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Celebrating its third Wine Championship victory in a row, our house Bordeaux rouge was on imperious form among some keen competition. The fruit of over 25 years’ collaboration with the Sichel family, and especially ripe and appealing in 2019.
Product Code: CL242
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Maison Sichel first set up an acquisitions office in Bordeaux in 1883, and since then six generations of the Sichel family have built upon their empire. Not only do they sell wine today, but they are also growers and winemakers, and represent some very well-respected names. They currently own wine estates covering 350 hectares of vineyards, including Châteaux Angludet and Palmer in Bordeaux, and Château Trillol in Corbières.Their technical director is Yvan Meyer, and he is the winemaker behind The Society’s Claret, which is currently our bestselling red wine. It is made at Cave Bel Air in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux region, and the grapes are sourced from local producers. Every year our Bordeaux buyer, Tim Sykes, travels to Maison Sichel to select the final blend.The blend varies greatly each year, but in each vintage our aim remains the same: to create a fresh, easy-drinking and accessible wine with true Bordeaux character, but without the firmer tannins of other clarets that may need more time in the cellar. It is perhaps for this reason that The Society’s Claret is always a huge hit with our members.
If the word Bordeaux is mentioned most people take it to refer to red wine. Though a good deal of white wine is made in Bordeaux, and some of the finest white Bordeaux are only entitled to that generic appellation contrôlée nomenclature, it is reds that are most associated with the region.The Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur regional appellation contrôlées are spread throughout the Bordeaux region. A bright colour, a clean, deep, appealing red-fruit nose (with hints of vanilla and spice if the wines have been aged in oak) and the classic balance of alcohol, tannin and acidity are the hallmarks. These modest designations verify that the wine comes from a particular region and conforms to certain criteria, such as alcohol content, but cannot be relied upon as a guarantee of quality. Many good wines are made in little-known appellations, just as mediocre bottles can have grand origins, so the key is to follow a property or grower you like and trust.The climate of Bordeaux is deeply influenced by its proximity to water, whether it is the sea, the estuary or the rivers, all have a major impact on the grapes grown and the wine made with them. The maritime climate is mild and gently warmed by the Gulf Stream which has a ready conduit deep inland via the Gironde estuary. The estuary acts as a moderator of the extremes of winter and summer. Summers are generally hot and autumns fairly long and mild. Winter and spring too are relatively mild but also often wet, and overall, give or take the odd and very rare major weather event, the climate is generally stable and consistent. Dampness is indeed on of the major difficulties of wine production and it is no coincidence that the anti-fungal spray ‘Bordeaux Mixture’ was developed here in the 19th century. In terms of weather events the two that are often encountered, sometimes with devastating effects, are hail and frost. Bear in mind that Bordeaux lies on a latitude of 45 degrees and should you travel across the Atlantic on that latitude you would make landfall in Nova Scotia. Without the Gulf Stream and proximity to bodies of water Bordeaux would be a much more marginal climate for making wine.Red wines are the biggest part of the wine production of Bordeaux. Some 55,000 hectares of vines are employed in the making of Bordeaux AC and Bordeaux Supérieur AC. The most planted red grape is merlot, followed by cabernet sauvignon. Most of these generic Bordeaux are made outside of more specific communes, and indeed may be made from grapes grown anywhere in the Bordeaux region, and it would be strange indeed, in commercial terms, if a grower could label his wine as something more prestigious but chose the Bordeaux AC for his bottles. The Entre-Deux-Mers region, between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, is home to much of the production of generic Bordeaux on its clay, or sand and clay soils with occasional outcrops of limestone and gravels.However, there are regulations and strictures that must be adhered to. To qualify for Bordeaux AC status the wine must naturally achieve 10% abv, and for Supérieur status the requirement is 10.5%. In actual fact the majority of wines are between 11% and 12.5 % abv, and as the climate warms up and vine canopy management and vineyard techniques continue to improve this may rise. Most reds from these appellations are designed to be drunk young.At this level some of the fruit is machine harvested, though much is still picked by hand because of the narrow row width of most Bordeaux vineyards, and the winemaking is fairly standard, with temperature control now the norm and chaptalisation less common than it used to be. Barrels are not often used for these wines due to their expense, though large wooden vats or hand me down barrels previously used by a wealthier producer might be utilised. Such second-hand barrels require great care to be taken to maintain them.Co-operatives still make most of these generic bottlings, but there are many smaller estates, many of them conscientious and making excellent wines that represent terrific value, that are finding the going tough in the prevailing economic climate and in the face of stiff competition at their price point from wines made in places where conditions and costs are more propitious for making fruity affordable wines. Négociants operate within Bordeaux and a good deal of the wine or grapes that make generic Bordeaux pass through the hands of companies like Maison Sichel and Dourthe.
