Tag Archives: Saint Emilion

The 2022 Saint Emilion Classification

Recap: wine châteaux in the Médoc and Sauternes regions were classified in 1855, and those in the Graves (even though all in the Pessac-Léognan appellation, estates there remain “Crus Classés de Graves”) in 1953. Saint-Emilion introduced a new type classification in 1955 that broke with tradition in that it was decided from the very outset that it would be revised and updated every ten years.

Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions… In theory, this seemed like a wonderful idea, with newcomers able to climb the ladder and underachievers removed – as opposed to the other classifications set in stone. However, each new revision turned out to be a wrenching experience with long, drawn-out court cases and all sorts of ups and downs. This did a great disservice to the image of Saint-Emilion and its finest wines. The controversies reached a paroxysm in 2022 when three of the four Premiers Grands Crus Classés A (Ausone, Cheval Blanc, and Angélus) decided to withdraw altogether. There now remain only two in the uppermost tier: Pavie and Figeac – which finally, and deservedly, made it to the tip of the pyramid.

It had unfortunately got to a point where the Saint Emilion classification was openly derided and the situation became very unhealthy, with the criteria and functioning of the whole process heavily criticised (for instance, tasting accounts for only 50% of the final score, terroir just 10%, etc.). The waters are further muddied by the huge confusion that exists in the average consumer’s mind between Grand Cru and Grand Cru Classé. For most people, these terms mean the same thing which, of course, they do not… In other words, the legal appellation for a classified growth is Saint Emilion Grand Cru, exactly the same as for an inexpensive unclassified wine.

And yet… After a great deal of turbulence, the classification has survived, warts and all, and châteaux still strive to belong to it. The amount of paperwork involved with applying is mind boggling, a bureaucratic nightmare that is nevertheless well worth it to those estates fortunate enough to be accepted. In other words, being classified still means something. In practice, it carries greater financial weight in terms of an estate’s land value rather than the market price of its wine.

The Premier Grand Cru Classé category (A + B) now amounts to 14 estates, compared to 18 in 2012 . There are 71 Grands Crus Classés this year, as opposed to 64 in the previous classification. This represents a 10% increase, but is still fewer than the 75 châteaux in the original classification. .Overall, approximately half of candidates for the 2022 classification were not admitted. No estate included in the 2012 classification was demoted.
Those newly admitted GCC include Château Badette, Clos Badon-Thunevin , Château Boutisse, Château La Confession, Château Croix de Labrie, Château Le Croizille, Clos Dubreuil, Château Lassegue, Château Mangot, Château Montlabert, Château Montlisse, Château Rol Valentin, Clos Saint-Julien, Château Tour Baladoz, and Château Tour Saint Christophe. Happily, one château, Château Corbin Michotte, that had been downgraded, was reintegrated.

I am either little or totally unacquainted with several of these wines, and the new classification makes me want to get to know them better.

In a way that leaves Burgundians speechless, estates in Saint Emilion with different statuses have merged while retaining that which is most advantageous. Could you imagine a Grand Cru in the Côte de Nuits annexing a Premier Cru and rebaptizing it Grand Cru? Anyway, Pavie has absorbed Pavie-Decesse, Clos Fourtet annexed Les Grandes Murailles, Cheval Blanc added Quinault l’Enclos, etc.

Is the classification system in Saint Emilion back on track? In my opinion, it will never be fully so if the leading estates do not belong. However, none of the wrangling, recrimination, and litigation that were so much a part of the previous two classifications has surfaced so far. Perhaps this is due to the fact that no château included in the 2012 classification was rejected in 2022.

Premiers Grands Crus Classés

Château CANON
Château FIGEAC (A)
Château PAVIE (A)

Grands Crus Classés

Château CORBIN
Château GUADET
Château LA SERRE
Château LAROZE
Château MANGOT
Château RIPEAU

Château Fleur Cardinale, an up-and-coming Saint Emilion cru classé

I first became acquainted with Château Fleur Cardinale during a Portes Ouvertes (“Open Cellars”) operation in Saint Emilion several years ago. These events are always wonderful opportunities to visit numerous estates, taste, and buy wines if one so wishes.
Seeing as I had enjoyed the wine at Fleur Cardinale and appreciated the enthusiasm of the young owners, I resolved to go back and take a closer look at a less busy time.

I did well to wait, because the château has undergone a major renovation and is a tremendously different place from the one I had previously visited. Caroline Decoster kindly invited me to come by and take a tour of the new facilities In September 2021. These are truly impressive and it is obvious that no money was spared in giving Fleur Cardinale a new lease on life.

Located in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, Fleur Cardinale was originally known as Clos Bel Air. The story goes that, after it was purchased by the Obissier family in 1875, they called the estate Fleur Cardinale after two of their racehorses! Be that as it may, many Right Bank estates in Bordeaux have the name “fleur” (La Fleur Pétrus in Pomerol, La Fleur Perron and La Fleur de Boüard in Lalande de Pomerol, Fleur de Lisse in Saint Emilion, my friend Joseph Sublett’s Fleur de Roques in Puisseguin Saint Emilion, etc.).

