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A Buyer’s Perspective: Great Bordeaux Under the Radar by Ned Goodwin MW

While ‘second’ wines may suggest the phalanx of ‘Super Seconds’ as the better performing red wines of the Haut-Médoc have come to be called (all, incidentally, Deuxième Grands Crus Classés), Bordeaux is much more than that swathe of riverside turf on the Left Bank of the Gironde (per one’s perspective when looking at a map).

There is, after all, the Right Bank establishment of Pomerol and Saint Émilion that never fell under the same aegis as the 1855 classification of the Médoc and Graves. Moreover, there are the satellites of these major communes, Sauternes and its own satellite appellations including Barsac, the majestic whites of Péssac-Léognan (the finest value of any of the world’s great whites), along with Fronsac and the various Côtes farther north on the right side of the Gironde and others, sandwiched between the bifurcation of the river farther south when it becomes the Dordogne and Garonne. These, too, are increasingly bastions of value and stellar quality.

However this piece can only be so long.

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Château Figeac


Among the oldest properties in all of Bordeaux. The equal of Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc, part of which it once incorporated. Incontrovertibly among the very greatest wines of Bordeaux. At the pointy end, to be sure, but Figeac demands inclusion because its quality must be screamed from the rafters and too often the discreet owners, the Manoncourt family, fail to do so. Figeac missed a beat across the stellar vintages of the mid-90’s once Thierry Manoncourt stepped aside, but with the appointment of Frédéric Faye in 2002 the cellars were gradually overhauled and the estate returned to-and has indeed surpassed-its past glories from 2009.

The vineyard consists of 30% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, all cultivated organically, with a programme of selection massale instituted to nurture material of tannic precision and aromatics. The terroir is one of quartz flecked with alluvial gravels, as well as ample clay, glimpsing an element of the Médoc from Saint Émilion, if you will. As Neil Martin writing for Vinous opines, ‘Figeac has always been an endlessly fascinating Bordeaux wine because of its unorthodox blend of grape varieties. There is a kind of duality at play, part Left Bank, part Right Bank. A bit like a lenticular picture, it is different depending on what way you look at it, sometimes undoubtedly Saint-Émilion, another day more Pomerol-like, and then a doppelgänger for a Médoc.’ The wines are refined and long-lived. Greater intensity to the fruit and torque to the tannins than ever, without any galumph into the spectrum of sweet fruit or clumsy power that mark too many wines of Saint Émilion. Shop Château Figeac here.



Châteaux Cantenac Brown


A Troisième Cru Classé, but deservedly recognised as an understated property capable of real greatness. Cantenac Brown is marked by sturdy wines, introverted by a chiselled tannic lattice when young, but capable of beautiful, balanced expressions of warmth and generosity with patience. The Château was bought by AXA in 1989 from then-owners Rémy Martin, a group with scant success in the wine world. AXA invested heavily before selling to the British Simon Halabi family. Everything is done according to sustainable, organic principles. The majesty of these wines, always flying well under the radar, speaks for itself.


Château Chasse-Spleen:


among the star estates of Moulis, a sub-zone responsible for round and supple wines juxtaposed against a firm tannic spine. Chasse-Spleen would surely be included among the top brass if the 1855 Classification was reworked today. The drink of choice of Lord Byron, the name means ‘chase away melancholy’. This is facilitated by muscular wines derived from a complex meld of sand, gravel, clay and limestone. A true family-run operation, too, practising bona fide organics to deliver soulful expressions with the capacity to over-deliver on price and age beautifully for decades.



Château l’Evangile


An insider’s secret, possessing wines of refinement and understated prowess that stand regally amidst a sea of Right Bank ambition and the clunky wines that often come with it. There are similar soils here to Cheval Blanc, with a gravel corridor over heavy clays and sandy peripherals, the latter facilitating a second wine. As with Figeac and VCC (see below), there is an exponentially high-and increasingly higher-portion of Cabernet Franc planted to give a wine that is generally around 80:20 Merlot-dominant. As Jane Anson gushes in her seminal tome, Inside Bordeaux, ‘It’s a wine that I love-full of distinction, packed with fruit, stunning with age.’ I love it, too. Shop Château l’Evangile here


Château Gloria


A wine that introduced me to the poise, detail and juicy tannins, that define good Saint-Julien, the diplomat of the Haut-Médoc. Neither as austere as Pauillac, rustic and Saint Estèphe or perfumed as Margaux, Saint Julien combines the best elements of each a a toned and more measured articulation. Interestingly, Gloria was a piecemeal of plots purchased from properties deemed superior by the 1855 Classification, giving it good bones. Today, the vines are divided across three distinct micro-regions: Beychevelle, toward Lagrange and up to the Pauillac border in the north. Among the greatest value propositions in all of Bordeaux.


Château Haut-Batailley


A property with a stratospheric future, already glowing with an incandescent confidence! Owned by the Cazes family of Lynch-Bages who are replanting prime Pauillac real estate, formerly ravaged by phylloxera, to complement an average vine age of 55 years. Situated on the gravelly Batailley plateau, the soils confer an austerity to the tannins while evincing a quiet authority. These wines age extremely well and as more detailed studies of the geologies at play are undertaken, with an eventual refurb of the cellars inevitable, Haut-Batailley’s wines will only become more expansive and sought after. Get in while the going is good.


Château Vieux Château Certan


A vineyard lying between Petrus and le Pin, divvied into 23 micro-parcels, attesting to the assiduous attention to detail and obsession with the geological ebbs of terroir that Alexandre Thienpont and son Guillaume have long instilled into the culture at VCC. In the family since 1924, Alexandre placed greater emphasis on Cabernet Franc than his predecessors. It now makes up circa 20 per cent of plantings. The wines are classically structured, invariably long-lived and tattooed with finesse rather than the burl that too often marks wines on this side of the river. Another wine that sits at the pointy end, although is deserved of greater recognition in this country. This is my justification for its inclusion. This said, I remonstrated with myself whether Châteaux Carbonnieux, Haut-Bailly, Latour-Martillac and even Domaine de Chevalier, too, are not in a similar position. Shop Château Vieux Château Certan here


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