Thursday, 19 December 2013

Four Bargain Christmas Clarets

By Darren Smith

Christmas means crisis: all that expectation, the build-up of depressive winter frustrations, the family strife, the moral demand, after another year of slaving for The Man without any real justification, to indulge yourself to the point of prolapse, all this means that we turn to the richest food and drink, the real luxury stuff that would give gentlemen and gentlewomen a crippling case of gout in days of yore.

For food, we want great, glistening slabs of foie gras, butter-basted birds, luscious chocolatey confections and the like; when it comes to the wines, we want the finest available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now – as exhorted in Bruce Robinson's fine instructional documentary Withnail & I.

This basically means claret. Except we don’t all have Uncle Monty’s millions. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you can’t even remember the last time you looked at your bank balance, so unwilling are you to confront the horror of its meagre digits.

But I digress. The point is, how do we bring into harmony the discordant themes of masochistic indulgence and extreme penury? With the help of my buying guide of top Bargain Christmas Clarets – that’s how. From the £10-£20 range I’ve sifted out the bilge and left you with four Christmas crackers with which to thoroughly soak yourself this Jesus’s birthday.

NB: Most of these wines would benefit from a bit of aeration before drinking – ideally decanting it an hour or so before you taste it; and remember: keep it warmish – just under room temperature. It’ll be rubbish if it’s too cold.

Cin cin – and bring on the gout stool!

Château St Paul Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2010 (Marks & Spencer, £14.99)

Almost 50/50 cab sauv and merlot. On the lighter side for a claret but lacking none of the deep fruity punch. Beautifully ripe fruit, perfect tannin grip, slight resinousness (unconvincing word, that) and a hint of spice from the small quantity of petit verdot in the blend; silky texture, and an unusually crisp finish for a Bordeaux – no bad thing in this case.

Château Bonnin Pichon Lussac St Émilion Grand Reserve 2007 (, £12.25)

St Émilion means right-bank of the Gironde river, which means a merlot-dominated blend (as opposed to the traditional cab sauv-dominated blend of left-bank Bordeaux). Very harmonious: subtle smoke, smooth oak, silky tannins. Light liquorice and dark cherry acidity. Velvety but not cloying texture. A superb-value reserve claret. Get on that.

Château du Seuil Graves 2009 (Virgin Wines, £14.99)

A classic Graves: 50% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 10% cabernet franc. Strong smokiness and tobacco aromas come from the mix of new and old oak barrels. Good grippy tannins and rich texture. Graphite minerality, forest-floor aromas with a prickle of black pepper. Fruit is blackberry/black cherry becoming currants. One you could lay down for up to 10 years or guzzle down in 10 minutes.

Château Sénéjac Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2009 (Co-op, £13.99 until January 3, 2014; usually £16.99)

A traditional-style Haut-Medoc from the winemakers behind the renowned Cru Classé Château Pontet-Canet. Mainly cabernet sauvignon with a smaller amount of merlot and a smaller amount still of cabernet franc. Smooth-textured with rich blackberry fruit and forest-floor aromas, and a touch of liquorice – all you want from a cosy Christmas claret. Unusually for Bordeaux, Sénéjac has embraced biodynamic methods – so presumably there’s been no manipulation of the juice that nature intended for this vintage. Especially good value, given the Christmas discount – nice job, Co-op!

Top image taken from jayneandd's photostream under the Creative Commons License.

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