The Decoster family came on the scene when they bought Fleur Cardinale in 2001. Previously owners of several firms producing Limoges china, including the famous Haviland brand, Dominique and Florence Decoster decided to sell their businesses and focus on their new estate in Saint Emilion.

They did not waste time in bringing this up to scratch, and were rewarded by its inclusion as a great growth in the 2006 classification of the wines of Saint Emilion, a status confirmed in the 2012 classification.

Their son Ludovic and his wife Caroline also decided to commit to this adventure. With no prior training, Ludovic threw himself into learning about winemaking and took over in this capacity at Fleur Cardinale in 2015.  Caroline, with a master’s degree in management in the wine and spirts Industry is involved with sales, communication, and marketing.

I asked Caroline about the upcoming 2022 classification that has been so controversial since Cheval Blanc and Ausone withdrew, and further to a long and debilitating series of court challenges. Her reply was measured, but she obviously feels very strongly about the subject. She spoke of the hundreds upon hundreds of pages it took to apply, of the colossal efforts that had been made to bring the estate up to its present level, and the fact that the media had seized on very minor aspects of the criteria (presence of a receptionist, car park, foreign languages spoken, etc.) to attempt to denigrate and disqualify it.
She and her family are proud of Fleur Cardinale’s cru classé rank.

The Bordelais are past masters in the art of combining striking architecture with a vineyard estate. Fleur Cardinale’s originality and attractiveness lie more in its interior design than its exterior. There is an exhibit of Limoges china as you enter and then a circuit taking you though child-friendly exhibits telling the story of viticulture. The new vat room is state-of-the-art and the impeccable cellar contains 100% new barrels for the grand vin.

The building’s back deck affords a sweeping view of Fleur Cardinale’s vines (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet France, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) in a single block. They grow on gently rolling terrain on the highest part of Saint Emilion’s limestone plateau, surrounded by châteaux Valandraud, Pressac, Rol Valentin, and Faugères. Although Michel Rolland’s team are winemaking consultants, Jean-Luc Thunevin at nearby Valandraud has provided precious advice to the Decosters over the years. When Fleur Cardinale grew from its original 18 hectares to the present 23.5, part of the newly-acquired vines were situated on a cooler north-facing slope. Jean-Luc suggested that it would be more appropriate to plant white wine grapes there, and the Decosters heeded his advice. Their first white wine will be marketed in years to come, when the quality meets the owners’ expectations.

The estate presently produces three wines: the cru classé Fleur Cardinale, a second wine called Intuition (from the 2018 vintage onward), and another wine named Croix Cardinale from a plot that is not in the immediate vicinity.

After visiting the cellars, Caroline took me up to the second floor where there is a world-beating tasting room with plate glass windows everywhere, tasteful modern furniture, bookshelves, a sound system, an automatic wine dispenser, and an intimate feel. The look is reminiscent of a huge suite at a top-notch boutique hotel – but with a view over the vines. Everything is geared up for new generation wine tourism.

And what of the wines? I tasted through the range in the 2018 vintage. This was a hot year, troubled by widespread high alcohol levels. However, this was not the impression I had when tasting the Decoster wines. The grand vin, Fleur Cardinal, was showing very well and, although somewhat oaky at this stage, had a rich, layered, velvety texture and smooth mouth-coating tannins. It was those qualities that attracted me to Fleur Cardinale in the first place. Mercifully, the pricing is definitely on the reasonable side too, retailing in France for 45/50 euros a bottle.

The go-ahead, positive attitude at the château is contagious. Ludovic is conducting various experiments with vinification intégrale and is even considering agroforestry, i.e. planting trees among the vines!  2021 was Fleur Cardinale’s first year of organic viticulture and it would be an understatement to say that this presented a few major challenges… In fact, there was frost in the vineyard for 9 days in a row at the beginning of the growing season, followed by severe attacks of mildew like elsewhere in Bordeaux. The château is expecting only 50% of a normal crop, tops. When explaining this, Caroline smiles philosophically and says that after this terrible introduction to organic farming, things can only get better!

Like everyone else, I like success stories and I’m pleased to say that Fleur Cardinale fits the bill. It’s an estate well worth watching.

Bombshell hits Saint Emilion : Ausone and Cheval Blanc drop out of the classification!

Château Cheval Blanc

It would be an understatement to say that the Bordeaux wine trade was taken by surprise…
By not submitting their application file for the 2022 classification by the June 30th deadline, Saint Emilion’s two leading châteaux have, in effect, withdrawn altogether and will soon be completely outside it.

Classifications were made of the Médoc and Sauternes in 1855, the Graves in 1953, and Saint-Emilion in 1955. As opposed to the other regions, Saint-Emilon’s classification is revised every 10 years, although it has taken longer than that on occasion. The 2012 hierarchy is the sixth since 1955.

The 2006 classification unfortunately gave rise to a certain amount of ill will and even legal action, with several excluded estates (La Tour du Pin Figeac, Cadet Bon, Guadet, and La Marzelle) contesting the grounds of their omission. These châteaux bitterly took issue with some of the criteria such as the presence of a parking lot, a fulltime receptionist, and the – to them – too minor part played by impartial tastings.

