Newly Classified St Emilion 2012
I asked the Conseil des Vins de Saint Emilion to set up this tasting for me, for my South China Morning Post column. It included all the newly-promoted chateaux from the 2012 classification. So those who had moved from Grand Cru to Grand Cru Classe, or from Grand Cru Classe to Premier Grand Cru Classe (or who skipped straight there, such as Valandraud). Of the newly-classified, just La Mondotte was missing, but of those who moved up within the classification, we could have included Canon la Gaffeliere, and of course Angelus and Pavie, but this gives a good overview of the rest. I asked to taste the 2009 vintage, for two reasons - one because it is the one most available on the market right now, and secondly because it was tasted by the jury as part of the classification process. To become Grand Cru Classe, the jury tasted all vintages 2000-2009. Premier Grand Cru Classe process involved a further five vintages, so 1996-2009.
The 2009 vintage was of course near-perfect for Bordeaux, so you should expect all of these to be tasting young but full of fruit, with great structure. In the official tasting, scores of 16/20 were good enough for Premier Grand Cru Classe. Chateaux had to score 14/20 to be Grand Cru Classe. So on this tasting, the 2009 vintage allowed almost everyone to make it to Premier quality - the success here is unlikely to be repeated with most of the other vintages in the decade.
All were tasted blind. At the time, of course, these were not classified (or were one rank lower), but I am putting their new classification in brackets next to their name. I'm using the new Decanter scoring system, where wine is marked out of 100 aswell as out of 20. I've used this a few times now (I usually mark just out of 100), and find it really clear way of cross-referencing my scores - thinking about each wine on two different 'scales' really concentrates the mind... it's worth noting that 14/20, on the Decanter scale, is only 'Fair'. Surely a classified wine should do better than that - to be marked as 'Recommended' with Decanter, you need to reach 15/20 or 83/100.
Chateau Valandraud 2009 (now Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe)
Lovely deep, rich nose, rich plum flavours, sweet ripe fruits. The alcohol is high, I do feel it on the finish, but overall this is a very attractive wine, good persistency, glossy flavours, can feel the sheen on the fruit, the careful sorting, and the roasted vanilla bean swirl of oak, definite almond toasting. Could keep drinking this quite happily. Valandraud was created by Jean Luc Thunevin in 1990, and although it is made up of several parcels, its 8 hectares in St Etienne de Lisse are now classified. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet franc. 100% new oak. 94-95 / 18.25-18.5 - Highly recommended to Outstanding.
Chateau Quinault l'Eclos (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Very dark in colour. Very deep flavours also. This has strands of fruit, strands of toated oak, strands of acidty, and a pressing in overall of tannin. It's good. Needs time to unravel, certainly not lovely and yielding yet, but great potential. Slightly dried fruits, dates and prunes. 70% merlot, 20% cabernet franc, 10% cabernet sauvignon. One third new oak. 94-95 / 18.25-18.5 - Highly recommended to Outstanding.
Chateau Jean Faure 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Oliver Decelle should be congratulated for his work here. Black fruits are predominant, there are clear blackberries, even figs. Good tannic structure, some lifting acidity in the mid-palate. Good persistency. Not a blockbuster, some mint on the retro-nasal also. Elegant, rich, good staying power. Like it. Powerful yet subtle. 45% merlot, 50% cabernet franc, 5% malbec. 40% new oak, 60% one year. 93 / 18 Highly recommended.
Chateau la Fleur Morange 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
The first bottle I tried was faulty, but the second one was excellent. This is an estate I was really pleased to see recognised in the new ranking, because it has been making consistently excellent wines for a number of years. The fruit is ripe and firm, the alcohol is high, but here there are rich, well integrated tannins, and this really holds the fruit, cradles it. Quite deep, rich flavours in fact. Lovely acidity. Very good quality. 70% merlot, 30% cabernet franc, 100% new oak. Created in 1999. Just over 2ha. 93 / 18. Highly recommended.
Chateau Peby Faugeres 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Very frank, engaging fruit on the nose. This has deep seams of flavour, the alcohol threatens to knock things out of balance, but there are deep rich fruits (here's the bilberry), with vanilla pods, cappucino and a good crowdpleasing flourish on the finish. Theatrical again, ambitious, just gets away with it. 100% new oak, 100% merlot. 92 / 17.75. Highly Recommended.
Chateau Faugeres 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Nose a little more closed, and the fruits-tannin-acidty triumverate are still very tight and closed. This is barely opening up yet, and feels like it has a long life ahead of it. The fruit flavours are crushed raspberries, fairly clearly, which is a quality expression of merlot. Even with the high alcohol, which slightly dampens the fruit in the mid-palate, I like this. 85% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 5% cabernet sauvignon. 50% new oak. 91 / 17.5. Highly recommended.
