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Bordeaux Primeurs 2012: St Estèphe

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux


Despite the vagaries of the vintage it would be a mistake to overlook St Estèphe in 2012. At the top end excellent wines have been made at Chateau Calon-Ségur, Chateau Cos d’Estournel and Chateau Montrose especially. Further down the chain there are values to be had if you pick carefully. I’ve written about the excellent effort at Chateau Meyney, but very fine wine has been made at Chateau Phélan-Ségur and there is a surprisingly good Chateau de Pez. The vintage can’t be compared to 2009 and 2010 but it’s probably better than the 2011 vintage here at least. Where the price is right, and in a few cases it is, you could consider some of these wines en primeur.

The 2012 vintage is not homogeneous in St Estèphe. Certain properties succeeded, others haven’t. The essential elements were well-drained but sufficiently water retentive soils, diligent vineyard work and an extremely steady nerve at harvest. Fortune favoured the brave. If your fruit was healthy and you had the resources to pick large areas in a speedy fashion then your best bet was to pick as late as you possibly could, despite the dark clouds and wet weather that accompanied the very end of the harvest. This is how Chateau Montrose triumphed. Great terroir and due diligence also lies behind the fine, classical effort at Calon-Ségur. Lavish attention and ambition has also allowed Cos d’Estournel to deliver power and panache from its own enviable terroir.


The other thing to remember is that Merlot did succeed in 2012, being riper sooner than the Cabernet Sauvignon, it was not hit by the bad weather [or the threat of it]. Many blends in St Estèphe favour Merlot, if not in the majority, often up to 30-40% of the blends. The variety is fuller, more gutsy and tannic here than the more delicate, perfumed Merlot on display in the Margaux commune in 2012. Nor does it have the sheer beauty of Pomerol’s Merlot, but it has helped fill these wines out and, accordingly, quite a few properties have upped the Merlot used in the blend this year.

There was a little variability in the Union des Grand Crus tastings, some chateaux showed well one day and not so well a few days later. I think we can probably say that these will settle overtime. Chateau Ormes de Pez and Chateau Cos Labory were both in this category, with samples being alternately impressive, then a bit angular and sullen. I’m now wondering if it was atmospheric pressure [I’m not entirely joking] but either way I’d expect these wines to settle in the long run, Ormes de Pez especially.

A few properties hadn’t done as well as you might expect. Chateau Haut-Marbuzet, was much less exuberant than usual and Chateau Lafon-Rochet, though pure enough, felt a little lean. I’m sure Lafon-Rochet will fill out but there is not really much sense in splashing out on either of these when so much of their excellent 2009s and 2010s can still be spotted about. These wines really are worth the extra premium. Lafon-Rochet’s 2009 is a wine of remarkable concentration and depth.

So what to do if you’re a St Estèphe fan and on a budget [like me]? Do consider Chateau Meyney [see earlier blog post]. It’s a treat in 2012. I was also impressed with Chateau de Pez on the two occasions I tried it. It has lots of fruit and style. Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande, from the team at Montrose, is full and nicely made and very much worth considering. Chateau Capbern Gasqueton, Calon-Segur’s other property, was a little sinewy but certainly has vigour and life. Chateau Le Crock looked neat and polished, a good effort I thought from the dedicated bunch at Chateau Léoville-Poyferré. I also caught up with Le Crock 2010 in bottle which looks good to me [I will update their profile shortly].


Although the usual advice is to steer clear of ‘second’ wines in tricky vintages, the very top estates are producing wines of cru classé quality, year in, year out. La Dame de Montrose, Les Pagodes de Cos and Marquis de Calon, in their different styles, are all reliable brands. All look good in 2012.

I did manage a very brief look at several other St Estèphe’s at the Cru Bourgeois tasting at Chateau d’Agassac, but I’ve not included the notes here. I only got round to these at the end of a very heavy day’s tasting. I looked at Chateau Beausite, Chateau Le Boscq, Chateau Clauzet, Chateau La Commanderie and Chateau Lilian-Ladouys. Overall nothing sung to me at all. I hope to catch up with these wines again at Vinexpo and, with a fresher palate, I’ll post notes on these then.

