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Bordeaux 2019 by appellation: Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion is a very large and diverse appellation, so it is hardly surprising that in 2019 it is among the most heterogeneous – both qualitatively and stylistically, writes Colin Hay.

Indeed, so diverse is it that it is very difficult to generalise. What is clear, however, is that the very top wines are certainly on a par with the very best wines of the vintage. As so often before many of them hail from two, perhaps three, qualitative hot-spots in 2019.

The first of these is at the very northern limits of the appellation, at the border with Pomerol as the terrain starts to rise gently to the Pomerol plateau itself. Here we find both Cheval Blanc, my St Emilion wine of the vintage, and Figeac, which is a very close second. These are both truly exceptional.

Cheval Blanc itself is just an extraordinarily beautiful wine – so full, deep and rich yet at the same time so light and gentle. It is perhaps the most elegant wine of the vintage. It is all about restraint and refinement. It exudes class and quality.

Figeac is a little bigger and bolder in personality, but no less bright and energetic and it has the most wonderfully architectural tannins. It is, I think, the finest Figeac I have ever tasted – and is certainly on a par with the benchmark 2016. It is the culmination of an extraordinary transformation under Frederic Faye.

The second hot-spot is high up on the plateau of St Emilion itself. Here one can almost map out a winding limestone corridor of excellence running down from Troplong-Mondot past Villemaurine and Clos Fourtet to Canon and Berliquet, then on to Belair Monange and Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse and on, down the gentle slope to Angelus.

And although perhaps not quite at the same level, a third cluster of very great quality can perhaps also be identified running along the coteau de Pavie from Pavie itself, past Pavie-Decesse and Bellevue-Mondotte via the up-and-coming Bellefont-Belcier and on to Tertre Roteboeuf.

All of these wines are extraordinary. Let me pick out just a couple (not least as my full tasting notes appear below).

The first is Berliquet. This was acquired by Chanel in 2017 and is now made by the highly talented Nicolas Audebert, rightly famous for his work refining (and redefining ever so slightly) the style of both Canon and Rauzan-Segla. Berliquet remains a work in progress. But that progression is already outstanding, reflecting with interest the exceptional quality of this exciting terroir (half cotes, half plateau).

It is a wine that few have tasted (since the policy of Chanel has not been send any tasting samples). That is a decision we should respect. But it is a shame in way for them; since this will in time, I suspect, come to be seen as the first truly great wine from this great vineyard.

My second pick is Troplong Mondot. The story here is not entirely different. For Troplong too is a work in progress. Since 2017 it, too, has been placed in the hands of a new and extraordinarily talented wine-maker – Aymeric de Gironde, previously of Cos d’Estournel. Here too the progression has been rapid and transformatory.

As the 2018 was before it, this is the best Troplong I have ever tasted – it is an object less in precision, finesse, freshness and respect for the identity of a unique terroir. From its vantage point high above St Emilion itself, the highest elevation in the appellation, it is, appropriately enough not far from the summit in 2019.

If Troplong Mondot is the highest point in the appellation, then the second highest point is, if I am not mistaken, at Laroque. This, too, is a wine on a very steep upward trajectory – and, again, like the 2018 before it, it represents exceptional value. Quinault l’Enclos and La Tour St Christophe are my other top picks for value in this exciting vintage.

And, finally, if you are looking for something unique, distinct and original and are not afraid to try a wine that you have probably never heard of, my discovery of the vintage is the exquisite and ethereal Grace Dieu des Prieurs.

Even if not every St Emilion in 2019 is exactly my cup of tea, there are plenty of highlights to choose from.

Wine of the appellation:                                Cheval Blanc; Figeac

Outstanding:                                                 Belair-Monange; Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse; Berliquet; Canon; Grace Dieu des Prieurs; Pavie Decesse; Troplong Mondot

Second wines/labels of the appellation:       Croix Canon; Mondot; Le Petit Cheval

Discoveries:                                                 Grace Dieu des Prieurs

Most improved:                                            Berliquet; Bellefont-Belcier; Quinault L’Enclos; Troplong Mondot

Quality/price ratio:                                       Laroque; Quinault L’Enclos; La Tour St Christophe

Quality/price ration (satellites):                   Montlandrie; Le Rey Les Argileuses; Le Rey Les Rocheuses

Colin Hay is Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po in Paris where he works on the political economy of la place de Bordeaux and wine markets more generally. His Bordeaux 2019 coverage will continue further appellation profiles in the coming few days.

Detailed tasting notes

All tasted from samples supplied by the chateau unless otherwise stated. Samples tasted, at least twice, from Zalto, Grassl and Reidel stemware over a two-month period from early May to early July. Around 5% of samples were rejected as damaged and/or unrepresentative of the barrel from which they were drawn.

Angelique de Monbousquet (60% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; alcohol 14,3%; pH 3,62). Tasted at Chateau Pavie. This is dense and broody, but also pure and lifted on the nose. Baked plums with a gentle sweetness and a touch of spice from the oak. Nutty but also very peppery, especially on the ever so slightly hot and spiky finish. Dense and intense.

Angelus (60% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc). Tasted with Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal and Hubert de Bouard at Caves Legrand in Paris. The aim here is to achieve greater finesse and pixilation and it is very largely achieved. There is also more noticeable influence of the Cabernet Franc. Black tea, cherries, black and red. Wild strawberries. Walnuts (from the ripe pips). The Cabernet is in three large foudres (30hl) to minimise the oak impact.

This is Cos-like in style. Refined, elegant and suave. Precise and focussed with a gentle creaminess. Lovely texture. Limpid in the glass. ‘Flamboyant’ is their word – and who am I to argue? But for me it’s more elegant than that. Energetic and lively certainly. Lovely tension. Gregarious (OK, I guess that’s flamboyance!). Almonds. Precise, pure and energetic – ‘vif’ as the French would say. Much more intellectual than it used to be, this really comes alive with a little aeration. The croquant fruit of the 2017 meets the structure and density of 2016. A winning combination.