In light of this controversy, and the legal annulment of the 2006 classification, a new one was made six years later, in 2012. Special care was taken as to how it was conducted by the Syndicat Viticole and the INAO, a government agency, according to revised parameters. Alas, even more confusion and debate came about with this new ranking! Whereas there were 61 estates in the 2006 classification (15 premier grands crus classes and 46 grand crus classes), this had ballooned to 82 in 2012 (18 premier grands crus classes and 64 grand crus classes), i.e. an increase of 34%…
And, once again, three châteaux (La Tour du Pin Figeac, Cobin Michotte, and Croque Michotte) that were left out challenged the 2012 classification in court.
This has led to an absurd situation. Since their suit is still pending, it is entirely possible that the 2022 classification will come into effect while the previous one has not been officially validated!

In addition, two leading figures in the world of Bordeaux wine (Philippe Castéja, former president of the CIVB and owner of Ch. Trotteveille, as well as Hubert de Boüard, owner of Ch. Angélus, former president of the Syndicat Viticole de Saint Emilion, and member of the INAO) saw their estates either confirmed or promoted. They have been accused of a conflict of interests and weighing unfairly on the results of the classification. Both men are currently facing criminal charges for their alleged involvement in manipulating the outcome. This is an unheard of situation!

Château Ausone

The premier grand cru classés of Saint Emilion are divided into two categories: A and B. The former, included just two estates, Ausone and Cheval Blanc from the very beginning. However, in 2012, two more were added to this exalted position, the very tip of the pyramid: Angélus and Pavie. Above and beyond Hubert de Boüard’s polemical involvement, many traditional lovers of Bordeaux wines find that both Angélus and Pavie are top-heavy, overly-alcoholic heavily-extracted, and too oaky – in short, that they clash with their conception of classic claret.
In a tremendous example of hubris, Château Pavie had “Premier Grand Cru Classé A” engraved on the pediment of their new cellar. How could they do such a thing when the classification is, by definition, not set in stone?

So, in a revolutionary move, both of Saint Emilion’s grands seigneurs have decided to stay out of the classification. This has sent shockwaves throughout the region. Their reasons were that the parameters for inclusion were too far removed from the all-important notion of terroir. Things such as presence on social networks and the number of articles in the press have nothing to do with the quality of their wine, they argue.
In their defense, the Saint Emilion establishment points out that Ausone and Cheval Blanc did not contest the metrics for the 2012 classification, which remain unchanged in 2022, so why do so now?

Be this as it may, the classification is presently on very shaky ground. At stake is not just prestige, but money, lots of it. Not only do the crus classés sell for more than other wines but, above all, the value of the land is significantly increased.

As if things were not chaotic enough, the appellation laws in Saint Emilion suffer from an original sin. Only a small percentage of consumers know the difference between Saint Emilion Grand Cru and Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé. There are seemingly hundreds of the former (the Syndicat cannot say with certainty how many…) selling for as little as 10 euros. These share exactly the same appellation – Saint Emilion Grand cru – as Cheval Blanc and Ausone selling for up to 100 times more! In other words, the grand cru appellation, which encompasses the crus classés, is terribly misleading.
At least Ausone and Cheval Blanc won’t need to change their labels…

There can be little doubt that abandoning the classification will have no adverse effect on their reputation or sales.

In theory, redefining a classification every 10 years is a great idea, leaving the possibility for newcomers to make headway, and laggards to be eliminated. However, the way this has been done is unfortunately skewed. Like the AOC laws in Saint Emilion, the classification was built on shaky foundations, and the institutions overseeing them now have lots of egg on their face. I sincerely hope that this sorry state of affairs can be corrected in the years to come.
But what if the classification were actually beside the point? Many Bordeaux enthusiasts pay little or no attention to it, relying on critics and market prices to make their choice…




20005 Château La Serre, Saint Emilion grand cru classé

Like most English speakers, I am more familiar with the wines of the Médoc (and have tasted every classified growth there) than I am with the wines of the Right Bank. Indeed, my acquaintance with many of the crus classes of Saint-Emilion is limited or non-existent.

I have tried young Château La Serre at tastings, but had never sampled an aged one until this past weekend.

La Serre has 7 hectares of vines on the edge of the limestone plateau, surrounded by Ausone, Bel Air Monange, Pavie Macquin, and Trottevieille. It has been owned by the d’Arfeuille family, with deep roots in the region, since 1956. Former owners of châteaux La Pointe in Pomerol and Toumalin in Canon-Fronsac, they have also been involved in the négociant trade.

The breakdown of grape varieties is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The vines are an average 35 years old.

Whereas I would probably go on the assumption that a fine 2005 Médoc was too young to drink, I felt that this Saint-Emilion might just be ready to go.

The color was absolutely beautiful, with a deep reddish-purple hue and gentle bricking on the rim. I would probably have guessed a younger wine if tasted blind.
The nose showed fresh, classy, tremendously ripe fruit reminiscent of red fruit jelly. The oak was under control, but my notes say that the bouquet was half-way to the New World in style, not that this is meant in a pejorative way, simply reflecting its exuberance.
The wine proved to be “sweet”, voluptuous and very rich on the palate, with concentrated cherry flavors. It was mouthfilling and unctuous, but minerality from the limestone showed on the aftertaste to provide a counterpoint and the necessary backbone.

