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Bordeaux on a budget

by Tom Cannavan, 2008

Just as the moderate quality and expected sky-high prices for the 2007 vintage seem to have put a huge damper on Bordeaux's annual 'en primeur' jamboree, I thought it would be a good time to assess some budget-priced Bordeaux that's already in bottle and available on a high street near you.
  

Most of these wines, priced between £5.00 and £16.00, also have the advantage of coming from the excellent 2005 vintage, with some examples from the pretty good 2004 and 2006 vintages too. 2005 at all levels is increasingly impressive.

There are several from the large nécociant companies of Dourthe and Yvon Mau, which are doing a very good and consistent job of supplying quality wines from generic Bordeaux, to Chateau-bottled classifies properties, to the UK supermarkets and multiples.

There's some fine drinking to be had here, as well as some wines with cellaring potential.

white wines

Dourthe Barrel Select Semillon-Sauvignon 2006
A 60/40 blend, Dourthe's white Bordeaux has a really attractive, expressive nose that marries the fat, lemony fruit of the Semillon, the grassy cut of Sauvignon Blanc and the smoky, Brazil nut warmth of good quality oak. On the palate the Sauvignon character probably just about dominates, giving this lychee and tropical fruit punchiness, but all nicely tempered by citrus and a little nip of oak tannins adding structure. A really nice, inexpensive white Bordeaux. £6.99, Tesco. 86/100

Château Martin (Graves) Blanc 2005
The blend here is predominantly Sauvignon Blanc, in a wine that is very fresh and crisp, and wears any sign of barrel ageing very lightly. Instead there's a note of dried apricot and peach, with just the merest hint of toffee. On the palate the fruit is lemony and waxy, with just glimpses of something ripe and peachy, but the tight, citrus and mineral core of acidity tugging away and drawing the wine through to a clean, lightly spicy finish. This wine cries out for a big dish of garlicky prawns or oily fish. £9.99, selected Tesco. 87/100

red wines

Château Prince Noir (Bordeaux) 2006
This estate is accredited by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), whose charter is all about sustainability and caring for the environment. Vines are farmed with minimal herbacides and pesticides, but there's a tranche of measures to protect the fauna and flora of the vineyard, to recycle waste water and materials, and to develop a diverse and balanced ecosystem around the vineyard. The wine itself is 40% merlot and 30% each of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, aged in new American oak. That gives it a decidedly plump, luscious vanillin appeal, with very ripe and rich berry fruits and a palate that is creamy and warm, with tobacco and chocolate notes and just enough structure to maintain a food-friendly edge. Lovely stuff. £5.12, Asda. 86/100

Calvet (Bordeaux) Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
From low-yielding vineyards and aged in a combination of French and American oak, this popular wine has for the first time included Cabernet Franc - about 14% of it - in the blend with 70% Merlot 16% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a nice feeling of density and meaty richness on the nose, with plummy fruit and plenty of spice. On the palate it has a savoury, dry-edged, quite rustic character, but the sweetness of the fruit begins to show through on the mid-palate, and as the spice and toast kicks in, the wine finishes with robust balance. £6.99, Waitrose, Co-op, Sainsbury's. 86/100

Château de Bonhoste Bordeaux Rouge 2005
There's a whiff of sulphur on first opening the bottle here, which soon blows off to reveal gently earthy, bramble and blackcurrant fruit, and a touch of briar. Composed of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc, there is nice balance in the mouth, the fruit here seems slightly dilute, with enough sweet-edged blackcurrant coming through, but an overall style that is quite lean and light. On the other hand, this does give the wine freshness and a certain energy, and as some spice and toast builds with the tannins in the finish, the wine improves and becomes a decent mouthful. £7.99, Provenance Wines. 86/100

Château La Rivalerie (Premières Côtes de Blaye) 2004
This wine is composed of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% made up of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It has a deep, dark crimson colour, and a fairly compact, subdued nose of solid black fruit and a touch of gravelly earth. On the palate the fruit doesn't really sing here, and the meaty, savoury tones of the wine certainly dominate. There is good balance here, with a tannin structure and cherry tang of acidity keeping it fresh, and this is certainly more of a food wine that a fruity little quaffer. Quite impressive in a slightly old-fashioned claret-lovers style. £7.99, Provenance Wines

Château Pey La Tour (Bordeaux) Reserve du Château 2005
Acquired by the negociant Dourthe in 1990, Pey La Tour has been substantially 'reworked', increasing the density of planting for 90% of the vineyard surface, improving drainage and utilising sustainable agriculture techniques. The nose offers masses of cedary, pencil-shaving spice, with solid, sweet cherry and blackcurrant fruit in a vivid aromatic profile. The palate is warm and mouth-filling, yet the fruit stays focused and bright, with the juicy black fruit quality playing against some grippy, nicely rustic tannins and plenty of spice in the finish. Exemplary stuff from this Petit Château. £8.99, Waitrose. 88/100

Château Reysson (Haut-Médoc) 2004
This Cru Bourgeois wine from the Haut-Médoc is composed of 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, the vines having an average of 30 years of age. It has a seductive and stylish nose, with a great creamy blackcurrant quality to the fruit. A little hint of briar and plum adds interest. On the palate this betrays the slightly drier, less sweetly-fruited nature of the vintage, and yet it is a powerful, sinuous, savoury style of claret with decent length and a spicy, heart-warming finish. £8.99, Tesco. 86/100