Aromes de Pavie (65% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; 17% Cabernet Sauvignon: alcohol 14,67%; pH 3,46; yield of 35 hl/ha). Tasted at the Chateau. Made from parcels from the foot of the slope and also from the cotes and plateau itself. This is rich and complex, nutty and spicy, with a light natural sweetness. Raspberries and cherries, both red and black. There is a pleasing purity and focus to this though the fruit seems just a little crushed and blended. This is quite upright and vertical in the mouth (a signature of the calcaire terroir), but the tannins are a little strict and severe and there is not much mid-palate delineation.

Les Asteries (83% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Franc; 14,6% alcohol; pH 3,62). Tasted from a sample supplied by Jonathan Maltus. Nice plateau/limestone St Emilion nose. Fresh but lighter and airier than Le Carre. Less massive. Fresh rain on hot rocks. Raspberries and brambles. More sleek and stylish. Spicy, vanilla oakyness very prominent on the nose. Grippy, chewy tannins. A little clumsy in the mid-palate at this stage – but just needs time. Not perhaps as focussed as it sometimes is.

Beausejour Heritiers Duffau Lagarrosse (86% Merlot; 14% Cabernet Franc; yields of 45 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Impressive but closed at the same time. Dark, deep and introspective. Quite spicy and peppery, with little notes of charcuterie and game. Plums and black and red cherries, raspberries, hints of walnuts. Glorious tannins. Plush.

Quite understated but it’s all there if, like Larcis, rather inaccessible for now (and nothing wrong with that). Graphite and hints of cedar, cherries and currants – black and red of each variety. An imposing presence; quite opulent. Texture of velour. Dark, deep, rich and giving a sense of profundity. Chalky chewy tannins; lots of grip; pronounced minerality. Finishes on grape and cherry skins. Quite serious and more austere than almost any of the other top St Emilion wines. Fascinating. A suivre!

Belair-Monange (98% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; aged in 50% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by J-P Moueix. Big, deep, broad and racy. Quite energetic and with a nice freshness advertised on the nose. Cedar notes already (quite a signature of the millesime). Lovely minerality; nice pepperiness too. Very floral nose – peonies and hyacinths. Blackberries, a hint of walnut, fruits of the forest. Floral; autumn leaves; herby too. Powerful and very intense. Concentrated. Packed with flavour. Super succulent tannins, with that chewy limestone signature. Very big and powerful for a wine from the plateau– in fact much of that comes from the blue clay of the cotes. Extraordinary. But needs time.

Bellefont-Belcier (70% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in 40% new oak; alcohol 13.95%; yields of 41 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample provided by the chateau. Vignobles K’s most recent acquisition, in 2016. Now with a brand new wine-making facility – a significant investment that will greatly improve the capacity to express this exceptional and rather unique terroir; very well placed just along from Pavie and close to Tertre Roteboeuf on the other side. Progress already. Garnet/ruby core. Almost opaque.

Heather notes on the nose. Lovely. The same precision, finesse and, indeed, intensity as at La Tour St Christophe. Focussed. Lifted aerial nose – almost makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Pure cassis. Nutty too – but here more walnuts. Slightly more serious with more obvious Cabernet presence. Beautifully tense and ‘a point’ – fruit picked just at the perfect moment of ripeness to capture all that lovely acidity. Very complex – one is drawn back to the puzzle of deciphering every element and nuance. Uplift in the quality of the tannins. Chewy, chalky, with a very long rippling, rolling fruity finish, ending on spice and pepper. Nice job of keeping the alcohol down. Best yet from here.

Bellevue Mondotte (90% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Fran; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon: alcohol 14,81%; pH 3,50; yields of just 18 hl/ha). Tasted at Chateau Pavie. From another tiny and fantastically well-situated vineyard high on the calcaire plateau, this has higher alcohol and a shade more acidity than Pavie Decesse but the same tiny yield (here 18 hl/ha) – due largely to the age of the vines. This is just a little more austere, a little more firm and a little more closed. The structure is, if anything, even more architectural – a gothic limestone cathedral of a wine! Achingly long and with a beautiful, juicy, sappy finish this is another vin de garde that will require at least a decade in the cellar. Super potential if a little firm and reticent at this stage.

Bellevue (100% Merlot; yields of under 30 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Opposite Chateau Angelus. Glass-stainingly purple. Nice limpidity. Lots of extract. Very Merlot-dominated nose; and quite sweet-tinged. Red berries and baked plums; reglisse; frangipane; white pepper; almost a touch of shoe polish. Red currants. Intensely tannic. Slightly harsh on the finish and rather aggressively acidic.

But good focus and precision and a decent breadth and intensity. Nice pure cassis notes build on the palate with air. Maybe just a little overdone, but will no doubt settle in time. Not the most elegant. Direct but quite lively. I need to re-taste this. The sample may be the issue – though this is certainly not lacking in brightness or energy. I often really like this, almost despite the absence of Cabernet Franc, but here I find myself really wishing for it.

Berliquet (77% Merlot; 23% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14,5%; yields of 45 hl/ha; 7ha, roughly half from the plateau and half from the cotes; aged in 45% new oak). Tasted with Nicolas Audebert at Chateau Canon. The second complete vintage here under Chanel’s management and what a transformation there has been. This is one of my wines of the vintage – certainly when one think is terms of quality/price ratio. In a way I am always going to like this – as I am exceedingly partial to the calcaire tannins of this part of the appellation (and here we have the advantage of 50% cotes; 50% plateau).

