After a damp squib of a campaign to sell the 2004 vintage, a chink of light at last in the Bordeaux gloom. "In 25 years, I have never seen a harvest picked in more healthy conditions," crows Jean-Marie Chadronnier, head of the French wine group Dourthe. True, we've heard this all before. But it's not just the great and good of the Médoc rubbing their hands this time round; the salt-of-the-earth grower is happy too. As super-consultant Michel Rolland makes clear, "If we can't make great wine in Bordeaux this year, we may as well rip up the vines and plant potatoes."
The middle-ranking grower is the key to the 2005 vintage. All the more so if much top châteaux wine is going to be absorbed by new personal pension provisions due in April. The coincidentally named SIPPs rules will allow UK tax relief on fine wines bought as part of a pension. Berry Bros & Rudd alone is already rumoured to have snaffled 2,000 cases of mature Bordeaux to satisfy demand. If 2005 turns out to be an "investment grade" vintage, the wines of the top 50-odd châteaux will be in massive demand when the wine comes on the market as futures (en primeur) in the spring. So the well-made, sensibly priced lesser châteaux are well-placed to do business next year.
In a global marketplace, growers have had to get their act together to sell their wines, often bypassing the Bordeaux system. The most important benefit for claret lovers is that quality wines are far more drinkable young than they used to be. As Chadronnier points out: "With better methods of controlling the harvest and making our wines more approachable, we need to convince consumers that Bordeaux today can be drunk young."
So claret's not just for life insurance; what about some just for Christmas? If so, there are some deliciously drinkable wines from 2001 and 2002, even 2000 if you can get it. From the Côtes de Blaye, the 2002 Château Segonzac, £7.99, Waitrose, is a merlot-based claret of superior quality with an appealing cherry fruitiness, while the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux is the source of an approachable claret with flavour, vanilla oak and supple tannins in the 2001 Château Sissan, £8.99, Co-op. Also under a tenner, the 2002 Château Reysson Reserve, £9.99, Tesco, is made in a modern style with dark cherry fruit. The 2002 Château d'Arcin, £9.99, Oddbins, is another approachable, stylish, blackcurranty Médoc.
For a more luxurious claret, the 2001 Château Beaumont, £13.99 or three for two, Wine Rack, is still a good value cru bourgeois. Equally, the 2002 Château Les Tourelles de Longueville, £18.99, Somerfield (top 130 stores), a svelte, classy second wine brings a vibrant core of cassis fruitiness to the finesse you expect from a classified Pauillac château.
The Right Bank of St Emilion and Pomerol is home to some fine choices, such as the 2001 Château Plain Point, Fronsac, £13.99, Oddbins, a typical mini-St Emilion with oak adding a spicy, toasty touch to the vivid, succulent fruit flavours and firm backbone. And the 2000 Château La Vieille Cure, Fronsac, £14.99, Sainsbury's, whose stylish oak and cassis fruit makes for a modern, sexy St Emilion lookalike. In Saint-Emilion itself, the 2002 Château Fonplégade, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, £14.99, Sainsbury's, focuses elegantly on plum fruitiness and fresh acidity, while from neighbouring Pomerol, the 2001 Château La Croix du Casse, £14.95, Oddbins, displays sumptuous merlot and cabernet franc fruit in a stylish, cassis-flavoured blend.Reuse content