Let’s face it, a little part of every one of us would like to get our noses deep into a glass of Lafite, Latour or Mouton. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us would receive a rather prompt phone call from our bank managers if we were to even think about purchasing a bottle. Even the worst vintages fetch well over £250 a bottle and if you want a wine which is both of drinkable age and from a decent vintage, you can part with the best of a grand for the privilege.
My first advice to anyone who wants to try affordable wine from Pauillac is to look at the vastly more-reasonable neighbouring AOCs: Saint-Estèphe or Saint-Julien…the appeal with Pauillac though is the word itself, not necessarily the taste of the wine.
There are however Pauillac clarets out there though that, whilst far from being reasonable, might just be within your budget.
Firstly don’t expect massive value for money: Pauillac, Margaux, Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are, by far and away, the most expensive Bordeaux appellations (being the most famous) and wines that receive a Parker score of over 90 Points are quick to reach the £100 mark (if not more) – a comparable wine in terms of quality and score from Italy or another Bordeaux AOC might cost less than half of that rather hefty sum.
Here they are then: five wines that you might be able to afford that offer typical Pauillac character at untypical Pauillac prices, two of them are even related to the most famous family name in the town: Rothschild.
Château Lynch-Bages (Pre 2005 (excl. 2000))
Châteaux Lynch-Bages continues to ridicule the 1855 Médoc and Graves classification act. This fifth-Cru Pauillac estate has been offering stiff competition to the biggest names of Bordeaux for the best part of two decades now and Jean Michel-Cazes' winemaking skills are the key to the turnaround of the company’s fortunes.
Whereas the 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 wines are priced to compete with the upper echelon, wines from average vintages are affordable. Particularly 2001, 2002 and 2003 are especially affordable and offer fantastic drinking.
My notes (2003 Vintage)
Château Clerc-Milon (2008, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2001)
As one of the only Bordelaise wineries still using the lush varietal Carménère, Château Clerc-Milon is the sister estate of d’Armailhac. Baroness Phillipine de Rothschild, owner of the mighty Mouton-Rothschild estate is the driving force behind this delicious claret.
2007 and 2008 offer the best value-for-money but earlier wines (2002, 2003) are serving up some fantastic drinking at the moment.
My notes (2007 Vintage)
Château d’Armailhac (2008, 2007, 2002, 2001, 1999)
Another Baroness de Rothschild estate, Château d’Armailhac has some pretty impressive neighbours : Pontet-Canet and Mouton-Rothschild to name but two. Slightly spicier than the racy Clerc-Milon, the wine is a favourite amongst restaurateurs: elite wines at affordable prices (with lots of words people have heard of).
2008 and 2007 are for me the best tips to pass on although I found the earlier wines very enjoyable: particularly 1999.
Château Pedesclaux (2008, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2001)
A rather small player in terms of big names, Château Pedesclaux might sound to the inexperienced like an also-existing option when buying Pauillac wine. The winery's discreet heritage is key to its ability to produce excellent and affordable wine though.
Although the 2009 and 2010 vintages weren’t particularly what you might call cheap, Pedesclaux is one of the few Châteaux of Bordeaux which offers consistent value-for-money. 2002 and 2003 were decent wines and priced between 20 and £30 a bottle, they offer some of the best Pauillac per pound there is. 2007 and 2008 were also fantastic wines but the 2005 is probably the best value-for-money 2005 out there – if you can find some!
My notes (2002 Vintage)
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste (2008, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2001)
Probably the most high-profile winery on this list and, for many, Pauillac’s secret beating heart, Grand-Puy Lacoste offers some fantastically priced claret during otherwise mediocre vintages – whereas the majority of other producers are unable to turn an average vintage into a decent wine, the know-how at Puy-Lacoste ensures a fabulous drop every year.
2003 and 2007 are the best options here, 2002 and 2001 offer wonderful drinking though and, at less than £50 a bottle, you might not be able to say cheap but, once you’ve tried it, you won't be disappointed.
Also look out for the big winery’s second wine : Lynch Bages’ Echo is a treat, as is Latour’s Pauillac de Latour. I’d like to recommend Lafite’s Carruades but a) I’ve never tried it and b) I’d recommend packing a couple of notes on top and going for the first wine. As a general rule, avoid the vintages 2004 and 2006 – I find most wines very flat and 2004 in particular rarely offers that essential Pauillac style – still if you’re looking for a bargain: you’ll be able to pick up of a bottle of Mouton, Lafite or Latour from 2004 for about the same price as one of the above-listed winery’s 2005 vintages – that’s how Bordeaux pricing works, just don’t expect to be impressed. Only a handful of vintners achieved high-quality wine in 2004 and 2006 and most of that is gone now: Pichon-Loungueville 2004 is one of the best value-for-money clarets from 2004 but priced at roundabout £80 a bottle, it’s far from being a bargain.