Ooh La La: Who’s looking for classy French reds without the grand cru price tag?
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Some of the world’s greatest merlots are grown in the vineyards of Saint Emilion, above the Dordogne river on Bordeaux’s right bank.
Saint Emilion premier grand cru wineries such as Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Pavie fetch prices of more than $750 a bottle for their current releases – and they are magical, transporting your senses to a dream state.
But where do you go to experience the joy of Bordeaux merlot at a price that’s a little more grounded in reality?
It’s a question Bordeaux winemaker and merchant Jean-Marc Sauboua has been answering on behalf of The Australian Wine Club for many years now.
Sauboua likes to talk about “next-door wines” – wines made from grapes just outside the prestigious (and expensive) grand cru appellations but where soil types and climates are similar.
A little winery called Chateau Le Coin – featured in our lineup of four affordable, gold medal-winning French wines this week – fits this “next door” profile and sells its wine for not much more than $20 a bottle.
Chateau Le Coin sits just across the Dordogne river from the grand chateaux and grows its grapes along the same limestone ridge Sauboua believes is the secret ingredient in Saint Emilion’s greatest wines.
“This is the best terroir for concentrating the flavour of the grapes,’’ says Sauboua, born and bred in Bordeaux. “The limestone is important because when it rains too much for the grapes, the soil drains easily. When it’s too dry, those roots go 30 to 40 metres into the limestone, where there is always water.”
Sauboua points out that along the limestone ridge at Saint Emilion, a hectare of land planted to merlot is valued around €4m ($6.26m). Just over the river in Chateau Le Coin’s neck of the woods, the cost is more like €30,000 ($45,500) per hectare.
“This means, of course, that you can make the wines more cheaply,’’ he says.
Sauboua, who works for The Australian Wine Club’s partner, Laithwaites, began making wine with the owner of the Chateau Le Coin vineyard, Ludovic Roussillon, about 20 years ago.
“We now buy the entire crop each year because the unique soil means we can make such good quality wines at a fraction of the price,’’ he says. “You see some of that same complexity and salinity and savouriness in the fruit at Chateau Le Coin that you see in Saint Emilion.
“I’m not saying Chateau Le Coin is as good as the grand cru – of course it cannot be – but it does have some similar characteristics.”
The 2020 season in Bordeaux delivered another superb vintage.
“The 2018, 2019 and 2020 must be the best trilogy of vintages,’’ Sauboua says. “And the 2020 is the most balanced. We just had a great summer – not too hot, not too dry – and the weather was absolutely brilliant as we got closer to harvest – bright days, cool nights, not a drop of rain.”
This is a French collection that offers everyday drinking pleasure at exceptionally fair prices.
Classic Bordeaux aromas lift from the glass: cassis and leather, followed by clove and spice. Blackcurrant and plum flavours drive the palate, with more hints of clove and tobacco, along with vanilla and cocoa. Powdery tannins support the silky fruit and pleasing acidity. Medium-bodied. Offers a level of seriousness without the price tag. Decant for an hour while you prepare a rack of lamb with garlic and rosemary, gratin dauphinoise and green beans. Awarded Grand Gold at the Berliner Wine Trophy last year. 14.5% alc; RRP $23.99 a bottle.
SPECIALS $20.39 a bottle in any dozen; $19.99 a bottle in French dozen
This merlot-based blend from Bordeaux’s Medoc appellation offers a complex nose of plums, mocha coffee and orange peel. Plums and cassis flavours flow on a rich and velvety palate. Lovely texture, with balanced acidity and silky tannins. Chateau Beauvillage lies in the tiny Medoc hamlet of Couqueues, close to the Gironde estuary and the Atlantic, and draws its fruit from 35-year-old vines. Multiple gold medals and 96 points at the International Wine & Spirit Competition. Sensational value in mixed French dozen. 14.5% alc; RRP $42.99 a bottle.
SPECIALS $34 a bottle in any dozen; $19.99 a bottle in French dozen
Generous grenache, mourvedre and shiraz blend created by Rhone star winemaker Thierry Ferlay from fruit sourced from vineyards lying just outside the borders of Chateauneuf du Pape. Aromas of raspberry and berry compote mingle with pepper, spice and herbal notes. Ripe fruit flavours and a touch of olive drive on to a lingering finish. Fans of Le Prince (like me!) will be delighted with this latest gold medal-winning vintage. 15% alc; RRP $23 a bottle.
SPECIALS $19.55 a bottle in any dozen; $19.99 a bottle in French dozen
From the ancient winegrowing region of Comte Tolosan in France’s southwest comes this rich and ripe cabernet. Blackcurrant and cassis aromas, with a touch of pencil shavings and vanilla on the nose. Intense blackcurrants and blackberry flavours; good depth of flavour and soft tannins. Made by US winemaker Nicole McPheeters working at a cellar near Toulouse. 13.5% alc;RRP $20 a bottle.
SPECIALS $17.85 a bottle in any dozen; $19.99 a bottle in French dozen
SPECIAL FRENCH DOZEN Three bottles of each wine for $19.99 a bottle
Order online or telephone 1300 765 359 Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm AEST. Deals available only while stocks last. The Australian Wine Club is a commercial partnership with Laithwaites Wine. Stockhead is partnering with The Australian Wine Club on this offer.