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Chateau Cos d’Estournel: 2009 and all that

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

 2009 Cos: loved and loathed

It’s tricky business assessing a young wine just five months after harvest. Of course a critic has to call the wine exactly as she or he sees it, anything else would be dishonest, but in judging wine that young there is always a margin of error. A big wine in a big year will always have the risk of feeling monolithic at the outset. Given the size of all the elements how could it be otherwise? Now maybe those critics who lambasted 2009 Chateau Cos d’Estournel this spring for being over-the-top did allow for that. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just a question of taste. Would they say the same thing if the wine was lined up for them now after a year in barrel I wonder? I think not.

I say all this because I missed out on tasting Cos 2009 in March when everyone else did. So with all the reviews and controversy I was expecting it to knock me across the head and steal my wallet when I tasted it last month. Not at all. Yes Cos 2009 is a big, sexy beast but Harlan Estate it is not. It is positively precocious, and I don’t mean that it won’t last the distance, but already it is quite delicious, enjoyable because of the ripeness and alcohol, which at 14.5 degrees is admittedly straight from the Napa Valley, but somehow it’s not overwhelming. This is probably because of the collective weight of the other elements on the scales here. The wine is saturated in colour, fruit and tannin. Yet even with all this concentration, extract and depth the wine does not appear to be flat footed, quite the opposite in fact. It is surprisingly nimble and there is purity and precision here too. Undoubtedly it is one of the wines of the vintage. As to its further elevage, interestingly, in the interests of freshness and agility, Jean-Guillaume Prats, general director of Cos d’Estournel, is considering shortening rather than extending the time the wine will spend in barrel. You might imagine a wine like this needing a few extra months but Prats is toying with the idea of bottling sooner.

Jean-Guillaume Prats seeking ‘laser-like’ precision

Looking back at the sharp criticism that this wine drew early on, the whole affair must have shaken Prats. He shows no sign of that but no-one is impervious to such criticism. Interestingly he is already describing the 2010 as a very different beast all together from 2009. Classical is the word Jean-Guillaume uses to describe 2010, a contrast to 2009, which is surely atypical. I’m not suggesting an admission here that they went too far in 2009 but my ears did prick up when Prats said 2010 will be so very different from 2009. Maybe this is bound to be the case. Although 2010 was another extremely dry vintage, one of the driest, it was not as warm overall as 2009 and Cos has produced a wine with much greater acidity. At this stage Prats thinks that the wine will be a possible fusion in style of the 1988 and 1990 and possibly 2005 [see earlier post on 2010]. Whatever does emerge, managing the extraction and the tannins will be the key here in 2010 and this is what this estate excels at.

Cos d’Estournel’s new fantastical fermenting room…

In fact the whole new fantastical set up in the cellar here is designed to achieve precision in extraction, specifically gentle extraction. Nothing in Willie Wonker’s Chocolate Factory could match the extraordinary gleaming rows of stainless steel fermenters or the space-aged barrel chais at Cos. Eight years in the planning and execution it is a piece of striking design, actually entirely in keeping with the property, already the most architecturally distinctive estate in the Medoc from the outside, with its pagodas, elephants and all.  Inside gravity fed wine flow, hydraulics and so on mean that the wine could not possibly be treated any more carefully during fermentation and ageing.

The only think I spotted was that, given that malolactic fermentation takes place in barrel here, they surely can’t heat up the whole chais to 20 degrees [it’s gigantic] to achieve that – and it would surely affect all the other maturing wine from the preceding vintage too. Prats told me that the wine post fermentation is moved to separate room to complete MLF before returning to rest [spectacularly] in the barrel cellar. He says they could only afford to construct one barrel cellar like this. Forget a second year barrel cellar! In any event there is plenty of vertical height available down there.

…and the awe-inspiring barrel cellar

I think Jean-Guillaume told me that the 2008 Cos was the first wine to be processed entirely using the new facilities. As a wine it stands up surprisingly well when tasted next to the 2009. Obviously the wine is a degree lighter in concentration and almost in alcohol too, but it is an extremely attractive wine, laser-like in its precision. This is exactly the focus and definition that Prats told me he is looking to achieve here. Indeed it evokes a degree of the precision and focus of Jean-Guillaume himself. Certainly it’s one of the best 2008s that I’ve had.

The following wines were tasted on Wednesday 10th November 2010:

Chateau Cos d’Estournel 2008

Dark saturated colour; dense and tight to the rim, legs in the glass, black red; wonderful ripe nose, great cassis red fruits and very open also with minerality, wet rocks; lots of depth, palate layered, deep and intense. Great sweetness to the fruit and very layered; intensity and concentration but also pretty voluptuous; lots of structure here too. Tannins very fine. This wine is showing nice development on the palate. It is extremely attractive, very precise and has plenty of grip. Interesting actually how it is not completely overshadowed by the 2009. 95+/100

Chateau Cos d’Estournel 2009

Completely saturated and very deep looking; lovely voluptuous nose; very ripe; cassis with figs; nose saturated with aromatics, violets and ripe red fruits; really terrific; sweet ripeness to the palate [alcohol is 14.5 but let’s forget that for now]; wonderful red fruit fruits [strawberries/blackcurrants] real purity and density. Jean Guillaume Prats says he’s looking for laser like precision at Cos and there is a sculpted, polished quality here too. Pretty amazing depth, some warmth from the alcohol yes but not burning as it’s buried under a pile of fruit and lots and lots of extremely ripe tannin. This is very rich yet extremely polished. Great length here, quite terrific. Overall a wine of extraordinary density alongside purity and concentration. Coffee, espresso on the finish. A lot has been written about this wine being over the top. If that was the case, there is no sense of that now. This is a great wine which expresses the qualities of this truly extraordinary vintage both in St Estephe especially, and at in Cos in particular. 98-100+/100

The distinctive pagodas at Chateau Cos d’Estournel

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