This is pure, precise, elegant and wonderfully lifted; fresh, tense and lithe. Its structure, at least for me, gives us the very best of both the cote and plateau – with a very dynamic interplay in the mouth between the aerial levity which comes from the latter and the subtle power and lower palate depth and density which comes from the former. I love that. Very intellectual and, at the same time, an intensely physical experience in the mouth to taste this (reminding me also of Chateau Lafleur’s Les Perrieres).

A work out for one’s taste-buds and their perception of texture and structure. A mix of black and red currant, with irises and cracked red peppercorns; this has a lovely very gentle and natural sweetness too. An advert for the terroir, the wine-making and the vintage – everything is in harmony. Irresistible. 

Canon (74% Merlot; 26% Cabernet Franc; 14,5% alcohol; pH 3,5; yields of 45 hl/ha; aged in 50% new oak). Tasted with Nicolas Audebert at Chateau Canon. Just a touch more Cabernet Franc than Croix Canon, but with considerably greater depth and complexity. As ever this has the beautiful signature of the prime calcaire plateau terroir from which it comes. Lifted and intensely floral in this vintage – hyacinths and peonies. Dark and crunchy fruit – damsons and delicious juicy ripe morello cherries.

The texture is exquisite, so soft and creamy on the entry, but then the filigree tannins start to reveal themselves, giving a rolling, rippling long sappy mid-palate and finish. A wine that simply flows across the palate, changing every millisecond yet in a wonderfully coherent and harmonious way. Though it has considerable mid-palate intensity the overall sensation is of staggering lightness, delicacy and finesse. Another very fine wine from Canon that will age gracefully for decades.

Canon La Gaffeliere (49% Merlot; 39% Cabernet Franc; 12% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in 70% new oak; organic; yields of 51 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Garnet, with both ruby and purple highlights. Quite extracted. Searing, powerful nose – really needs no tempting from the glass. Pure and lifted again but more intense than Clos de l’Oratoire. Blueberries and sloes and damsons, walnuts and peonies. Umbrella-shaped in the mouth – the fine-grained tannins coating the entire top of the palate and washing down the side of one’s cheeks, releasing little gobbets of fresh fruit acidity.

Very fresh and with an impressive persistence. Sappy, extremely tense and energetic if not as complex as some of the other top wines of the vintage. A crystalline graphite minerality. But I do like the purity and precision here and also the interesting way in which the structure presents itself – more an exoskeleton than a spine; the oak is also nicely reined in. The Cabernet Franc brings a lot of character and finesse to this. Very close in quality to La Mondotte.

Carillon d’Angelus (90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc). Tasted with Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal and Hubert de Bouard at Caves Legrand in Paris. This is more a second label than it is a second wine, coming from 17ha divided between three similarly sized parcels. The first is next to Angelus, the second between Cheval Blanc and Figeac, and the third near Laroque on the limestone plateau. Raspberries and cherries on the nose, this has a sumptuous, soft attack. Full, plump and plush.

Grainy tannins – you can sense the limestone plateau! Lovely peppery finish – very characteristic of the vintage. Szechuan peppercorn notes. The oak is a presence, notably towards the finish and is not yet fully integrated, but it is more of a pleasant background note and not overpowering. Finishes on grape skins. Disguised power. Energetic. Very impressive.

Le Carre (85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 14,4% alcohol; pH 3,78). Tasted from a sample supplied by Jonathan Maltus. Garnet/purple robe. Tasted after Les Asteries. More interesting, more intense, a little sweeter, more obvious toasty oak presence. Attractive svelte tannins – but there is, as ever with this wine, a mass of tannin. Plenty of grip; chewy. Nice fruit intensity and good mid-palate depth and concentration. Ripples of fresh fruit at the end. Finish of grape skins. Needs to come together – a little disjointed at present – but this is, as ever, a true vin de garde and it just needs to be given the time to integrate. Coffee, a touch of dark chocolate, baked plums.

Cheval Blanc (58% Merlot; 34% Cabernet Franc; 8% Cabernet Sauvignon; c. 14,5% alcohol). Tasted at the chateau with Arnaud de Laforcade and Pierre Olivier Clouet. A shade darker than Le Petit Cheval and more limpid and more viscous in the glass, with a slivery radiance on swirling that is very enticing. This is cool on the nose and palate. Rich and full with a wonderful amplitude yet the gentlest of gentle tannins.

In a way this is opulent, but the wine-making understates the opulence for elegance and that is what I love about this wine so much. Damsons, sloes and the scent of freshly-plucked raspberry husks. The faintest hint of spice, but less pronounced than in Le Petit Cheval. Supremely floral – peony, iris, maybe a hint of bay. The mid-palate definition is extraordinary – a wine that is not so much pixilated as pointillist! And the evolution over the palate is almost glacial, so measured and controlled. The most refined and elegant wine of the vintage and utterly and profoundly gorgeous.

Clos de l’Oratoire (81% Merlot; 19% Cabernet Franc; aged in 50% new oak; yields of 51 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Limpid, glossy, lighter extract than d’Aiguilhe. Garnet with purple highlights. Pure, nutty wild raspberry and loganberry nose, brambles too. Hint of spring flowers about it. Lifted and gentle. Quite subtle and elegant. Bright and lively, very evident on the top of the palate. More distinctive and interesting than it usually is at this early stage. Fine-grained tannins and a gentle extract. Not massively intense but a certain bright radiance and a lovely poise and focus. Exceeds the positive expectations I had for it. Good value.

Clos de Sarpe (85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; in conversion to organic farming). From a tiny vineyard high up on the edge of the plateau just behind Trottevielle with some very old vines (55-80 years in age). In fact, the vines are on the south-east facing (and hence extremely warm) slope (somewhat paradoxically named ‘the plateau de Sarpe’). A bit of a blockbuster here, as you might expect. Super-svelte. Black forest gateau. Chocolate-coated black cherries and a hint of kirsch; cassis and mint leaf too. Very rich. Decadent. Difficult not to be impressed. Not to everyone’s taste, but those who love this style will adore this. Seductive, enveloping and gloriously intense. 

