Bordeaux Patrol: Tasting the best under-£20 clarets

Drinks: Wines
Location: Bordeaux, Europe, France

Everyone knows it for its fancy first growths, but can Bordeaux deliver where it matters most to restaurants? A team of West Country sommeliers joined Imbibe’s Chris Losh to put a flight of sub-£20 clarets to the test

Bordeaux is such a staple of restaurant wine lists, yet talk to sommeliers and their attitude is ambivalent: a combination of frustration, respect and, at times, almost resentment. There’s love for the region as a whole, annoyance at the attitude of the chateaux regarding pricing, and understandable irritation at the inability to form close relationships with individual growers.

These factors all became evident in our Bordeaux round table (last issue), where sommeliers came face to face with Grand Cru chateau owners. The on-trade’s reaction made us think perhaps it was time to put the region to the test.

So we contacted a large number of merchants and asked them to send in a selection of red Bordeaux between £10 and £20 – the level at which we reckoned the region should be starting to perform well, but which was still commercially strong for the restaurants.

This, in itself, was an instructive exercise. Many merchants either had no claret at all or simply didn’t want to submit any because it was ‘not a priority’ for them. Even dealing directly with chateaux themselves proved difficult. They were either too disorganised or too indifferent to submit wines. Obtaining 40 wines for the tasting was inordinately (and significantly) torturous.

Would it be worth the effort? Read on…

the panel
Steve Edwards, ABode Hotel, Exeter Stefan Gorda, Hotel du Vin, Bristol
Edouard Oger, Gidleigh Park James Vermeersch, Royal Clarence Hotel
Annette Witheridge, The Salty Monk Eric Zwiebel, Summer Lodge Hotel


  • Wines were called in between the £10-£20 (ex-VAT) price band. Some merchants sent in wines below £10 and these were included.
  • Wines were flighted first of all by sub-region, then flighted by price (visible) within these sub-regions.
  • Wines were tasted blind, with the sommeliers scoring each wine out of 20. Factors such as food-friendliness, value for money, and readiness to drink were all taken into account. These scores were then extrapolated to give a final score out of 100 for each wine.



71 Château Civrac 2005, Bordeaux

‘Younger colour, soft berry, good depth, big and full. For red meats and cheese’ AW

‘Darker colour, a lot more extraction, more wood, riper fruits. The palate is big and rich, slightly jammy but all quite tight. Very modern.’ EO

‘Pronounced nose packed with and full of fruit, cassis notes with spicy finish.’ SG

£9.00, Château Civrac, 01392 248076

71 Château Lamothe-Cissac 2005, Domaines Fabre, Bordeaux

‘Deep plum colour. Pronounced aromas of dark berry fruit and some spice (vanilla?). Medium to full, rich ripe berry flavours. Dry tannin evident. Finish is good.’ SE

‘Expressive, modern style, full of red fruits, vanilla, warm supple middle palate, soft finish, good for younger drinkers.’ SG

£12.56, Heritage Wine, 0844 871 0040

69 Château Tour Pibran 2002, Bordeaux

‘Dark berry nose, drinking now but will age well. Great food wine – spring lamb, spicy meat dishes, medium tannin.’ JV

‘Very pleasant juicy nose, slightly vegetal. Very good fruits, touch of liquorice. Well balanced, good tannin structure, mineral clean and fresh, slightly modern’ EO

£16.22, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577

68 Delice du Prieuré 2006, Baronne Guichard, Bordeaux

‘Open nose, good texture, soft tannin. Ready to drink.’ EZ

‘Nice bright colour, quite aromatic wine, pleasant, very good fruits. Slightly jammy. More soft fruit-driven style of Bordeaux, well structured, good tannins.’ EO

£14.61, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577

66 Château Pey la Tour Réserve 2006, Dourthe UK, Bordeaux Supérieur

‘Tobacco. Would go with smoked duck or continental meats.’ AW

‘Bramble fruit aroma. Medium weight. Almost sweet fruit on the palate. Integrated supple tannins. Ready now.’ SE

£10.38, Dourthe UK, 020 8340 2161

65 L’Enclos de Lezongars 2002, Chateau Lezongars, Premiere Côtes de Bordeaux

‘Spicy character, good texture. Soft tannin. Ready to drink.’ EZ

‘Less on the nose, almost buttery/cooked rice. Flavour is fruitier than expected.’ AW

£10.74, Barwell & Jones, 01473 232 322

55 Château Grand Village Rouge 2004, Bordeaux Superior

‘Green leafy flavours, expressive. Relatively high acidity with a tough finish. Tight and tannic.’ SG

