Underwhelmed in Bordeaux

In general, I like to praise the good qualities of wines which I taste. If anything I can be too positive.  But if there is something to like, I will lead with that, while noting shortcomings as they are evident.  It is surprising to me, therefore, to report that Andover Wine Friends’ May tasting of Berry’s own label Bordeaux was distinctly underwhelming.  It was not that these were bad wines but they just did not shine. 

The idea of the tasting was simple.  Was there value, quality and variety to be had in Bordeaux at two price levels?  We all know that at the top end, Claret can be among the very best wines in the world. Less well known is that at the bottom end of the market it is almost impossible to sell some bulk, characterless wines. So what about either the £5-£10 level and then, more significantly, at the £20 level?

In fact, the couple of inexpensive wines did OK.  Waitrose Reserve Claret 2010 received a rather frosty reception until the price was revealed – a rather neutral nose but then some decent red and black fruit all for £6.  Berrys’ Good Ordinary Claret 2009 had better fruit and subtle oak – but at £10 it really did not pull up any trees. It would be fine if you are wedded to the ‘Claret’ name, but otherwise, there are many more interesting wines you could buy at this price. 

It was really the better wines which failed to shine.  It was partly the expectation on two parts: first, knowing that Berrys are either the biggest name in Claret in the important UK market or among the very best. And then there are the magical communal names which adorn the bottles of some of the finest wines in the world: St Émilion, Pomerol, Margaux and so on.

The two right bankers were met with the most disparate responses: St Émilion 2008, made by Ch. Simard, has pleasant fruit but was disappointing in its simplicity, while Pomerol 2009 was the wine of the evening, with a more pronounced nose, more than a hint of the famed gorgeous Merlot fruit, balance and decent tannins.  But that was as good as it got: none of Margaux 2006, St Julien 2008 or St Estèphe 2008 were more than adequate at the £20 mark.  Competent, well-made wines, with some tipicity but very little excitement. 

If these bottles were representative, I can only guess what is going on here.  These wines are probably selected lots from the second or even third wines of famous estates.   With Berrys’ buying power and connections I would expect them to be mini versions of the estates’ fine wines but these weren’t.  So I can only guess that there is still a part of the UK wine market which is willing to pay a decent sum of money for two famous names – that of Berrys and then the commune name.  But the market has moved on and there are so many exciting wines at this price …

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