Clos des Jacobins (roughly 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; generally around 75% new oak). Very dark, almost opaque. Considerable extraction. Garnet/blue-purple. Quite modern in style. Big, plush and the oak is rather pronounced. Toasty and sweet on both nose and palate. Black cherries, black forest gateau, chocolate, cocoa, mocha. Vanilla toastiness and rather sweet – frankly,

I find this almost a little cloying. This, for me, belongs to a different epoch. Not much precision, not much focus or delineation and rather monotonic. On the plus side, rather nice chalky crunchy tannins on the finish. But I can’t help but feel that the terroir is rather masked. For me this also lacks the signature freshness of the vintage. A bit disappointing.

Clos Fourtet (90% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14,5; pH 3,6). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Limpid. Deep garnet/ruby core with lovely glinting pink/purple highlights. Very attractive in the glass. Considerable glycerine. Almost opaque and seemingly quite extracted. Very floral – blueberries and brambles, hints of cherries and loads of spring flowers and violets. There is almost a little hint of Pomerol about this, except that one can detect already on the nose the limestone minerality.

Lovely and pure; quite ethereal, and not unlike the 2018. Super-svelte tannins and the gentlest of textures. Soft and caressing. Cool at first and then the rolling, chalky tannins arrive – very fine grained – and the palate broadens out to reveal this lovely blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, with graphite and cedar notes and loads of minerality. Opulent and even exotic – with some hints of oriental spices – but always with that slight delicacy of the limestone plateau. Tense, bright and very appealing if not, for me, quite at the level of the 2018.

Clos St Martin (J-P Moueix/Fourcade) (85% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in a combination of 80% new oak and 20% amphorae). Tasted from a sample supplied by J-P Moueix. Clay and limestone. Adjacent to Canon. Rather refined. Very much tasting of a St Emilion plateau terroir. Chewy but very fine tannins. Plums and brambles – dark berry fruit, touch of black cherry too.

Almonds and frangipane. Lithe, sprightly, fresh. Lovely texture; not overdone. Perhaps more Clos Fourtet in style than Canon. Long, fresh, balanced finish. Well composed. Nice structure. Quite precise and focussed yet complex and layered too. Best I’ve tasted from this tiny property in recent vintages (1,36 ha).

La Commanderie (roughly 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Again, like Clos des Jacobins, big, very dark in the glass and extracted. Almost opaque. Garnet/black. Deep dark rich fruit. Chocolate, hints of coal and the smoke from a bonfire. Bramble compote; black cherries. Plush and plump tannins. Soft attack but a rather disguised fruit – a melange of rather generic black fruits. A bit confected; lacks definition. Harsh tannins. Over-extracted and over-worked for my taste. Little of the signature freshness of the vintage. Sorry. This one is not for me but others will like it more.

Cote de Baleau (90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14,8%; pH 3,76). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Garnet/blue-purple. Quite dark hued but lightly extracted and translucent in the glass. Aerial fruity nose – of pure fruits – simple but attractive – blackberry, raspberry and sloes. Dark berry fruit on the palate – surprising in this vintage for a wine with so much Merlot in the blend. Black cherry and sloes, again. A touch of smoke and a hint of toasty brioche. Nice texture and mouth-feel, quite creamy and no harshness. Just a hint of alcohol and lacking a little mid-palate delineation. No great density but finishes nicely. I preferred the 2018 here. Excellent value once again.

Croix Canon (77% Merlot; 23% Cabernet Franc). Tasted with Nicolas Audebert at Chateau Canon. A second label and not a second wine in any conventional sense of the term. It is a top class single-vineyard St Emilion from the edge and slope of the limestone plateau – and it tastes like one. Like both Berliquet and Canon itself, this is very lifted and super soft on the palate with a quality of tannin-management that is really rare at this level. This plays very much on the top of the palate. Cherries, cassis and with a very spicy, peppery finish. Fresh and juicy. A lovely introduction to this hallowed part of the appellation.

La Croix de Labrie (97% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14,5% alcohol; aged in 100% new oak; yields of 25 hl/ha after strict selection – it was actually picked at 30 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. From parcels in Rocheyron/Puymouton and Badon (at the foot of the Pavie slope). Very dark. Garnet/black. Almost opaque. Sleek and stylish. Creamy. Big. Soft. Seductive. Blueberries, raspberry compote, touch of white pepper, quite herby too – touch of thyme. Racy. Super soft tannins. Great persistence.

Plush, plump and profound. Great intensity on the mid-palate. Nice chewy plateau tannins; impressive structure, giving a good evolution of texture and flavour over the palate. Glossy. Black cherries and raspberries on the palate – nice freshness and definition. Nothing out of place. Layered and focussed; manages the difficult trick of being broad yet precise. This is very good. The best I have tasted from here.

Cuvee Todeschini Distique 12 Mangot (40% Cabernet Franc; 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Merlot). Made from a selection of 3 parcelles from Chateau Mangot (just 2ha, 1000 vines). Micro-vinification en barrique (hence the more refined tannins). Strikingly purple-rimmed. Compote fruit – small black berries, fruits of the forest, blueberries, black cherries too. Touch of mint.

Sweeter than the Mangot on the nose and palate; and with gentler tannins. Puissant, rich and quite opulent and broad-shouldered. But with good freshness and a good degree of tension. Chewy tannins. Grape skins on the finish. Nicely made but perhaps lacks a little terroir typicity at this stage – though I like the ferrous/saline minerality. Good wine – a nice expressions of the vintage.

