Perceptions of the Bordeaux wine region usually involve immaculate chateaux, prosperous looking chaps in expensive suits and price labels to match.
The reality, of course, is far removed from the elitist image of popular myth.
All but a fraction of the 5000+ estates in Bordeaux are simply producing sound, reliable but relatively inexpensive wines
To highlight the skills and hard work of these guys, the region’s wine body – Vins de Bordeaux – has sponsored the Hot 50 Bordeaux Selection for 2020.
An assembly of the wine world’s great and good blind-tasted a range of their wines to produce fifty that capture the region’s style but do so at modest prices.
Twelve percent of the list are under £10 and only four wines cost more than £20.
To try to guide consumers towards styles that will suit them, the winners have been divided into four groups – Ethical Wines, Fresh and Crisp ones, Rich and Complex options and a final group to Smooth and Fruity wines.
Here is a selection from the final 50 that especially appealed to me.
Fresh and Crisp
Bordeaux is one of the eight or so French regions producing cremant – sparkling wine that Champagne producers insist on being called anything but “champagne” even though it is usually made in the same way.
While Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut (£10 at Tesco and 12% abv) has softer acidity than most champagne, it has the lively mousse and energetic mouth feel to make it an excellent aperitif.
It also has the creamy texture that originally gave cremant its name and uses it to support the wine’s zesty apple and ripe melon fruit, lemon centred acidity and those cream soda and grapefruit pith elements that form part of its background.
Smooth and Fruity
A shade over six percent of Bordeaux vineyards are devoted to producing rosé and those wines are a common sight on the region’s summer lunch tables.
This merlot-led example (from a producer that appears twice in the Hot 50) illustrates the charms of Bordeaux rosé perfectly.
Gentle but with good acidity 2019 Heritage De Luze Rosé (www.ndjohn.co.uk sell this around the £8 mark and its abv is 11.5%) delivers smooth, ripe strawberry and cherry fruit with hints of peach and mango to give it a sweetish edge.
And for a red
Given Bordeaux’s variable climate, modestly priced wines are likely to rely more on merlot because it ripens earlier than cabernet sauvignon (and is, thus, slightly more predictable) and is three times as plentiful.
Indeed, there is a 70% merlot component to 2014 Chateau Fleur Haut Gaussens (£13.95 at www.bbr.com and 13.5%) where soft cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit is supported by good acidity, hints of menthol and clove, a vaguely savoury framework but firm tannin.
Rich and Complex
That unpredictable climate means that blending skills are crucial in Bordeaux because the five or six grape varieties it uses for red wine often ripen to different levels year upon year.
Limited ripeness – and the blending process of balancing everything nature has provided that year – often makes Bordeaux wines more complex by introducing distinctive savoury characteristics.
Often the words used to describe those characteristics sound unappealing (“green, austere, woody, graphite” etc) but they frequently make the final wine captivating and sometimes stunningly brilliant.
Note then the region’s typical bouquet and that particular savouriness in 2016 Chateau Le Peuy Saincroft (£10.50 at www.greatgrog.co.uk and 14%) which neatly bolsters the wine’s black cherry fruit and the aniseed and coffee elements, good acidity and firm tannin that accompanies it.
And a more mature vintage
Castillon is a region to the east of St Emilion but is also dominated by merlot and where massive improvements in quality have been made in recent years – especially by vineyards (like this one) situated on higher ground.
Soft and smooth, as befits a more mature wine, 2011 Madame Chateau de Pitray (£18 at www.thewinesociety.com and 14%) has excellent balance with good acidity, mild tannin and touches of mint and baking spice to support its plum and blackcurrant fruit – to which aging now allocates a less prominent role.
The best of those savoury elements we discussed a few moments ago often surface as mineral components – typically graphite – as we find in this red from the northern end of the region (overlooking the Gironde estuary).
Incidentally, this producer not only makes sustainable wines but is also experimenting with wooden egg shaped fermenters for part of her vintage.
That fermentation seems to have intensified the cherry and blackberry fruit on display in 2016 Château Merigot Côtes de Bourg (£13.71 at www.strictlywine.co.uk and 14.5%) without prejudicing either those mineral components or the good acidity, gentle tannin and suggestions of liquorice that accompany them.
Finally to a white
Sauvignon blanc has almost overtaken semillon these days in Bordeaux white wine production reflecting perhaps the increasing popularity of the region’s stand-alone sauvignons that are softer and much less assertive than, say, those from Marlborough.
Enjoy then the smooth yet fresh green apple, pear and green pepper flavours in 2019 De Luze Sauvignon (I believe that www.ndjohn.co.uk also sell this for about £8 and the abv is 12%) which is given gentle but well judged acidic oomph with tangerine centred liveliness to harmonise with the herbal influences that provide added depth.
Back with you all on Monday with Top Tips on what to buy and a quick “heads up” about supermarket promotions.
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