Fine wine in focus: 2015 Saint-Estèphe

Not as highly praised as Margaux or the Right Bank, and likely to be overshadowed by their 2014s and 2016s, the 2015 wines from Saint-Estèphe might nevertheless be one of the gems of the vintage.

With the wines due to become physical imminently, in London last week fine wine merchant Justerini & Brooks held a tasting of a selection of 2015 Bordeaux for its clients.

Speaking to the drinks business, Bordeaux buyer Tom Jenkins said that tasting the wines now confirmed his impression of them en primeur – possibly more so – and he called it a, “really pleasurable vintage,” with, “wines that put a smile on your face”.

He conceded the wines may not be as “sexy” as the 2009s and perhaps the “more classical” 2016s will, “likely be remembered as the greater vintage,” but nonetheless the best 2015s showed “seductive fruit, nice acidity and structure,” and were an example of “very refined polished winemaking.”

One area that this was particularly evident was the northern Médoc. Famously, 2015 was a very hot year in Bordeaux but the very northern reaches and parts of Pauillac were hit by torrential downpours right as the harvest was supposed to get underway.

Casting one’s mind back to primeurs in 2016, readers may recall the broadest overview of the vintage: that Château Margaux and its commune was the very best of the bunch, the wines of Pessac Léognan were also highly rated as were the leading names from Saint Emilion and Pomerol.

The top names of Saint Julien and Pauillac were considered excellent and Neal Martin said at the time that although Saint-Estèphe had some “smart wines in the making” but had perhaps been “denied the heights of others,” due to the late rains.

Now, one cannot make the case that Saint Estèphe has been unjustly overlooked and actually made the best wines of the vintage.

The scores rolling in last week from the likes of Antonio Galloni, Lisa Perotti-Brown MW and Neal Martin (his last for The Wine Advocate and which inhabit a ghostly netherworld neither officially corporeal nor unofficially spiritual) at least reinforce those critics’ initial thoughts that the best-of-the-best wines are the likes of Margaux, Haut-Brion, Vieux Château Certan*, Canon, Cheval Blanc etc.

Jenkins too added that the wines of Margaux in 2015 as an appellation are, “one of the best and most consistent I have ever tasted.”

Yet if there were wines from 2015 that were perhaps rounding out in a way that was more surprising and pleasing than anywhere else then Jenkins made a case for Saint-Estèphe.

“It wasn’t a rosy picture in the northern Médoc in the press,” he said. ‘There was a lot of rain but when you taste the wines they’re not dilute, they’re just not as concentrated as [for example] Margaux.”

The other problem for the wines of Saint-Estèphe is that they enjoyed barnstorming 2014 and 2016 vintages and the merest whiff that the 2015s aren’t quite up to scratch can create one of those strange realities where it is widely believed the wines are not good – when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider some of the in-bottle scores given for the likes of Cos d’Estournel, Montrose, Lafon Rochet and Calon-Ségur in 2015.

James Suckling awarded the Cos and Montrose 98 points apiece and the Calon Ségur 95, while Perotti-Brown awarded 95 to the Montrose and Cos, 93 to the Calon and 91+ to the Lafon Rochet (Suckling gave it 93 and said it was, “hard not to drink now.”)

Admittedly, these are top estates and Galloni (who notes in his recent report that Cos is “exceptionally fine”) is right to state that quality in the northern Médoc is bound to be “more variable” because of the rains just as buyers should also beware the occasionally over-the-top alcohol and over-extraction in some of the Saint Emilion wines.

The best wines of Saint-Estèphe in 2015 may not produce the fabulous rates of return other wines from the vintage could yet achieve but for sheer drinking pleasure in a highly-rated vintage they are not to be trifled with.

In terms of pricing too, (much as it might goad those so inclined into another polemic about the wisdom of buying en primeur) the wines of Cos and Montrose look attractive right now, having moved little from their ex-London release prices.

According to Liv-ex, Cos, which was released at £1,272 a case, is still at that price, while Montrose which had an opening price of £1,140 has drifted slightly to £1,074.

Calon-Ségur has risen from £570 to £685 however and Lafon Rochet (which Galloni said was one of the appellation’s “most intriguing re-emerging properties”) has gone from £300 to £309.

Not great returns by any means but potentially attractive prices for attractive wines and even, dare one say it, a ‘no-brainer’?

READ MORE: the 2015 en primeur campaign recap – the new normal

*And having tasted the 2015 VCC at the Justerinis tasting one can see what the fuss is about.

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