The Irish kings of the Chateau still shine in Bordeaux
France's Atlantic city port of Bordeaux has an entwined trading history with Ireland. In the 18th century, when the political and economic climate turned hostile, those Irish seeking a more rewarding and fulfilling life joined Bordeaux's wine-trading community.
Their legacy – some of the best wine estates owned by Phelan, Kirwan, Talbot, Barton and Lynch families, with 'Chateau' preceding their name on the wine label.
In the 19th century, more Bordeaux wine was consumed in Ireland than by our nearest island neighbour.
Today, every 15 seconds someone somewhere is drinking a bottle of Bordeaux wine.
Recent wine sales by top producers have put Bordeaux's elite wines outside the reach of many wine lovers, with a single bottle matching the price of a family car. More than 30 wines for less than €20 were blind tasted to test quality at the more accessible price level.
At best, Bordeaux's red wines have an understated restraint of orchard black fruits with a green-pepper refreshing sappiness. Their firm tannins and refreshing natural acidity need the taming influence of red meat.
As insurance against the unpredictable maritime weather, from spring flowering through to summer ripening and autumn harvest, most red wine is a blend from local varietals: plummy Merlot, fragrant Cabernet Franc and blackcurranty and tannic Cabernet Sauvignon.
Quality can vary dramatically from year to year. This vintage variation often elevates the year on the wine label to greater importance than the name of the Chateau.
The annual 'Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book' by Mitchell Beazley gives helpful insights into the previous 15 vintages.
wine of the week
1) ChAteau Fongaban 2009, Puisseguin St-Emilion, 14pc
Fragrant and feminine with ripe purple fruit and fragrant violets. Delicious spiced plums supported by ripe tannins and peppery finish.
Full-bodied enough to match with a curried lamb and green peppers.
€17.25 at winesdirect.ie
2) CHATEAU LAMOTHE VINCENT 2011 Bordeaux, 14.5pc
Typically lush and opulent black-fruit aromas are mirrored on the palate. Very tasty ripe and juicy black plums and blackcurrants mask the unusually high alcohol.
Lovely with lamb chops topped with a rosemary and garlic crust.
€12.99 at Cases Warehouse, Galway. In Dublin: McCabe's, Blackrock; The Gables, Foxrock, and Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4
3) Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux 2011 13pc
Tarry black-berry fruit and liquorice aromas pass the baton to a palate laden with juicy black-cherry fruit and accessible tannins, concluding with an earthy finish.
Try with duck with a cherry jam glaze.
€5.99 at Lidl nationwide.
4) ChAteau Joinin 2009 Bordeaux, 13.5pc
Intriguing bouquet of dark chocolate and roasted coffee from toasted oak. Ripe cassis and blackberry flavours are lifted by spicy vanilla and nutmeg.
Gentle tannins and a long mocha finish to match with chicken breasts stewed in red wine, star anise and a pinch of cocoa.
€14.49-€14.99 in Dublin at Morton's, Ranelagh; The Vintry, Rathgar; Carpenter's, Castleknock; Martin's Fairview
5) Chateau Beau Rivage 2007 Bordeaux Superieur, 13pc
Roasted coffee and red-berry aromas. Silky tannins with well-rounded flavours by integrating the spices with ripe plums, continuing to a very long finish. Robust enough to tame game; veer towards venison.
€19.99, but €17.99 until March10 at O'Brien's off-licences Dublin citywide