Gruaud Larose – Drinking like a Monarch without paying a King’s Ransom

Auction Manager Jeremy Lee takes a closer look at one of his favourite Saint Julien wine properties.

Gruaud Larose – Drinking like a Monarch without paying a King’s Ransom

Are you looking for great value Bordeaux wine? Gruaud Larose could be the answer.

Value is a wonderfully relative concept when it comes to fine wines and spirits. Like any luxury purchase, be it fashion, cars or works of art, to the uninitiated, spending many multiples of the retail or auction price on an object rather than buying the most functional, affordable iteration available can seem like shameless decadence. In the wine world, as in all these other cases, there are sweet spots where you can still buy a truly outstanding example of a style or region which, while by no means cheap, is not from a property or appellation that attracts speculators simply looking to make a buck – and thus represents excellent value.

Everyone has their favourites, but one of my Bordeaux ‘Classic Clarets’ that can be virtually always be relied on to deliver in terms of concentration, poise, style and longevity is Deuxième Cru Classé Saint Julien estate Gruaud Larose, an enormous estate that was wowing brokers as early as the 1740s and has a host of fans to this day. It is situated just inland from the tiny village of Beychevelle and is planted with 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 7.5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 1.5% Malbec. In short, it’s a great value Bordeaux wine

At a whopping 82 hectares, it yields up a generous 540,000 or so bottles each year. So with plenty to go around, perhaps the relative abundance serves to keep prices in the reach of we mortal wine lovers with modest means.

Since its creation in 1725, four families have succeeded one another in ownership, with Joseph Sébastien-Larose inheriting the estate from Stanislau Gruaud  in 1778, thus giving it the double-barrelled name it has kept since. The Balguerie and Sarget families, then the Cordier and Merlaut families took the reins of ownership thereafter, and although the style and viticulture may have changed marginally (it’s currently on its way to organic conversion), it has remained as described by wine writer Stephen Brook as ‘….the most fruit-driven of St.Juliens, but at the same time has astonishing weight and structure.’

Brook rates historic vintages such as the 1966, 1982, 1986, 1990 extremely highly while, unsurprisingly perhaps, singling out the more recent great vintages, 2000 and 2005, as being up there with the best. The late Michael Broadbent MW rated virtually all notable post-war vintages as four- or five-star wines.

For my own part I too was seduced by the 1986, the first vintage I tried in the mid-1990s as a wine novice:  I was fascinated by the sheer richness of fruit and savoury decadence overlaying a colossal tannic core.

I’ve looked out for it ever since, almost regardless of vintage – if any Château will provide me with a delicious alive and kicking bottle, even from a mature lesser vintage at a not-exorbitant price, Gruaud it will be. It never fails to live up to its motto – my favourite in the world of wine –  ‘le vin des rois, le roi des vins’ : ‘the wine of kings, the king of wines.’  No one could fail to be impressed by that billing (but keep your eyes out too for the excellent and similarly-consistent second wine, Sarget de Gruaud Larose, which is aged in older barrels and accounts for around 45% of production at the property!).

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