Bordeaux at the crossroads

With a handful of exceptions, Bordeaux will always struggle to compete at under £10
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Anyone for claret? Just as Bordeaux is getting its act together, younger British wine drinkers are snubbing it in favour of cheaper, more approachable New World cabernet sauvignon and merlot. So it's more than a little ironic that for the grandest châteaux in the landmark 2000 vintage prices are already more or less eclipsing those for every single Bordeaux vintage of the last 20 years.

In some ways the insatiable demand for the fat cat châteaux of 2000 is, however, a distraction. A great Bordeaux vintage comes along only once every 10 years (1990 and 1982 were the last two bankers). Many of these are bought primarily for investment. It's what happens in the other nine vintages and in Bordeaux outside the rarefied world of the classified châteaux that keeps the barrel emptying, and, they hope, our cups running over with juicy, affordable claret.

In face of the stiffest competition in its centuries-old history, Bordeaux does appear to be taking stock of what's going on in the world outside. The quality message of reduced yields, selecting grapes, and ageing in partially new oak is filtering through. The revolutionary "garage" (micro-production) movement led by Michel Rolland has shown that you don't need a god-given parcel of vineyard to make the classic Bordeaux blend of rich and savoury fruitiness.

On a trip to London last month, Rolland predicted a revival of British interest in Bordeaux despite the present disappointing lack of it. As he points out, 1999 and 2001 are more than respectable vintages, and while largely overshadowed by the 2000s, there's plenty of running in them. A handful of exceptions apart, Bordeaux will always struggle to compete at under £10. But if changing attitudes translate into better wines, good value claret need no longer be an oxymoron ...

2001 Seigneurs d'Auguilhe, Côtes de Castillon (£8.49, Waitrose). Expressive, modern right-bank claret with impressively plump and juicy blackcurranty characters.

2000 Château Haut-Carmaillet (£9.99, Marks & Spencer). An equal blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot from Château Lynch Bages' winemaker, focuses on ripe, cassis-fruit flavours and the mineral touch of the Haut-Médoc.

2000 Sainsbury's Classic Selection Margaux (£10.99, reduced from £13.99 until 10 December). From the Sichel family's Château d'Angludet in Margaux, an approachable red combining richness of flavour with drinkability.

2000 Château Olivier, Pessac-Léognan (£12.99, Oddbins). This much-improved estate has come up with a velvety, modern style, well-endowed with cassis-fruit richness and a sheen of spicy oak.

2000 Château Cambon La Pelouse, cru bourgeois (£14.95 or £13.95 bottle/case, Lea & Sandeman). A sumptuous modern Médoc with lush, black-cherryish fruitiness and well-judged spicy oak, lovely to drink now, but will keep.

2000 Château Lacoste-Borie (£14.98, Asda). Serious, intense Pauillac from Grand-Puy-Lacoste, rich in aromatic, sweetly ripe blackcurrant fruit tinged with vanilla.

1999 Château Haut-Chaigneau, Lalande de Pomerol (£17.99, Tesco, selected stores). From one of Bordeaux's up-and-coming winemakers, Pascal Chatonnet, this is a spicy, merlot-base claret with juicy blackberry-fruit qualities.

1996 Château Tayac, Margaux (£26.99, selected Threshers). A star in the 1996 vintage and drinking beautifully now, this silky red oozes the rich flavours and complexity of classic Margaux.