Château Canevault (Fronsac) 2005
There's chic, contemporary and very effective new labelling for Canevault's 2005 vintage Fronsac, a classicaly composed wine that blends 80% Merlot with 10% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. A vibrant, dark crimson colour, the nose offers an nicely dense, powerful melange of meat-stock, robust black fruit and a certain vegetal character that is full of interest. On the palate this has really good energy and life about it, with plenty of savoury, mouth-filling fruit that is edged by bittersweet, fine and liquoricy tannins and keen-edged acidity. Long and fresh on the finish, this is really well-made and delicious Bordeaux. £10.99, Provenance Wines. 88/100

Château Lapelletrie (St-Emilion) 2005
It's a pity that a background touch of cork taint affected this wine, making assessment of its underlying quality more difficult. In the same family hands for 75 years, the estate is managed by mother and daughter team Anita Lassegue and Anne Biscaille. The cork taint flattens the nose slightly, with a very fruity character beneath; the fruit certainly dominating a smoky, cedary oak quality. On the palate again the flattening effect of TCA is evident, but there is real persistence here, with a very focused core of black fruit, tight tannins and juicy acidity suggesting there's a really good wine here. I'll score this 87/100, but it might well be worth a point or two more. £11.99, Tesco
  

Château Preuillac (Médoc) 2005
I tasted this en primeur in Bordeaux a couple of years ago and thought it was a lovely wine from this improving estate. Now, it is showing the class of this superb vintage, with a solid, youthful crimson colour and a nose that soars from the glass with crushed berry and blackcurrant fruit, and cassis intensity. In the mouth the cedary, tightly-integrated oak quality just adds subtle spice and creamy depth, whilst the ripe, quite fat and sweet fruit is layered on top. But there's savoury, racy crispnes too, with good acidity and a supple, long finish. Very good indeed at £12.99, from Soho Wine Supply. 89/100

Château du Val d'Or (St-Emilion) 2005
Predominantly Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this 2005 pours a really dark, dense, crimson/black colour. The nose is equally dark and velvety, with a core of plush blackcurrant fruit and hints of blueberry and damson. The oak is well-integrated. On the palate this wine again shows evidence of concentration and richness, with a grainy, plumskin edge to the tannins and good cherry acidity doing their best to restrain the exuberance and polished depth of the fruit here. Some chocolate and espresso coffee notes add an extra plushness to the finish, in a very impressive and densely delicious wine. £12.99, Tesco. 89/100

Château Canevault (Fronsac) Cuvée Theo 2004
This wine pours a dark crimson colour with ruby on the rim. It has an immediately appealing nose, with cedar, woodsmoke and ripe berry fruit, even a hint of mint in the mix. On the palate this is lovely claret, with a real juiciness to the fruit, of ripe blackcurrant and a touch of black plum flesh. The structure of this wine is excellent too, with spicy, lithe tannins adding a supple grip and good acidity adding to the inherent freshness of the fruit to give a lively, expressive energy in the mouth. Very good. £13.99, Provenance Wines. 89/100

Château Le Boscq (St-Estèphe) 2004
One of the better known wines of the St-Estèphe appellation, Cru Bourgeois Le Boscq's vineyards lie on a sloping site of river gravel over clay. Consultant here is Michel Rolland, and the wine - 60% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petiti Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc - has a sumptuous, meaty nose of thick, savoury black fruit, smoky oak and gamy nuances. On the palate this is a big, extracted and meaty style, with quite rustic, grippy tannins set against a deep layer of plummy black fruit. The acid balance is good, though the powerful oak and fleshy fruit dominate, into a finish with just a smattering of spice and toast. £14.99, The Co-op.88/100

Château St Jacques Calon (Montagne St-Emilion) Cuvée des Moulins 2005
Made from 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc in very limited quantities, the prestige cuvée from this excellent producer takes full advantage of the excellent 2005 vintage conditions, with a nose that exudes Bordeaux aromas of pencil-shavings, ripe blackcurrant fruit and little earth and herbal nuances in a seductive aromatic profile. On the palate that full, sweet, deep black fruit powers through, with a svelte supporting depth of chocolate and charry oak, and wonderfully ripe, peppery tannins that are smooth and supple. The balance is immaculate too, in a really fine wine from this Appellation. This is smooth and rich enough to enjoy now, but will repay cellaring. £15.99, Provenance Wines. 91/100

L'Envers du Décor (St-Emilion) 2005
This is an absolutely fascinating and delicious St Emilion, made by Tony Laithwaite and François des Ligneris from a parcel of Grand Cru vines. des Ligneris once owned Château Soutard, and a wine bar in St Emilion called L'Envers du Décor, where the two shared many a good bottle. From a very strict selection of "very special" Grand Cru wines, just a few hundred cases of this have been bottled and it is an absolute treat. It has a plush, modern, very glossy and ripe black fruited nose, but with a really sultry, smoky depth and complex layer of minerality. In the mouth this is packed with dense, bittersweet blackberry and plum fruit, with a velvety texture and very fine tannins, adding an elegant edge into a long finish. Terrific stuff. £16.16, Laithwaites. 91/100

Château Belgrave (Haut-Médoc) 2004
Very dark, solid colour. Beautifully sweet, deep, ripe cassis and black plum nose; really quite aromatic with floral and cedary notes and a real suggestion of sweetness. The palate is smooth and quite full and flattering, with plenty of sweet fruit butting up against firm, dry, quite polished tannins that have a chocolaty feel, and plenty of bold, chewy acidity. Lots of weight and texture here, and an underpinning of oak, in a powerful, deep wine. £16.99, Co-op. 90/100