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Outstanding, 95-point Global Bordeaux blends - April 2020

Decanter’s lead, cover-star article in April 2020 is a review of Global Bordeaux blends (by Andy Howard MW). It’s good reading and makes even better revelations of some quite brilliant wines.

(For other wines in that Decanter, please see this page and this one for details of the Outstanding/top-scoring (and Exel-exclusive) Corbières).

As you’d expect, we have a number of the review-toppers, and crucially, we’ve gone out of our way to ensure we’re offering the best-value wines among them.

 

 

What’s a Global Bordeaux blend?

  • Lest there be any confusion, these are not French wines. They are not from Bordeaux.
  • But they are red blends, principally based around the classic trio of Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon (structure, acidity, tannins, ageworthiness), Merlot (supple plushness, fruit) and Cabernet Franc (perfume, finesse). Petit Verdot (tannins, depth, complexity) is a common-enough inclusion (although far more in Bordeaux than outwith). Bordeaux also allows Carmenère and Malbec in its reds, although these are seldom seen there (interestingly, they do feature in the wines here).
  • To satisfy the “global” remit here, they can come from anywhere that isn’t Bordeaux. There are no other such French selections in the review, mainly because very few regions of France allow all these grapes to be grown (still, it's a little surprising that nothing prestigious from rule-defying Languedoc features).
  • Which means they stem from regions climatically not too dissimilar to the Gironde: ie moderate warmth, often somewhat maritime. Classic regions, all of which feature in the article are
    • Australia’s Margaret River;
    • Tuscany (especially Bolgheri and wider Maremma);
    • New Zealand’s (particularly Hawke’s Bay and super-especially the famed Gimblett Gravels); 
    • South Africa (esp Stelllenbosch, which fares well here); 
    • California’s Napa Valley; and lesserly
    • Chile’s warmer valleys;
    • Mendoza in Argentina (despite its pure Malbec fame);
    • and, much lesserly, Croatia and Greece.

 

Why buy them? Why not just buy Bordeaux?

Well, we’d say:

  • The variety of styles provides an intriguing, similar-but-different contrast and wine tasting experience in itself;
  • Whilst blends from the areas above are seldom a giveaway, they typically offer greater value for money: Bordeaux can now be - and famously generally is - very pricey, especially for top and/or ready drinking;
  • Grape ripeness is typically more assured elsewhere, especially for the tricky-to-get-right Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot... 
  • ... which means you seldom have to wait the traditional 10 years + for the wine to come into good drinking condition.
  • Bad years aren’t uncommon in Bordeaux; they’re rarer elsewhere. That means a flatter price profile over the vintages (ie less of a rush and/or price hike in the good years) and a markedly lower chance of buying a rotten (but expensive) kipper of a bottle.
  • They’re easier to source (and from our point of view… much much easier!).

 

The wines! Tell me about the wines!

Andy Howard draws out 45 bottles that score 92 to 95 points. The broad synopsis is:

  • There are six Outstanding wines on 95 points (interestingly, one from each of SA, NZ, Aus, California, Chile and Tuscany).
  • But they are not cheap. They average £49 a bottle. But don’t panic. We offer the one that is markedly more affordable at £21.
  • There are six wines on 94 points. These also aren’t cheap. They still average £38. Again, do breathe: we have the two at ~£13 and ~£23.
  • There are twelve 93-pointers and twenty-one(!) 92-pointers. We’ve a smattering of these.
  • The average vintage (in age terms, weighted across the years) was between 2015 and 2016 (giving some idea of their younger age compared with typical Bordeaux). Around half were felt to be drinking now, the rest almost all from 2021 or 2022.

 

Seriously ... the wines! Tell me about the wines!

Fair enough, Strange Disembodied Voice that Provides a Contrived Vehicle for this Article. There are two that we’re most excited about:

At just £21 a bottle (try finding good Bordeaux for that!), the poll-topping Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot-Malbec-Cabernet Franc 2014 from NZ’s Gimblett Gravels. NZ Malbec is a rare thing and it works beautifully here. Esk Valley’s Winemakers Reserve series is invariably superb, but painfully hard to get hold of, so little is produced. The 2017 Chardonnay walked away with almost every major award last year (and vanished from shelves in days).  Although Esk’s lower ranges are merely “very good”, their top wines are hugely and widely admired. Their Bordeaux blend is only produced in excellent years (eg there was no 2015) and varies in composition according to what varieties have prospered best in any given year (2014 is Merlot-rich; 2016 is much more about Cab Sauv).