Dassault (74% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 6% Cabernet Sauvignon). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Smudgy. Modern. Deep and quite extracted. Quite distinct if a little soupy. Cherries – black ones. Soft and seductive. Gentle tannins at first, but they become ever more chewy and chalky. Cassis notes on the palate. Touch of alcohol at the end. A little sweet. Not really my style of St Emilion but this has a lovely attack and impressive mid-palate density if not quite the definition I tend to look for.

Le Dome (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 24% alcohol; pH 3,82). Tasted from a sample supplied by Jonathan Maltus. Usually this is totally different from all the others in the Maltus line-up – and yet it is very much in the same style as Vieux Chateau Mazerat in this vintage. Here we are in the realm of Cabernet France– albeit wrapped in a toasty vanilla oakyness that for me is more prominent than in previous recent vintages. Blueberries, one could almost be in Pomerol.

Fruit cake, plums, dark grated chocolate and just a hint of cedar and graphite. Quite sweet again. Svelte but powerful tannins. Long grape-skin finish. Again, like the Vieux Chateau Mazerat, this won’t be to everyone’s taste – and it needs time for the oak to incorporate and for the ingredients to come together. Rather like a Christmas pudding the flavours need a long time to meld and infuse. It’ll fascinating to see how this evolves.

La Dominique (82% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Quite closed at first. Very pure; nice precision. Elegant and quite suave – very much the effect that is sought here now. It unfurls slowly. Pure. Cassis fruit, blackberries, red cherries and a hint of mint; quite floral too.

Peppery; spicy, too, but more savoury than sweet spices; a touch of sage. Stylish and with a rather sleek texture. Quite rich when you think about it, but it’s not in your face. Good mid-palate intensity; indeed, this is close to having been pushed just a notch too far – one can almost sense the ambition. Cracked black pepper. A vin de garde. Promising. Lots of investment here and it is bearing fruit (literally and figuratively).

Le Dragon de Quintus (86% Merlot; 14% Cabernet Franc). Tasted at Haut-Brion. This comes from the cotes and lower slopes of the Quintus vineyard. Blueberries with attractively floral notes on the nose. Very fresh and that freshness is reinforced by the chewy, crumbly calcaire tannins. The fruit is bright and crunchy, the finish vibrant and peppery if just a little stern. Pure, precise and nicely focussed.

Esprit de Pavie (65% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon). Tasted at Chateau Pavie. This includes young vines from from both Pavie and Monbousquet and a series of separate parcels from the south-facing cotes of the appellation. Smokey with a broad profile of red and darker fruits. Quite fresh and crunchy. Attractive, with a rippling and juicy tannic finish. A good introduction to the Perse style of St Emilion and a very successful marriage of the appellation’s three distinct terroir types, as in Pavie itself.

La Gaffeliere (60% Merlot; 40% Merlot). Tasted at the UGC in Paris. Impressive. A bit held back and introvert, but one can still sense the class, the poise and the soft and gentle profile on the palate from the nose itself. Fruits of the forest. Very deep. Lovely black cherry fruit delivered in silk gloves on a silver salver – oh, and a hint of lavender too.

Rich, opulent and seductive but in a gently understated way. Class and classicism here nicely combined. So different as to be unrecognisable from previous incarnations of this wine – so long a disappointment; not now. Chalky minerality too. Finishes on cracked pepper. Very pure, layered and energetic. Tense and poised. Power nicely disguised. Excellent.

Figeac (30% Merlot; 34% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Cabernet Franc; pH 3,7; alcohol 14,1%). Tasted over Zoom with Frederic Faye from a sample supplied by the chateau. Figeac is always a success when it has anything like this much ripe Cabernet in it – and I love it in this vintage. As good as the 2016. Floral, herby, heathery, spicy and deep and rich. Blueberries and brambles. Great minerality. Lovely freshness – an artery running down the spine of this wine around which the structure coalesces.

Cool, soft, caressing tannins. Very complex and, as its breathes and sucks in the air, the depth and intensity of the mid-palate reveals itself – like an uncloaking. Structure and poise and elegance. Powerful yet lithe. Dances on the palate. Exciting. The Cabernet and gravel terroirs helped rein in the alcohol – a very moderate 14,1%. Picked early and late and in between. Frederic Faye tells me that they were thinking of the final assemblage all the way through the harvest to express and deploy Figeac’s tapestry of terroirs to best effect.

Wonderful quality of the Cabernet fruit from very small berries. Slow and gentle extraction, little remontage to avoid too much tannic extraction. All about gentleness. No sulphur after malolactic. Walnuts. Graphite and hints of cedar. Aerial. Energetic, vibrant and racy. Crystalline. A ‘benchmark vintage’ according to Frederic Faye. I’m not arguing. I love it.

Grace Dieu des Prieurs (90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; yields of 30hl/ha; 14,0% alcohol; aged in Radoux Blend barriques; consultant: Louis Mitjavile). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Lovely, pure, refined, focussed fresh and fruity on the nose; spicy too – quite an exotic personality. Fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander seeds, rose petals, candyfloss and turkish delight. Plums, blueberries, damsons.

A little hint of animal fat, slightly gamey, charcuterie notes. Complex; changes a lot with aeration. Rich, plump, one can detect the influence of the Radoux Blend barriques which work fantastically well here. Quite ‘Mitjavile’ in style (not quite Tertre Roteboeuf nor Roc de Cambes but some of the same DNA). But, actually, a little more restrained. Beautifully soft tannins, imparting a coolness and composure to the wine.

Very accessible; fans out very nicely through the mid-palate to a soft, broad, slightly delicate and gentle but very long finish. Quite intense but almost imperceptibly so. Raspberry fruit, red and black cherries, also hints of red currants. Nice tension; freshness all the way through. Stylish, elegant, distinctive and impressive. The first time I have tasted this en primeur and it really stands out. Something of a revelation.

