Affordable red Bordeaux has become something of a rarity in last few years.  As global demand for the region’s wines has continued to climb – in part driven by a string of glorious vintages such as 2010, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 – so prices have shot ever higher.  The result has been that finding affordable high-quality red Bordeaux has become almost as difficult as sourcing affordable red Burgundy

Great wines for sensible money are still available though if you know where to look, and in this latest blog from MWH Wines – the home of affordable fine wine – we’ll profile one of the best, Château Caronne St Gemme.

About Château Caronne St Gemme

Château Caronne St Gemme is a wine with both an ancient history – it was established in the mid-1600s – and a long-held reputation for excellence.  The property lies in Saint Laurent in the Medoc, close to the border of the appellation of Saint Julien which is home to claret royalty including Château Beychevelle and the Château Ducru Beaucaillou.  For many years Caronne was actually in the possession of Ducru’s owners, the Borie family, before it was acquired by relatives of theirs, the Nony family, who are in charge today. 

Given its location it’s no surprise that the wines are so good.  Its soils are gravelly, free draining and lie over a bed of mineral-rich sandstone – an ideal combination for the production of high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Cabernet dominates the blend here, with the cepage typically comprising of around 60% Cabernet, 35% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot, a makeup that roughly reflects the breakdown of their vines.  The average age of their vines is approximately 30 years and this lends considerable concentration to the finished wine. 

Awarded the status of Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel in the subsequently annulled 2003 classification – one of only 9 of 247 properties to be so honoured – Caronne has long been considered to be of near classed-growth quality.  While it’s regrettable for them that they were never awarded this accolade, its lucky for us wine lovers as this has doubtless been a key factor in the wine remaining affordable.

To achieve the quality it consistently shows, the winemaking follows many of the techniques of its Grand Cru neighbours.  Vines are planted at 10,000 per hectare – relatively high – and when the grapes are pressed, they are fermented in cement vats before being aged in oak barrels for 12 months, 30% of which are new.

Château Caronne St Gemme’s Style

We’ve enjoyed many vintages of Caronne and over the years and we’ve come to know its style well.  For a Cru Bourgeois, it’s a relatively firm wine and in great years – 1986, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2009 and 2015 to name but a few – it is capable of many years of ageing.  Last year we drank the 1999 which at twenty years old offered a mellow glassful with notes of brambles, raspberries, dried leaves and woodsmoke.

In extreme youth – a year or two after release – it’s a wine that needs decanting and food to bring out the best in it.  We have found that after around 5 years it has usually reached its drinking plateau and in great years it can hold that position for many years.  Tasted blind Caronne can easily be mistaken for a Saint Julien.  Taste it against the same vintage as one of its close neighbours, Château Lagrange, and many of the commune’s traits are easy to see.  The wine is typically dominated by juicy Cabernet fruit that offers blackcurrants with a cedary edge while the Merlot lends richness and Petit Verdot a dash of mulberry and raspberry to the mineral-rich finish. 

Which Vintages To Try?

One of the great things about the estate is its remarkable consistency.  As we have said we have been admirers for many, many years and with a few notable exceptions – the 1984 was hard work when young and quickly aged into something even more mean-spirited – it usually delivers the goods.  Its free-draining soils, high-planting density and relatively low yields mean that Caronne has a reputation for producing wines of concentration and backbone.  Well-cellared examples from the 1980s – 1982, 1986, 1988 and 1989 – can still provide great drinking pleasure today. 

As for more modern vintages we can wholeheartedly recommend the following:

2009 – glorious now

2010 – excellent and with more to give

2011 – a very good wine for this tricky vintage

2012 – perfect now, complete and highly affordable

2014 – drinking well now and excellent value

2015 – a classic example and typical of this outstanding vintage

2016 – concentrated and firm, it is just starting to show its class

2017 – an overshadowed vintage whose wines are often very fine and drink well young

2018 – this will be a gem of a Caronne in a few years

2019 – in common with so many wines of this lovely vintage, the wines are excellent and offer great value for money

Caronne St Gemme: A Wine Lovers Claret

As claret prices spiral ever higher taking once modestly priced wines out of the everyday drinking range and into the special occasion category, it’s good to know that wines like this are available.  The quality and consistency of this lovely little property are beyond doubt and as great vintages in Bordeaux become more common, so we can expect even more affordable excellence in the future.  Now that’s something all red Bordeaux lovers can raise a glass to!

Like Some Fine Wine Help?

If you are looking for a specific wine then please get in touch by calling Mike on 0118 984 4654 or by emailing MWH Wines here.  A recognised authority, he’ll be happy to advise you on which wine is right for you.