Last week I went to Vinexpo, the largest wine fair in the world. Every two years, 50,000 wine professionals - and a smattering of celebrity wine buffs such as Gerard Depardieu (right) - gather in France to swirl, sniff and slurp. Imagine working through 2,400 wine exhibitors from 43 countries within five days. Well, I tried. One of my favourite invitations at the exposition was an exclusive preview of the 2004 Bordeaux wines. Although the 2004 vintages will not appear on the shelves for another year, most vignerons (vine growers) poured their wines secure in the knowledge their production was already sold to negotiants or exporters months ago. The 2004 results vary, so these were far from the heady days of Vinexpo 2001, where the frenzy for the 2000 vintage left merchants begging for bottles. Red wines from Bordeaux are the most highly regarded in the world. Officially, they can be made from seven specified grapes. In practice, the wines are primarily a blend of three popular grapes: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. In 1855, Bordeaux's top wine estates were ranked according to their perceived quality. The finest properties were designated 'premier cru' or '1st growths', while other excellent chateaux were ranked '2nd growths' and so forth down to the lowest level of the fine-wine classification, the '5th growth'. The classification system remains intact, although today many lesser-known wineries are as good as these classed estates. The 1st growths are in such high demand agents dole out only two or three bottles to special customers - and at outrageous prices. If this highway snobbery is too rich, there are many other outstanding Bordeaux wines. The prices will still be high, so take a deep breath. Chateau Haut-Bailly, located in Pessac-Leognan, is well off the beaten path of the famed Medoc wineries, but the richly flavoured wine is so excellent winemaker Veronique Sanders sold her entire year's production in 40 minutes. The Bordelais are describing the vintage as a classic European vintage, which is code for firm, tart and light on fruit. Many of the wines are well-balanced, but of a more delicate restrained character than the powerhouse 2000 or exceedingly ripe 2003 vintages. It was universally agreed temperate September weather rescued unevenly ripened grapes from a cool July and August. Winemakers such as Claire Thomas-Chenard of Chateau Larmande had to harvest in three separate rounds to collect the fruit at optimum ripeness. From the Medoc, Chateau Dauzac (5th growth) beautifully showcased the Margaux region's classic floral aromas. In St Julien, Chateau Leoville Poyferre (3rd growth) showed particularly well, with its red raspberry fruit neatly counterpoised with crisp acidity and firm tannins. Neighbouring Chateau Leoville Barton (3rd growth) was a touch more lush with dense, soft fruit. Chateau Lagrange (3rd growth) succinctly captured Bordeaux's classic style and will be excellent value. After several tongue-wrestling hours of sipping red Bordeaux, it was a pleasure to finish the tasting with a few Sauternes. And in that regard, there is nothing comparable to the elegant Chateau Doisy-Daene.