£9.52, Armit, 020 7908 0600

50 Element de Château Civrac 2007, Château Civrac, Bordeaux

‘Very light colour, fruity with a typical Merlot plumminess. Light tannin – drink while young. Light and refreshing.’ JV

£6.30, Château Civrac: 01392 248076


76 Château de Pez 2004, St Estephe

‘Still quite closed, some fruits, some wood, quite chocolatey. Very good structure, still a bit young but good potential. Very classical (Lamb or venison)’ EO

‘Bright purple colour, pronounced herbal notes. Lovely cassis fruit, silky rich. Well knit, supple tannins.’ SE

‘Expressive nose, full flavour, good balance, complex, classic Bordeaux.’ SG

‘Complex texture, tannin a little bit closed, not yet ready, but excellent.’ EZ

£21, Maisons Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380

73 Clos des Quatre Vents 2004, Margaux

‘Good fruits, quite complex, earthy, smoky, vegetal, liquorice, good structure. Well balanced and showing very well. Very classical.’ EO

‘Purple colour, overpowering oak on the nose, intense fruit flavours with some minerality. Good mouthfeel.’ SE

‘Very rich aroma of stewed fruit and spice. Rich but balanced body, acid/tannin balance super. Great wine now, and will age admirably. One for the list!’ JV

£17, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7208 2500

70 Bois de Lunier 2002, Château Vieux Robin, Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc

‘Pronounced ripe black fruit flavours with a hint of freshness (menthol). Big, spicy, long – proper steak wine.’ SG

‘Modern and aromatic nose, lots of fruits. Quite juicy, fresh and vibrant, smooth tannins, good acidity. Showing well.’ EO

£13.30, Great Western Wine, 01225 322800

69 Château L’Ermitage 2003, Listrac- Médoc

‘Soft nose, saddle soap. Classic style.’ AW

‘Light purple colour, lovely perfumed aroma, spice, oaky notes. Medium to full, ripe berry flavours, rich, intense, persistent.’ SE

£10.10, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

69 Château Martinens 2005, Margaux

‘Very light ruby hue, earthy nose. Medium tannin, herbaceous and earthy palate. Quite powerful but well crafted. Great with strong meats like venison, pheasant and wild boar’ JV

£14.54, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

68 Château Petit Bocq 2004, St-Estèphe

‘Modern and young, a lot of fruit, wood, leather and liquorice, smokey and tart.’ EO

‘Deep purple colour, leafy. Some fruit and smokey aromas. Medium weight, pleasant mouthful. Very chewy tannins.’ SE

£12.83, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7208 2500

68 Moulin de la Lagune 2002, Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc

‘Vegetal nose, delightfully oaked. Drinking well now but will improve.’ JV

‘Light purple colour. Pronounced aromas of cassis and spice. Medium to full, very textured wine. Lovely mouthful, very well balanced. Very good now.’ SE

£13.90, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

67 Château Haut-Bellevue 2006, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc

‘Early character is strong. Texture good. Tannin soft. Ready’ EZ

‘Ruby colour, bell pepper, green fruit, woody notes. Needs time.’ SE

£10.14, Barwell & Jones, 01473 232 322

67 Mademoiselle L 2006, Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc

‘Soft ripe fruits. Jammy character. Easy drinking for claret. Food friendly.’ SG

‘A little bit more classic, good fruits, more earthy, vegetal, touch of chocolate. Very pleasant. Good with lamb.’ EO

£12.00, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350

66 Château Loudenne 2004, Médoc

‘Attractive ripe fruit aroma. Lighter Bordeaux style – slightly oakey. Drink now with rich stews and casseroles.’ JV

‘Some fruits, quiet smoky, hearty, vegetal. Very clean and dry palate. Rustic and animal.’ EO

£10.00, Maisons Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380

65 Château Haut-Beausejour 2005, St-Estèphe

‘Ripe fruit/slightly sweet. Juicy with a very easy finish’ SG

‘Quite closed. A little vegetal. A little bit thin on the plate and also a bit spicy’ EO

£16.00, Maisons Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380

64 Château La Cardonne 2002, Médoc Cru Bourgeois

‘Very intense aroma, herby, vegetal notes. Soft fruit, supple well knit tannins.’ SE

‘Easy soft, not complicated.’ SG

£12.93, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

62 Château Bernadotte 2002, Pichon-Lalande, Haut-Médoc

‘Very bright ruby colour, ripe fruit smells. Some leather. Nice minerality. Firm dry tannins. Needs a little time.’ SE

