GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Way through the claret minefield

PUBLISHED: 11:07 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:35 07 September 2010

The time is coming to raise your glass of claret – the ultimate Christmas dinner drink, certainly for traditionalists. But if claret doesn t regularly feature on your vinous shopping list should you buy right bank or left, a fresh young vintage or one whi

The time is coming to raise your glass of claret - the ultimate Christmas dinner drink, certainly for traditionalists. But if claret doesn't regularly feature on your vinous shopping list should you buy right bank or left, a fresh young vintage or one which has that classic leathery maturity, a supermarket bargain bottle or something more individual by the case? The choices are difficult, and very individual.

There's no way that I can provide any comprehensive guide in this limited space, even if I dared. So what follows is simply some ideas and some pleasures I've encountered recently.

A claret virgin? You'll need a useful introduction like that provided by The Wine Society's Everyday Bordeaux case, eight reds, two whites, each from a different appellation, and accompanied by an informative booklet on the region, for £99 (www.thewinesociety.com). I've not tried them all, but two stars are the fresh and fragrant Chateau Bel Air blanc 2008 and the rich, oaky Exhibition Haut-Medoc. You can buy the bottles individually, too - these two are £8 and £12 respectively.

Buying direct from the chateau might sound ambitious, but Gavin and Angela Quinn, UK emigres to Bordeaux, make it easy, with bottles cellared here for quick delivery and a freephone number (0800 316 3676) direct to them at Chateau Bauduc. The wines are very good indeed and excellent value - Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein restaurants list them and two mouth-watering whites, Bordeaux blanc 2008 (£9) and Les Trois Hectares (£11), carried off silver medals in this year's International Wine Challenge. There are tempting case deals - look at www.bauduc.com for details.

At home on the high street, Nicolas has an exhaustive selection, but you'll have to seek advice from shop managers, as I missed the winter press tasting. But from other tastings I did get to, here are some more suggestions.

Majestic showed off some very want-to-drink wines, starting with the bargain Chateau Le Fregne 2007, Medoc (£7, two or more £5 each until January 4 - remember, Majestic's minimum purchase is now six bottles rather than 12). More concentrated and serious, but still very pleasurable, are Chateau Orme Brun 2007, Saint-Emilion grand cru (£13, £10 two-plus), Chateau Caronne Ste-Gemme 2004, Haut-Medoc (£13, £10 two-plus), Segla 2004, Margaux (£20), Lacoste-Borie 2005, Pauillac (£20). And traditionalists should love Chateau Moulin a Vent 1999, Moulis (£10, £9 two-plus) or Chateau Destieux 1997 Saint-Emilion grand cru (£20, £15 two-plus).

At Marks & Spencer, Mauregard Bordeaux 2008 (£5) is ripe and fruity, but the Margaux Initial de Desmirail 2006 (£15) is so much classier.

And Tesco has a very smart Puisseguin Saint-Emilion, Reserve Saint-Clair 2006 (£14), pure, scented and balanced.

Finally, if you watched BBC4's three-part wine series early this year, you'll remember the starring role of Berry Bros and Rudd in the revelation of the Bordeaux and Burgundy buying business. The results on the shelves of Berry's wonderfully atmospheric shop in St James's don't have to crack the credit card (though Pauillac de Latour 2005, £47, is wonderful). Try Chateau Campillot 2005, Medoc (£12.20) - big yet approachable, a wine to win more converts to claret.

o Claret clones abound world-wide, but one interesting choice is two vintages, 1999 and 2005, of the fine Katnook Estate cabernet sauvignon from Coonawarra. The youngster (£15.30) is still a bit gawky, but its older sibling (£23.80) is a suave, mature treat. Buy both (www.bibendumwine. co.uk) for Christmasses 2009

and 2015.

Liz Sagues


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