There are some combinations so iconic that they require no introduction or explanation. Fish and chips, for example. Or Laurel and Hardy. Batman and Robin, perhaps. Bacon and eggs, if you’re a breakfast enthusiast. And, of course, the ultimate duo for all the oenophiles out there … red wine and Bordeaux. Arguably the most famous of all the French wine regions (and therefore, perhaps, the world) the name Bordeaux on a bottle of red commands global recognition in the wine community, with its definitive blends of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon some of the most sought after of all French wines.
Regardless of whether you favour the Left or the Right Bank, if you’re mad for Margaux or prefer a Pomerol, there is a red Bordeaux out there for every palate. The region is prolific, producing over 6 million hectolitres of wine every year, from the ultra-premium first growths (think Lafite and Latour) to the much more accessible classifications of AC Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. It’s not just about the price tag – some of the best and most drinkable Bordeaux reds are readily available at a realistic cost and match just as well with a succulent steak as any expensive bottle.
Now, it’s understandable that with such an enormous number of options available, the process of finding the best red Bordeaux can seem a little bit mind-boggling … which is why I’ve put together a shortlist of five of my favourite red Bordeaux to suit every taste and budget.
2015 Berry Bros Extra Ordinary Claret
Photo credit: farmison.com
Produced exclusively for the UK’s most iconic wine merchant, the award-winning Berry Bros & Rudd Extra Ordinary Claret is made by the Cazes family, who also happen to own famous Château Lynch-Bages – and they’ve definitely brought a little bit of that cru classé magic to this eminently affordable wine. (The critics agree; this claret took home a Silver award at the International Wine Challenge this year)
The Extra Ordinary Claret is defined by the softer influence of the Merlot grape, with perfectly ripe black fruits dominating on the nose. Delectable aromas of black cherry, blackberry and even a little subtle chocolatiness are supported on the palate by an acidity that is gentle yet not overpowering, and firm, lingering tannins. At just over £16 a bottle, it’s one of the best value clarets on the market and a versatile one, too … drink with anything from midweek spaghetti and meatballs to a leg of lamb on a Sunday roast and make an everyday meal feel like a special occasion.
2001 Château Leoville-Barton
Demand for Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated reds from exclusive St-Julien producer Château Leoville-Barton has grown exponentially in the last 30 years, with vintages from the early 2000s now some of the most sought after of all the wines in the 2ème Cru Classé denomination.
Leoville-Barton screams sumptuousness right from the moment your eye alights upon the luxuriously detailed label depicting the château (although, fun fact alert, the image actually shows the Langoa-Barton château, owned by the same family – Leoville-Barton doesn’t have its own facility and the wine is made at Langoa). It’s a wine that needs age to truly be at its best, and so you can’t go far wrong with any of the vintages between 2000 and 2005 to guarantee a divine drinking experience. However, my personal favourite is the 2001 and so this is the vintage that I’ll now wax lyrical about.
The 2001 is a marvel. Subtle, spicy, sophisticated, with nearly two decades spent maturing in the bottle creating a level of intensity and complexity that a younger wine simply can’t match. Ripe fruit aromas overflow the glass, velvety cherry and cassis making the first (extremely pleasant) assault on the palate … but it’s the length, the finish, the development of this wine that really makes it what it is. The initial fruity hit matures into a long, seductive finish that’s all cinnamon spice, delicious cedar woodiness and supple leather. It’s gorgeous, and you may have to save up a little while longer to buy a bottle or two, but my god it’s worth it.
As with any decent Bordeaux, decant for three or four hours, and then, ideally, pair with lamb and share with someone you love on a blustery Sunday evening.
Laithwaite’s Barons de Rothschild Lafite Réserve Spéciale Pauillac 2015
Photo credit: wikipedia.org
Perhaps the most iconic of all the Left Bank Bordeaux communes, Pauillac nestles in the heart of the Médoc and is home to some of the most famous châteaux in existence. It’s seen by many as the quintessential Bordeaux red, a combination of gentle, rounded fruit tones and subtle oak and tobacco, dry on the palate and above all, an unrivalled ability to age beautifully in the bottle.
If you want a little bit of that definitive Pauillac style without the substantial price tag, Laithwaite’s Barons de Rothschild 2015 is created by the masterminds at Château Lafite Rothschild and is an absolute steal at £30. In classic Pauillac style, it’s deep, dark and intense, redolent with ripe blackcurrants and an intriguing touch of mint and tobacco. The tannins are well balanced and the finish peppery and pleasantly lengthy. It has all the classic richness and gravitas that you’d expect from a Pauillac but is still as pleasantly fresh and drinkable as you’d expect from a slightly younger wine.
The Wine Society’s Exhibition Margaux 2015
2015 was universally acknowledged to be an outstanding year for Bordeaux wines, and Margaux was no exception. Margaux is perhaps the most romantic of Bordeaux’s reds, known for its elegance and sophistication and a particular fragrant quality on the nose.
You can’t go wrong when it comes to the Wine Society’s Exhibition range, and their Exhibition Margaux is surely one of their best. Made specifically for the Society by Château Brane-Cantenac, this wine spends a year aging in oak and is ideal for drinking now or squirreling away for another few years. It’s violet-scented, perfumed and plummy on the nose, with supple, velvety tannins and a pleasant roundness which will only improve as time goes by.
Château Cheval Blanc
Photo credit: wikipedia.org
Okay, we’re going to end with a bang! As I’ve mentioned, there are a few châteaux across Bordeaux who are generally, resoundingly worshipped as deities of the wine world. Cheval Blanc in Saint-Émilion is one such château, and their red wines are the kind that drinkers wait decades to sample. Cheval Blanc vineyards feature an unusually high inclusion of the third red grape of Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc – in fact, 57% of their 41 hectares of vines are dedicated to Cab Franc, in unusual contrast to the plantings of most other great estates.
If you ever have an opportunity to sample a Cheval Blanc, take it, immediately, and without hesitation. It will ideally be at least 15 years old (although these wines have the structure and longevity to continue improving for 50 years and more) and on the palate … well. It demonstrates the very best of Bordeaux, sumptuous without being overpowering, flamboyant but not over the top, singing with deep dark cherry and smoky aromas, decadent dark chocolate, cigar box, liquorice, lavender … it’s mysterious, beautiful and complicated, the Audrey Hepburn of red wines. And if you can possibly help it, try and drink it on a day when someone else is paying – as an example, a 2000 Cheval Blanc is likely to set you back somewhere in the region of £1000. Eeek.