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A whistlestop tour of Bordeaux

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Bordeaux is where many begin their collections. It is the spiritual home of fine wine, packed full of household names that have become bywords for luxury and quality. We review the region's biggest names, some under-the-radar gems and what makes them all so special

Pauillac – classic, quintessential Claret

Home to three of the five Left-Bank First Growths and therefore many of the greatest Bordeaux wines ever made, Pauillac is the benchmark for quintessential, reference-point Claret. Powerful, often austere in youth and with massive ageing potential, this is where any Bordeaux collection should begin and end.

Pauillac money-no-object picks:

Ch. Latour, Ch. Lafite and Ch. Mouton-Rothschild are often as good as it gets, hugely prestigious and essential for any world-class cellar.

Pauillac value picks:

Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste is superb for the money, especially in top vintages where it always over-performs. Also, look out for Clerc Milon and the old-favourite Ch. Batailley.

Margaux – ethereal, elegant and chic

The lightest, most elegant and ethereal wines of the Medoc are exemplified in the First Growth of Ch. Margaux. Good Margaux is rarely cheap and consistency has been patchy in the past, particularly at the lower end. However, the appellation has undergone a serious resurgence in recent years.

Margaux money-no-object picks:

Palmer and of course Ch. Margaux.

Margaux value picks:

Ch. Rauzan-Ségla, one of our top picks in recent years, as well as Ch. Brane-Cantenac and a resurgent D’Issan.

Saint-Julien – quality and consistency across the board

Crowd-pleasing, approachable Claret from an appellation packed full of over-performing chateaux. The famous Second Growths of Ch. Léoville Las Cases, Ch. Léoville Poyferré and Ch. Léoville Barton are old favourites and there is plenty to get excited about across the board with excellent consistency in quality in almost every price bracket. Like Pauillac, the Bordeaux fan will find plenty to love in Saint-Julien and won’t have to break the bank in doing so.

Saint-Julien money-no-object picks:

Ch. Léoville Las Cases and Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou are at the top of the tree (both are frequently of First Growth quality.)

Saint-Julien value picks:

Leoville and Langoa Barton are always fairly priced and very well made. In the great years, the fantastic Ch. Gloria offers exceptional value for money – look out for the 2009 and 2010.

Saint-Estèphe – full of character, charm and built for ageing

Traditionally the most rustic, tannic and backward of the Left Bank appellations. Often takes a long time to come round, but the best is well worth waiting for.

Saint-Estèphe money-no-object picks:

Ch. Montrose. The 1989 and 1990 are two of the finest wines in Bordeaux history although they may well prove to be matched by the stunning 2009 and 2010.

Saint-Estèphe value picks:

Calon Ségur is a special Chateau and still very affordable. Dame de Montrose, the second wine of Ch. Montrose, is often better than many classed growths, and the 2010 is one of the best buys in recent years.

Pessac-Leognan – sublime reds and unmissable whites

An appellation that is home to world-class reds and also some of the greatest dry whites on the planet. Ch. Haut-Brion is the flagship First Growth here (awarded more 100-point scores from Robert Parker than any of its peers) but Ch. la Mission Haut-Brion is often its equal.

Pessac-Leognan money-no-object picks:

Ch. Haut-Brion and Ch. la Mission Haut-Brion for world-class reds and hyper-expensive whites made in tiny quantities.

Pessac-Leognan value picks:

Plenty to get excited about. Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte, Ch. Pape Clément and Domaine de Chevalier are all superb in the mid-tier and excellent for the money.

Saint-Emilion – a byword for excellence

Merlot and Cabernet Franc dominate now we’re onto the clay soils of the Right Bank and the wines vary from utterly elegant to big and fleshy and everywhere in between. Saint-Emilion is home to some fantastic quality from the superstars of Cheval Blanc and Pavie to the tiny garagistes making small-production wines such as Clos St Martin, La Mondotte and Tertre Roteboeuf.

Saint-Emilion money-no-object picks:

Ch. Cheval Blanc, Ch. Ausone, Ch. Angélus and Ch. Pavie are the most famous names but the list is a long one with a plethora of tiny properties making miniscule amounts of stunning quality.

Saint-Emilion value picks:

Croix de Labrie and Clos St Martin – both are tiny production and full of charm. These are a coup for any cellar.

Pomerol – the home of Pétrus and Ch. Le Pin

Small estates, clay soils, Merlot and some of the most expensive wines in the world, Pomerol is a go-to appellation for those wanting rich, opulent Bordeaux packed with character.

Pomerol money-no-object picks:

Ch. Le Pin and Pétrus. Both have become synonymous with luxury, prestige and exclusivity. Not far behind in terms of quality and slightly more affordable, though still very much in the luxury bracket, Ch. L'Eglise-Clinet and Vieux Chateau Certan are both exceptional.

Pomerol value picks:

Ch. Feytit-Clinet is superb and still an absolute bargain. Gravette de Certan is the excellent second wine of Vieux Chateau Certan. Le Moulin, often compared by Robert Parker to Le Pin in style but a fraction of the price, is also well worth seeking out.

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