Haut-Brisson (90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 13,95%). Big smoky, ripe and rich; robust. Not subtle but impressive (and a lot less alcohol than the 2018). Quite approachable in a slightly burly way – a friendly front row forward kind of a wine. Impressive richness and nicely refined tannins for a wine whose nose leads you to anticipate something more rustic. Plums, black cherries.

Iron-like minerality, a touch of salt and almost a note of curry powder – curry leaf and cumin in fact. Quite creamy. Gently extracted. Freshness builds towards the finish, but the attack is more naturally sweet. Will need time but promising. A strange combination of rusticity and refinement! I appreciate it more than I love it. Excellent value.

Laforge (92% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; 14,4% alcohol; pH 3,75). Tasted from a sample supplied by Jonathan Maltus. Garnet/purple robe. A little sweeter than Teyssier, the oak better integrated (though 80% new oak for the malolactic fermentation). Purer raspberry fruit on the nose. Attractive, general natural sweetness. More floral than Teyssier. Tannins are softer. More body and persistence. Precise but broader shouldered. That distinct ferrous minerality of ‘la forge’ itself. Quite burly as it often is, but nice freshness helps give tension and definition. Hint of vanilla and even a little bit of burned sugar. Fresh sappy finish with good length.

Larcis-Ducasse (88% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; yields of 38,5 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. From the limestone plateau and terraces. Classy, elegant and very refined on the nose. Quite dark and more austere than most. Graphite. Great cool deep attack. Much broader than Pavie-Macquin and the fruit a shade darker in profile. Black cherries, a little cassis; nice acidity. Good balance and length. Chewy limestone tannins, quite grippy even raspy at this stage. Sappy finish. Very long and aerial, with little ripples of cherry skin. Rather closed, but energetic nonetheless. A little impenetrable at this stage. But this is very fine.

Laroque (97% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 14,5%; pH 3,44). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Picked later than Larcis-Ducasse or Pavie-Macquin. Blue-purple in the glass. Very fresh, energetic and lively – even more so I think than the 2018. Loganberries, boysenberries, sloes and damsons, a little bit of smoke from an open fire. Pure, precise and focussed. Juicy. Alcohol nicely kept in moderation. Not the mid-palate concentration of Larcis-Ducasse nor the structure of Pavie-Macquin but an impressive liveliness and energy. Tense, taut and dynamic. Nice mineral character. This is truly excellent and its represents extraordinary value.

Laroze (60% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in 65% new oak and 8% in amphorae). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Dark, almost opaque in the glass. Garnet/blue-purple. Sweet, oaky, slightly confected nose. Black cherries and mulberries; rather confit fruit. Soft and svelte on the attack – but very sweet on the palate and that is the first sensation. A little hollow in the mid-palate too. Chewy tannins which become somewhat harsh on the finish. Overly extracted and not really my style. Feels like a St Emilion from a decade or so ago. Not really my cup of tea.

Lassegue (58% Merlot; 32% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in 75% new oak). Tasted with a negociant in Bordeaux. An up-and-coming property from the cotes just along from Pavie and Bellefont-Belcier – and, as such, from both excellent terroir and with a lot of sun exposure. This is rich and warm, with notes of dried flowers. Quite toasty and spicy too. It radiates the sun and the warmth of the vintage.

Big, broad and with good length and svelte tannins it also represents wonderful value. Not perhaps the most delineated, nor really terribly expressive of a specific terroir. Yet this is highly expressive of the sunny side of the appellation in this vintage. It lacks the complexity and, perhaps also, the refinement of its more famous and expensive neighbours; but it provides an affordable introduction to this part of St Emilion.

Mangot (75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Made from 21 separate parcels from the cotes, coteaux, terrasses and plateaux – and hence from a combination of calcaire and argilo-calcaire terroirs. Purple/violet/blue hints. Quite soft and subtle, but confident plummy fruit at its core, with black raspberries and fruits of the forest too; fruit compote. Twist of fresh black pepper, indeed a couple of twists. Attractive gentle sweetness. Pronounced grainy tannins; quite high acidity too. Nice freshness on the finish. Tannins just a little brutal on the finish. But this has an impression precision and purity.

Monbousquet (60% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; alcohol 14,55%; pH 3,68). Tasted at Chateau Pavie. Interestingly this has exactly the same varietal composition but rather higher alcohol and a touch less acidity than Angelique de Monbousquet. Limpid and visibly viscous in the glass. Almost black at the core, with a purple robe.

A touch of spice and just a hint of vanilla. A pronounced ferrous-saline minerality. Big, powerful and peppery. The tannins are just a little harsh on the finish and this is quite marked by the oak at this early stage. It will come together with time, but for now this is less accessible than many of the leading wines of the appellation. A wine from one end of the stylistic continuum that will split opinions.

Mondot (100M; 100% limestone terroir; 15% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Aymeric de Gironde. Big strides are being made at Troplong Mondot – and they are just as evident here as in the grand vin itself. 2019 is the best vintage of either wine. Though this is 15% alcohol, all picked before the rain, this is strikingly pure and fresh and you would never guess the alcohol level. I am not the most tolerant of elevated alcohol in Bordeaux, but it really isn’t an issue here.

Picked mainly in a week starting September 10th, with the last grapes coming on the 21st before the heavens opened on the 22nd (the day Aymeric was sworn in as a juror of St Emilion). When it came to picking this, as for Troplong Mondot itself, the parcels were sub-divided and combined for a more intelligent and precise use of the vinification facilities (themselves in the process of being renewed). A wonderfully pure expression of its limestone terroir. Not a second wine at all.