I was greatly pleased with this 2005 La Serre, a sensual, delicious wine, which is still shy of its peak. I would definitely seek this wine out in the future.

A quarter of all St. Emilion crus classés have changed hands since 2012!

Interesting article in the locl Sud-Ouest newspaper of April 4th. Unfortunately, I can’t post the link because it only works for subscribers. So here are the salient points:

Nearly 25% of the 82 grands crus classées in Saint Emilion have changed hands since the 2012 classification (still not definitive because of being challenged in the courts…).

The newspaper explains that this is due to several factors. Increased international demand for luxury goods plays a major role, as does long-term return for institutional investors. French inheritance laws make it difficult for families to continue holding on to châteaux and the small size of estates makes it difficult to produce enough wine to establish a brand and satisfy world demand. Indeed, the classified growths of Saint-Emilion are much smaller than those in the Médoc, and it makes sense to reach a critical mass.

Owners must wait for the next classification in 2022 to request an extension to their estates (frequently by absorbing another grand cru classé), so there is much jockeying going on at the moment.

Who is buying?

The answer is foreigners, wealthy French buyers, and other great growths.Here is the list of the 18 châteaux to have changed hands since 2012 Château

L’Arrosée  – Domaine Clarence Dillion (Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion)
Bellefont Belcier – Vignobles K (Chinese)
Berliquet – Wertheimer family (Chanel)
Chauvin – Sylvie Cazes (Lynch Bages, etc.)
La Clotte – Vauthier family (Ausone, etc.)
Côte de Baleau – Cuvelier family (Clos Fourtet, Poujeaux)
Faurie de Souchard – Dassault (Château Dassault and jet aircraft firm)
Fonroque – Jubert Guillard (insurance)
Grandes Murailles – Cuvelier family (Clos Fourtet, Poujeaux)
Clos le Madeleine – Jean-Pierre Moueix (Pétrus et al)
Monbousquet – CARMF (mutual insurance firm)
Moulin du Cadet – Lefévère family (Château Sansonnet)
Petit Faurie de Soutard – AG2R La Mondiale (insurance – Châteaux Soutard and Larmande)
Le Prieuré Artémis – (François Pinault – Château Latour)
Ripeau – Grégoire family
Clos Saint-Martin – Sophie Fourcade
Troplong Mondot SCOR (insurance)

2016 great growths: Pomerol and Saint-Emilion (40 wines)


Beauregard (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Inky and sweet. Fresh, strong and serious. A little spirity and roasted with earthy aromas.
P: Feminine and soft. Melts in the mouth. Finishes rich but not overdone. Juicy and especially tart. A delicate sensual wine. Worth seeking out.

Le Bon Pasteur (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Dried fruit. Slightly dusty.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Fills out nicely on the palate. Soft tannin and one has the impression of alcoholic strength, but not in a way that detracts. Rubbery (empyreumatic) notes and slightly dry aftertaste. Oak plays too major a role at the present time.
This estate was sold to a Chinese owner by Michel Rolland.

La Cabanne (94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc)
N: Noticeable reductive notes, but this may not be a fair time to taste. Biscuity with hints of black fruit jelly.
P: Soft and unctuous. Seems traditional with little oak influence. A decent Pomerol, but not one of the best.

Clinet (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Bright, pure, and rich yet understated fruit. Roasted quality, but interestingly so (not outrageously toasty oak). Deep and good.
P: Shows more grip and structure than other wines tasted. A step up. Fresh, round, and has a great finish. The dryness should disappear with age. A very fine Pomerol.

La Croix de Gay (95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc)
N: Rich and spicy (cinnamon) with grassy, blueberry, chocolate, and liquorice notes.
P: Heavy mouthfeel. Sweet and a little obvious. Big, round type of Pomerol, but lacks depth. The aftertaste seems rather dry and I hope that the oak integrates later on.

Gazin (87% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Spirity and spicy. Very ripe. A little heat.
P: Manages to be big and delicate at the same time. Very soft, but shows plenty of character going into a vivacious aftertaste. The oak finish hides some of the lovely ripe fruit at present, but further ageing should put things in balance.

Petit Village (77% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Deep and slightly spirity bouquet showing great Pomerol typicity and wild berries. Both serious and charming.
P: Medium-heavy mouth feel. Satiny high-quality tannin from beginning to end with a cushioned texture. Juicy and tart. Long aftertaste. Refreshing and thirst-quenching. A very superior Pomerol.

La Pointe (83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc)
N: Rich fruit along with meaty aromas and overtones of humus and musk. Fine bouquet of a vin de terroir.
P: Quite round on entry but does not quite maintain the momentum before reaching the classy aftertaste. The almond and vanilla aromatics come more from the soil than the oak. There is also a burnt rubber component. Light-weight for its appellation.

Saint Emilion

Barde Haut (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and fairly non-descript compared to its peers.
P: Chunky, a little confected. A crowd-pleasing sort of wine with marked acidity. A little hollow on the middle palate. Tangy aftertaste showing some minerality. A good commercial style.

