As I mentioned the other week, I received an invitation to undertake a brief but intense tour of a few dozen Chateaux in the hallowed wine regions around the port of Bordeaux. I spotted a gap between airline strikes, volcanic eruptions and my own less dramatic schedule and opted for a forty-eight hour tasting excursion.

The good people of Bordeaux (known as Bordelais) make many different wine styles down here in the south west of France, with whites, rosés and sweet wines all vying to extend our historic perception of ‘Claret’, that stalwart of classic red wine so loved by the English for decades. For the adventurous, the white wines of the Entre-Deux-Mers region are becoming increasingly popular in restaurants in the U.K. and are well worth trying for those who like the racy style of Sauvignon Blanc. On the other hand few will have missed the chance to savour Bordeaux’s other great gift, that of the many dessert wines based upon the Semillon grape from around Sauternes in the south east of the region. Although I was plied with a raft of wine styles, which followed in ever quickening succession turning my lips to something approaching Edith Piaf’s make-up, I shall restrict my notes solely to the reds this week.

The distinctive dark green high shouldered bottle, first used in Bordeaux some two hundred years ago, as opposed to the fatter sloping shouldered bottles of Burgundy, were displayed in every tasting room and cellar we visited. Almost all were without labels at this stage and were tasted as cask samples from the 2009 vintage, most were destined to be sold En Primeur  awaiting their final bottling long after purchase. This is the wine equivalent of the City of London’s futures market – guess correctly now and maybe you will profit later. You see Bordeaux is not only home to some of the most delicious wines available, although not every single wine from the region is always newsworthy, it has long since become the spiritual heartland of wine investment.

Bordeaux sits within the départment of the Gironde, facing out onto the Atlantic Ocean and sited around the estuary of the rivers Garonne and the Dordogne. It has some of the most expensive vineyard real estate on the planet, with planting on 250,000 acres producing over six hundred million bottles of some of the worlds most sought after wine. With wines from the principal Chateaux known to command stratospheric prices at auction on occasion, it will come as no surprise that the likes of  Ch. Pétrus and Ch. Mouton-Rothchild have been known to fly in helicopters to disperse air frost over the precious vines during inclement spring weather conditions.

Formerly the dowry of Eleanor of Aquitaine when she married Henry II in the 12th century, Bordeaux ,with its rich reclaimed flood plains coupled with its sea-driven climate, has proved to be an almost perfect circumstance in which Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, its three principal red grape varieties, have come to flourish. With a predictably tumultuous history, the region was finally lost by the English at the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453.  From my recent trip, that loss appears to be in the throws of a little deja-vu. What has proved fascinating has been the stream of notable sponsors and crowned heads that have thronged to each and every harvest that has graced its vineyards throughout history. Such haughty patronage slowly gave way to wealth rather than taste and the English fascination with the wine was eventually overtaken and often outbid, in the latter part of the 20th Century by American demand. Once the USSR was disbanded and oligarchy became a new word in our vocabulary, it was the so-called Russian mafia that moved in to reign over the ever more greedy price skirmishes in the French inspired, futures markets. The Americans and Russians are still down there milling about with the odd few Brits, but it was wall-to-wall Chinese buyers that greeted me on this visit with their new found appetite for fine wines, which has in turn sprung from their own burgeoning economy. Of course the Bordelais are rubbing their gnarled hands with understandable glee as this new layer of wealth that has beaten a path to their occasionally beleaguered door. It does mean that many of the top-end first growth wines will continue to escape our modest grasp over here as prices have rocketed since the last harvest, principally based on this newly established market. However there are many second, third and fourth growth wines that proved to be outstanding and more than ready to offer some comfort to our speedily diminishing, British disposable income. What might save the claret lovers here in the U.K. is, paradoxically, the sheer wealth of  fruit that the last harvest produced.

So in my opinion, 2009  was clearly a stunning vintage, hailed by many in France as better than the glorious 2005, with an abundance of rich, ripe fruit. Although many of the wines will not surface for consumption for many years, the evidently high level of this fruit  content will certainly offer earlier drinking than usual – that is if you can afford to get your hands on a released bottle.

If you can, my diary is fairly free at present.