Age does matter – particularly with claret!

Mature red Bordeaux winesMature red Bordeaux wines
Mature red Bordeaux wines
When it comes to claret – that somewhat old-fashioned name for red Bordeaux wine – there is always the question of age. Too young? Too old? Or just right? How do you tell? As with many things, there is no easy answer, but there are some guidelines that can help you choose that bottle at the peak of its maturity.

A little while ago I was invited to a dinner party. The host, knowing I was in the wine trade, brought out a 20-year-old bottle of red Bordeaux and waited for my enthusiastic comments. Sadly, the wine should have been drunk about 15 years earlier, so I had to politely comment that it maybe ‘past its best’! ‘Never fear!’ exclaimed said host, as he produced another, more expensive bottle. Unfortunately, this 2-year-old bottle needed laying down for at least a further 5 years as it was quite undrinkable. Further polite comment from me ‘I think this may need a little more time to reach its full potential’!

The difference is mainly – but not entirely – to do with the original quality of the wine. As a rough guide, the better the quality, the more time it needs to be mature enough to be enjoyable and the longer it will keep. There is a misconception that with most red wine ‘the older the better’. Red Bordeaux at the less expensive end of the range, can be very enjoyable at only 2 years old, and most needs to be drunk within 5 to 6 years of the vintage to avoid oxidation.

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With more expensive wines (over £25 per bottle) the wines often need to be at least 5 to 10 years old before drawing the cork, or they risk tasting overly tannic and out of balance. In the mid price/quality range, wines can reach their full maturity – and thus most enjoyable and complex flavours and aromas – between 5 and 12 years after the vintage date, provided the wines have been stored correctly.

The Wine Society has a long track record of selecting red Bordeaux wines which are offered when fully mature and at their best, representing excellent value. They have a number currently for sale and I have chosen three which I consider particularly appealing, at £20 per bottle or less. Moulins de Citran Haut Medoc 2010 is a fully mature red Bordeaux from Chateau Citran, to the west of Margaux. Nearly two thirds merlot grapes and aged in oak for a year, the wine has a soft, mellow complexity, with light cedar and raw tobacco notes on the nose. Elegant and poised, with good length on the palate and robust finish. Remarkable value at £15.50.

Staying in the Haut Medoc region, Chateau Charmail 2012 is just on 10 years old and drinking perfectly. From a property close to St Estephe, this is another elegant wine, the part use of new oak adding further complexity and producing the classic cedar, tobacco and cigar-box aromas with age. Delicious, mellow dark fruit character on the mid palate and satisfyingly long finish. £17 per bottle. Bring out the roast rib of beef!

My third wine comes from a different part of the Bordeaux region – Lalande de Pomerol. Chateau Siaurac 2014 is 80 per cent merlot and is packed with chewy, plummy, soft fruit flavours. Fully mature with mellow, elegant tannins, juicy damson and blackberry fruit, with a touch of spice and cedar. £20 per bottle. Pair with Wookey Hole mature cheddar, beef wellington or venison steaks.