Twenty-minutes isn’t a long time, but it’s a lifetime if, on the eve of harvest, your vineyard is sat beneath a storm producing hail the size of golf balls. As extreme vineyard events go the St Estèphe hail storm that struck on September 1st 2011 was a dramatic as they come. Not every producer was mind you. It was highly localised, passing some vineyards, clipping others but decimating quite a few. Basil Tesseron, owner of Chateau Lafon-Rochet, who made good wine in the end, described it as the viticultural equivalent of falling off the Empire State Building – a microscopically short event ending in oblivion. The immediate fear, apart from the reduction in yield and damage to those vines physically stripped of their leaves, branches and fruit, would have then been the secondary threat of rot on the remaining bunches. This fear would have been made more complex by the fact that the vineyards were approaching maturity but not quite ready to pick. Do you wait and get proper phenolic ripeness or risk losing the lot to rot? Or do you pick quickly but end up with green wines and unripe tannins? Add all this to a vintage that had seen conditions see-saw and which overall was pitifully dry. Pouring over meteorological charts at that few days of harvest was probably all you could do – that and having a stiff gin and tonic and go with your instinct. Close your eyes and feel the force Luke.
As it happened September turned out to be reasonably dry and sunny so, despite suffering considerably what was the most turbulent vintage in recent years, St Estèphe has nevertheless produced some of the smartest reds of the vintage. They are not quite as good as Pauillac and St Julien but in the very best cases, despite the drama and the threat of rot, strict selection [in some cases up to 70% declassification into second wines] alongside nicely judged wine making, has made wines at least as good here as 2008, if not a quite a bit better. Obviously it’s not as knockout fabulous for St Estèphe as 2009 or as dense and long-term as 2010, but if you forget the charts and statistics and focus on what’s in the glass, the only thing that should stop you buying the best wines here should be price. Let’s hope producers release at least below the currently market price of their 2008s.
In terms of quality there is no doubting the fine wines made this year at Chateau Calon-Ségur and Chateau Montrose which are very impressive. Chateau Cos d’Estournel looks good but was almost eclipsed by its second wine Pagodes de Cos, which to me, looked almost as interesting as the grand vin. Elsewhere Chateau Lafon-Rochet has produced the goods, but you certainly hope price comes down here considerably from ‘09/’10. I was also impressed by Chateau Phelan Ségur and Chateau Ormes de Pez. These wines are tannic and chewy, and have more grip and sappy notes than recent vintages, but they do typify what St Estèphe is all about. Chateau de Pez felt a bit rawer, Chateau Le Crock quite stern, though polished, while Chateau Haut Marbuzet focused on the fruit but lacked some finesse. Chateau Tronquoy Lalande, Chateau Capbern Gasqueton and Chateau Meyney, itself much improved in recent vintages, have all produced good wines with much style and polish.
Detailed profiles will follow shortly on Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Chateau Montrose and Chateau Calon-Ségur but for now below are the notes and scores on all the wines I tasted from this appellation in alphabetical order. The wines tasted courtesy Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc were tasted late in the day in the distinctly chilly cellars of Chateau d’Arsac – a challenge for any wine to shine I’m afraid, but especially so in this vintage. I’ve put notes here but the scores have question marks because none of the wines showed well and I’d like to taste these in better conditions. Also usually I’d spent a little more time on these reports but as it looks like prices will be released much earlier this year than the last couple, I’ll crack out the notes for the other appellations and return for some in-depth profiles of the best wines later.
Earthy looking; some stuffing; black fruits and some dusty qualities alongside oak; gutsy palate; fruit is here and some density; lots of material. Chewy and not that bad if a little angular. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 3/4/12 83-85?
