By Jim Budd
CHOOSING and buying Burgundy is often said to be a minefield. But increasingly I think that red Bordeaux is even more problematic.
In Burgundy, after all, provided that you remember the names of good producers and interesting négociants, you are fairly safe.
Estimates of the number of such properties in the region vary between 7,000 and 10,000. Although not all properties make their own wine, there are probably some 6,000-7,000 different wines on the market - and that's before you start counting branded wines from négociants.
Unfortunately, the quality of these small-property wines is highly erratic. Too often they are dry, dusty and fruitless. Airlines seem to make a speciality of choosing particularly horrid examples.
Although there are some good wines about, all too often tasting Bordeaux is a disappointing experience.
Unfortunately, world demand and a shortage of stock has pushed up the price of basic Bordeaux sharply. Over the past nine months, the price of a tonneau of AC Bordeaux has risen from Ffr7,500 (£739) to Ffr13,000 (£1,280). Finding good-value, drinkable claret is certainly not going to become any easier.
Among the straight AC Bordeaux wines I have tasted recently, I particularly liked the soft, easy-drinking fruit of ChÆ'teau de Ribebon 1995. It has some complexity and is fairly priced at £47.40 (Berkmann Wine Cellars: 0171-609 4711).
At a big tasting of Bordeaux Supérieur in Paris recently, I was very impressed with the generous fruit of 1996 ChÆ'teau Penin Cuvée Selection (£72.60 - RSJ Wine Company: 0171-633 0881). The basic 1996 ChÆ'teau Penin is also available for £58.50. Less opulent but more evolved is the 1994 (£71.40 - Les Caves de Pyrene: 01483-538820). ChÆ'teau Lauren on 1996 (£42.60 from Boutinot Wines: 0161-477 1171) is a simple, easy-drinking red, and fair value.
Moving slightly up the Bordeaux hierarchy to the various côtes appellations - de Castillon, Blaye and Bourg - can bring more complexity and concentration, but standards are horrifyingly variable. However, Fields Wine Merchants (0171-589 5753), now part of Berry Bros & Rudd, has the attractive 1994 ChÆ'teau Guiraud-Grimard, Côtes de Bourg (£59.50). That year produced decidedly hard wines, but those from lesser appellations have now begun to soften up. ChÆ'teau du Grand MouÆ'ys 1993, PremiÁ¤res Côtes de Bordeaux (£66.96) also has soft fruit and is showing some complexity of age.
Anyone looking for a guide through the Bordeaux minefield should invest in Hubrecht Duijker and Michael Broadbent's remarkable Bordeaux Atlas (£40, Ebury Press), covering some 2,000 properties in the region. n