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Save your money

02 May 2014


I ATTENDED a memorial service recently, at St Bride's, Fleet Street, for a leading personality in the wine world. A number of people I might have expected were not there - where were they? They were in Bordeaux, as part of the annual ritual of tasting the past vintage.

The message that is coming back is that one should not invest too much money in 2013 vintage claret: the quality overall is varied, and on the whole the wines are lightweights. Inadequate ripeness at the time of picking was a problem, and, as Olivier Berruet, the winemaker at the Pomerol vineyard Château Pétrus has said, this demanded "a very Burgundy approach".

This reminds me of when I first went to Bordeaux, in 1960, and asked naïvely of one of the patriarchs of the trade, "Is Pomerol the most Burgundy-like of the wines of Bordeaux?" He replied, witheringly: "My boy, I do not accept that Burgundy exists."

Most of the best-known châteaux now produce second wines. Often, these represent excellent value for money, but it appears that many producers have concentrated so much with the 2013 vintage on the quality of their first wines, that the second wines have suffered disproportionately as a result.

We have yet to learn what prices will be asked for all these wines, but it would appear that the best thing to do is to wait until they appear on the wine merchants' shelves.

A series of disappointing vintages has meant that wine prices on the Bordeaux marketplace have risen by more than a quarter in the past six months. Notwithstanding all this, it seems as though there is still a thirst for the wines in Britain. The reason for this is that, while attention may focus on such prestigious names as Saint-Émilion, and Pomerol, there is a host of vineyards from the lesser appellations producing drinkable wines at reasonable prices.

As well as wines under a château name, most merchants sell blends under a brand name. Mouton Cadet, once the second wine of Château Mouton-Rothschild, but now a simple Bordeaux blend, is available for about £10.50. Others include Calvet Limited Release Merlot, at Morrisons and Waitrose (£7-£7.50).

If you want something with more body and tannins, I would suggest Le Grand Chai Médoc 2010 (Laithwaites £11.99), or M&S's Classic Claret 2011 (£7.99). For white wines, Calvet has a Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc at Sainsbury's and Waitrose (about £7), and a Sémillon dominant Prestige de Calvet Blanc (Morrison's & Tesco £11-£12).

Most red château wines on sale in the multiples are mainly Merlot-based. This makes them softer and ready to drink earlier. I have enjoyed Ch. Segonzac 2010, from Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux (Waitrose £9.99), and Ch. Méaume, Bordeaux Supérieur, 2010 (Majestic £9.99).

For that bottle of Bordeaux that is just a little bit better, look at some of the mail-order companies, such as Avery's, Laithwaites (after all, it started out as Bordeaux Direct), and that repository of great bottles, the Wine Society. Forget the 2013 vintage for the moment.

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