Buying a selection of mid-priced fine fines

I belong to the Wine Advisory Group for a large Scottish institution, and this was a tasting on their behalf of mid-priced clarets from UK wholesaler Wine Importers and specialiast retailer Raeburn Fine Wines. My task was to spend someone else’s money on good quality clarets in the £10-£20 bracket ($15-£30) for drinking and cellaring over the next years or so. The wines are for use in formal banquets and when entertaining VIP guests. This tasting was not conducted blind, and I have quoted approximate prices in pounds sterling at time of writing. I have also marked those wines we chose to purchase with an asterisk.

The wines

Château La Haye, Cru Bourgeois, St-Estèphe 1998 – £11.85 *
I have never tasted this Château before. Good depth of colour, with a lovely sweet nose showing fine, yet dense, juicy black fruit. Quite full and plummy on the palate, with silky texture and lingering, cedary-plum fruit. Decent acid/tannin balance and length. Very good indeed. Château Mayne-Lalande, Cru Bourgeois, Listrac 1997 – £10.85
Mid crimson/ruby colour. Very nice nose; lots of cedar and tobacco over soft, plummy fruit. Gentle palate with decent balance, but drying slightly and finishes rather weakly with soft acidity. Very good.

Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse, 5th Growth, Pauillac 1997 – £16.60
Unfortunately corked. Colour depth was good. Château Pichon-Clemont, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc 1996 – £11.95 *
Good depth of colour at core, just browning at rim. Fine classic claret nose of tobacco, smoke and blackcurrant fruit. Quite cedary. The palate has plenty of juicy cassis fruit, a hint of chocolate and a long plummy finish. Very nice and well-balanced. Very good indeed.

Lacoste-Borie, 2nd wine, Pauillac 1995 – £17.00 *
Second wine of fifth growth Grand-Puy-Lacoste. Mellow ruby colour, just browning to rim. Quite ripe and jammy in style at first, with deeper, cedary scents emerging and a black cherry fruit quality. The palate is medium-bodied and shows lovely finesse, though the fruit doesn’t quite push through to the finish. Tannins and acids are moderate. Very good/very good indeed.

Les Hauts de Pontet, 2nd wine, Pauillac 1995 – £12.70
Second wine of third growth Pontet-Canet. Good, solid, dark ruby colour. Subtle, spicy, cherry-fruited nose with redcurrant and a hint of minerality. The palate is medium-bodied and quite fine, but perhaps spicy oak is dominating the fruit somewhat. Good tannins and fresh acidity. Quite stylish. Very good/very good indeed.

Château Potensac (Bordeaux) Médoc, Cru Bourgeois 1996 – £17.99
Fine, quite subtle cherry and cassis nose. Quite deep and plummy notes emerging, but refined. The palate has a little espresso bean note, black fruits and medium body. Good, correct claret with quite a sophisticated appeal. Very good, but question over value for money?

Henri Prudhon (Burgundy) St Aubin 1er Cru les Frionnes 1999 – £12.50
This has lovely minerality about the nose, with woodsmoke and vanilla underpinning red fruit. There’s a lovely, inviting, strawberry-pulp character. On the palate that soft, juicy strawberry persists, with smoky supporting oak and a modern, fruity, quite light style. Stylish and quite long, if a little one-dimensional. Very good at the price for red Burgundy.

Valli Estate (New Zealand) Central Otego Pinot Noir “Colleen’s Vineyard” 2000 – £18.99 *
Big, complex, mushroomy Burgundian nose with lots of ripeness, sweet cherry and moderate toasty oak. Very sweet fruit on the palate; lots of deep, chewy, violet-edged strawberry, raspberry and undertones of vanilla and cedar. Medium- to full-bodied, with ripe tannins and good balance, with a pleasantly earthy finish. Very good indeed.

Torbreck Cellars (Australia) “Juveniles” Barossa 2001 – £16.99
Zingy, vibrant crimson colour. Terrifically aromatic nose, with kirsch, flowers, cherries and lots of strawberry and parma-violet sweetness. The palate adds a chocolate and plum depth and silky texture, though there is freshening acidity and a pleasantly rough, plumskin tannin into the finish. Impressive and very good in a big style that might not suit the banqueting needs of this purchase?

Tardieu-Laurent (France) Cuvée No. 3 Castelmaure Corbières 1998 – 12.99 *
Very deep, inky crimson. Hugely toasty, coffee bean and vanilla pod character, with an ethereal, floral edge to a solid underpinning of cassis and cherry fruit. The palate is medium- to full-bodied, and has a superb, mouth-filling weight of spicy cherry and blackcurrant fruit, more coffee and a full, glycerine-rich base of plummy fruit. Good tannins, and spicy length. Very good indeed.

Domaine Tempier (France) Bandol 1999 – £14.95 *
Deep colour and lovely southern Rhône nose with schisty qualities, pepper, and very creamy mulberry and cassis fruit. The palate is cool and classy, with a great purity of red and black berries, rounded tannins, and a long, elegant finish with good balance. Very good indeed.

Bodegas Artadi (Spain) Rioja Crianza “Gain” 1998 – £11.99 *
Very pure, clean, deep mulberry, blackberry, rich fruit with hints of vanilla and tobacco. Very classy palate, with pencil-shaving nuances over solid blackcurranty fruit and a long, focused, clean finish with crisp tannins and fine balance. Very good indeed.

Vecchie Terre di Montefile (Italy) Chianti Classico 1997 – £13.99 *
Lovely nose, redolent of tobacco, woodsmoke, leather, sweet cherry and custardy vanillin. There’s a real depth of smoky berry fruit. The palate has fine, sweet, cherry, raspberry and chocolate flavours and is deliciously ripe and full with concentrated blueberry notes. Dense and deep, there are fine tannins and a very long finish. Very good indeed/excellent.

Ashton Hills (Australia) “Obliqua” Adelaide Hills 1998 – £11.50 *
A blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Very ripe nose; dense, even overripe mulberry and eucalyptus fruit, with silky plum-pie notes. Lovely mouth-feel, with a big thwack of clove and spices over solid, ripe black fruit. Quite dry and dusty tannins kick in, but the balance is good and this is long and savoury. Very good indeed.

Bodegas Briego (Spain) Ribera del Duero Reserva 1996 – £19.95 *
I last tasted this in a “meet the winemaker” piece, and liked it a lot then, but felt it needed time. There’s a fantastic baked plum and crisp black cherry melange on the nose, with plenty of sweet vanillin. Lovely velvety, soft texture in the mouth, and packed with clean, concentrated black fruits. Superb length and a really pure, elegant, long finish. Very good indeed/excellent.

Podere Colla (Italy) Bricco del Drago Langhe 1995 – £13.99
Coffee, currants and a slightly medicinal, tarry quality over crisp, clean, red cherry and currant fruit. There are sweet and sour cherry flavours on the palate, bolstered by a little toasty oak. Good balance and a good length of finish, but didn’t quite sing for me.

Niepoort (Portugal) “Redoma” Douro 1995 – £14.95 *
Extremely dark, dense, crimson/black colour. Beautifully sweet, direct, fruit-driven nose with juicy, thick black fruit, jammy ripeness and little floral nuances. Big background of fudgy oak. The palate is deliciously rich and dense, with a wonderfully soft, chewy, silky texture and terrific length and sweetness of fruit. Fine balance, and very good indeed/excellent.