Ch. Clauzet, good Bordeaux that doesn’t break the bank…
I do like my claret. Until I moved to England I had no idea what claret was (it’s what the English call Bordeaux red wines) and even then I didn’t think would have much of a chance to drink it. “Oh, I don’t have enough money to even contemplate buying a bottle, let alone a case!” However, once you look past the big names there are plenty of excellent and good value for money choices, on both the Left and Right Banks of the Gironde River.
The St Estephe commune is located near the mouth of the Gironde river estuary on the Left Bank in the northernmost corner. It’s known primarily for it’s muscular and well structured red wines, wines that usually need a lot of time to mellow before you can drink them. I was invited to a dinner at Racine with the owner of Chateau Clauzet and Chateau de Come, Baron Maurice Velge, as well as the technical director, Jose Bueno, last week to taste their efforts at producing a St. Estephe wine that was not only imminently drinkable but also a combination of strength and elegance.
Because of it’s location so far north, St. Estephe is often overlooked, but the vineyards of Ch. Clauzet are neighbours of Lafitte and Cos d’Estournal and have very similar soils, deep gravel and gentle slopes thus providing good drainage. The wines are a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and a dash of petit verdot and/or cabernet franc. Technical Director, Jose Bueno, came to the vineyards after spending 23 years as cellar master with Baron Phillipe de Rothschild and wanted the challenge of working with what he views as “the outstanding terroir” of the estate.
The Chateau Clauzet is a blend of 55% cab sauv. 40% merlot and 5% petit verdot/cabernet franc. We tasted a vertical of the wines from 2010 to 2004 right off the bat. It was informal and we were left to our own devices during the tasting although Jose was on hand to answer any questions. Looking over my notes, there was a common theme running through the wines, from the ’04 to the ’10, they all shared a liveliness coupled with very good structure and elegant tannins. These were smooth and sleek wines. Heady aromas of cassis, blackcurrant and tobacco on the older wines and plummy black fruits on the younger ones.
Speaking to Baron Velge during dinner he told me that they are looking for “precision, balance and elegance” he believes that not all wines from St. Estephe have to be tannic monsters that need years to develop. It has taken them some time to get here, he bought the vineyards in 1997 but he now feels they are reaping the fruits of their labours.
Chef Henry Harris of Racine came out and gave us a brief run down of dinner which included smoked eel with a ventreche bacon salad with a red butter sauce paired with the Ch. de Come ’05 and ’08, surprisingly good! Chef Henry said he was delighted with the way the smoked eel were complemented by the wines. We were all curious about the eels which were from the Dutch Eel Company, the most he could tell us was that they were either from Lake Como or Greece, either way, they were delicious. The main of rump of lamb with peas, broad beans and mint complimented the Ch. Clauzet ’01 and ’03 nicely, not dominating the lamb but bringing out the juicy, savoury flavours, bright silky tannnins and long fruits finishes on both, the ’01 being a slightly better match for the lamb but both very good.
I didn’t ask the retail price of the wines until the end of the dinner and hardly believe that most of the wines, even the earlier vintages retail for less then £20. The most expensive was the ’04 at about the low £20 range. Honestly, some excellent wines from Bordeaux that are ready to drink now and display the classic characteristics of good Bordeaux without the hefty price tag or need to wait years and years to drink. All the wines are available online and if you do pick some up, I hope you like them as much as I did.
A big thanks to Racine and to Neil Phillips, the Wine Tipster for inviting me along.