In the meantime here are the notes on seventeen St Estèphe tasted a various chateaux and at the Union des Grand Crus event at Chateau Phélan-Ségur. Hope they are helpful. As usual, notes more important than the numbers….

Chateau Calon-Ségur

Deep and saturated; quite tight on the nose initially; lots of extract on the palate; real density and pretty structured; this is a very serious, classically styled wine; tight but very dense. Grip and sap but plenty of material. Feels long term and classically styled St Estephe in the very best sense. 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. 13.6% alc. Tasted at Calon-Segur April 11, 2013. 91-93+

Marquis de Calon

Deep and dense; quite tight again; some prettiness from the Merlot (69%); dense and structured on the palate; full and big but also pretty tannic. What the hell, this is St Estephe after all! 69% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon 14.4% alc. Tasted at Calon-Segur April 11, 2013. 90-91+

Chateau Capbern Gasqueton

Deep looking; stone fruits on the nose; some mineral tones; fresh; grippy, stalky Cabernet fruit on the palate; sappy and quite lean in style; bit backward but will doubtless fill out. Chewy finish. 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot. Tasted at Calon-Segur April 11, 2013. 87-89+

Chateau Cos d‘Estournel

Deep and saturated; colour tight to the rim; thick and dense in the glass; serious nose; layered; lots of fruit here; a seam of focused and precise fruit; freshness with some creamy notes; very consistent on the palate; tight seam of blackcurrant fruit again; very pure and nicely layered; quite big and lots of material and evidently ripe tannin. Gives the wine density and chew at the back. Cassis and blackcurrant tones linger. Pretty serious effort. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. 70% new oak. 13.8% alc. TA 3.2, pH 3.75 IPT 95. Tasted at Cos Friday April 12, 2013. 93-95+

Les Pagodes de Cos

Deep and saturated; slightly looser at the rim than the grand vin; spices, mincemeat, wonderfully ripe tons; satiny; layers here and expression of what I imagine is wonderfully plump Merlot; lots of layers and concentration on the palate but delivered in a very harmonious and balanced way; acidity gives some life and freshness too. Nice length. Very good. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot. 13.5% alc, IPT 75 TA 3.1 pH 3.73. 50% of production. Tasted at Cos April 12, 2013. 90-92+

Chateau Cos Labory

Deep and saturated; quite enticing; ripe; plums, black cherry but ripe and layered; little oak on the palate; some tightness from the Cabernet Sauvignon; little extracted at the back but will settle nicely. Tasted UGC April 11, 2013. 87-89+ [Earlier note] Mid depth; looks lovely; quite lifted; some red fruits; ripe; oak on the palate [little dryness from the oak] firm and dense; tannin little more chewy. 50% Merlot, 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% new oak. 13.65% alc. Tasted UGC April 9, 2013. 86-88

Chateau de Pez

Mid depth; ripe blackcurrant and plum tones; good fruit here; attractive nose; quite seductive; sweet entry, ripe feel, lots of material. Chewy. Fades a tad but great effort from de Pez. Tasted UGC Thursday April 11, 2013. 87-89 [Earlier note] Pretty saturated look; thick; some oak on the nose but well integrated with [considerable] fruit; feels pretty fat on the nose; quite big palate; lots of fruit here; chew and density; pretty good effort – full of flavour and lots of fruit. 47% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. Tasted UGC Tuesday April 9, 2013. 88-90

Chateau Haut-Marbuzet

Deep and saturated look; perfume, some cherry; quite lush; little compact on the palate; fresh style; less impressive than Chateau Meyney tasted immediately before; lean for Haut-Marbuzet. 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Tasted at Chateau Haut Marbuzet April 11, 2013. 86-88

Chateau Lafon-Rochet

Mid depth; glossy looking; little dumb at first; not leaping out the glass; depth though; sweet ripe attack on the palate; dense and feels a touch dry on the end. Tasted UGC Thursday, April 11, 2013. 86-88 [Earlier note] Mid depth; purple at edge; quite pure Cabernet nose; stalky; some earth and depth; palate has purity and freshness; blackcurrants; more sappy style but like the purity in this sample. 67.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 1.5% Petit Verdot. 50% new oak. Tasted UGC April 9, 2013. 87-89