This deserves its own Chateau moniker and will perhaps get one in time. Crumbly chalk tannins – the dust from the blackboard. This, together with the pronounced acidity give a lovely backbone, fanning the fruit out along the palate. Crisp with croquant fruit. Hints of straw bails; heather and hedgerow flowers too. Slightly spicy and with lovely mineral character. Distinctive and very much of its terroir. No longer a second-wine at all and worthy of very significant attention. Massively recommended; indeed, this is a bit of a revelation. It won’t be released en primeur – look out for it when it is.

La Mondotte (79% Merlot; 21% Cabernet Franc; organic, 70% new oak; yields of 51 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Limpid, very viscous in the glass. Garnet/purple, with ruby highlights. Sweeter and broader on the nose than Canon La Gaffeliere; more floral too – rose petals, irises and rhododendrons with wild, almost garrigue-y, herbs; a hint of mint, and a touch of wood fire and yet also unburnt tobacco. Complex and engaging.

Plump and succulent on the palate with amazingly soft and rounded fine-grained tannins. Almonds and a touch of marzipan; raspberry coulis. The oak a little more obvious than for Canon La Gaffeliere. Tobacco notes again and freshly ground coffee beans. Sappy, juicy and fresh (if less so than CLG) yet with considerable mid-palate intensity. Dynamic, quite racy. Impressively powerful, yet with style, finesse and elegance. Not perhaps as integrated or harmonious as some and certainly needs time. But this is as good a La Mondotte as I can recall.

No. 3 d’Angelus (85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc). Tasted with Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal and Hubert de Bouard at Caves Legrand in Paris. This was originally, when created in 1987, Chateau Mazerat, says Stephanie. In effect, it was Angelus’ second wine of the time. Now it is more of a second wine of Carillon than it is anything else – it comes from 5 ha of the 18 ha vineyards designated for Carillon in three different terroir types.

This is from the young vines. And very good it is too. Best vintage yet by a long way. 50% is matured in 1 year old oak. Limpid. Pepper. Redcurrant fruit, redcurrant jelly in fact. Excellent. Pure. Notes of sage. Quite long. Tannins are just a little aggressive on the finish. Nice gentle use of oak. Raspberries. Cinnamon. Tense and bright and energetic. Something of 2017 about it. Croquant. Touch of red cherry too.

Pavie (50% Merlot; 32% Cabernet Franc; 18% Cabernet Sauvignon: alcohol 14,73%; pH 3,55; yields of just 29 hl/ha). Tasted at the Chateau. A pronounced glass-staining purple robe; black/garnet at the core. Limpid and viscous with great density on the palate. This is intense and impressive. Cassis, kirsch, cherries – morello and griotte. Spicy, as ever – five spice, cumin, all spice and nutmeg and an enticing hint of cedar. Super-svelte tannins.

Floral too – irises, hints of dried violets and even orange blossom. Cool at first, but then the big tannins start to build, eventually unleashing a crashing wave of sappy, juicy, fresh fruit that ripples all the way to a very long mineral finish. A blockbuster and, at this stage, more impressive than it is enjoyable. It is without question a great wine, but one that pushes extraction to the limit. It will require – as it will reward – considerable patience.

Pavie Decesse (90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14,51%; pH 3,51; yields of just 17 hl/ha). Tasted at Chateau Pavie. From a fantastically situated tiny vineyard of 3,5 hectares next to Troplong Mondot, Pavie and Bellevue Mondotte on the calcaire plateau itself and with a miniscule yield of 17 hl/ha – due to the age of the vines, significant bud pruning and ultra-strict selection.

A pure and crystalline nose of blueberries and black cherries. Hints of freshly ground coffee and liquorice root. Walnuts too. Very soft on the entry, with lots of evident graphite minerality, before the rippling calcaire tannins roll in. Big, bold and imperiously structured, this is very much a vin de garde. Lively, energetic and yet cool in the mouth. Great potential.

Pavie-Macquin (78% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; yields of 47hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Deep purple. Very attractive; atypically elegant on the nose for this wine en primeur. Dark fruit – plums and fruits of the forest, blueberries, touch of red cherry too and hints of almonds and root liquorice, little hint of cinnamon too. Fresh, quite refined and precise – a big pronounced core of fresh fruit punches through the mid palate.

Quite dry and chewy tannins giving an excellent structure for the fruit to cling to – even if it is quite narrow and taut and focussed at this stage. This will build with time; nice potential here though not at all showy at this stage. More intellectual than usual and very fresh and crunchy.   Graphite and a nice vein of minerality. Long peppery finish. Better than I expected. I like the slighter leaner style.

Le Petit Cheval (56% Merlot; 44% Cabernet Franc; c. 14,5% alcohol). Tasted at the chateau with Arnaud de Laforcade and Pierre Olivier Clouet. Strikingly complex – one could be forgiven for mistaking this with Cheval itself (until, that is, one tastes the grand vin). This is seamless with a beautiful harmony and integration even at this nascent stage that might well reveal its identity in a blind tasting. A lovely pure cassis nose with all those classic and beautiful notes of cedar, graphite and pencil shaving that one looks for and so often finds in Cheval itself.

A hint of frangipane too. A very small production this year (around 6% of the total), coming from just three parcels, all of which were selected for the grand vin in 2018. A deep dark fruit profile of damsons and bilberries, with a touch of cinnamon and all spice and lovely floral and herby elements – garrigue and heather, rosemary, wild lavender, iris and peony. Sublimely soft and yet taut and focussed.

Pontet Labrie (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 14,2% alcohol; pH 3,71). Tasted from a sample supplied by Jonathan Maltus. Lots of character on the nose. Griottes, vanilla, toasted spices, touch of burned sugar from the oak. Floral elements too. Loads of minerality. Broad attack and good intensity. Black and red cherries. Good freshness and a nice tension. Meaty tannins. More gamey than the other wines from the Maltus stable. Bold and burly. 