Decanter were unstinting in their praise: the whole review can be found here and appears below, but phrases such as “deep, luscious, great purity of flavour” and “very inviting and enveloping” ought not to put you off. Note also the “already drinking well” (more below in our Exel test).

Now we do have another 95-pointer. But we’ll get to that after a 94-pointer that you should definitely not miss. Exel’s Riesling fans will know Australia’s Pauletts for their beautiful, award-winning and fantastically-priced white wines (now hard to obtain for a few months alas; we have a few bottles left). But they also grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and to make a 70/30 blend (respectively) that punches so very far above its £13.25 price tag (standing tall among wines many times its price). Note: now priced at £14.30 for stock arriving first week of April; a new-year price rise from the producer has necessitated this rise.

Deep, dark and brooding”, “lots of depth and complexity” and “a very appealing style”, say Decanter. I know it’s not the poll-topper (and that’s what everyone always rushes for) but this is stunning value; when we first ran into it, we genuinely thought the importer had given us a half-bottle price. That’s the hallmark of what Pauletts do: awesome wines at (frankly) unbelievable prices. I’m stocking up on this one, make no mistake.

Of course, these two went through the Exel taste test. Both are worthy of their marks and commentary. Neither suffer from careless oakwork; their barrel élevage is part of their beauty.

The Esk Valley is very plush/smooth, has a wide red-black fruit spectrum and great elegance without losing depth or intensity. It is, in short, beautifully balanced and eminently likeable. It's akin to a Bordeaux you'd hope to drink, but with a New World warmth. Drink it now, definitely (we would), or keep it for anything up to 15 years for ever more complexity.

The Pauletts is no less a wine: it’s actually rather more of one. It has a little more punch and density (and more black fruit) to appeal to the high-octane red fans out there. But there’s no unhingedness; rather, a velvet glove to its iron fist, and this too will age well (at ~£13 - wow!). Being Australian and big on Cab Sauv, it has that ghostly-eucalyptus-thing going on; it’s subtle enough, here, but for me, as addictive as the petrol of Pauletts’ Rieslings. Enjoy! (we did).

 

Do you have plenty of these? How many can I have?

Please note that, with regard to the Esk Valley, and although we have it at a market-leading price £5 below its UK RRP, remaining UK supplies are now a just few hundred bottles (of which we have the lion’s share) and there is no more in NZ. To afford a good many Exel customers seeking this wine a chance to obtain it, we’re limiting purchases to 6 bottles per customer. However, the 2016 is also available: it’s Cab Sauv-driven, so quite a different wine to 2014, but still superb. See here for some words from Esk’s winemaker (Gordon Russell) on that vintage just for us, lest you need convincing. Had Decanter sampled the new 2016 rather than the vanishing 2014 … well, who can say?

The Pauletts sees similar quantities in the UK, but there is more in Clare Valley. Fow now, this one is as-many-as-you-want.

 

Anything else going?

Back to the other wines, then: if I have a personal favourite among these reviewed wines, it’s actually the other 95-point Outstanding: Poggio al Tesoro’s Sondraia 2016 from SuperTuscan Tuscany. 2016 in Bolgheri was an epic vintage, and the Sondraia 2016 is just glorious; to quote Decanter: “deep, intense and complex” and “there is real finesse and a deft touch here”. This is seriously classy, and, although £48, it’s a wine from a super-prestige produce that will age (almost) forever and, if it does to you what it did me, it will knock your socks off.

If, as may be, it’s a bit more than you’re happy to pay, its ~£24 brother, the Seggio (also 2016) scores 92 points (the 2014 was a DWWA18 Best in Show, as many Exel customere will recall) and is a very fine specimen (“Rich, full-bodied, fleshy and glossy”).

Another well-priced 94-pointer comes from Stellenbosch’s Journey’s End: their Cape Doctor 2015. Alas, the 2015 hasn’t yet reached the UK, but the 2014 is worthy of (some of) your wine budget. The 2015 rated as “a complex and highly pleasurable wine” with “plenty of concentration and depth”. We concede that we’ve not tasted the 2015 to compare, but those words are very true of the 2014 ... and this, in a region that sees pretty small vintage variations.

Additionally, for those seeking the Extended Global Bordeaux Blend Experience, we also offer three more 92-pointers from StellenboschGroot Constantia’s Gouverneurs Reserve 2016 (£28.95), Journey’s End’s Pastor’s Blend 2018 (£13!!) and Mulderbosch’s (delightfully-named, although less so for our office cat) Faithful Hound 2016 (£17.50). Great wines all (and great value the last two in particular).

