I recently had a Big Birthday, my half century in fact, so you can imagine I took excessive care with the wine list when some old friends came round for dinner. We had a lovely white Monthelie 2008 to start and a 1963 port to round off the evening. But the star of the show was never in doubt: a Chateau Lynch-Bages 2004, the last of a case I bought with my very first bonus cheque a decade ago.
Lynch-Bages has always been a favourite of mine. Sadly, I am not alone. It has a cultish following among wine drinkers, particularly in Britain. It’s hard to put your finger on why. Perhaps it’s the Irish ancestry – the vineyard was founded by one Thomas Lynch whose father emigrated from Galway to Bordeaux in 1691. Young Thomas married well and inherited his wife’s wine estate in Paulliac, thus beginning a three century struggle for the Bordelais to pronounce his name.
Or perhaps it’s the current owners, the Cazes family, that give the wine its allure. They have, after all, become one of the great wine-making dynasties of Bordeaux. Jean-Charles Cazes bought the property in the 30s, but it was his grandson Jean-Michel Cazes who really put the chateau on the map, using cutting-edge wine-making techniques that shamed the grander houses nearby.
Today, the tradition is continued by another Jean-Charles Cazes. The family empire stretches to Chateau Ormes de Pez in nearby St Estephe, south to Villa Bel Air in Graves and all the way to Chateauneuf du Pape, Minervois and faraway Douro in Portugal. I have never had a duff bottle of their wine.
But perhaps the greatest appeal is that Lynch-Bages punches so far above its weight. In the 1855 classification, Lynch-Bages was named a lowly Fifth Growth, the lowest rank. There are few today who would put it down in this Conference League.
For me, it’s the quintessential Claret, with the combination of dense fruit and spices and a trace of the cigar box. Perhaps it lacks a little of the intensity or elegance of some of its Paulliac neighbours like Latour, but only by a fraction. Certainly my guests seemed to agree, judging by the row of empty bottles the next morning. The good news for everyone is that Lynch-Bages, like much of the region, is becoming more affordable. When I bought that case of 2004 it cost £240 for 12 in bond (sigh, those were the days), but it climbed into the stratosphere at the end of the last decade. A case of the sublime 2010 would today cost you £1,065 on Bordeaux Index, and even that’s 25-30 per cent cheaper than its peak.
By contrast, the case price for the 2014 has been set at around £595 – or £60 a bottle once you’ve paid tax and duty. That may sound a little rich but I have my 60th to plan now, and I don’t think this wine will stay that price in years to come.
Hurry, hurry: it looks as though Berry Bros and Lay & Wheeler have already run out, though Bordeaux Index still has some stock. As an alternative, Echo de Lynch-Bages, the chateau’s second wine, looks excellent value at £205 per case. At that price you wouldn’t have to wait for the special birthday to pull a few corks – just let it grow a little older (gracefully) and choose a suitable Sunday lunch.