If you appreciate good red wine there are a few European reds you have to try before you die. Forget the cost and blow the budget – what are a few hundred pounds between friends? In exchange you’ll have a sublime red wine drinking experience that you will remember for the rest of your life. That sounds like a fair exchange to me!
So which European reds should you seek out for your once in a lifetime wine drinking experience? There are many famous labels in France, particularly in the Bordeaux region, but there are prestige labels in countries such as Italy and Spain too.
Let’s start our red wine bucket list in France, heading for Bordeaux. Chateau Margaux is the only estate in the Margaux appellation with the highest premier grand cru classe status. In fact, the appellation was named after this historic estate. One of the best known estates in Bordeaux, Chateau Margaux produces Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated red wines which are fragrant and oozing finesse.
Pauillac is one of the great Bordeaux appellations with three of the first five estates to get red premier crus status in 1855. Reds from Pauillac are amongst the best and most long-lived in the world. Amongst the embarrassment of riches of great wine estates are the three premier crus estates – Chateaux Latour, Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild. These reds have a velvety and yet steely texture with characteristics of blackcurrant and cigar-box. Aging – and these wines can take 50 years in the cellar with no problem – gives a complexity and intensity arguably seen in no other red wines.
The remaining Bordeaux red wine estate to be awarded premier crus status in 1855 is in the Pessac appellation, which was until the 1980s part of the Graves appellation. Chateau Haut-Brion is one of the most illustrious estates in this small appellation and its fame goes back to the 17th century when Samuel Pepys mentions having enjoyed a glass or two of “Ho Bryan”.
Pomerol is another famous Bordeaux appellation and contains within its boundaries one of the most famous and most expensive red wine names in the world. Despite its fame and prestige, Chateau Petrus has never been awarded the top grand cru classe status but red wine aficionados continue to rave about the Merlot-dominated wine produced by the estate. Perhaps its scarcity contributes to the legend – only around 5000 cases of the wine are produced each year.
There are many great Italian red wines but the much-derided classification system in Italy means it can be hard to pick out the stars from the dross. However, there are some wine estates which command worldwide respect and high prices.
One Italian label which has got red wine experts excited in recent years is Tenuta San Guido. The estate is in the Bolgheri DOC region of Tuscany and it is regarded as one of the great “Super Tuscan” producers. Its Sassicaia Bodeaux-style red is one of Italy’s most sought after wines.
Barolo is often regarded as Italy’s greatest red wine and the very best Barolo producers command great respect. However, be prepared to dig deep into your pocket and to wait several years for the wine to age. If you want to try great Barolo one name to look out for is Aldo Conterno. He produces a range of single vineyard Barolo wines in tiny quantities so if you can hold of a bottle it is worth treasuring. Another legendary Barolo producer is Bruno Giacosa Falletto.
The best know Spanish red wine is Rioja but the most expensive reds are sourced from another region – Ribera del Duero. Despite being classed as a DO region as opposed to Rioja’s higher DOC classification Ribera del Duero is home to Spain’s most famous and once most expensive red wine, Vega Sicilia. Like All Vega Sicilia reds the legendary top of the range Unico is a blend of primarily Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes; it is full of rich, concentrated fruit in its youth and mellows into a tremendously elegant and complex wine with age.
However, Rioja is what Spain is famous for and rightly so. Rioja is just one of two regions in Spain awarded the top DOC classification (the other is Priorat) and there are many wonderful reds produced in the region. However, if you want to try the ultimate Rioja there are three estates or Bodegas to seek out.
Baron de Ley is a relatively new single estate Rioja and, somewhat unusually in Rioja, the wine is aged in French oak barrels rather than American oak. It has very quickly established itself as one of the best Rioja producers. Contino is another top single estate producer which favours French oak barrels. This boutique winery is partly owned by a group of growers. Marques de Riscal is the final of the big three Rioja producers.
Image by Cea.