Two of the best from Bordeaux
John Wilson: Châteaux Phélan Ségur and le Puy make graceful, elegant, refreshing and balanced wines
Château Le Puy: estate vineyards in Bordeaux, some of which are still ploughed by horse. Photograph: Rodolphe Escher/New York Times
Two Bordelaises visited Dublin recently, and each provided welcome proof that it is still possible to find very good traditional Bordeaux. Many in the region have become obsessed with making ever bigger and more powerful wines. But for me true Bordeaux is graceful and elegant, refreshing and balanced – the polar opposite of full bodied. Good claret should invite you to take another sip, and slowly seduce as it reveals hidden depths. Bordeaux is not a wine to drink on its own. It needs food to show off its finest attributes. Traditionally, it is accompanied by a roast of lamb or beef, although roast chicken, duck or a steak are fine too. If you want to keep things simple a hunk of decent Parmesan also works well.
Château Phélan Ségur
Château Phélan Ségur has been popular in Ireland for many years. The Irish connection – the Phelan family – died out in 1917. The property has always outperformed its status as a Cru Bourgeois, producing classic Saint-Estèphe: meaty, four-square wines that repay ageing.
I tasted a series of vintages going back to 1990 with the chateau’s managing director, Véronique Dausse, in Dublin. All were in fine fettle. The 2008 and 2006 were fully mature, with tobacco leaf, cool, elegant blackcurrant fruits and firm, drying tannins. The 2009 was riper, the 2010 firm and unyielding. I would give it a few more years. All were classic Bordeaux. Château Phélan Ségur costs anything from €70 to €100 a bottle; the estate’s second wine, Frank Phélan, available in independents, can offer good value at €35-€40.
Château le Puy
Emeline Arbeau works for Château le Puy, a unique property located just beside the vineyards of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. The 100-hectare estate has 46 under vine; the rest is forest and lake. It has been in the hands of the Amoreau family since 1656, and has always been organic, if not biodynamic, although they are only now in the process of being certified. Uniquely, the chateau releases the wine only when it considers it ready to drink. It has a remarkable collection of older vintages stretching back to 1917. A selection of these is released each year.
The wines are wonderful: stimulating, refreshing and elegant, the epitome of traditional Bordeaux, with toothsome brambly red fruits and blackcurrants, developing mushrooms with age – “Bordeaux as it used to taste,” says Emeline, and I can only agree.
The wines of Château le Puy are not cheap: the Emilien is €40 and Barthélemy, the top cuvee, about €120. If this seems expensive, remember that wine from neighbouring properties are about the same price but don’t always deliver the same quality.
Bottles of the Week
Château le Puy Emilien 2014, Côtes de Bordeaux 13%, €40
Restrained blackcurrants and blackberries with a fine acidity and an elegant, lightly tannic finish. From Green Man Wines, Dublin 6; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin
Frank Phélan 2012, Saint-Estèphe 13%, €34.95
Light, earthy tobacco and black fruits with a soft finish. Ready now. From branches of O’Briens, in Dublin, Carlow, Cork, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, Louth, Meath, Waterford, Westmeath and Wicklow; and other independents
Château Phélan Ségur 2009, Cru Bourgeois, Saint-Estèphe 13.5%, €95
Relatively full-bodied, with ripe blackcurrants and spice, and a long, dry finish. From O’Briens (as above) and other independents
This week’s bargain
Château Cilorn 2015, Bordeaux Supérieur 13.5%, €14.95, down from €19.95
Elegant cherry fruits underpinned by a fine acidity and light tannins on the finish. From O’Briens (as above)