‘Red (greenish) fruit with high acidity and firm tannin.’ SG

£10.50, Maisons Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380

60 Croix Bonis 2005, Château Phélan Ségur, Bordeaux

‘Inviting dark cherry nose, lovely colour. Nice fruit and acid balance. Drinks well now – will improve. Good food wine.’ JV

£12.87, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577

55 Château Proms Bellevue 2006, Yvon Mau, Graves

‘Purple. Pronounced blackcurrant smell, medium weight. Bright fruit flavours on the palate. A bit short on the finish.’ SE

£6.10, Yvon Mau – Freixenet Group, 01344 758500


74 Château La Rose St Georges 2005, St-Emilion

‘Nice nose, soft texture, tannin a little bit closed. Not yet ready. But good.’ EZ

‘Lovely fruit – damson, and plums. Medium weight, good balance. Persistent fruit flavours, very good.’ SE

‘Modern, good fruits, some spices from the wood ageing. Well structured, good tannins, juicy enough’EO

£12.50, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550

72 Château Barrail du Blanc 2005, Grand Cru St-Emilion

‘Complex nose, soft texture, tannins are delicate, not yet ready.’ EZ

‘Very pleasant drink, classic claret.’ SG

‘Fruity nose, ripened fruit palate. A little oaky, but well crafted.’ JV

‘Pronounced damson fruit, smells sweet. Ripe palate, soft ripe tannins.’ SE

£15.49, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2436

72 Château L’Ecuyer 2005, Château L’Ecuyer, Pomerol

‘Good fruits, lots of wood, still very young, very dry on the palate, quite vegetal, needs another few years.’ EO

‘Complex attractive nose, well crafted wine, once again, reflected in the price.’ JV

‘Deep purple colour, plummy fruit flavours, intense, powerful. Firm structure. Good.’ SE

£20, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

70 Château Capet Guillier 2005, Grand Cru St-Emilion

‘Less fruit aroma. Little oaky on the palate. Needs time and food to appeal.’ JV

‘Deep ruby, nice plummy smells, medium weight, fresh acidity. Intense fruit flavours, Dry tannins. Needs time.’ SE

£14.90, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2436

68 Château De Ferrand 2000, St-Emilion Grand Cru

‘Intense red pepper flavour, spices leading to sweet pleasant fruit.’ SG

‘Touches of maturity, truffle. Soft texture. Gentle tannin. Ready.’ EZ

£19.16, Alliance Wine, 01505 506060

67 Château Trianon 2004, St-Emilion

‘Pleasant nose, good fruits, wood well integrated, needs a bit of time. Hearty, good potential, and good structure.’ EO

‘Fully ripened, complex nose. Merlot comes through on palate. Very intense yet mellow. Long ripened fruit finish. Another food

wine for the list. Would recommend.’ JV

£18.50, Thorman Hunt & Co Ltd, 020 77356511

66 Château Orisse du Casse 2003, St-Emilion Grand Cru

‘Understated aroma. Nice body.’ JV

‘Very vegetal, some fruits, though not terribly complex’ EO

£14.95, Great Western Wine, 01225 322800

66 Château Haut-Brisson 2001, St-Emilion

‘Woody expression. Rich texture. Tannins are big. Ready to drink.’ EZ

‘Complex, big claret with soft finish. Ripe black fruit.’ SG

£16.54, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

64 Château Clos de la Cure 2005, St-Emilion Grand Cru

‘Inviting nose – pronounced ripe fruit. Lovely fresh fruit, juicy on plate. Surprisingly refreshing for Bordeaux.’ JV

‘Complex nose, good texture, soft tannin. Ready now.’ EZ

£12.54, Boutinot, 0161 908 1300

63 Château de Garraud 2004, Lalande-de-Pomerol

‘Pleasant nose. Good fruits, chocolate. Vegetal and hearty. Good tannins (though still a bit dry). Well balanced.’ EO

‘Classic old style. Quite tannic.’ SG

£14.48, Alliance, 01505 506060

63 Château Tournefeuille 2006, Lalande-de-Pomerol

‘Fully ripened dark fruit nose – strong full-bodied but fresh. Will also age. Needs full flavoured food to accompany.’ JV

£14.48, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

59 Château Abelyce 2004, St-Emilion

‘Very rustic, spicy nose, sort of animal. Very smokey and earthy. Fresher on the palate, good fruits, still quite rustic.’ EO

£14.75, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550

Thanks to all of the West Country sommeliers and restaurateurs who gave up their time to come to the tasting. And many, many thanks to Steve Edwards and the team at the excellent ABode Hotel
in Exeter for being so helpful in hosting and running the event.


