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Show caption Labels to love: workers harvest grapes in Bordeaux, world’s most prestigious wine region. Photograph: Caroline Blumberg/EPA

David Williams's wines of the week

Get ready for the thrilling launch of the current crop from France’s wine powerhouse

Sun 24 Apr 2022 01.00 EDT

Château Monconseil Gazin, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, France 2019 (£9.95, thewinesociety.com) Over the next month, the wine world will be drawn, as it is every year around this time, to en primeur season in Bordeaux, where producers in what is still the world’s most prestigious wine region are showing off barrel samples of the still-maturing young wines of their most recent vintage. After a run of three excellent vintages, 2021 was a bit of a trial for Bordeaux’s châteaux: late frost, heavy spring rain, and mildew, plus the logistical complications of working in a pandemic, combined to make this one of the most challenging growing seasons in recent Bordeaux history, greatly reducing the crop. Whether the quality will compensate for the lack of quantity, as the local wine association, the CIVB, would like us to think, we’ll have to wait and see. For now, I’d be happy to enjoy the fruits of the great 2019 vintage, in the shape of classic, excellent value young cassis-scented claret from Château Monconseil Gazin.

Domaine de Valmengaux, “En Jarre”, Bordeaux, France 2018 (£24.95, bbr.com) The annual circus that surrounds first the en primeur tastings and then the announcement of the opening prices by each château, can present a rather distorted picture of Bordeaux’s wine scene. Only a few dozen châteaux can command the really big bucks (up to several thousands of pounds per case). For the rest of the region’s more than 6,000 growers, 300 négociants (producers that bottle wine sourced from across the region) and 33 co-operatives, reality is more gritty than glitzy. The Bordeaux profonde is also rather less uptight and conservative than the haute-bourgeois stereotype would allow. True, the region had for a while lacked some of the adventurous small-producer energy found in other parts of France. But outside the mainstream there is plenty of experimentation going on. Organic producer Domaine de Valmengaux, a new producer formed by a group of 50 friends, for example, uses clay amphora rather than the usual oak barrels for its wonderfully pure, deeply succulent red.

Blanc Sec de Suduiraut, Bordeaux, France 2020 (from £15.88, laywheeler.com; cambridgewine.com) Other exciting producers that have brought something of the counter-cultural energy found in the Loire, the Rhône or the Languedoc to the Gironde estuary include jazz singer Thierry Valette, whose biodynamically grown Puy Arnaud wines include the wonderfully perfumed fresh currants and leafiness of Les Acacias Cabernet Franc 2017 (£29.99, northandsouthwines.co.uk); and Domaine de Galouchey, another organic estate, planted in the early 2000s in the unfashionable Entre-Deux-Mers subregion, with a real back-to-the-land, natural-leaning style, as found in the vibrant, expressive (and evocatively named) Vin de Jardin 2018 (£33, shrinetothevine.co.uk). It’s also worth remembering that Bordeaux has more to offer than red. Its white wines, both dry and sweet, have their own distinctive allure, as exemplified by two from the great Sauternes estate Château Suduiraut: the scintillating grapefruit tang and glow and herby lift of the Blanc Sec dry, and the honeyed, crystallized, gorgeousness of the sweet 2013 vintage Sauternes it made for Waitrose’s No 1 series (£16.99, 37.5cl).

Follow David Williams on Twitter @Daveydaibach

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