Claret. Yawn, grumble. Wait until you stumble across a Fabergé egg in a jumble sale or write the next Harry Potter: you can't afford the better reds from Bordeaux without a massive supply of readies, and the cheapo stuff is traditionally not worth buying at all. Compare just about any £6.99 Bordeaux with a fruit-stuffed Chilean Merlot or Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon (same grapes, same price) and few will damn you for nailing your colours to the New World mast. But pay a little more, and Bordeaux tells a different story this year.
In the trade, the current Bordeaux story is the en primeur selling of the 2002 vintage. En primeur means you pay now, while the wine is still in the casks, and receive delivery once it has been bottled - usually in about 18 to 24 months. Now, the 2002 vintage is being described as "for drinking rather than collecting" - a euphemism for quality that won't command outrageous prices. The Bordelais had it great in 2000, a vintage which allowed them to charge what they liked en primeur. With 2002, the selling is more difficult: it's not a great vintage. But there's an adage that there are no bad vintages, only bad wines. Jancis Robinson sums up 2002: "The best wines have great structure, sufficient sumptuousness to counterbalance that streak of acidity, a real sense of terroir and potential to age well... The worst wines... recall the olden days of wines which have tartness and rather unripe tannins but not enough fruit in the middle to distract from these disadvantages." (You can read more on the "Purple Pages" of www. jancisrobinson.com for £49 a year.)
Fancy getting your hands on some claret? Shop around at good UK merchants specialising in selling en primeur. I've long admired Lea & Sandeman (020 7244 0522). En primeur selling represents a tiny percentage of its business, so it has "the luxury of being able to tell our customers... what we really think". If you fancy your chances on-line, www.millesima.com offers a large selection and sensible advice. Take a look: prices for 2002 are down on last year's.
But for ordinary wine drinkers who want bottles here and now, there's equally good news. The 2000 vintage is clumping its way into UK retailers, along with good examples from 1998, 1999 and 2001, so there's reason to abandon the normal suspicion of cheap French reds. Nearly every claret I've tasted from the 2000 vintage is far better than it ought to be, due to the overall ripeness of the year, and this includes some humble-ish supermarket bottles. Better still is a good selection of petits châteaux from Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300), all of millennial vintage. And good wines from the 1999 vintage are starting to come out of the woodwork, often perfectly ready for drinking now.
OK, you'll spend more than you're likely to on a Chilean Merlot or Australian Cabernet. But it's worth being reminded why Bordeaux is the natural home and prize showcase for these grapes. And you won't need a Fabergé egg to pay for them. Not at the moment, in any case. *
Château des Annereaux 1999, Lalande de Pomerol Laithwaites, 0870 444 8282, www.laithwaites.co.uk, £12.49 A 70/30 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Lushly oaked, instantly lovable fruit; should age well, too. Delicious.
Château St Marc 1999, Margaux Tesco, £12.99 It's rare to find a decent Margaux in a supermarket. This big but squishy-berry example is perfect for drinking now. Steak, anyone?
Château L'Escart 2000, Bordeaux Supérieur Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300 or www.bbr.co.uk, £7.10 or £6.75 by the case Humble appellation, noteworthy wine: full-bodied, gentle tannins, a nice long finish.Reuse content