Rethinking the best of Bordeaux

Château Capbern, St-Estèphe, Bordeaux, France 2017 (£21.68, justerinis.com) There was a time, not all that long ago, when the red Bordeaux blend was the wine style that winemakers all over the world aspired to copy and match. These days … well, let’s just say that most winemakers and sommeliers under the age of 40 are much more in love with and inspired by the earthier, small-scale vignerons of Burgundy and a flurry of more obscure flavour of the month places. “Basically Bordeaux is daddy wine”, a merchant acquaintance of mine told me recently, meaning it’s simultaneously passé and overpriced while still somehow monopolising outdated mainstream wine media just as vintage 1960s and 1970s “dad rock” rules the remnants of the printed music press. The thing is though, for all the off-puttingly snobbish luxury and conspicuous consumption associated with the region’s top châteaux, there are hundreds of delightful wines made in Bordeaux each year: the fragrant, classically cassis-scented, satisfyingly fine-grained Capbern, for example, is an enormously pleasurable partner for a Sunday roast.

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia 2018 (from £26, thewinesociety.com; farehamwinecellar.co.uk; harveynichols.com; laithwaites.co.uk) Bordeaux may have been eclipsed by more fashionable upstart wine regions like a traditional Michelin white tablecloth restaurant being put in the shade by a the latest small plate pop-up. But the real vinous hipster-kryptonite is the wines made by the most famous regions to borrow Bordeaux’s recipe of grape varieties and winemaking methods. I can think of few more derided wine styles in fashion-conscious wine circles than Napa cabernet sauvignon, which is stereotyped, not always unfairly, as a kind of brash, insanely expensive, supersized version of Bordeaux claret: the Salt Bae of wine. Cabernet sauvignons from Australia get dismissed in much the same way: it’s assumed they’re all alcohol and rich but one-dimensional fruit, lacking subtlety and freshness. You can of course find examples of clumsy, overworked Bordeaux-esque wines in both Napa and Australia, but these days there are just as many beautiful, balanced bottles such as Vasse Felix’s perfectly modulated, luxuriously silky combination of ripe blackcurrant, polished tannin and cedary freshness.

Casa del Colores Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Valley, Chile 2020 (£6, Marks & Spencer) Much of the anti-Bordeaux backlash of recent years is part of a generalized resistance to the homogenising effects of globalisation. There was a point where the Bordeaux grape varieties were being planted everywhere wine was made, edging out harder-to-market local varieties in a kind of vinous gentrification. I won’t deny that many if not most of the tens of thousands of hectares of vineyard planted to cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and to a significantly lesser extent, cabernet franc and petit verdot in the period just before and after the millennium yielded some of the world’s least inspiring wines. Equally, places such as Margaret River and Coonawarra in Australia, Washington State (as well as California) in the USA and Bolgheri in Tuscany have adapted and shaped the Bordeaux style to produce something all their own. Chile, too, has given cabernet sauvignon its own distinct character, both in seriously fine, top-end, multifaceted collector’s items such as Seña or Almaviva and in reliable, generously fruited bargains such as Casa del Colores.

Follow David Williams on Twitter @Daveydaibach

Comments are closed.