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Recent Bordeaux: value for money?
Bordeaux is the world's most famous wine region and home to some of the world's most aristocratic wines. But if you fancy exploring the leading wines of the Medoc, Pomerol and St Emilion you'll need to have deep pockets, because there is no getting round the fact that Bordeaux is expensive.

Mind you, it's probably unfair to single out the Bordelaise for their inflated wine prices: lots of wines are expensive these days. Look at California -- even a mid-range Napa Cabernet will set you back as much as a classed growth claret. Fine wines from Italy, Spain and Australia are also equally likely to burn a hole in your pocket.

However, the key question is this: does Bordeaux offer value for money? We'd all like Bordeaux wines to be cheaper, but I for one promise not grumble too much about the prices if the quality is there. And, in many cases, it is. While other regions can arguably provide wines of equal quality for less wonga, there's nothing quite like good Bordeaux. And as long as you steer away from the first growths and the low production Pomerols, the prices here aren't really all that bad.

But this may be about to change. The most hyped vintage of recent years, 2000, is still in barrel in the Châteaux, and the world's press will be tasting them for the first time this month. Shortly afterwards, the opening en primeur prices will be released. If early indications are to be believed, then we can expect to see both prices and demand for leading Bordeaux to be heading heavenwards. In the midst of this feeding frenzy, it may prove to be a good time to buy wines from other recent vintages, which retailers may be keen to shift at knockdown prices.

The notes below are a round up of the Bordeaux wines I tasted at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter in November 2000. I've tried to give current prices where possible. Although this is too small a sample to make any real conclusions, on the basis of this tasting and others I'd make the following points.

First, although 1997 was a disappointing vintage, 1997s from good producers are drinking very well now. While I was disappointed by most of the 1997s I tasted a year ago, over the last 12 months they seem to have opened out nicely. And, as long as producers haven't tried too hard to make what is effectively a light vintage into big, ageworthy wines¾ and if the price is right¾ then it would be worth going for these as current drinkers. Let's hope retailers who are sitting on unsold stock will do the decent thing and reduce prices while these wines are still drinking so nicely.

Second, the 1996s I've tried have mostly been wonderful, balanced wines. Seems like a great vintage all round. As for the 1998s, some are very good, but watch out for stern, tannic wines where the fruit won't last long enough to allow the tannins to soften. If the wines aren't balanced in their youth, there's a chance that they will never be.

The wines

Château Talbot Back to top
33250 Saint-Julien Beychevelle, France

One of my favourite Bordeaux Château, fourth growth Talbot seems to be back on top form, making good wines just about every vintage. The second wine, Connétable, is no slouch, either. Although it's usually the reds that get all the attention, I was bowled over by the appealing white Caillou. 

Château Talbot 1998
A deep red/purple colour, this is a concentrated wine with a sensational nose of spice, tar and smoky fruit. Chunky and firm on the palate, with rich fruit and firm tannins. This is a complex, tasty claret that needs some time in bottle to reach its peak. Very good/excellent (Berry Bros & Rudd have this for £26.50; the 1997 is £23.50 and the stunning 1996 is £31)

Connétable Talbot 1997
You wouldn’t expect too much from a second wine in a dodgy vintage, but this is quite pleasant stuff. The open, attractive leafy/herby nose has a gravelly/mineral streak. On the palate there is leafy blackcurrant fruit and a bit of tannin. Very attractive, open wine that is drinking well now. Very good+ (would be good value at around £10)

Château Talbot Caillou Blanc 1999
Top Bordeaux whites such as this are often underrated. Lovely bright nose of peach and grapefruit. Rich, full, fruity palate with some oak. Lovely stuff. Very good/excellent


Chateau Phélan Ségur Back to top
33180 Saint-Estèphe, France

Phélan Ségur is an ambitious cru Bourgeois turning out forward yet structured wines with some class. Even better than the 1995 and 1997 tasted here is the sensational 1996, which is worth looking out for.

Chateau Phélan Ségur 1995
Deep red/black colour with a browning edge. Ripe, smoky nose leads to a rich, firm but ripe palate with good balance. It’s not as showy now as the exotic 1996, but this is a steady wine with good potential. Very good/excellent (Berry Bros have this at £26)

Chateau Phélan Ségur 1997
Deep coloured wine with an exotic nose: sweet and open with a minerally, smoky, leafy tinge. Firm and tannic on the palate but quite light in character. It is beginning to dry out a bit: too much tannin for the fruit? Very good+, but I’d drink this soon. (Berry Bros have this for £17)

Frank Phélan 1997
Who is this Frank chap? This is quite an attractive second wine, with a ripe, minerally nose. Soft and approachable on the palate, with a mineral streak and more leafy fruit. Drinking well now, with some complexity. Very good.