Chateau Rochebelle 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Rich deep brambly fruits, good whoosh of acidity, sweet caramel bringing up the rear. This has impact, not ready to drink yet, plenty of a way to go. A little too theatrical for me, but clear ambition, and clear achievement. 85% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, 100% new oak. 91 / 17.5. Highly recommended.
Chateau Larcis Ducasse 2009 (now Saint Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe)
Again rich, confident, seductive red in colour. Quite different flavour profile than many here, although a touch hot on the finish, there are pleasantly rich, intense fruit flavours along the way. Ticks the persistency box, and this has clear ambition. This is the Thienpont / Derenoncourt team in action, and deserves its promotion to 1ere Grand Cru Classe - but expect big, modern flavours. 81% merlot, 19% cabernet franc. 60% new oak. 91 / 17.5. Highly recommended.
Chateau Sansonnet 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Rich, deep intensity. Good persistency. Intense red fruits, redcurrants and raspberries. Smooth and silky texture, good freshness, some well integrated tannins. Clean fruit in the nid palate. Not overly complex, but very good. 85% merlot, 15% cabernet franc. 100% new oak. Jean Trias has been at Sansonnet since 2000, and he should now see this deserving estate become more widely known. 90 / 17. Highly recommended.
Chateau Fombrauge 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
This has a more serious nose, more woodsmoke but a drier oak feel here. On the palate, there are good tannins, dark brambly fruit flavours, the spectrum heads towards bilberries aswell as plums, and there is a spiciness underpinning it all. Good acidity, some elegance. 80% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, 5% cabernet sauvignon, 50% new oak, 50% one year. 90 / 17. Highly recommended.
Chateau de Pressac 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Cherries, red fruits, classic Right Bank nose, with some undertones of blackberries and cinammon spicing. Alcohol on the attack flattening the fruit. If you sit with it, and allow the initial attack to subside, there are some rich, well teased out fruits coming through from the mid-palate, and a subtle toast. 72% merlot, 14% cabernet franc, 12% cabernet sauvignon, 2% carmanere. 67% new oak. 90 / 17. Highly recommended.
Chateau Barde-Haut 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
The Garcin family, making the most of a good dose of 80% new french oak. This bottle came in to the tasting a little late, but even after 15 minutes of being opened, there was a generous fruit filled nose, and evident good structure. Not the most explosive here in terms of fruit flavours, but a good, well made wine, and again proof of what an enjoyable vintage 2009. 89 / 16.75. Recommended.
Chateau Cote de Baleau 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Warming, open nose. These fruit flavours are really appealing in the tasting so far. This is not quite so generous on the palate, a touch disappointing after a stong attack, but still an enjoyable wine. Very clear, strong coffee and caramel, and a touch of tar. All of which indicates a serious barrel regime, perhaps a touch too intrusive. 70% merlot, 20% cabernet franc, 10% cabernet sauvignon. 70% new oak, 30% stainless steel. 89 / 16.75. Recommended.
Clos la Madeleine 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Soft, yielding fruit, good ripe rich summery red fruits, redcurrants, stewed strawberries, heading towards leather and butter already. A touch abrupt on the finish, I think because slightly unbalanced on the final furlong. It's good, but not get down on your knees great. 75% merlot, 25% cabernet franc. 100% new oak. 89 / 16.75. Recommended.
Chateau la Commanderie (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Not huge complexity here, solid fruit flavours. It's pleasing, clean, relatively clear in the red cherry and hints of vanilla, but alcohol a touch out of balance, without enough tannic structure to rein it in. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet franc. 50% new oak, 50% one year. 88 / 16.5. Recommended.
Chateau de Ferrand 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Deep rich cherry (these are fairly consistent in colour), subtle but warming nose. Alcohol and acidity pretty high, this has a gum-searing quality that is not pleasant. Tannins are well present, though, and it clearly needs time but more of a challenge to taste at this stage than many of its peers. 75% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, 10% cabernet sauvignon. 60% new oak. 88 / 16.5. Recommended.
Chateau le Chatelet 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
Flatter on the nose, not quite brett but heading there. Less enjoyable than most on display, this doesn't quite tease out the depth of fruit flavours. I do get toasted oak, nothing is too intrusive, there is balance in the flavours and feelings, but it's a touch underpowered for the vintage. 80% merlot, 20% cab franc. 50% new oak, 50% one year. 87 / 16.25. Recommended.
Chateau Clos de Sarpe 2009 (now Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe)
I felt the first sample was faulty, so opened a second bottle, but again found stewed fruit on the nose, and puckering acidity on the palate, accentuating sour plums. 85% merlot 15% cabernet franc. 100% new oak. Not recommended, although perhaps both bottles were faulty?