Unusual circumstances. Unusual solutions. Visits to Bordeaux at harvest time by our Bordeaux buyer Tim Sykes showed him the potential of 2019 clarets, which carefully organised tastings in spring 2020 bore out with some wonderful wines. What’s more, the extraordinary circumstances of lockdown in 2020 made some châteaux offer much reduced prices. Two compelling reasons for regarding the vintage well as a buyer and drinker. The 2019 Bordeaux vintage is unquestionably very good indeed, and for châteaux with their vines in the best terroirs, potentially excellent. Weather conditions overall were hot and dry, but the remarkable characteristic of the vintage is that the wines (both reds and white) have maintained freshness, with lovely cool, lifted fruit character. And whilst alcohol levels are above average for the past few years there is little evidence of this in the glass, thanks to a seam of fresh acidity running through the wines. Balance is the key to a great wine and the 2019s are harmoniously balanced.Tim Sykes made two trips to Bordeaux last year during the harvest, once towards the end of September to visit the right bank appellations of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, and then again during the second week of October for the Médoc, Graves and Sauternes. Both visits revealed an abundance of small, healthy grapes arriving at the cellar doors.In normal years Tim would make two subsequent week-long trips to Bordeaux in April to taste the new vintage, but as we all know 2020 was not a normal year. Having been forced to cancel his trips he, like Bordeaux buyers around the world, was unable to visit individual châteaux to taste barrel samples of the 2019 vintage in the normal way, so instead he was sent, and tasted, dozens of samples here in the UK. Whilst this is not the same as tasting ‘sur place’, it enabled him to form an opinion of the individual wines and develop a clear overall picture of the style and quality of the vintage. The 2019 growing season was not straightforward, and vineyard managers needed to be vigilant, but those who kept on top of things were rewarded with a fine and sizeable crop. In the winery, low-temperature fermentations and gentle extractions were the keys to producing attractively balanced wines.
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"Purchased as part of a mixed case.
Highly enjoyable ‘everyday’ claret in a handy half bottle size.
Excellent fruit and concentration for the price.
Complemented a chunk of Sage Derby cheese and rustic bread for supper.
Fully recommended "
Mr John Davies (22-Nov-2019)
"Simple, fruity, enjoyable. Mainly merlot and the better for it in my opinion. Far more approachable and easy drinking than, ahem, "another wine merchant's" Good Ordinary Claret which was a big disappointment being far too ambitious for its price point and practically undrinkable. The Society's claret is unpretentious and honest. I'm sure that it will become a repeat order."
Mr Tom Lavercombe (15-Dec-2018)
"Just received another case of 24 half bottles of this very drinkable claret. As other reviewers have said its not the most complex of wines but very enjoyable to drink on its own or with food. Slightly more expensive in half bottle format but given that if there is an open bottle of red my self control is almost non existent its a perfect amount for me as my wife rarely drinks wine at home. "
Mr David Marshall (23-Nov-2018)
"This is not only the first bottle I have bought from the Society but the first time I have purchased in this format (half). So an evening of firsts and full of expectations! The wine is exactly what I need in an every day wine, will it blow you a way with complexity? No, but this is missing the point. At this price point it is a very drinkable claret and holds up well against many higher priced supermarket stalwarts.
The format is a revelation especially for this price point and everyday drinking. I would advise anyone to try smaller bottles, for the convenience of that during the week glass of wine with dinner.
The wine is easy drinking, this is evident in the soft tannins and fruity nature of this claret. A great post work glass of red.
Mr Lee Bartup (14-Mar-2018)
"Personally would like a Society claret with a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot based at the cheaper end in my view are very bland. Notwithstanding this is a very popular and good value claret."
Mr David J Rutter (12-Dec-2014)
"Very impressive and really good value. A lovely balance of fruit, tannins and acidity (and hints of minerality?) Tasty and refreshing.
Mr Andrew Watson (16-Aug-2014)
"We have enjoyed each of these half-bottles as everyday claret and they have provided exactly what we were after. The small format is ideal for weekday evenings, and then the next day (sometimes) you can simply open a fresh bottle!"
Mr Peter Lawrence (25-May-2010)
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