CLARET ON the carpet? In Bordeaux perhaps but today's conclusion by Which? that claret, or red Bordeaux, is pretty poor stuff at under £10 will raise few eyebrows among wine-drinkers who have discovered the value to be found in Bordeaux-style reds from Australia, Chile, and just about every other emerging wine-producing country under the warm southern hemisphere sun.

CLARET ON the carpet? In Bordeaux perhaps but today's conclusion by Which? that claret, or red Bordeaux, is pretty poor stuff at under £10 will raise few eyebrows among wine-drinkers who have discovered the value to be found in Bordeaux-style reds from Australia, Chile, and just about every other emerging wine-producing country under the warm southern hemisphere sun.

This year's International Wine Challenge - the wine-tasting Olympics and yardstick of quality - is set to confirm the reality that red Bordeaux is no longer an automatic first port of call for lovers of good-value reds made from the cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc grapes.

The Challenge results, under wraps until next week, show that Bordeaux, the world's biggest fine-wine region, could only manage four gold and 11 silver medals for its reds against Australia's jackpot of 15 golds and 72 silvers. Even Chile garnered nine golds and 43 silvers in the Bordeaux-style category.

There are a number of reasons for the disparity between red Bordeaux and similar styles from the New World and France's up-and-coming south.

Buoyed by demand for red wines and the success of its sales campaigns for the very good vintages of 1995 and 1996, the Bordelais have increased claret prices without justifying the price hikes in quality terms. Unnecessarily high yields contributed to the production of mediocre wines.

The New World is beating Bordeaux at its own game by a combination of an advantageous climate and cunning marketing.

While Bordeaux has struggled to establish successful brands within the confines of its chateau system, the New World, backed by big, brand-conscious wine companies, has taken the names cabernet sauvignon and merlot and used them to create not just a consumer-friendly image but deliciously drinkable wines which deliver more bang for your bucks than their Bordeaux counterparts.

Despite the fact that Australia is arguably better at producing Rhone- style reds from the shiraz grape, it has still been the arch-thorn in the Bordelais' side with its excellent value Bordeaux-style reds. Against a static performance for Bordeaux, Australia's share of the market has increased 31 per cent.

As Chile's vines mature and its cellar techniques improve, it is an emerging star, with 20-per-cent growth last year.

While South Africa and New Zealand can also produce good reds in the Bordeaux style, Argentina is the dark horse to watch, with a 15-per-cent increase over the previous year from a standing start.

Equally worrying for the Bordelais is the potential from the Languedoc- Roussillon, with vin de pays d'Oc reds made from cabernet sauvignon and merlot often better value at under £5 than Bordeaux.

Are there any consolations for Bordeaux? Yes. At the top (cru classe) and intermediate (cru Bourgeois) levels, it can still produce fine, complex chateau-bottled claret made to go with a good meal. But don't expect bargains. The best intermediate wines now set you back £15 to £20 a bottle. At cru classe level expect to pay £30 to £50 for a good bottle, or, if the wine has been anointed by the American guru Robert Parker, upwards of £200 a bottle. For the mere mortal consumer, the name Croesus may well spring to mind.

Comments