For all the talk about the latest en primeur releases, it’s worth remembering that good claret can age beautifully. In fact, there are times when mature red Bordeaux stops you in your tracks. This is one of them: a scented, graceful cuvée of Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot that has classic coffee bean, tobacco leaf and cedar wood top notes, fine-boned, layered tannins and flavours of sweet spices, summer berries and blackcurrant leaf. The wine is sold out on line, but there’s still some available in stores.
Red Varietal: Merlot
2018 Keyneton Euphonium, Barossa Valley( £44.99, 14.5%, Liberty Wines )
A nice homage to the brass bands that still play in the Barossa Valley, Euphonium is a slick, nicely textured cuvée of mostly Shiraz with 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot, using grapes from the Eden Valley and (30%) from the Barossa. Mixing older and younger vines, with ageing in French and 29% American oak, it’s something of a bargain in the Henshcke range. Perfumed and juicy, this displays sweet vanilla and Asian spice top notes, cassis, bramble and blackberry fruit, supple, caressing tannins and the freshness and energy of the 2018 vintage.
2020 Don Melchor, Maipo Valley( £110.00, 14.6%, Cru World Wine, Hedonism, Tanners )
The 2020 release of Concha y Toro’s top Bordeaux red is something of a triumph over the demanding vintage conditions, which were the hottest and driest in Don Melchor’s thirty-four year history. Featuring a classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% each of Merlot and Petit Verdot, it managed to sidestep the torrid conditions, thanks to a combination of early picking – three weeks to a month, depending on the parcel – and the talent and experience of long-term winemaker, Enrique Tirado. Deftly oaked in 71% new oak, it has alluring graphite and dried herb aromas, cassis, fig and red berry fruit, serious but not overwhelming tannins and more finesse and freshness in its youth than the 2017 with which Tirado rightly compares it.
2012 La Raison du Château des Fougères, Graves, Bordeaux( £16.00, 13%, Tesco )
It’s rare to find a ten-year-old claret on a supermarket shelf, especially one that sells for just £16, but this second wine from Château des Fougères in the Graves is the real deal. Combining Merlot with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a graceful, textured, elegant, mature red with subtle wood, tobacco leaf and forest floor top notes, fine-boned tannins, plenty of freshness and a core of sweet, leafy complexity.
2019 Villa Antinori Toscana, Tuscany( £13, 13.5%, The Co-operative )
Antinori is one of those producers that rarely, if ever, lets you down, producing everything from good value reds like this Super Tuscan blend to some of the finest wines in Italy. Sangiovese-based with support from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, it’s wonderfully scented, smooth and sensitively oaked, displaying flavours of cassis, red cherry and Mediterranean herbs supported by fine-boned tannins and refreshing acidity. Really good at the price.
2016 Specially Selected Maremma Toscana Riserva, Maremma, Tuscany( £7.99, 14%, Aldi )
How does Aldi do it? Very few, if any retailers are as good at sourcing bargain wines from around the world. This is an ambitious Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Alicante Bouschet from coastal Maremma. Rich, serious and dense, with classically savoury tannins, plum, raspberry and tobacco leaf flavours and a dusting of cinnamon sweetness.
2019 Allegrini Belpasso Rosso, Vapolicella, Veneto( £10.99-£12.95, 13.5%, Tesco )
The Allegrinis make some of the best Valpolicellas in the Veneto, so it’s no surprise that this blend of the local grapes Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella with 10% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is so impressive. Made with 15% of dried grapes – a technique used to increase concentration and flavour – this is plummy and refreshing with notes of green herbs and black cherry, impressive underlying structure and a classic combination of acidity and fine-grained tannins.
2015 Pittnauer Pittnauski, Burgenland( £17, 13% )
It’s amazing how much Austrian red wines have improved in the last decade, thanks to warmer vintages and much better work in the vineyards and winery. This appealingly mature cuvée of Merlot with three local grapes, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St Laurent, is a case in point. It’s smooth, complex and well balanced, with subtle wood, black cherry, plum and fresh earth notes, bright, chalky acidity and a funky undertone.
2016 Château du Moulin Rouge, Haut-Médoc( £20.95, 13%, Davy's )
I don’t drink much claret these days, but I had a bottle of this during an online MW Mates tasting with my friend Anne McHale MW and it made me fall in love with Bordeaux all over again. Château du Moulin Rouge, which predates the famous Parisian cabaret with a similar name, is a very well-placed Cru Bourgeois between Margaux and St. Julien making wines of cru classé quality. Unusually for the left bank, this is Merlot dominated, with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. For me, it confirms the class and balance of the 2016 vintage, showing flavours of plum, back cherry and cassis complemented by notes of cedar wood and graphite, appealing freshness and fine, deftly integrated tannins.
2018 Kanonkop Kadette Cape Blend, Stellenbosch( £11, on offer at £9 until February 14, 14.5%, Tesco )
You can only applaud a winery – especially one as famous as Kanonkop – that makes 1.7 million bottles of a wine of this quality. Dominated by Pinotage, with the remaining 63% made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, it’s a floral, textured, well-structured cuvée with notes of mint and dried herbs and a core of cassis and raspberry fruit.
2017 Scala Dei Prior, Priorat( £33, 14.5%, Great Wine Co )
Based on Garnacha, with the remaining 35% made up of Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Prior is what Ricard Rofes calls a “key in the door of Priorat”, in that it introduces you to the different zones of the denominación. Wild, savoury and intense, with floral black cherry and damson fruit, a herbal undertone, pithy minerality and some clove spice from 30% whole bunch fermentation. One of the most structured wines in the range.
2011 Château des Fougères Clos Montesquieu La Raison, Graves( £15, 12.5%, Tesco )
There’s something about this time of year that makes me want to drink claret. I’m generally far too busy enjoying less classic fare to think about the Gironde, but red Bordeaux is just the thing with the turkey. This marriage of Merlot with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, curated by ace consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, is entirely unoaked, relying on fruit purity, fine tannins and supporting acidity. It’s just tipping over into middle age, with tobacco and autumn leaf aromas and fleshy red berry and fruitcake flavours. Really delicious at the price.