Finally, Craggy Range’s Te Kahu 2017 (Gimblett Gravels again) also features (92 points): that’s not arriving in the UK for ages yet, but the DWWA19 Best in Show 2016 (£21.50) arrives (again) in limited quantities next week. The 2015 is also available.

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Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Franc 2014 (1x75cl)

** LAST REMAINING APPRECIABLE UK STOCKS OF THE HIGHLY-ACCLAIMED 2014 VINTAGE (and none is left at the winery)! **

** PLEASE NOTE THAT THE EXCELLENT, CABERNET SAUVIGNON-RICH AND RECENTLY-RELEASED 2016 VINTAGE IS ALSO AVAILABLE AND RECOMMENDED! **

Awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2020 edition expert tasting of Global Bordeaux blends (see blue link below).

 

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Franc 2014 - April 2020 Decanter review

Situated in the north of New Zealand's picturesque Hawkes Bay, at Bay View is the Esk Valley Estate winery. The winery sources fruit from Hawkes Bay, including the world-renowned Gimblett Gravels, and Marlborough, as both regions consistently produce grapes of an extremely high quality.

Esk Valley is a boutique winery, but it is unique in that many of the techniques used to craft its award-winning wines are dictated by the winery itself. The old concrete vats, the layout of the buildings, and the absence of modern technology mean the winemakers at Esk Valley have had to make wine in a simple, honest, hands-on way.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Wines are made from grapes sourced from specific, lower-yielding, intensively-managed blocks of vines. Thety are widely recognised as being amongst the best wines of their kind in New Zealand. Along with The Terraces, this is Esk Valley’s most iconic and revered collection of wines.

This, the Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Red is also the wine which pioneered the use of Malbec in Bordeaux-style blends in New Zealand.

It is only made in the best years/harvests and its blend varies from year to year in order to optimise use of the very best varieties in that year (which explains the changing % mix, names and labels across the vintages).

The fruit is hand picked, de-stemmed, then loaded into Esk Valley’s open-top concrete fermentation vats where it is hand-plunged and left in its skins, before being pressed off into barrels for malolactic fermentation.

Each vineyard parcel is fermented and aged separately before blending. 60-70% of the wine goes in to new French oak barrels, creating a wine that is full bodied and powerful, but elegant and food-friendly too.

"This is a wine that has been made to age well in the bottle, I can quite confidently predict that it will still be drinking beautifully in fifteen years." – Senior Winemaker, Gordon Russell

Merlot 54%, Malbec 31%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%.

See blue link below for the fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers at Esk Valley. NB: it's a small thing, but we know how eagle-eyed some of you are ... Esk V have used the wrong bottle image on this sheet, being that for a year in which Cabernet Sauvignon was the better/more prominent Cabernet!

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Franc 2014 - fiche technique

This Winemakers Reserve blend is widely regarded as one of the finest of New Zealand’s red wines. The 2014 vintage is deeply coloured with aromatics hinting at black fruits including cherries and blackberries, with hints of cedar and smoke. The flavours, typical of Gimblett Gravels Merlot blends tend toward fruitcake, cherry, chocolate and oak spice. The palate is soft and mouthfilling showcasing the high percentage of Merlot and finishes dry and long. This is a fine vintage for this blend.

ABV = 14.0%.

£21.00

Pauletts Polish Hill River Cabernet Merlot 2016 (1x75cl)

** TUES 7th APRIL - PLENTY MORE STOCK JUST ARRIVED AND AVAILABLE! **

Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2020 edition expert tasting of Global Bordeaux blends (see blue link below).

 

Pauletts Polish Hill River Cabernet Merlot 2016 - April 2020 Decanter review

Clare Valley is one of Australia`s oldest wine regions and is probably best known for its Riesling wines. Polish Hill River is a sub-region one and a half hours drive north from Adelaide. Named after the Polish settlers of the mid 1800s, the climate is ideal for premium grape growing with a combination of consistently good winter rains, hot summers tempered by cool nights and a long ripening period.

Pauletts' reputation for producing wines of finesse, elegance and intensity is justly deserved with consistent skill and care from vintage to vintage. Neil Paulett graduated from the Roseworthy oenology course in the early 1970s and spent a further ten years honing his winemaking skills at Penfolds before buying his own property in the Clare Valley. Located some 90 minutes north of Adelaide, this lovely property now extends to 150 hectares with 47 planted with vines. Since the first vintage in 1983 there have been many accolades both at home and internationally. These wines are a true reflection of the region and are of outstanding quality.

