Who doesn’t love a joyful, everyday wine – especially if it’s fairly priced Bordeaux. There’s an unfortunate view, particularly prevalent in the UK, that Bordeaux wines fall into only two categories – those sold at super-premium prices for the obscenely rich, and those that are little more than execrable filth. The truth is that there are many examples offering great charm and outstanding value available in between these two poles.
Vieux Chateau Gaubert 2010 was the standout wine at a recent supper club organised by Stolen. All the wines were chosen to support the theme “Bordeaux shows its colours” – showcasing the versatility of Bordeaux’s more modest red, white and rosé styles in food matching. So, we had an unusual and very good sparkling rosé with the amuse-bouches (I could have done without the foie gras, why do people still feel this is necessary for a “serious” culinary experience?), an experimental pairing of a Sauternes with the starter (Château Doisy Daëne 2005) – with the option to pair with the afore-mentioned Graves instead, and two reds (one left bank, one right) with the main course.
The Gaubert Graves delivered masses of class and balance, especially considering the price point (£11.95 from The Wine Society). The fresh citrus kick of Sauvignon Blanc is fleshed out perfectly by Semillon’s more blowzy white peach flavours. Sensitive barrel fermenting has lent an attractive coriander scent, and rounded out the texture without making it flabby or overly “fat”. Overall, charming and accessible, and very versatile at that (I drank it with almost every course).
None of the other wines quite cut it for me. Doisy Daëne is of course a redoubtable Sauternes producer, but the 2005 isn’t as fresh as it needs to be – especially not if we were to pair it with deep fried blue cheese, which needed a ton of acidity to cut through the richness.
I was disappointed with the two choices representing Bordeaux’s everyday red wines. Château Caronne Ste-Gemme Haut-Médoc 2007 tasted utterly mass produced, with a rather hollow and unattractive woodiness – and a notable lack of fruit or any defining character. Roc de Lussac, Lussac-Saint-Emilion 2010 did at least deliver some youthful juicy merlot fruit, but was so soft and bland that it wasn’t really saying anything about Bordeaux. And this is a brand that has been on the supermarket shelves forever, with a grossly exaggerated RRP (£14.99) that serves only to allow supposed “special offers” of 50% or more.
I would have preferred to see red wines from lesser known appellations in Bordeaux. There is real value to be had from areas such as the Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Castillon and even the generic AOP Bordeaux and AOP Bordeaux Superieur appellations, if you know where to look. Lussac-Saint-Emilion often tends to be a bit of a con, as this satellite to the much more prestigious St. Emilion village shares very little of the specific soil and aspect that are so important for the best wines. Yet most consumers are unaware of the difference between this and true “St. Emilion”. The Medoc as “brand” also commands a premium that frequently does not translate into value.
Stolen deserve props for serving some outstanding food. The Barrafina recipe for Pig Cheeks on Celeriac Mash was melt-in-the-mouth, wintery perfection – and certainly made the Caronne Ste-Gemme more bearable. Our starter of Chicory Tart with Walnut and Pear Salad and Deep Fried Blue Cheese was less successful, as the tart and the fried cheese were too substantial in combination. Jason Atherton’s Cup of Tea with Brioche Sugar Lumps and Tea Sorbet dessert achieved a convincing 2/3 – the Earl Grey creme anglaise quite divine, the brioche sugar lumps great fun, and only the tea sorbet letting the side down – overly sweet, and the tea tasted stewed.
Many thanks to Bordeaux Wines UK, Stolen Catering and Christina Pickard for the invite.