Bellefont-Belcier (72% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Toasty oak and accompanying roast coffee aromas predominate.
P: Full, rich sensual attack then drops and returns with a pleasant rather mineral aftertaste. Seductive, easy-going, and typical of its appellation. Will be enjoyable young.
This château was recently sold by a Chinese to a Maltese. Bordeaux is nothing if not international!

Cadet Bon (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Very closed. Rich, but simple.
P: Melts in the mouth almost like fruit juice (i.e. texture and “sweetness”). Good mineral aftertaste. The sort of wine you don’t have to think about, just enjoy. The dryness on the tail end will probably diminish with ageing when the oak integrates.

Canon La Gaffelière (55% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Unusual medicinal nose of herbs and eucalyptus. Perhaps just a stage.
P: Much better on the palate. Velvety texture and rich berry fruit that does not let up until the end of the long aftertaste. The oak dries out the finish at this early stage, but if care is taken should not intrude later on. Excellent wine with good potential.

Le Chatelet (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft blueberry aromas with some alcohol and chocolate notes.
P: Fine fluid juicy quality. Refreshing. Natural, with good follow-through and appetizing tannin on the finish.

Chauvin (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Pure, although subdued fruit. Oak presently has the upper hand. Some herbaceousness.
P: Herbs on the palate too. Tight and fairly dry with a weak middle palate. Unbalanced at present. Simply too much oak. However, this could change by the time the wine has been bottled and aged. Needs to be re-evaluated.
This estate was bought by the Cazes family of Lynch Bages in 2014.

Clos Fourtet (90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Pure, fresh, and classy. Needs only time to express itself fully.
P: Sinewy, compact, and penetrating. Heavy mouth feel. This is a big wine that spreads out on the palate. Shows some alcohol. Fine-grained grippy tannin. Slightly hot aftertaste, but this is nevertheless a winner that should age very well.

Clos des Jacobins (80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Very toasty oak and coffee aromas. Too much. You feel as though you are smelling a cup of espresso. Some herbaceousness comes out with aeration.
P: Much better on the palate so let us hope that the oak integrates later on. Big, mouthfilling wine with lovely fruit waiting to come out from the yoke of the oak (hey, I’m a poet and don’t even know it!). Dry aftertaste. Please save Private Ryan and reduce the oak here. Everyone will be happier.
This estate is owned by the Decoster family who came from the Limoges china industry.

Clos la Madeleine (75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc)
N: Low-key fruit with the sensation of freshly-mown grass.
P: Starts out big and then drops precipitously. Hollow on the middle palate. There’s a nice fruity tanginess on the aftertaste but this capitulates to the oak at present.

Corbin (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Pure seemingly unoaked bouquet. Fresh and seems more floral than fruity.
P: Chunky, rich, and mouthfilling, but does not develop quite so well on the palate. Really big and round but also hollow. How will the oak integrate? At present it overwhelms what would have been a great aftertaste.

La Couspaude (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Subtle, fresh, and concentrated berry liqueur notes with some grassy aromas.
P: Tasty and sweet but somewhat one-dimensional. The fine aftertaste brands it as a Saint Emilion. Quite juicy going into a tart mineral finish. Good but not stellar.
Couvent des Jacobins (85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Very primary fruit with a herbaceous quality.
P: Juicy and tasty. A little dry on the aftertaste, but there is lovely upfront joyous fruit. Let us hope that everything evens out in the end.

Couvent des Jacobins (85% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot)
N: Very primary fruit with a herbaceous quality.
P: Juicy and tasty. A little dry on the aftertaste, but there is lovely upfront joyous fruit. Let us hope that everything evens out in the end.

Dassault (73% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Slightly reduced nose. Pronounced, but not complex, with plum nuances. Alcoholic smell of slightly overripe Merlot.
P: Rich, silky, and brawny going into an unexpectedly fresh and especially mineral aftertaste. A wine of strong character and a good Dassault.

Destieux (66% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Soft, biscuity, and enticing, but not really expressive and focused yet.
P: Rich, melts in the mouth, big, round, fresh, and sensual. The oak is largely under control and there is a fine textured aftertaste. Lots of pleasure here. Only the muted nose keeps this from being a winner. Let us hope that this comes out over time.

La Dominique (80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Lots of toasty oak. A little hollow and alcoholic at this time.
P: Sinewy and velvety. Soft with a medium-heavy mouth feel and a flavour that dips before coming back into a long tannic and mineral aftertaste. A serious, sturdy, broad-shouldered wine that is, once again, a little dry on the finish at this time.

Fleur Cardinale (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Cherry-vanilla aromas accompanied by a strong blackberry component. Beautiful ripe bouquet. Still, needs to come together, which is hardly surprising.
P: Big mouthful of wine. Spreads out confidently on the palate. Round and sensual with a silky texture. Excellent.

La Fleur Morange (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
N: Subtle black cherry aromas.
P: Medium body and silky texture. Well-balanced with oak in check and showing nice minerality. High quality tannin. Classic and satisfying. I was delighted to discover this fine cru classé I did not know.

