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. NOTE - THE 2014 IS NOW (VERY) ALL SOLD OUT; HOWEVER WE OFFER THE EXCELLENT 2016 (SEE COMMENTS BELOW AND ON THE PRODUCT PAGE). 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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