Chateau Le Crock

Mid depth; nice polished colour; focus to the nose; layers and precision; very mannered; nice black fruits; some minerality; firmish palate with fine tannin. Little on the lean side though should fill out. Very nicely done. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc. IPT 79, Acidity 3.35 pH 3.83. 13.3% alc. Tasted Monday April 8, 2013 at Chateau Leoville-Poyferre. 87-89+

Chateau Meyney

Deep and saturated; lots of black cherry and blackcurrant fruit; deep; lots of depth here; impressive; nice entry on the palate; very good indeed; lots of material; nice tension on the palate; creamy tannins; very good length. This is an outstanding effort for the vintage and recalls some of Meyney’s great efforts in the past. Should be a good value buy. 42% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Petit Verdot. 90-92+

Chateau Montrose

Deep and dense looking; very dark and saturated; tight to the edge; vibrant meniscus; strong nose; full and deep; feels pretty profound for 2012; great depth; little new oak resin at the back; dense; big structure and lots of material here; chew and real density; somewhat taken aback at the lashings of fruit and material; lots of chew and density; and lots of length. Pretty big wine. Real success. Seems late picked Cabernet has triumphed here. 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. 13.2% alc. 53% of production. Tasted at Chateau Montrose Monday April 8, 2013. 94-96

La Dame de Montrose

Thick and dense in the glass; very vibrant edge; colour tight to the rim; lots of black cherry fruit; quite lush but fresh too; pretty deep and quite polished; and a sweetness at the edge; some smoke and graphite too; lots of fruit on the palate; black cherry, blackcurrant; density but tannin not dry [but present]. Lots of richness. Nice length. Chew on the finish. Great effort. Tasted at Chateau Montrose Monday April 8, 2013. 76% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. 29% of production. Tasted at Chateau Montrose Monday April 8, 2013. 90-92+

Chateau Ormes de Pez

Deep and dense looking; black fruits, Morello cherry notes; some lift; feels like it will be dense and deep; chewy palate, in fact much more chew than expected; almost austere on the finish. Grippy and tannic sample. Tasted UGC Thursday, April 11, 2013. 85-87 [Earlier note] Deep and saturated; healthy looking; very ripe nose; fat Merlot on offer; blackcurrant, black cherry; very good and enticing [nice purity]; big and tannic; quite dense and chewy; should settle; sappy finish. Gutsy and full St Estephe and better than 2011. 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot 45% new oak 87-89+

Chateau Phélan-Ségur

Nice glossy look; dark; blackcurrant fruit, some plum, some minerality; lots of depth and interest here; cream and cassis too; palate quite dense at first; lots of fruit here; oak a little present; some length and a bit of chew at the finish. Overall feels nicely balanced and elegant. Tasted UGC Thursday April 11, 2013. 87-89+ [Earlier note] Deep and saturated look; lovely pretty fruit; some rose petal; blackcurrant and black cherry; some mineral and earth; very attractive; good entry; positive palate and a certain elegance to the extraction; nicely balanced on the palate; tannin fine; bit of zip on the finish too. Impressive effort. 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% new oak, 13.2% Tasted UGC Tuesday April 9, 2013. 89-91+

Chateau Tronquoy-Lalande

Deep and dense; very vibrant purple at edge; dense looking; layers of black cherry fruit; real purity here; very clean; and lots of fruit; mineral tones too; palate had density and concentration; a great amount of fruit here; lots of grip and chew. Very clean and tannin [lots] feels ripe. Fresh acidity too. Very good. 57% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. 60% of production. Tasted at Chateau Montrose April 8, 2013. 89-91+

Tronquoy de Sainte Anne

Deep colour; legs; vibrant; lots of summer compote fruit tones; quite delicious and appetizing; some minerality too; attractive palate; black cherry notes; some chew and sap. Fades on the finish but pretty good. 20% of Tronquoy Lalande’s production. Tasted at Chateau Montrose April 8, 2013. 87-88+


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