Christmas Claret… and so forth
Author: Philip Moulin
Over the years, I’ve had many people tell me (sometimes even those whom I trust) that red Bordeaux, or ‘Claret’ as we call it in Britain, is not necessarily the best thing to go with a traditional Christmas dinner. It is claimed that the wines’ subtleties are lost amongst the powerful flavours that are part of a yuletide roast. I am sorry, but to my mind this is stuff and nonsense – for me, Claret is the finest partner to a great number of what we consider to be the cornerstones of a Christmas feast. Whether it’s turkey with all the trimmings, a decadent goose, a rib of beef or even the joint of ham on Boxing Day, an even-mannered, savoury bottle of Claret is the absolute ticket.
I would go further and say that, for me, a decent case of Claret is an absolutely essential part of Christmas. With its inviting notes of cigar box, pencil shavings and blackcurrant fruit, there is something reassuring about it that few other wines can come close to offering. With food, red Bordeaux is more than capable of holding its own, but it rarely shouts too loud either. It is the classic accompaniment to a roast, with just enough fruit to be charming, yet enough structure to refresh the palate and bring the dish to life. Come the end of the meal you know exactly where you stand, or rather where you ought to be sitting – namely in your favourite armchair, clutching the last glass from the decanter, and perhaps a corner of the decent Cheddar you were hoping your companions were too full to tackle.
Herewith are a selection of my Christmas favourites, chosen not just to match different price points but also to explore some of the diverse styles this fabulous area can produce:
The Côtes is not the most illustrious of the Bordeaux appellations, yet when the vineyard site is a fine as that of Ch. Réaut, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was from a much more famous area. A natural amphitheatre provides such a perfect aspect for vines that this formally rundown property was snapped up a decade ago by a wealthy Champagne house who, having poured money into their new project, then sold up just as their investment was bearing fruit. Now run by 12 enthusiastic amateurs with the help of a talented winemaker, Ch. Réaut is making benchmark Claret in a modern, polished style. A great vintage, the 2010 is drinking superbly now.
Hailing from another beautiful vineyard site, this time overlooking the river Gironde at the northern end of the Médoc, this classic, cedary St Estèphe was made by the talented team who also own Ch. Batailley in Pauillac. Once again, a noble vintage, giving the wine great power but with a touch of restraint. Plush fruit is held in check with fine tannic structure. This is elegant, long and warming.
From the clay soils of the Right Bank comes this Merlot-dominated wine featuring dense, bramble fruit with hints of mocha and damson jam on the palate. The Merlot grape gives a more exuberant and slightly fatter profile to the wine than the first two on this list. It is thus a rich, sturdy wine that will match just about anything the cook can throw at it.
For some time, this second wine of a famous Bordeaux château has been a bit of a wine trade secret. Its big brother, Ch. Pichon-Baron, has produced some of the most iconic wines of Bordeaux over the last 30 years, and Les Tourelles has often given its fans not just a glimpse of the Grand Vin, but something truly fantastic in its own right. The 2010 vintage was one the finest ever at this estate, and Les Tourelles is characterised by its purity of cassis fruit, its gorgeous silky texture, and an opulent full-bodied style which eclipses many a Cru Classé.
Such is the demand for the collectors’ vintages of 2009 and 2010 that prices for Cru Classé Bordeaux have become somewhat prohibitive. One way around this problem is to look for the ‘in-between’ vintages of the last decade. 2002 is the perfect example of just such a year – unloved by American critics, and released at a moment of strong anti-French sentiment in the U.S. (the start of the second Iraq war), the prices have never been an accurate reflection of their quality. Grand-Puy-Lacoste is the thinking man’s Pauillac, and for them, the most perfect expression of the commune. Notes of cigar boxes, leather chairs and crystalline blackcurrant fruit are the hallmark of the château, along with the most remarkable balance of fruit versus structure. Decant an hour or two before serving, and make sure you are not sitting too far away from said vessel when it’s time for a second glass.
For those that like their Claret with a bit more bottle age, we recently secured a parcel of this fabulous wine direct from the château. The wines of St Julien share characteristics from Margaux to the south and Pauillac to the north. They have the perfume and elegance of the former, with the power and richness of the latter. Gruaud-Larose is one of our favourite châteaux with its easy, mellifluous style, superb depth of fruit and, above all, its persistence on the finish. A beautifully mature Bordeaux, and a treat for the palate this Christmas.
Read more about Bordeaux on bbr.com.