Fonplégade (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft and not very expressive. Underlying black fruit waiting to be liberated. Some understated oak.
P: Sweet juicy fruit with a refreshing, thirst-quenching quality. Medium-heavy mouth feel. Oak dominates the aftertaste, but this could very well change over time. Very good.
The château has been certified organic since the 2013 vintage.

Fonroque (85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc)
N: Honest, forthright, subtle nose of black fruit.
P: Fills out nicely on the palate. Chunky with exuberant fruit. Good mineral aftertaste and not too dry. Surprisingly good and seems like an excellent value this year.

Franc Mayne (90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc)
N: Some reduction there. Not in very good form this day. Deep, slightly spirit blueberry and fresh leather.
P: A certain tartness and an average quality compared to other crus classés. Strong limestone-induced minerality on the aftertaste.

Grand Corbin (80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Beautiful fresh and largely floral nose (field of spring flowers) with fruit not far behind as well as some chocolate nuances.
P: This strange and unexpected floral quality carries over to the palate. Thickish body and a long earthy aftertaste with mineral and oaky overtones. Perhaps more interesting and unusual than good.

Grand Mayne (85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc)
N: Soft, natural, and seems virtually unoaked. Deep and mysterious with lovely Merlot fruit.
P: Big and round, but with a slightly dilute quality. Displays the trademark finish of wines from the Saint Emilion plateau: an unmistakable limestone minerality. Toned-down compared to some other vintages from this estate. Very good.

Grand Pontet (75% Merlot, 17.5% Cabernet Franc, and 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Cherry cough syrup
P: Big, full and sweet. Does not really follow through from the attack to the dry finish. Going on towards being a fruit bomb. Ends really very dry due to oak. A pity because there are some unquestionably good aspects to the wine.

Jean Faure (50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot, and 5% Merlot)
N: Not much going on. Wait and see.
P: Big volume but hollow. Unattractive dry aftertaste. Clobbered by the oak.

Larmande (77% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Discreet, fresh, and attractive black fruit with some toasty oak.
P: Sweet, round, and sensual Merlot melts in the mouth. Very good and will be quite enjoyable young.

Laroze (65% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon)
N: Blueberry aromas, but not very subtle.
P: Seems almost more floral than fruity on the palate, and goes from a chunky rich attack into a rather dry aftertaste. Not the most distinguished of the tasting.

Péby Faugères (100% Merlot)
N: Inky, dark, mysterious, and promising bouquet. I must have been carried away… My notes say “a beautiful Andalusian woman”!
P: Complex, and round, with a lovely texture. Impeccable. Wonderful soft tannin. Seductive, yet serious and the oak is within reason. Is Silvio Denz gunning for first growth status? If this bottle is anything to go by, he is well on his way. Between the special Lalique embossed bottle and the price tag, I was expecting to find something overdone. But no, this is really good.

La Serre (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Bit herbaceous and rustic. Some chocolate, cherry, and oak notes.
P: Big, but a bit flabby. Refreshing, but lacklustre. Minerality typical of Saint-Emilion’s limestone plateau on the aftertaste, but this is somewhat of an afterthought… Proper, just not special.

Soutard (63% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Malbec)
N: Fresh, sweet, and pure aromas of brambly fruit with some chocolate nuances.
P: Big with a heavy mouth feel, but the impressive entry seems a little diluted thereafter, going on somewhat disjointedly into a puckery mineral finish. A different style from the sister château, Larmande, and needs more time to age.

La Tour Figeac (70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc)
N: Not a lot of personality. Sweet and simple.
P: Much better on the palate. Melts in the mouth and then asserts itself with considerable volume, marked berry flavors, and noticeably high alcohol. Good tannin, minerality, and long fruity finish. A sleeper.

Troplong Mondot (90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc)
N: Strong berry liqueur aromas. Alcohol. Not complex.
P: At 15° this reminds me a bit of Harlan from California in that I don’t want to like it, but end up being taken in. Close-minded, moi? A New World type of wine in many respects. Concentrated, big, and unrelenting, yet deeply soft. I liked it despite a hot, dry aspect to the finish. Go figure.

Villemaurine (80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc)
N: Floral, lead pencil, and earthy notes
P: Starts out big, round, and generous, then backs off and dips, going on to display a combination of rich fruit and minerality. Long berry aftertaste with an oak influence that needs some watching. Very good.

An unforgettable tour of top-flight châteaux: day two

This day was enjoyed at a more relaxed pace.

We started out at Château La Conseillante in Pomerol. And, yes, they had redone the cellar there too. The facilities are rather spiffy for such a small estate, and the vat room is not only functional, but round and very attractive.
La Conseillante’s trademark purple color is everywhere.
Estate manager Jean-Michel Laporte began the tour with a long explanation in the vineyard, which was highly useful in order to situate the vineyard and to talk about geological influences.
We tasted the 2006 vintage. The nose was sleek, but closed, and the wine was very suave and elegant on the palate with an almost Margaux-like elegance and no impression of alcohol.
M. Laporte is leaving La Conseillante because as he frankly admits, he had “strategic divergences” with the owners. But I have little doubt that he will resurface in short order at another top-flight estate. He had done great things at La Conseillante and came across as a gifted professional.

