Laura Clay on how Bordeaux is taking on the New World - at last!

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As an accredited Bordeaux tutor, Médoc ambassador, claret drinker, Bordeaux Blanc lover, sweetie fanatic and occasional primeur buyer, I’d really quite like the Bordeaux bashing bandwagon to come to an end.

A recent trip to the Médoc proved what we all know deep down - that Bordeaux is raising its game. It can produce classy, characterful, balanced wines at both ends of the price spectrum.  Vineyard and winery developments are evident throughout the region but are not the only improvements; the doors are open for wine-tourists, too. Family- owned Chateau Kirwan, for example, has made daughter, Nathalie Schyler the directeur oenotourisme and she’s doing a fine job.

The Cru Bourgeois has finally got its act together and developed a system which, in theory at least, should work to the benefit of the chateaux and consumer alike. The value of many of these wines is outstanding and there are so many still to discover for the UK consumer. Château Brillette in Moulis was a new one on me. We toured the vineyards in a WWII American jeep with Romain Flageul, recently at the helm of the family business, and saw first-hand  that things are looking good.

Of course, not all Médoc châteaux feel the need to participate in the Cru Bourgeois classification – Châteaux Phélan-Segur, Sociando-Mallet, Fourcas Hosten all manage to sell their premium wines without it. Look out for Fourcas Hosten in future years – an already good château is under new ownership with a new (female) wine-maker who is taking the vineyards by their roots and cutting no costs to what she believes will deliver best quality grapes.

The same can be said of many Cru Artisan properties. As Christophe Landry, owner of Château Des Graviers, said, he wouldn’t be making wine if he was in it for the money. If he sold his vineyards, rather well-situated in Margaux, he’d be set up for life. Instead he makes biodynamic wine from his 7 hectares in Arsac selling at under £20 a bottle. He’s a farmer with dirt under his nails and the soil in his blood.

These individual, hands-on producers lie side by side co-operatives and négociants. The 3000-barrel cellar at Uni-Medoc and a tasting of the wines showed quality and value to match any New World brand. Any visit to Dourthe which includes Marie-Hélène Inquimbert as your guide will blow your mind – this woman knows everything there is to know about wine-making in Bordeaux and shares it with a passion, excitement and honesty which is refreshing to witness. The wines speak for themselves from 5th growth Belgrave, and Cru Bourgeois Le Boscq to Bordeaux Supérieur Pey La Tour and the Dourthe No.1brands.

Everything in the Bordeaux garden is not rosy, however. Despite fewer hectares under vine, there are still some that would be better used for something else; no doubt there are still winemakers taking short-cuts, cutting costs and corners, but where in the world is this not also true? And mother-nature can be a bitch sometimes - no doubt you will have heard about the 10 minute storm which raged through Entre-Deux-Mers on August 2 causing untold damage to many producers. But don’t jump off the Bordeaux bashing bandwagon in sympathy, do so in recognition of the hard work, innovation and research which go in to making great wine in a great area.

Bordeaux is facing the challenge of the New World head-on, at last, and deserves our respect not our derision.

* Laura Clay is chairman of the Association of Wine Educators and one half of BYWine www.bywine.co.uk

Readers' comments (2)

  • Brilliantly said, Laura. I was there with you for some of these events and Marie-Helen's passion for Dourthe, the excellent tastings of Dourthe wines, her detailed explanations of the terroir, were all top rate.

    The tasting of the Cru Bougeois wines from the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois at Château Paveil de Luze for the AWE gala dinner really demonstrated the quality of these wines. It was great to have so many Alliance des Crus Bourgeois owners present so we could get a sense of their passion and dedication.

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  • Excellent piece. The Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc will be announcing and showing the Official Selection of 2011 Crus Bourgeois on 19th September in London. Anyone wishing to attend should please email me for details: louise@phillips-hill.co.uk

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