This is a wonderful appellation that produces wines of great strength and intensity which age very well. Merlot tends to dominate here on the more clay-based soils, the most noticeable difference between this appellation and neighbouring Pauillac. The two best known wines, Château Cos d’Estournel and Château Montrose, both classified second growths in 1855, are modern day first growths. The former, owned by Michel Reybier, makes rich, modern styled red. The 2009 here was controversial; overblown to some, perfect to others. I thought it was great but it is certainly a very different experience to other St Estèphe in the vintage. Cos certainly has a fantastic spot and its Asian style pagoda chais is the first thing that greets you when you cross into St Estèphe Chateau Montrose, on a high bank adjacent to the Gironde produces more classically intense and brooding St Estèphe. In great years like 1990, 2003 and 2009 it is practically immortal and the appellation’s answer to Château Latour. 2010 Montrose looked brilliant to me.
Château Calon Ségur, had a famous reputation in the 1920s and 1940s, leads the rest of the classified growths. Calon also produces classically styled wine which is very underpriced relative to its quality. It is the wine to seek out in most vintages. 2008 and 2009 are great success here. Its splendid terroir has also enabled it to make some of the appellations best wines in 2011, 2012 and 2013. There was a change of ownership here in 2012 but Calon clearly isn’t broke, so no tinkering. Château Lafon-Rochet, one of the Tesseron properties, is increasingly good, if you can bear the yellow label and their 2009 the best yet. The other classed growth, Château Cos Labory, is also now producing good, chewy St Estèphe with quite a bit of tannin.
St Estèphe’s main claim to fame, of course, is the extraordinary number of good value and excellent wines, many of them crus bourgeois. Amongst the best, and frequently performing at the level of the crus classes are Château Phélan Ségur, Château Haut-Marbuzet, Château Meyney, Château Ormes de Pez Château de Pez and Château Le Crock. Beneath these are a tier of very good properties like Chateau Beau-Site and Château Le Boscq which produce concentrated and fruity wines which rarely disappoint and in hot years like 2003 or great years like 2005, 2009 and 2010 offer good value for money.
Do please click here for the raw tasting notes on St Estèphe with complete notes on the commune from 2012 back and also on the individual chateaux profiles for more detail on specific properties.