Deep looking, earthy, vibrant purple at rim – healthy and fresh looking; seductive nose; red fruits, perfume; blackcurrants and loganberry notes; very polished; sweet entry to the palate, lots of depth here but this is a cool, elegant wine; some grippy notes but lots of sour cherry and blackcurrant flavours on the palate. Very good length. Fresh and harmonious. Interesting has the same vital statistics as 2010. Excellent effort. 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, 100% new oak 13.2% alc 93-94+
Deep and earthy red; purple at edge; attractive red fruits; some oak; little rose petal. Strong, meaty palate quite deep with lots of stalky, fresh Cabernet flavours. Pretty harmonious effort again here; blackcurrants, grip and good acid. Structured wine with good acid. 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot 13.2% alc 60% new oak 87-89
Deep and concentrated looking; sturdy blackcurrant notes; some plums; oak dominates the palate and feels very disjointed with too much wood tannin. A misjudged effort on this tasting but cold sample. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 3/4/12 82-84?
Chateau Cos d’Estournel
Deep and saturated; purple edge; colour tight to rim; full nose; fat and ripe, almost a bit of fig and an earthy, mealy note [not unattractive]; more unctuous than Pagodes; some spicy, briary tones but rich palate, pretty big. Harmony here, more grip than Pagodas and a very good finish. Richer than Pagodes but not necessarily that much better. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot 5% Cabernet Franc 13.5% alc Tasted at Cos 6/4/12 91-93+
Pagodes de Cos
Deep and saturated; blackcurrant, black cherry and perfumed nose; very pretty; cassis and cream too; very attractive; creamy plush palate with lots of fruit, very accessible and harmonious; fine tannin and very polished overall. Little bite at the end but wonderful tannin profile in a tricky vintage. You wouldn’t know. A great effort. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 13.3% alc Tasted at Cos 6/4/12 90-92+
Chateau Cos Labory
Deep and saturated look; lots of raspberry jam notes, with attractive lift; initially plenty of fruit but more one dimensional than complex. Palate rather chewy, some spice, but this is a raw palate, less polished than some. Rustic . Tannin not fine. Dryness on the finish. Tasted UGC 3/4/13 and again 5/4/12 86-88
Chateau de Pez
Deep and saturated in colour, looks dark/serious; some blackcurrant, less expressive than LR,LDP and PS. Some cassis and blackcurrant notes; freshness and some purity; coffee at the back; nice attack, quite polished palate; black cherry and dark chocolate notes. Some dryness on the finish. Lacks roundness. Tasted UGC 3/4/13 and again 5/4/12 86-88
Dense colour; purple edge; deep briary and blackcurrant nose; earthy; some violet lift; little capsicum; some meat, savoury tones; attractive; big and full palate; lots of earthy blackcurrant fruit and cassis; bluer and cooler fruit tones than usual here; little raw on the finish but plenty of guts. More obvious structure but loots of oomph. 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot 5% Cabernet Franc 13.3 alc 87-89
Chateau La Commanderie
Deep and arterial looking; fresh, some leaf and earthy notes; blackcurrant palate; reasonable purity but tannin and acid accentuated by cold bottle. Good fruit here potentially Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 3/4/12 83-85?
Deep & dense; saturated look; lovely fruit, plenty of it; shows very well cassis, blackcurrants, polish and brightness; some earth and green pepper hints too; bite initially on the palate – some black cherry little more pointed than ‘09 certainly; grip and material but nicely handled. Nice and fresh. Good tannin. Tasted UGC 3/4/13 and again 5/4/12 88-90
Chateau Le Boscq
Deep colour; vibrant edge; warm sexy worked nose; new wood, some sap; perfume and flower; quite hard and angular on the palate; chew and density but acid and tannin give the wine a puckering finish. May round out but currently hard, characters accentuated by being tasted cold. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 3/4/12 83-85?
Chateau Le Crock
Mid depth; deep centre; legs; mineral purity, cassis, some plum; focused palate and quite a bit of grip and texture. Feels a bit stern though made with the usual Cuvelier precision and dedication, owners of Chateau Léoville-Poyferré. Tasted at Léoville-Poyferré 2/4/12 87-89
Deep and dark; saturated but vibrant at edge; potentially attractive fruit, some layers and cassis; lots of oak on the palate; very dry wood tannin; lots of acid pucker. Cold sample admittedly but still feels way too extracted and dry. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 3/4/12 80-82?