We went from there to Château Corbin, where we were taken around by owner Anabelle Cruse-Bardinet, member of a famous Bordeaux wine family. Anabelle also began the tour in the vineyard and is a very hands-on manager. She explained how she had to fight to keep the estate and has thrown herself wholeheartedly into running Corbin, where she looks after far more than paperwork and public relations. Corbin has maintained its grand cru classé ranking through the various classifications, as opposed to some of her neighbors.
We tasted three wines. The 2014 was pure, fresh, and classy, if somewhat short. The 2012 was very interesting and worthwhile, and the 2010 stole the show. Anabelle says this is the best wine she has ever made.
Corbin is attractively priced and is going from strength to strength. We were very grateful to have visited and to have heard Anabelle’s explanations in excellent English.

We did not visit Château La Dominique, but had lunch at the restaurant there, La Terrasse Rouge. This is run by the team from La Brasserie Bordelaiss, a popular restaurant in Bordeaux. There is something of the New World here, with long communal wooden tables and plate glass windows offering a great view, including of the new cellar at Cheval Blanc, just a stone’s throw away.
The bistro-style food is simple, good, and not too expensive. I recommend La Terrace Rouge when in Saint-Emilion. It is also open on Sunday.

After lunch, we went to Château Figeac. There is change in the air here. The former manager, Éric d’Aramon, left in 2013 and was jointly replaced by the previous Technical Director, Frédéric Faye, and Jean-Valmy Nicolas of La Conseillante. It is rumored that this came about because Figeac was not promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé “A” status in the 2012 classification. Be that as it may, Figeac has always enjoyed a loyal following and I have the highest regard for the wine, which features a highly unusual blend of grape varieties: 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, and just 30% Merlot. The high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon is due to the part of the vineyard with gravelly soil, more reminiscent of the Médoc than Saint Emilion.

We tasted the 2011 vintage. My notes read as follows:
Color: beautiful and brilliant
Nose: subtle oak and dark fruit
Palate: good acidity and tangy tannin. Nevertheless round, going into mineral. Very well-balanced. Light on its feet. An intellectual wine.

Next on the itinerary was Château Canon, a peer of Figeac (Premier Grand Cru Classé “B”). This turned out to be a delicate exercise because Saint-Emilion has often been described as a gruyère, i.e. a Swiss cheese, due to the numerous underground galleries dug out of solid rock. In fact, there are no fewer than seven levels of these galleries! What this means is that it is forbidden for a bus to go along certain roads because there is danger of their collapsing! We nevertheless drove close enough to Canon to arrive more or less on time… Canon is yet another estate undergoing large scale renovation and the château looks like a major building site. We were taken around the underground cellars, which go on for miles, and also saw a cross-section of the soil. This was very instructive. There is much talk of clay-limestone soil, but it speaks volumes to actually see the solid rock with veins of clay, and the vine roots that push through the latter – a wonderful illustration of terroir.
We tasted 2006 Canon, which looked a little older than its 9 years. The nose was very tertiary with deep cherry aromas. The wine was more expressive on the palate, but seemed austere and not overly user-friendly.

We played tourist in the lovely medieval village Saint-Emilion for an hour, inevitably visiting wine shops (Bordeaux Classique and http://www.vignobleschateaux.com/eng/accueil) and doing some further tasting, including a very fine 2010 Château de Cambes, an expensive but very good Côtes de Bourg from François Mitjaville, owner of Tertre Roteboeuf in Saint Emilion.

Ferrand - menu

Then it was time for dinner at Château de Ferrand, newly promoted to grand cru classé status in 2012. The château belongs to the family of Baron de Bich, whose fortune was made with Bic pens, lighters, etc.
We were taken around by an 18 year-old apprentice sommelier who acquitted himself very well in English. The château is quite impressive and the cellars are lovely. Ferrand also has an unusual sales policy, keeping back old vintages and not selling them for any more than the release price. For instance, they were just finishing off sales of the 1998 at a very reasonable price (twenty some-odd euros).
Bordeaux is well and truly waking up to wine tourism, and Château de Ferrand has embraced this trend. The meal we were served was catered by the Michelin-starred restaurant La Cape in nearby Cenon. We were served a series of vintages and asked to which wine which went best with each course, although I did not take part in the competition.
Having tasted several vintages, I unfortunately cannot say that Ch. de Ferrand is one of my favorite Saint Emilions, but I nevertheless appreciated my evening there and the warm welcome we received.

2007 Clos Dady, 2002 Ch. Troplong Mondot, and 2000 Ch. Siran 




I have been a fan of Clos Dady for a while. This 6-hectare estate in Preignac was recently purchased by the Russian Eli Ragimov. It is currently managed in conjunction with nearby Château d’Arche.As opposed to the red wines of Bordeaux, 2007 is a good year for sweet white wines, and this comes through in 2007 Clos Dady, which I enjoyed with panfried foie gras – a marriage made in heaven…
The color is a rich deep golden yellow with bronze highlights. The nose is very fresh and fruity with quince and (decided) pear aromas, with some waxy nuances. The bouquet seems much more overripe than botrytized.

