Château de l'Estang 2010
I am absolutely certain that, beyond the well-trodden paths that run from one cru classé château to another, there are undiscovered delights in Bordeaux. We all (me included) have a problem with the way we approach this most famous of wine regions; whereas it seems de rigueur to track down and broadcast from the rooftop news of 'values' in the Rhône Valley (from the Côtes du Rhône and associated appellations), Burgundy (from the lesser villages, or even the Hautes Côtes de Nuits and similar) or the Loire Valley (just about everywhere except Nicolas Joly, Benjamin Dagueneau and perhaps one or two others) in Bordeaux it always seems to be about the classed growths. And so often what are offered as 'value' alternatives are still apparently over-priced, the proprietors and retailers seemingly unable to get away from their belief that Bordeaux must mean a big price tag. Other Bordeaux 'values' are the 'secret' nudge-nudge-wink-wink third (or fourth) wines. Please don't get me started on these. You know the ones I mean - "this little beauty is the fourth wine of a famous château right next to Château Latour - but we're not allowed to tell you its name". That's right, this bargain wine is so brilliant the people that made it disowned it. It must be delicious! What a bargain! Let's load up!
You won't find this sort of behaviour in the Rhône or Loire Valleys, where great value wines tend to come from dedicated vignerons who love and respect their land and are proud to turn out amazing wines which, perhaps because they lack the prestige of a grand appellation, sell for much less than we might expect having tasted them. Even though both regions have their share of exalted terroirs and pricy bottles, the Rhône perhaps more so than the Loire, the little guys are still an important part of each region. Equivalent châteaux surely must also exist in Bordeaux, and yet because - during the primeurs, for example - it can all week to get round the big names, I have never had much time to explore in great detail the lesser appellations. When I have a few thousand more subscribers (and I give up the day job) this is something I would like to do; to add yet another trip to Bordeaux to my annual schedule purely for the purpose of scouring the 'lesser' appellations such as the Entre-Deux-Mers and Blaye, to hunt down the 'values' for drinkers on a budget in this region which is increasingly criticised (with some validity) for being isolated and only for the very wealthy.
One region I have managed to explore in a little more detail is Castillon, one of the Côtes de Bordeaux appellations, which lies just to the east of St Emilion, on the same limestone plateau. Here can be found Château d'Aiguilhe, Domaine de L'A, Château La Croix Lartigue and Clos Puy Arnaud, all of which I have visited and/or tasted in the past couple of years. Some of these bear price tags fairly typical of the Bordeaux 'value' though, by which I mean they are well priced for Bordeaux but still cost far more than you would expect to pay for a 'value' in another region. In part this may reflect famous associations or proprietors (including for these châteaux Stéphane Derenoncourt, Comte Stephan von Neipperg and Thierry Valette), and so perhaps it is necessary to delve deeper into the Bordeaux unknown to find a real bargain.
Well, one such wine recently discovered is the 2010 from Château de l'Estang, a Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux made by Jean-Michel Ferrandez on his 26-hectare estate located in Saint-Genès-de-Castillon. The vineyard is, quite appropriately for this part of Bordeaux, dominated by Merlot, the balance being Cabernet Franc, and the vines are 35-years old overall. The élevage uses a small percentage of new and some older oak, but judging by the purity of the fruit here I suspect some of the wine sees an élevage in vat before blending, and I expect the time in wood is short. On inspection this wine has a dark, concentrated but not opaque hue, and a bright rim. The fruit character on the nose is really reassuring, with creamed plum at first, all fresh and bright, later opening and expanding to reveal a forest fruit coulis, as well as a little smoke and currant too. It feels precise and pure, hence my comments on the élevage. Rather a cool style at the start of the palate, fresh and tense, with some good substance through the middle; it all feels very typical of 2010, the palate showing tension and poise, yet good substance and grip, and not the fleshy repose of a 2009. The texture here is more taut and sinewy. It maintains this grip into the finish, which is long, where there are ripe, correct tannins giving it a little backbone. This really is very good and..... wait for it..... great value too. 16/20 (16/12/13)
Other stockists: Costco UK (not online).