Esme Johnstone, that crafty old fox at the helm of From Vineyards Direct, has been at it again. He slipped into Bordeaux in early October just as the harvest was finishing (the whisper being that 2018 is a cracking vintage, BTW) and found himself pretty much the only Brit in town. Producers and suppliers all had wine to sell and — apparently — only one person to sell to: Monsieur Johnstone de Londres.
As a result, Esme came back to Blighty with bucketloads of tasty tipples. He was astonished to be offered such fine vintages at such decent prices since wines of this age and of this quality have all but disappeared from the market. We are the beneficiaries of E.J.’s canniness, and if you’ve been pondering what to sluice the festive fowl down with this Christmas then I would suggest that you ponder no further.
Famously, 2000 was a 10/10 vintage and one in which the big names sell for stratospheric prices. Ch. Lafite, for example, is an eye-watering £1,380 a bottle. Claret-lovers on a budget, though, should not despair but take instead a gander at the 2000 Ch. Moulin Eyquem (1) from the Côtes de Bourg. This immaculately well-run estate sits on the banks of the River Dordogne, diagonally across from the vineyards of Margaux, and produces Merlot-dominant wines of real style. Come Christmas, this will be perfect. Pity poor Théodore Mostermans, the owner, though: until Esme persuaded him otherwise, he was keeping his stash of the millennial vintage for family and friends only. £11.95 down from £12.95.
The 2006 Ch. Dudon (2) from the Entre-Deux-Mers is a first-rate example of another fine vintage (-albeit not quite as fine as 2000). The estate is in the hands of Jean Merlaut, who has an impeccable pedigree, being the long-time owner-manager of mighty Ch. Gruaud Larose. Although it is already a dozen years old, this 80 per cent Merlot/20 per cent Cabernet blends seems younger, thanks in part to its exhilarating freshness. It’s soft, smooth and full of deliciously ripe red and dark fruit and pretty much spot on. £11.95 down from £12.95.
The 2006 Ch. Vieira (3) was bought direct from the chateau during Esme’s cross--Channel raid. A small parcel had been kept back for some reason and our man spotted it hidden away and snaffled it up on the spot. He did well, for it is deliciously easy-going with ripe Cabernet/Merlot fruit, gentle tannins and a long finish full of fresh peppery, savoury spice. £10.95 down from £11.95.
The 2009 Ch. de Monrecueil (4) comes from the Castillon-Côtes de Bordeaux, an appellation of once humble reputation that’s now rivalling St Emilion. 2009 was another 10/10 vintage and this is a deliciously toothsome blend of 70 per cent Merlot, 25 per cent Cabernet Franc and 5 per cent Malbec. It’s full-bodied and robust but with gentle tannins and a plenty of disarmingly lush ripe fruit. £13.95 down from £14.95.
2010 was another belting 10/10 vintage and the 2010 Ch. d’Aurilhac (5) is ripping. A Cru Bourgeois from the Haut-Médoc, it’s an almost equal blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with just the tiniest splashes of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. It’s not a wine to hang on to, but then why would you want to, given that it’s so darn delicious right now? It’s at its absolute peak and is a joy to drink, with delectably rich ripe fruit, a whisper of sweet vanilla and a long, dark, savoury finish. £18.95 down from £19.95.
Finally, the 2015 Ch. Cayla (6) a multi-medal-winning wine from Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux and yet another stellar vintage. Merlot-dominant, it’s playfully approach-able, with oodles of succulent fresh fruit and a powerful finish. It’s an absolute peach at this price and well worth tucking away for a year or so more. £9.95 down from £10.95.
The mixed case has two bottles of each wine and delivery, as ever, is free.
Jonathan Ray’s That’s the Spirit! (£14.99, Quadrille) is out now.