For this, their (red) Bordeaux blend, here's Pauletts' own data sheet/fiche technique:

Paulett Polish Hill River Cabernet Merlot 2016 - fiche technique

This Cabernet-dominated Bordeaux blend shows the depth and intensity gained from a cool micro-climate. A fruit-driven wine which is rich and spicy with truffle and vanilla on the nose. The palate is beautifully balanced and packed with sweet cherry, plum, blackcurrant and liquorice. Subtle oak ageing adds to this superbly structured wine with supple tannins and a long, intense and satisfying finish.

Cabernet Sauvignon 70%, Merlot 30%.

ABV = 14.9%.

£14.30

Poggio al Tesoro Il Seggio Bolgheri 2016 (1x75cl)

Awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2020 edition expert tasting of Global Bordeaux blends (see blue link below).

Poggio Al Tesoro Il Seggio Bolgheri 2016 - April 2020 Decanter review

The 2014 vintage was awarded a Platinum Medal, 98 points and Best in Show status at the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards (click link for details).

One of the most exciting estates to have emerged from Italy in recent years, Poggio al Tesoro is a 70-hectare property in Bolgheri acquired in 2002 by the Allegrini family. The first vineyard they bought, Le Sondraia, is next door to Ornellaia and was previously rented by them. It is 12 hectares in size and is planted with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘Seggio’ is the name of the creek that runs through Bolgheri - its course from above is represented on the label. This wine is produced from different plots of vineyards in the Poggio al Tesoro estate. The Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in the Via Bolgherese vineyards, at 53 meters above sea level. Here soils are deep, with coarse-grained red sand, that is gravelly and well-drained with a layer of clay at 120 centimetre below the surface. The other varieties are grown on the Le Sondraia vineyard, at 35 meters above sea level. Its soils are clayey with well-drained sandy silt and high concentrations of magnesium and iron. The average age of the vines is 17 years and they are spur-pruned and cordon-trained.

2016 is/was another vintage to remember, defined by many as one of the earliest on record in Bolgheri. After a rather mild winter, albeit with heavy rainfall, the spring months enjoyed regular rainfall that fostered uniform bud development. The summer months were dry and breezy with some rain showers in early September and the pre-harvest period saw wide variations in day-night temperatures which encouraged phenolic and aromatic ripening while maintaining acidity levels. The resulting grapes were harvested in perfect health. Vintage 2016 promises intriguing wines with marked varietal personality, good structure and great ageing potential.

See blue link below for the excellent fiche technique / technical note from the winemakers at Poggio al Tesoro.

Poggio Al Tesoro Il Seggio Bolgheri 2016 - fiche technique

50% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot.

The grapes were destemmed and softly pressed. Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks at 28-30°C for 12 days. Malolactic fermentation was carried out naturally in barriques in November. The wine was then aged for 15 months in 225-litre French oak barriques from Allier (30% new, 70% second use).

This wine has an intense ruby red colour, and there are red berry and cassis aromas with mineral and spicy notes on the nose. The palate is medium bodiedand the tannins are elegant and silky. The wine has a lively finish.

ABV = 14.5%.

£24.30

Journeys End The Pastors Blend Cabernet Merlot 2018 (1x75cl)

Awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2020 edition expert tasting of Global Bordeaux blends (see blue link below).

Journeys End The Pastors Blend Cabernet Merlot 2018 - April 2020 Decanter review

Among the long rolling south-facing slopes of the Stellenbosch winelands, caressed by cool coastal breezes, lies the boutique winery and vineyard, Journey’s End. With only a handful of premium, hand-crafted wines produced here, the focus is very much on quality. In 1995 the Gabb family (originally from Shropshire, UK) took control of this picturesque wine farm surrounded by 20 ha of gorgeous vineyards. They have invested heavily in both the vineyards and the winery since then – with the estate growing to 120 ha by July 2011. The family’s philosophy is one of minimum intervention. The aim of which is to create top-quality, single-vineyard and appellation wines that intricately integrate the tension between remaining true to the terroir, and finding their own unique expression of it.

The Gabb family invest in the community by helping the local church and working closely with the Pastors.

The grapes were handpicked early in the morning and stored in the cold room overnight. They were hand sorted and destemmed before being pumped into stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The grapes underwent a 72-hour cold soak before the temperature was lifted to stimulate fermentation and the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc juice was separately inoculated. The fermentation lasted 12 days. A one week extended maceration ensured suitable extraction of tannins giving the wine structure. All cultivars were matured separately and then subjected to a 14 month barrelling period (second and third fill French oak barrels) before being blended, fined, stabilized and bottled.

