Château de Pitray, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France 2017 (£13.99, or £9.99 as part of a mixed case of six, majestic.co.uk) One of the explanations for Bordeaux’s leadership of the fine wine world is the carefully managed hoopla that surrounds the launch of the region’s new vintage each spring. In normal times, the world’s fine wine trade and journalists would flock to Bordeaux in their hundreds in April, flitting from château to château to pass judgment on an endless succession of samples of young, still-maturing wines drawn straight from the barrel. Then, as spring moves into summer, the châteaux use those verdicts to decide just how much they can charge when they sell a proportion of their stock “en primeur”: wines that won’t be delivered to their buyers for another couple of years. The whole thing usually keeps Bordeaux at the top of the wine news cycle for months. With France in lockdown for the past two springs, however, the Bordelais have had to think of different ways to spread the word about whether, for example, a wine such as Château de Pitray is as classically stylish as it was in 2017.
Château Cambon La Pelouse, Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France 2015 (from £23, davywine.co.uk; leasandeman.co.uk) Most of the en primeur hype is reserved for the members of the exclusive club of crus classés (literally classed growths) that occupy the top tier of Bordeaux. This club has been set in stone for getting on for 170 years, with the 59 top châteaux of the Médoc (plus one from Graves) in the Left Bank region south of the Garonne River being fixed in divisions from Premier Cru (the top five estates including Latour and Lafite) to Cinquième Cru (the bottom 18) since the ranking was drawn up for the Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1855. It’s hard, especially in good vintages (such as 2020 seems, on my limited tasting, to be), to find value in that Top 60. But there are excellent wines to be found in the next level down, with the best Cru Bourgeois, such as Cambon La Pelouse’s 2015, offering classically elegant yet deep red wines that will age and improve for many years.
Ronan by Clinet, Bordeaux, France 2015 (from £13.50 mrwheelerwine.com; bbr.com) The prices of Bordeaux’s elite have spiralled beyond the reach of most mere mortals over the past two decades. Even last year, when Covid-19-led economic uncertainty led to an average 21% drop in prices of the generally very good 2019 vintage, you’re looking at several hundred quid a bottle for the biggest most in-demand names. Those wines are, to all intents and purposes, investment vehicles now rather than drinks, and there’s something powerfully odd and sad in the idea of all those thousands of bottles of superlative wine sitting in cellars accumulating value rather than being poured and causing delight to drinkers. The closest most ordinary wine lovers come to the Bordeaux top table these days is by sampling their diffusion lines, with Ronan from the team that makes Château Clinet, one of the leading estates in Pomerol in Bordeaux’s Right Bank area, a satisfying 100% merlot snapshot of that estate’s sumptuous house style.