Best of the Rest

In 1855, around 60 of the leading estates in the Médoc and Graves areas of Bordeaux joined together to form an exclusive club. Known variously as the Classed Growths, the Crus Classés or simply the 1855 Classification, these 60 were then sub-divided into 5 categories called 1st to 5th Growths in English, Premiers to Cinquièmes Crus in French.

That Classification has remained largely undisturbed in the 160 years since. Surprising? Perhaps. Yet, being at the top of this pinnacle has given the 4 original 1st Growth estates (joined by a 5th member in 1974) enormous pricing power and, as a result, the ability to re-invest massively to ensure the continuing predominance of their wines. Even those at the lower end of this select group – the 4th or 5th Growths – are, in the main, highly sought-after and you can often pay £50 and more for a ready-to-drink bottle from one of their better vintages.

But, look outside this elite classification and you can find attractive wines, typical of the Bordeaux region, at much more affordable prices. I often point my students to a group of these that I describe as ‘the best of the rest’. They’re known as the Crus Bourgeois.

One of the most recognised of these is Château Cissac. (Around £20 a bottle for the excellent 2010 vintage from specialist wine merchants).

Cissac (2)

Cissac is well placed right in the heart of the Haut-Médoc, close to the boundaries of the St Estèphe and Paulliac Appellations. Its wines, mainly made from Cabernet Sauvignon blended with some Merlot and a small addition of Petit Verdot, are quite aromatic but fairly restrained and need time to reach their peak – even the 2010 I opened recently was still showing some tannin.

Although, no doubt, without the length and complexity of some of the top Classified estates (speaking from reports rather than recent personal experience!), wines such as this provide pleasant, satisfying drinking and are recommended for those who enjoy the more traditional style of wine found in Bordeaux.

Wine Going Green

For some time now, parts of the wine industry have gained a reputation for not paying sufficient attention to environmental concerns. Overuse of pesticides in the vineyard, long road journeys between grower and customer and – my own personal hate – unnecessarily heavy bottles are just a few of the accusations that have been made. And, sadly, for a significant number of producers, the verdict must be Guilty.

Not all, of course. An increasing number of growers are turning to organic – even biodynamic – practices and I know of several who are using horses rather than tractors to work their land.

But one UK importer has taken the carbon-neutral agenda to a whole new level. Xisto Wines are not only using sailing ships to bring their wines over from Portugal but the vans they use for distribution within the UK are run on Bio-fuel made from used oil collected from the restaurants they supply!

So, it was fascinating to hear Anton Mann from the company at a Bristol Tasting Circle evening recently – and his selection of Portuguese wines were certainly worth tasting.

BTC Xisto 2Among my favourites was the Quinta de Gomariz Alvarinho (£16), a delicious crisp white with a lovely lemon-peel nose. Quite floral and citrusy on the palate and richer in body than many Vinho Verdes, this has excellent length and is really good value at the price.

BTC Xisto 1My choice of the reds was Lagar de Darei’s Sem Abrigo Tinto from the Dão region (£16). Made from a blend of native Portuguese grapes including Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (the same variety as Spain’s Tempranillo), this has attractive raspberry fruit on the nose and spicy, jammy blackberries and smoky hints on the palate.

If you want to be part of the move towards greener wine, these and other wines from Xisto are available, either direct from the supplier or from local independent wine merchants Clifton Cellars and Grape and Grind.