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7:00am Saturday 17th November 2012 in NewsXtra
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris heads to the red wine capital of the world and pulls the cork on some affordable Bordeaux.
An interest in Bordeaux
A treasure trove for wine lovers, the region of Bordeaux in south-west France has been holding the world's attention since the boom years of the 18th century when it was a bustling trade port.
The gateway to the world's most famous chateaux, such as Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Cheval Blanc, wealthy Bordelais winemakers share something which sets them apart from other producers.
Whether it's a grand chateau on the Right Bank of the River Dordogne (home to Chateau Petrus, its most expensive wine), or a rustic farmhouse on the Left Bank in the Haut Medoc, each chateau is usually a single estate which produces its own wine - with the property illustrated on the label.
These single vineyards produce wine every year to the same formula, and it makes for reliability, consistency and a signature style which repeat clients can bank on.
Along with its designer labels, Bordeaux is blessed with a classification system which dates back to 1855. Known as class growth Bordeaux (crus), these elegant and impressive wines are the benchmark against which every other producer competes.
Until recently, the English were the main consumer of top-class claret, but with growing demand from wealthy buyers worldwide, prices have duly rocketed.
Indeed, a prized bottle of Bordeaux, which used to be the bastion of a celebratory birthday dinner or special Sunday lunch, is more often than not out of our reach, and replaced with a similar grape variety from the New World.
To help buck the trend, here are eight princely (not pricey) Bordeaux that bring pleasure to the palate, and remind us why our Gallic cousins should be invited to grace the table.
And it's worth noting that 2009 and 2010 were exceptional vintages which will improve with cellaring. But to drink now, decant an hour before serving to release the maximum flavour.
The Bordeaux blend is predominantly cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot, and as a rule of thumb, wines from the Medoc are cabernet sauvignon dominant, while wines from St Emilion and Pomerol are predominantly made from merlot, the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux.
Offering excellent value, try Chateau David Beaulieu, Bordeaux Superior AOC 2010 (£6.49, Sainsbury's) from the Entre-Deux Mers region between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne. Rich with plenty of blackcurrant fruit, gentle spice, firm tannins and a pleasing finish, it's a blend of 70% merlot, 19% cabernet franc, and 11% cabernet sauvignon. Enjoy this pleasing style with French bread and hard cheeses.
To the south-east end of Bordeaux, Chateau Malbat, 2010, Bordeaux (£7.50, www.tanners-wines.co.uk) is a blend of 95% merlot and 5% cabernet sauvignon, and this easy-drinking red from a 'petit chateau' has a good open nose with soft cherry and plum flavours, a touch of oak on the finish, and makes a good pizza or pasta wine.
A super trouper from the Medoc, Chateau Le Barrail 2010, Bordeaux (£7.99, Tesco) is a blend of 65% cabernet sauvignon and 35% merlot. With a fragrant nose, robust fruit flavours of cassis and red berries with a firm, tannic grip, it's a good accompaniment to red meats.
Berry Bros & Rudd is a one-stop shop for blue-chip labels, but it can also impress discerning drinkers with its Berry Bros & Rudd Berrys' Good Ordinary Claret (£8.75, www.bbr.com). Made by Dourthe, a producer of quality wines across a number of properties, it's a merlot and cabernet sauvignon blend that's solidly built and won't disappoint. The bouquet opens up with a welcoming nose of ripe berry fruits, and the mellow rounded blackberry fruit, fleshy texture and structured tannins make it an ideal partner with a Sunday roast.
Another merlot-dominant red from the Entre-Deux Mers, Chateau Le Coin 2010, Bordeaux (£9.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk) shows delicious silky richness despite being such a young wine, and at 14.5%, it's not a shy and retiring red. Modern, concentrated and rich, with aromatic plum and cassis on the full palate, it's a real foodie's wine.
The medieval village of Saint-Emilion on the Right Bank is home to some illustrious chateaux, and while we can only dream of drinking such a precious drop, it is possible to flirt with its famous terroir. A reliable brand and supplier to Berry's, try Dourthe Croix des Menuts 2009, Saint-Emilion (£12.99, www.booths.co.uk). A blend of merlot and cabernet franc, there's firm cherry and rich, robust red fruits, with peppery spice and smooth, silky tannins.
Due south of St Estephe lies Pauillac, and La Chapelle de Calon St Estephe 2009, Bordeaux (£16, www.goedhuis.com) promises a glimpse of its grandee neighbour's fruits. A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, this is a wine to swoon over, even in its youth. Soft, opulent and complex with blackcurrant fruits on a velvety frame, it's another powerful pour at 14.5%. Drinking beautifully now, it will reward your patience for up to 10 years.
Beautifully crafted and built to age, Chateau Grand Corbin Manuel 2009, Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux (£19.17 per bottle for a case of 12, total £230, www.millesima.com) is a wonderful discovery from Corbin, north of Saint-Emilion and close to Pomerol. A grand cru with flair and charm, it's 80% merlot, 15% cabernet franc and 5% cabernet sauvignon. A dark wine with good depth of fruit, hinting at blackberry with subtle spice, soft red fruit aromas and fleshy, silky tannins, it's the perfect pre-Christmas case for savvy collectors laying down wines to enjoy in the latter half of the decade.
:: Best buy
The bigger the thirst... Cornish craft brewer St Austell Brewery has launched a whopping beer to pack the maximum punch. Unfiltered, extremely hoppy with plenty of citrus, fruity flavours and full-bodied taste, Big Job Double IPA (£9.99, 9% abv, 75cl, www.staustellbreweryshop.co.uk and supermarkets nationwide) is really rather good.
:: Liquid news
South African favourite lands on our shores... A well-recognised brand in the Cape Winelands, Lovoka is an award-winning South African vodka-based liqueur which comes in Lovoka Caramel (£27.95, 75cl, Harvey Nichols) and Lovoka Chocolate (£27.95, 75cl, Harvey Nichols). An ultra-premium, triple-distilled vodka infused with these two yummy flavours, it can be sipped over ice, or enjoyed in a cocktail. And the stylish aluminium bottle is designed for the freezer, so it can be served blisteringly cold.