Château Cantemerle Back to top 
12 Rue d’Enghein, 33000 Bordeaux, France

Cantermerle is an ambitious fifth growth, making wines of third or fourth growth standard. Tasty stuff. 

Château Cantemerle 1997
Attractive open nose with smoky, mineralic and leafy-green notes. Full ripe palate with good concentration and some tannins. Quite complex. This is drinking nicely now and is an attractive, forward wine that will be good for a few years yet. Very good+

Les Allées de Cantemerle 1996
Lovely open nose showing cedar and minerals. Medium-bodied palate showing soft ripe fruit with a leafy edge. There are some tannins and good complexity. An expressive, lighter style claret. Very good


Château Lagrange Back to top
33250 Saint-Julien, France

Third growth St Julien estate performing to potential. These wines weren't showy, but despite the lack of up-front appeal the 1998 and 1996 had the stuffing to age nicely. The 1997 was in a different style, and is drinking well now.

Château Lagrange 1998
Dense purple/black colour, with a muted nose. On the palate this is firm and very tannic. It is mineralic and youthful; not fleshy or rich. Needs time. Very good (Berry Bros stock this for £28.50)

Château Lagrange 1997
Deep purple/black colour, this is a good effort from a tricky vintage. Nice deep smoky nose – fruity and rich. On the palate this wine shows an attractive minerality and good density, with ripe blackcurrant fruit. Enjoyable stuff. Very good+ (everywine.co.uk stock this for the equivalent of £32 a bottle)

Château Lagrange 1996
A deep red/black colour, this is a huge wine. Reticent in the nose, it is very concentrated on the palate with tight blackcurrant fruit and cedary, mineralic complexity. Needs a lot of time, but very good/excellent. (everywine.co.uk stock this for the equivalent of £36 a bottle)


Château Clarke Back to top
33480 Listrac, France

Clarke and sister property Malmaison look to be sold performers, making satisfying, attractive clarets.

Château Clarke 1996
Deep red/purple colour with a lightly muted nose. Lovely dense, mineralic, tannic palate with good balance and lots of fruit. Good concentration and nice balance. Powerful wine with a bright future ahead of it. Very good+ (Fine and Rare have this for £125 per case ex VAT)

Château Malmaison 1995
Lovely sweet open nose showing ripe fruit and a touch of caramel. Good balance on the palate: cedary, taught fruit with some tannins and good balance. A nice claret. Very good+


Château Léoville Poyferré Back to top
33250 Saint-Julien Beychevelle, France

Second growth Léoville Poyferré, Saint Julien, seems to be on form in the challenging vintages of 1997 and 1998: both these wines are deeply impressive, with the 1998 probably having the edge. Second wine Moulin Riche is also impressive in a slightly low key way. I was less impressed by the wines of sister St Estèphe property Château Le Crock, although these were very good in a different style. Interestingly, the second wine from this estate, Château La Croix, was a little more impressive than its big brother, perhaps because it is more forward at this stage.

Château Moulin Riche 1997, St Julien
Deep red/black colour. Slightly muted nose with minerals, smoke and a leafy edge. Classic palate showing ripe fruit, firm tannins and good balance. Not a big wine but still could age some. Very good

Château Moulin Riche 1998, St Julien
Deep red/black colour. Despite the slightly muted nose this is a powerful wine, with a bold, concentrated, dense palate. The firm tannins suggest this has great potential to develop. Very good+

Château Le Crock 1996, St Estèphe
Deep purple/red colour. Nice minerally nose, and with a herbal edge to fruit on the palate. Medium bodied with good balance. Very good.

Château Le Crock 1998, St Estèphe
Youthful purple/black colour, with a herby fruity nose. The palate is medium bodied and displays firm tannins. This one could age nicely. Good/very good.

Château Le Croix 1998, St Estèphe
Second wine of Le Crock, this is currently drinking better than its big brother. Deep red/purple colour, with sweet smoky fruit. Concentrated and dense on the palate with firm tannins. Very youthful and quite impressive. Very good+

Château Léoville Poyferré 1997, St Julien
Lovely, ripe herby/smoky nose is followed up with concentrated ripe fruit on the palate. Very attractive, showing nice balance, and drinkable now. Very good/excellent (everywine.co.uk stock this for £390 per case ex VAT)

Château Léoville Poyferré 1998, St Julien
Exotic nose: ripe and menthol-laced, smoky and herby. This is a huge wine. On the palate rich ripe fruit and new oak are nicely integrated, and the dense tannins indicate a promising future. Excellent (everywine.co.uk stock this for £447 per case ex VAT)

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