North-west of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the Barons d'Anglade have been making wine in the historic 18th century Château d'Abzac since 1796. Current incumbents Baron Jean-Louis and wife Baroness Chantal look after some 35 hectares of mostly Merlot vines on historic clay and gunz gravel soils that border the river L'Isle. Their excellent Chàteau d'Abzac bottling of Bordeaux Supérieur ('Supérieur' referes to a higher ABV than the AOP Bordeaux permits) has become our 'house' claret since it entered our inventory back in 2011. Known for bright berry fruit aromas and flavours underscored by cassis and cracked black pepper notes, it provides great value from a 'Petit Château'. Its sibling Château Milonblanc comes from neighbouring Lussac Saint-Emilion and is altogether a more weighty proposition with a little Cabernet Sauvignon adding more weight, a lick of tannin and some cedar and blackcurrant freshness to the red berry fruit of the Merlot. It is wonderfully fresh and vibrant when young with sufficient stuffing to age for around 5 years. An apposite pairing would be grilled lamb chops (slightly pink) or small game. Definitely decant if time permits.
From a similar satellite appellation outside the historic town of Saint-Emilion, the Todeschini family make their marvellous Château La Brande from fruit grown east of the town in the Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. Brothers Yann and Karl farm 21 hectares of vines on south-facing clay-limestone slopes amongst the thickly-forested hills to the north of the Dordogne river. Under organic conversion, their Château bottling is usually based on 65-70% Merlot with around 22% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder Petit Verdot. More like a Left Bank claret in style at a remarkable 'petit prix', its wonderful plum and blackberry fruit is underlined by cigar box and baking spice flavours with fine tannins balancing the whole. Certainly a wine for the medium term, it benefits from bottle age and hits its stride around 4-5 years after vintage, with enough oomph to last a decade or more in good years.
In nearby Pomerol, Château Gombaude-Guillot was one of the first to adopt organic practices back in the early 1990s and have been certified as such since 2000. Next to the more famous Châteaux Trotanoy, Bourgneuf and Clinet, it is largely planted with Merlot and around 30% Cabernet Franc. Their main wine reflects this being 85% Merlot, with Bordeaux expert Jane Anson describing it as "...gourmet Pomerol fare that is just rustic enough to be heartfelt, but without taking away any of that dark chocolate and rich blackcurrant fruit that you look out for in this appellation."
South of the city limits lies the free-draining sand and gravel soils of Pessac-Léognan. On the hunt for good quality half-bottles last year, we stumbled upon a parcel of Cru Classé claret from Domaine de Chevalier (near the commune of Léognan). 'L'Esprit de Chevalier' is a blend of around 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot and the remainder Cabernet Franc. Redolent with blackcurrant and forest fruit aromas, a touch of oak and spice, it is already drinking well and has a good 10+ years life in it. It has been so well received, we've managed to source some full bottles to accompany it.
In the 1855 classification of the Médoc, Château Cantemerle was initially overlooked. When the news reached the then owner Caroline de Villeneuve, she rushed off to demand its inclusion. The records show it being written onto the original list as a Fifth Growth (Cru Classé) in a different hand - so it was very much an afterthought. The modern blend comprises some 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot and the remaining 10% split equally between Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It is initially blended in the spring after harvest with a further blending after barrel maturation is complete. It has a wealth of cassis and plummy fruit interspersed with chocolate and mocha spice alongside finely-integrated tannins. Best when decanted, top vintages benefit from bottle age and have the legs to last for decades.