Claret – always enjoyable and still affordable: Richard Esling, March 5

Claret, the English word for red Bordeaux wine, is on the decline, according to some reports coming from the region.

Chateau Pey La Tour
Chateau Pey La Tour

Sales are some 12 to 14 percent down, with the decline being both in the home market and in export sales.

The reasons behind this are complex and vary from market to market. In France, wine drinking across the board has fallen sharply in the past 30 years, at least in volume.

The younger generations see red wine as something their parents drink and thus to be avoided at all costs. With practicality taking over from tradition, a Coca Cola and a Big Mac take preference over a slow cooked beef casserole and a glass of claret.

The heads of Bordeaux’s winemaking syndicates are demanding a 20 percent cut in production to offset falling sales. The slump is a consequence of shifting habits in France, where drinkers are abandoning claret in favour of rosé ( or coca cola!), and of difficulties in export markets, notably the UK, the US, and Hong Kong

Added to this trend is the perception that wines from Bordeaux are now too expensive for ‘everyday’ drinking. True, the prices of the top wines from the top estates have gone through the roof in the past 20 years, influenced by a run of excellent vintages and increased demand from overseas markets such as the USA, China and Russia. The perception is thus that all Bordeaux wines are expensive, and alternatives should be sought.

However, nothing is further from the truth and there is a whole host of wines, both red and white, which are both affordable and absolutely delicious, representing some of the best value for money wine in the market. A recent tasting event of the Arundel Wine Society underlined this fact in no uncertain terms, with unanimous approval of every wine in the tasting. The wines tasted were all from Vignobles Dourthe, widely recognized as setting the benchmark for Bordeaux wines and leaders in innovation. So much so, that in the past two years, Dourthe has hosted an educational week for Master of Wine students.

Dourthe is essentially a wine producer rather than a négociant, owning nine exemplary chateaux, but also creating its own brands, such as Dourthe No.1. Created in 1988 from the unison of Dourthe and its most skilled partner winemakers and grape growers, Dourthe No.1 has rapidly carved its niche as a shining example of great Bordeaux wine. Selecting only the finest plots, using grapes of irreproachable quality, applying stringent vinification methods in the Dourthe No.1 white and rosé wines, while ageing the reds for 12 months in new French oak barrels, all amount to exceptional results, acclaimed by the press and consumer alike.

Dourthe No.1 white is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, with outstanding aromatic intensity. Dry, fresh, balanced and elegant. Only £8.50 from the Wine Society.

The red Bordeaux in the tasting was Chateau Pey La Tour, one of the Dourthe properties since 1990. This is a model of a great wine, far beyond its appellation status.

A vertical tasting of three different vintages was undertaken, 2016, 2015 and 2012. Differences in the vintages were apparent to all tasters, which was greatly fascinating. Though each had its different character, all were unanimously approved for both quality and value. 2016 Reserve from the Wine Society at £11.50 or magnums (now 2014) from Waitrose at £24.99. Benchmark red Bordeaux. Black fruit, subtle, spicy backbone and fine tannins. Top quality.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Follow him on Twitter @richardwje.