Since I first wrote about the en primeur market for the Y2K vintage in Bordeaux a few months ago, demand for "trophy" wines has become absolutely insane. To take just one example: Château Leoville Barton, the St Julien second growth, generally acclaimed as one of the wines of the vintage, started out at £300 to £350 a case but is now more like £600 to £800. If you can find it. Which you can't. The first growths, still without prices at the time of writing, were expected to open at well over £1,500.
But it's not all hype and greed. Wise buying in the lower echelons will net you very good wines between £10 and £15. When you bear in mind that you can pay £9.99 for a bottle of crummy claret, that doesn't seem a bad deal.
One merchant who puts this argument persuasively is Charles Lea of Lea & Sandeman (020 7244 0522). He complains that "the bad image given by the prices for a few of the top wines means that traditional buyers have been scared off. But this is wrong because the choice of such wines has never been better." Lea recommends as "the obvious ones", Dame de Montrose, Saint Estèphe (£125), Tourelles de Longueville, Pauillac (£125) and Les Fiefs de Lagrange, St Julien (£95), all second wines of careful, top-rated estates. He says of the Pomerol Château Mazeyres: "I rated this one point below Fleur de Gay – one is £125 and available, the other sold out at £680!"
The cost-effective way to buy is in bulk, since most merchants charge a fixed rate for delivery. Buy multiple cases – team together with friends – and you spread that cost over more bottles. Fiefs de Lagrange would work out, from Lea & Sandeman, at £11.15 all-in if you bought five cases. Even for a single case, the per-bottle hit escalates to just £12.75. "This compares with around £20 to £23 for the 1996 [the last comparable quality vintage]," says Lea.
To look at Lea & Sandeman's offerings and commentary, visit its website: eaandsandeman1.demon.co.uk. For a small list with a sharp critique of the vintage (beware "outpourings of exaggerated praise"), ring Haynes Hanson & Clark (020 7259 0102). The Berry Bros & Rudd site (www.bbr.com) is another good source of information, and Majestic (www.majestic.co.uk) has a small but growing number of wines at keen prices. These names are just a sample, naturally.
In another sector of Bordeaux 2000, the region's under-appreciated whites, you don't have to wait or pay through the nose. I'm not sure why these Sémillon-Sauvignon blends aren't more popular; maybe it's because there's no Chardonnay. But they can be wonderful, and two recent examples suggest that Y2K was A-OK. Bordeaux Blanc de Ginestet has a remarkable amount of new oak for a wine at this price, but with the underlying ripeness of fruit to shine through. Better still, though less oaky, is Numéro Un Bordeaux Blanc from Dourthe – crisp and lively, a really vivid expression of the grapes. It evoked lunch in the garden, even though I was tasting in a windowless basement with fluorescent lighting. Both available at Sainsbury's and elsewhere for £4.99.
Finally, on an unrelated note: results of my fund-raising efforts for Wine Relief. I offered a case of whizzo wine courtesy of Hatch Mansfield – from Villa Maria in New Zealand, Errázuriz in Chile, and Taittinger in (duh!) Champagne. Plus a posh corkscrew "Rabbit" courtesy of myself. In return I suggested readers make a contribution of around £5 to Comic Relief. The incredibly generous HR Stokes and EA Neustadt sent £150; DS Golding sent £50. I worship all three. But the first name out of the bucket belonged to Jim Kedge of Tunbridge Wells, who will be drinking very well – and opening the bottles with ease. The exercise brought in £500. Many thanks to all who gave. *Reuse content