine in a difficult vintage.
The Definition Claret 2016 AC Médoc £9.99 had typical flavours of black fruits like blackcurrants, spiced plums, and cedar. The acidity was balanced, and the finish long. There were still some tannins, so it will keep a while.
Château Méaume 2016 Bordeaux Supérieur £10.99, on the Right Bank, is run by an English man and his Canadian wife, who focus on sustainability and biodiversity. Most of the grapes used are Merlot, with a small proportion of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate was of ripe fruits, plums, blackberries and damsons. This was drinking well.
Chateau Tour Bayard Montagne 2016 £13.99 was also from the Right Bank, from Montagne Saint-Emilion, and also a majority of Merlot grapes, from old vines. This was enjoyable, smooth, delicious and very approachable. It was medium bodied with big plum, blackcurrant, liquorice and spice flavours, smooth and with good length.
Château Grand Faurie La Rose 2015 St-Émilion Grand Cru £18.99
The main grape is Merlot. Some of us had the 2016, and found that particular bottle disappointing. But the 2015 had good fruit, fine tannins and was rich, rounded and well balanced.
Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, 2015, Haut-Médoc £12.99
The estate of Caronne St-Gemme is near St Julien, Château Gruaud Larose and Château Lascombes, and itself produces classed-growth quality fruit.
This wine was 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives it the structure and tannins for ageing, 34% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot. We agreed that it was a very good wine, but as it was a little tight and tannic on the palate, it would benefit from more time
Chateau Le Caillou 2010, Pomerol, £32.97
This was a tiny estate of seven hectares. The wine was mostly Merlot with 15% Cabernet Franc.
We found a lovely bouquet of dark fruit and spices, and softness on the palate, spiced juicy fruit and high levels of tannin, well balanced with some complexity, and a long finish.
Its price was more expensive than the other clarets we were tasting, and it showed, but we thought that the Château Tour La Bayard was better value.
Château Citran ‘Moulins de Citran’ 2010, Haut-Médoc £16.99
This is the second wine of Château Citran. The property goes back to the thirteenth century. The Merlaut family proprietors also own Chateau Gruaud Larose in St. Julien, Chateau Ferrier in Margaux and Chateau Chasse Spleen.
The blend was 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot. It had not developed as much as we had expected. Its aroma was blackcurrant, cherries and cigar box, and its concentrated palate was of dark fruit, with notes of cedar and graphite minerality.
Bordeaux wine makers have been using advances in science and technology to improve standards, and adapt to climate change. Below the famous top growths, many attractive wines are being made in Bordeaux. It is not hard to find affordable red Bordeaux for enjoyable everyday drinking.