Deep and dark; saturated; quite ripe and full on the nose; ripe Merlot here; satisfying nose; generous and full; some earth; oak on the palate but will settle; lots of material and chew here; density and chew. Good length. All the elements. Should be pretty good. Meyney certainly back on form past few vintages. 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot 45% new oak. 13% alc 89-91+
Saturated looking; tight to rim; black cherry fruit, deep but a little dumb initially; certainly not quite as knockout as 2010 was at the same stage; brooding; aeration reveals black cherry and eau-de-vie notes but there are tightly wound layers here; nice entry, big and tannic – waves of fruit here; feels a little monolithic but nicely handled. Lots and lots of tannin – a boat load – but refined and seemingly not dry. This needs time though and pretty epic in scale for the vintage. More overtly tannic than 2010 but its extra alcohol would have given additional sweetness. This weighs in at 12.8-13 degrees. 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Tasted at Montrose 2/4/12 94-96
La Dame de Montrose
Saturated colour; cassis and blackcurrant; dark cherry and bitter chocolate notes; feels pretty sturdy; quite deep and lots of sour cherry aromas; nice palate, lots and lots of fruit on the palate; tannin and acid too; chewy but feels refined. Grippy and dense wine. Tannin does need to resolve but it’s not dry. Pretty big wine, big tannin and reasonable length. 72% Merlot and 28% Cabernet Sauvignon [the mirror opposite of the grand vin]. 12.8% alc Tasted at Montrose 2/4/12 89-91
Chateau Ormes de Pez
Deep and dense; saturated; legs, tight to rim; purple; more strawberry lift here; red fruit; some VA from oak; then cassis and blackcurrant; little more lifted; lots of blackcurrants and fruit compote; layers; sweet and ripe; lots of fruit on the palate – some crushed rocks and minerality; denser and more complete in the mouth than Phelan Ségur; more material [but less charm]. Nice finish. No bitterness here. Tasted UGC 3/4/13 and again 5/4/12 87-89
Chateau Petit Boscq
Deep and saturated; intense nose; blackcurrants, satin, meaty savoury characters; palate has density and nice blackcurrant fruit; grippy but not over done. Would like to see this at room temperature but looks goodish from what I can tell. Tasted at Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 3/4/12 85-87?
Chateau Phelan Ségur
Lots of depth and colour; concentration on the nose; layers, nice depth; this looks good; cassis, plenty of fruit; ripe; some mineral; blackcurrant; lusher than it is usually at this primeur stage; quite dense palate, extract, though some elegance here; maybe lacks a little body and finishes a little looser than expected. Not overdone though. Will undoubtedly show better down the track. Tasted UGC 3/4/13 and again 5/4/12 87-89+
Deep and saturated; legs; very tight to the rim; cassis, blackcurrant, very deep and feels strong; black cherry too; real creamy polish to the nose; sweet entry on the palate; edges here are rounded but the extract and material is substantial. Feels more refined than Haut-Marbuzet [tasted before]. Bite at the end. Great effort. Chewy and dense but tannin nicely handled. Strict selection here [just under half went into second wine Tronquoy de Sainte-Anne – notes below] 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 11% Petit Verdot 12.8% alc. Tasted at Montrose 2/4/12 89-91+
Tronquoy de Sainte-Anne
Deep; purple at edge; less close to the rim than grand vin; thick and dense feel on the nose, some smoke; sweet entry; easy to begin with; quite thick but in pure form; soft tannins or at least nicely handled ones. Finishes a little short but more fleet of foot than you’d expect. 61% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasted at Montrose 2/4/12 87-88
Tags: 2011, Basil Tesseron, Bordeaux, Chateau Beausite, Chateau Calon-Ségur, Chateau Capbern-Gasqueton, Chateau Clauzet, Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Chateau Cos Labory, Chateau de Pez, Chateau Haut-Marbuzet, Chateau La Commanderie, Chateau Lafon-Rochet, Chateau Le Boscq, Chateau Le Crock, Chateau Lilian-Ladouys, Chateau Meyney, Chateau Montrose, Chateau Ormes de Pez, Chateau Petit Boscq, Chateau Phelan Ségur, Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande, hail, La Dame de Montrose, Pagodes de Cos, St Estèphe, Tronquoy de Sainte-Anne