Under the radar Bordeaux

August 19 2013 by Julian Skeels

Bordeaux is the easiest fine wine to buy and, despite price increases in the last few years, remains one of the very best value.  The trick is knowing which wines punch above their weight and provide ‘classed-growth’ quality at table-wine prices.

Here are my suggestions, by major Bordeaux region:

Margaux

Frequently over-priced and inconsistent, this is one of the most difficult regions to find value in.  However, it is worth the effort to seek out these wines – which have some of the most wonderful aromas in Bordeaux, for example violets and blueberries.  Look out for Chateau d’Issan, Château Malescot St. Exupéry, Château du Tertre, Château Prieuré-Lichine, and Château d’Angludet.  The best-value recent vintages include 2006 and 2008.

Paulliac

These are typically strong wines, which age well and have distinctive cedar and graphite aromas.  Whilst the region has the most famous and expensive Bordeaux brands, it also has many of the best value options – including Château Pontet-Canet, Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Château Batailley and Château Haut-Bages Libéral.  Best value recent vintages include 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

St Julien

A very diverse region which lies, both geographically and stylistically, between Margaux and Paulliac.  The most consistent and best-priced major Bordeaux region with lots of value options.  My picks include Château Lagrange, Château Gruaud Larose, Château Gloria and Château Saint-Pierre.  The best-value recent vintages include 2001, 2003 and 2005.

St Estephe

Dense, tannic and dry red wines from the north of Bordeaux, with dominant blackberry flavours.  Particularly good with beef steaks.  Wine from this region needs a little more age to show well, but can still be readily found and bought for good value – my picks include Château Calon-Ségur, Lafon-Rochet, Château Phélan Ségur and Château Meyney.  Try for slightly older vintages, including 1995, 2001 and 2003.

Pessac Leognan

A great region with very classic wines, which extremely well (even cheaper bottles), but is one of the most overlooked of all Bordeaux regions.  These wines are somewhat softer than the regions above, frequently with aromas of tobacco leaf and smoke, together with earth and minerals.  My favorite value options include Domaine de Chevalier, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Château Haut-Bailly, Château Malartic-Lagravière and Château La Tour-Martillac.  Many vintages drink well, but my favorites are 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008.

Haut Medoc

This is a large and diverse region which, since it borders the areas above, can show similar characteristics depending on the location of the specific chateau in question.  Numerous value options exist, but the following wines stand out – Château Cantemerle, Château La Lagune, Château Sociando-Mallet and Château Sénéjac.  All recent vintages drink well.

St Emilion

These wines are often ‘sweeter’ and softer due to the greater use of merlot and/or cabernet franc.  Typical flavours include cooked red fruits, but there is a large variety of concentration levels and production methods.  The following are reliable, well priced and generally will drink well young and can be aged for 15 years – Château Rol Valentin, Château Monbousquet, Clos de l’Oratoire and Château La Dominique.  Recommended value-vintages are 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2008.

Pomerol

Softer merlot-based wines grown in clay and gravel vinyards which give dried fruit and licorice flavours.  Whilst difficult to find reasonably priced wines, due to the smaller production levels, the following are recommended value purchases – Château Bourgneuf, Château Feytit Clinet, Château les Cruzelles, Château Montlandrie.  Try 1998, 2001 and 2008 vintages.

Sauternes

A great wine that doesn’t have to cost a lot, especially if bought in 375ml bottles.  These are sweet yellow wines which taste of apricot and other strong tropical flavours in youth, and become less concentrated and darker with age in bottle.  The following are consistent and relative value wines – Château Suduiraut, Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes, Château Guiraud, Château Rieussec.  I prefer less famous vintages with a little more bottle age – try 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2003.