This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 60%, Merlot 29% and Cabernet Franc 11%.

This old World style red blend displays rich dark red fruit aromas including blackcurrant and ripe cherries. These aromas are also experienced on the palate and are accompanied by sweet tobacco and Christmas cake characters. This wine has a well-integrated tannic structure showing elegance and lengthy finish.

ABV = 13.5%.

£13.36

Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2016 (1x75cl)

Awarded 92 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2020 edition expert tasting of Global Bordeaux blends (see blue link below).

Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2016 - April 2020 Decanter review

Founded in 1989, multi-award winning Mulderbosch Vineyards is one of South Africa’s foremost wine producers. As advocates to the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) code, they manage their vineyards limiting the use of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. They use a restrained approach in the cellar to produce distinctive and characterful wines that represent the Stellenbosch terroir. Chenin Blanc is the Cape’s signature variety and they have the largest planting of this variety in the world. In 1996, Mulderbosch was one of the very first producers in the Cape to ferment Chenin Blanc in barriques. The resultant wine garnered an avid following and Mulderbosch has since become synonymous with the variety. 

The Faithful Hound is a blend of five varieties; all are estate grown grapes except the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon which come from neighbouring vineyards carefully chosen for their consistency and quality. All vines are trellised, using Vertical Shoot Positioning and moveable foliage wires. The basic geological structure is decomposed granite, with soils comprising varying levels of gravelly clay. Leaf removal at an early stage of the grape's life generally ensure the pyrazine or ‘green’ flavours often encountered in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are avoided. Moderate cropping levels of between eight to 12 tonnes provide the vines with a natural load that encourages slower accumulation of grape sugars and thus allows for riper flavours at lower Brix levels. Mechanical under vine weeding takes place as herbicides are no longer used at Mulderbosch.

2016 saw a hot and dry growing season, which reduced disease pressure in the vineyard and resulted in excellent concentration in the fruit.

The grapes were meticulously sorted prior to being destemmed. The fermentation process was initiated by naturally occurring yeast, and finished by a selected strain, added during the course of fermentation. Gentle extraction and long maceration time are the hallmarks of the winemaking style, followed by barrel maturation. The wine spent 16 months in French oak barriques, of which 30% were new and the remainder in 2nd- and 3rd-fill.

Cabernet Sauvignon 33%, Cabernet Franc 20%, Merlot 19%, Malbec 17% and Petit Verdot 11%.

Beautifully textured, the fleshy ripe fruit is balanced by an smoky, savoury character showing pronounced cassis, dried figs, dates together with hints of clove and chocolate. Classically styled, pronounced cassis is followed by dried figs, dates, hints of clove and notes of forest floor on this complex bouquet. Underpinned by serious structure, the fleshy ripe fruit finds balance with an earthy, savoury character. A poised and elegant wine. Perfect with grilled steak and charred tomato salsa. 

ABV = 13.5%.

£17.50

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Te Kahu 2015 (1x75cl)

The forthcoming 2016 vintage was awarded a Platinum & Best in Show medal and 97 points at the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards (click link for details).

For other 2019 DWWA winners, click here.

Craggy Range produces a collection of iconic wines from multiple regions in New Zealand. Owner Terry Peabody and his family pursued the single vineyard approach to winemaking, planting on green fields and bare land ensuring a focus on quality from the very beginning. New Zealand, with its diversity of soils types offered the perfect location to plant the vines. From the stony, warm soils of the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke's Bay to the volcanic, clay soils of Te Muna Road in Martinborough these exceptional vineyards produce wines with amazing aromatics, purity and complexity.

Te Kahu means 'the cloak' in Maori and refers to the mist that envelops Giants Winery in the Tukituki Valley. Legend has it that this mist was used to protect a mythical Maori maiden from the sun as she visited her lover Te Mata.

The grapes are completely destemmed before fermentation begins in closed top stainless steel tanks with the yeast being innoculated into the must. The wine then spends 17 months maturing in oak barriques (18% are new) before being fined, filtered and released for sale.  

76% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec.

The Te Kahu is a deep crimson red. It has complex aromatics of ripe plum, a touch of cassis, fresh rosemary and roasted meats. The palate is generous and approachable but also has a high level of sophistication with fine grained tannins enveloping a dense body of succulent black fruits. This wine has the ability to age for around 12 years from vintage.

To see Craggy Range's information sheet for this wine please click on the blue link below.

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Te Kahu 2015 - fiche technique

ABV = 14.0%.

£21.70
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