74 Château La Rose St Georges 2005, St Emilion

Excellent wine at a terrific price. A lot of class from a stellar vintage.

£12.50, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550

70 Bois de Lunier 2002, Château Vieux Robin, Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc

Good fruit but also freshness and finesse, it’s drinking beautifully now and will accompany many types of food.

£13.30, Great Western Wine, 01225 322800

71 Château Civrac 2005, Bordeaux

Some class, but also a lot of approachability – a price and style to appeal to many customers and many types of outlet.

£9, Château Civrac, 01392 248076


  • The Supérieurs were viewed pretty positively by most of the sommelier tasters. Some of the more traditional restaurants felt the wines were a little ‘modern’ and ‘not typical’ of Bordeaux. Others saw this as a plus.
  • The Left Bank wines were quite polarising. The most popular wines had it all: class, elegance, balance, food-friendliness and a very definite Bordelais accent. Though the toughness of tannins (especially in the 2002 vintage) meant that they might not be for everyone.
  • Stylistically, the Right Bank wines were the most diverse – big and fruit-driven through to austere; a fact that left the panel somewhat bemused.
  • There was unanimity that the price/qualityratio was on the steep side.


Edouard Oger, Gidleigh Park, Dartmoor

‘It’s very clear that Bordeaux is making wines in both a new and a traditional style. The Supérieurs, for instance, tended to be more jammy and fruit-driven, which is not a bad thing, so long as they bear in mind the region’s personality as well. Some didn’t taste like Bordeaux any more. Generally, I preferred the more traditional styles of wine: those from the Graves, St-Julien, St-Estèphe were classier, earthier. Price was an issue, though. A lot of the wines that tasted like £10 wines were actually £13 or £14… and I don’t mind paying for good stuff either.’

Annette Witheridge, The Salty Monk, Sidmouth

‘I most enjoyed the generic Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieurs. We sell a lot of New World wines, and these Bordeaux are the best wines for our customers because they’re rather more modern in style. I found the Left Bank wines the hardest – the St-Emilions were rather plusher and thus more accessible. In terms of value for money it more or less delivered what I was expecting.’

Stefan Gorda, Hotel du Vin, Bristol

‘It’s tough to taste 40 Bordeaux at this price. There are plenty that were soft and supple, but also a lot that were firm and tannic. It’s good to have a choice of styles, because different outlets want different types of wine. The quality was generally pretty high, and there were a fair few here that I’d put on our list. The 2005s especially stood out, with full flavour and a suppleness of structure. The trouble with Bordeaux is that the trade sees it as a way of making money rather than supplying good food wine to the public.’

James Vermeersch, Royal Clarence Hotel, Exeter

‘I was specifically looking for value for money here, and it more or less delivered that throughout the price brackets. The Left Bank was best in terms of quality, but the Supérieurs were interesting in terms of price/quality. For most of the people I deal with, £50 is a lot of money for a bottle of wine, so anything above that price would go on our fine wine list. Once you get people into an area of wine, they’ll diversify, so we need to get people into Bordeaux at an affordable level.’

Eric Zwiebel, Summer Lodge Hotel, Dorset

‘The problem here wasn’t the absolute quality of the wines, it’s that they generally all needed to be a bit cheaper – or a bit better for the price. Not all of the wines here spoke of Bordeaux. The Right Bank were the toughest – and not always well made. The Left Bank were rather better, while the Supérieurs were simpler. Some were very simple – not the kind of wines I’d want to present in a restaurant. A lot of people are stopping drinking New World wines, but they aren’t going to Bordeaux; they’re going to Spain, Italy and Portugal. The prices need to come down.’

Steve Edwards, ABode Hotel, Exeter

‘The first flight of Supérieurs had some big differences in style – and wasn’t overwhelmingly Bordeaux-like either. Once we moved from Supérieurs to Médoc wines, it was obvious we’d moved up a gear in terms of quality, yet the prices weren’t that much different. Overall the price/quality ratio was a bit patchy, though the Left Bank was probably the best for me. The St-Emilions were inconsistent and a lot needed more time. Even good quality Bordeaux Supérieur doesn’t sell itself and you get some pretty good Margaret River Cabernets for £10. I’m concerned about the prices, but I guess that’s not going to change. Two decades ago Cru Classé wasn’t a luxury, but it bloody well is now.’

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – July / August 2009

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