The taste goes from round and unctuous into a finish with pronounced acidity. The aftertaste is pleasant, but on the short side.
This is nevertheless a good wine to enjoy at this stage of its development. It is fresh and vital. I am of the opinion that there is a style of Sauternes (like this) that appeals more to the French market, as opposed to the other kind (more botrytized, more concentrated, and oaky) that appeals to foreign markets. At table, even so, this Clos Dady was a treat.



I expected much from the 2002 Ch. Troplong Mondot, a wine that I do not follow regularly, but which was promoted to Premier Grand Cru status in 2006 and confirmed in 2012. Aware that 2002 is not such a wonderful vintage, especially on the Right Bank, I was willing to make allowances. I was nevertheless disappointed with what I tasted. The color is lovely and deep, looking younger than its age. The nose has hints of leather and musk as well as a ferrous, and what I call a soy sauce element. It is ripe and shows candied fruit. Things unfortunately go downhill from there… The wine is simply steamrollered by the oak.
One of the great discussions among Bordeaux lovers is the “classic” versus the “modern” style. I freely admit to belonging more to the former camp. Still, I have an open mind. But when a wine is as overwhelmed as this by barrel ageing, you simply have to admit it. 2002 Troplong Mondot is thus big and a little “hot” on the palate with a hard, dry, oaky aftertaste. It is curiously diluted on the attack, and then goes dumb and tight. The wine showed a little better after a few hours in the decanter, but it is going nowhere. Someone was a just a little too ambitious that year in light of the fruit’s potential.
The last Troplong Mondot I had was a 1990, which was delightful, so I do not mean to paint every vintage with the same brush by any means.
Also, I am anxious to go to the restaurant that recently opened at Troplong Mondot, called Les Belles Perdrix. I’ve heard very good reports…
The Bordeaux rumor mill has been very active with news of a possible takeover of the estate since Christine Valette passed away last year, but these seem to be ungrounded.



I am increasingly finding that mid-range 2000 Bordeaux is ready to drink. So, I decanted a bottle of 2000 Ch. Siran to have with rabbit à la moutarde. I should point out that the mustard ends up being very subtle when blended with the cooking juices and cream, so this did not really skew my evaluation. Anyway, the color of this 2000 Siran is very deep and thick, looking younger than its years. The nose is surprisingly mute. Although pure, it is not very expressive at all. What little I could detect smelled like beetroot. The wine is somewhat better on the palate and reminded me of nothing so much as the way Médoc used to taste when I first arrived in Bordeaux, over 30 years ago. I noted cedar and a touch of blackcurrant, but also unquestionable greenness and bitterness on the finish. I came back to the wine 5 hours after the meal, and it had changed little. The tealike flavors are very reminiscent of old-fashioned Médoc. Above all, this wine would have been much better a few years ago. You’d have to look very hard to find any of the characteristics usually associated with Margaux…

A white Graves and two Saint Emilion great growths

A simple, but delicious dinner tonight.
With smoked Norweigan salmon, we had a 2012 Villa Bel Air (Graves Blanc). This 50-hectare estate in Saint-Morillon has been part of the Jean-Michel Cazes stable since 1988. The white wine is made from 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Sémillon. The former variety dominates the flavor profile. The wine is zippy and definitely shines more with food than as something to sip on its own.
With a cut of beef called “hampe” (my dictionaries translate this as “thin skirt steak”) I opened a 2004 Château Berliquet. This 9-hectare Saint Emilion grand cru classé is on the Magdeleine plateau near the village. Grape varieties are 70% Merlot 25% Cabernet-Franc, and 5% Cabernet-Sauvignon. I decanted the wine for 2 hours before serving. It had quite a brown rim and looked older than its years. The nose showed prune and leather, but lacked freshness and focus. It was very old-fashioned in style on the palate with tannin reminiscent of over-brewed tea. The overall impression was of a prematurely aged wine that should have been opened years ago. I just hope that this bottle is not representative.



I bought a decanter of 2004 Ch. Bellevue, another Saint-Emilion grand cru classé, to the table with the cheese platter. I was very intrigued by this wine because I think I’ve only ever had it once before (in any vintage) and also because of its location just across the road from Château Angélus. In fact, a 50% shareholding was bought by the de Boüard de Laforest family (owners of Angélus) in 2007. The other half belongs to the Pradel de Lavaux family. I can remember seeing the ambitious earthmoving and drainage operations going on shortly thereafter and thinking: with that location and the Angélus promotional machine behind it, Bellevue will undoubtedly be going places soon.
The bottle I opened was prior to the de Boüard involvement, but it was a very pleasant surprise, especially in light of some disappointing 2004s I’ve had lately. The color was very deep and slightly purplish but, even so, looking older than its age. The nose was a little dusty, but showed plum, violet, subtle jam, and slightly cosmetic overtones. The wine was delicious on the palate with plenty of volume. In fact, you might even call it brawny. At 13.5% alc./vol. there was nothing exaggerated here, just powerful. There was good, grippy tannin with a coarse-grained texture. The candied cherry/cherry lozenge flavours were very attractive. There were mouth-coating tannins on the tail end and the wine was dry, but not dried out. It is 3-5 years away from its peak.
A very nice discovery. If I had to rate it, I’d give it 15/20, and I’m a tough scorer…