De Pressac (majority Merlot; with Carmenere and Malbec). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Rather sweet nose of baked plums and Christmas spices – cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Remains true to the nose – and rather sweet – on the palate. Very pleasant but with no particularly great sense of terroir or distinction. Slightly tart and abrupt finish.

Quinault L’Enclos (74% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; 14% Cabernet Sauvignon; c. 14,5% alcohol). Tasted at Cheval Blanc with Arnaud de Laforcade and Pierre Olivier Clouet. With the single exception of Troplong-Mondot, it is difficult to think of a wine so thoroughly transformed in such a short period of time. I have followed this wine closely since 2015 – and every vintage I have tasted has been better than the previous one. Quinault is a wonderful and affordable introduction to the wine-making philosophy and skill of the dynamic team at Cheval Blanc. This is compact and aerial on the nose, if just a little shy at first.

A lovely deep plummy fruit, with a touch of crème de cassis, fresh herbs and cedar (the still relatively recently planted Cabernet Sauvignon really sings this year). It is also one of those wines where you can sense the softness of the tannins from the nose itself (I have no idea how that is possible). Soft and gentle, pure and precise, this has a delicacy of touch and a finesse that is very characteristic of the wine-making at Cheval and that imparts a charm and elegance to a terroir previously regarded as, at best, surly, burly and a little rustic. This sings very eloquently in 2019.

Quintus (55,4% Merlot; 44,6% Cabernet Franc; around 15% alcohol). Tasted at Haut-Brion. Ruby in the glass, with garnet/purple highlights. This is plump, plush and full. Raspberries and blackberries and, like Le Dragon, very fresh and marked by the elevated acidity. Rumbling, rippling tannins and rather greater mid-palate definition than I remember from previous vintages – a real sense of progression here.

This is fine, if a tad sombre and serious. But I really like the cedary notes, the shimmering graphite minerality (both of which make one think of Pauillac) and the sense of energy that pushes the wine forward over the architectural calcaire structure (which brings one back to the St Emilion cotes and plateau). Impressive and rather classy, this will really reward those prepared to give it a decade in a cool dark cellar.

Saintayme (100% Merlot; 14,5% alcohol; 30% new oak, blend of casks; 65,000 bottles). Tasted from samples provided by the Durantou family. From St Etienne de Lisse. Blue/purple. Quite extracted. Simple but engaging red-fruit nose, touch of natural sweetness. Fresh and bright on the palate. Chewy, grippy tannins. Pronounced acidity, reinforcing the purity and precision of the wine-making. Excellent value but lacks the complexity of Montlandrie or Les Cruzelles.

La Serre (J-P Moueix) (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 50% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by J-P Moueix. Clay and limestone – on a hot south-facing site on the edge of the limestone plateau. Hot vintage wine; slightly baked fruit – blueberries, little smoky notes, black cherries, bramble crumble. Notable alcohol. Rich, dense and powerful on the attack but not great mid-palate density. Drifts away; not great focus. Not a great deal of definition. Quite spicy. Salty minerality. A little one-dimensional.

Tertre Roteboeuf (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; 14,8% alcohol; pH 3,81). Tasted from a sample provided by the incomparable Francois Mitjavile. Merlot and Cabernet Franc picked 5th and 7th October; Cabernet Sauvignon picked 11th October. Wow – what a nose. All the floral character of the Roc (rose petals much in evidence again) but also the depth, concentration and minerality of the exceptional terroir from which this comes, and more savoury notes – gamey-ness, Lièvre a la royale! Already it really sings of that terroir – and could not be any other wine – I really think I could pick this blind.

Lovely freshness; aerial; radiant and touches every part of the palate (especially vertically – the tannins get your cheeks but the flavour distributes itself from the very top of the palate right down to underneath the tongue – fascinating). Big but finely pixelated. Very soft and caressing. So accessible. Broad and total. Black cherries. Very dark. Gentle sweetness. Great complexity, but enrobed in velour and disguised for now. Finishes on black cherry skins. Pure, precise and nicely layered. Unique. Possibly not to everyone’s taste; but in this vintage it is to mine. Most like the 2015. Very seductive.

Teyssier (70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 14,8% alcohol; pH 3,53). Tasted from a sample supplied by Jonathan Maltus. Quite red-hued in the glass. Slightly ferrous and mineral nose. Fresh. Quite precise and focussed. A little narrow in the mid-palate but fans out quite nicely to give a reasonably long and fresh finish. Touch of toasted brioche on the nose and a dark berry fruit – brambles, blackberries, raspberries. Liquorice. A touch austere and firm. A hint of the alcohol at the end. Needs time.  Good value, as ever.

La Tour St Christophe (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in 40% new oak; alcohol 14.3%; yield of 37hl/ha). Tasted from a sample supplied by the Chateau. Purchased by Vignobles K in 2012. A rising star. Same vinification (en 225 litre barriques) and aging regime (a couple of months less in barrel in fact) as Bellefont-Belcier and yet (always) strikingly different – due to their very different terroirs.

Intense and very attractive nose. Lifted, very pure and precise, and crystalline – searing red and darker berry fruit, with herby and hedgerow notes. Plums, red cherries, loganberries, brambles with a slight nuttiness too – almonds and a little dark chocolate. More peppery than the Bellefont Belcier. Fresh and energetic with a subtle gentle natural sweetness.

Perfectly ripe fruit (plums, damsons, raspberries) but absolutely no sur-maturite. Gorgeous tannins – very svelte and gentle on the attack, but then, wham, big dollops of punchy fresh fruit arrive in the mid-palate. Very long and densely flavoured. Sappy. Iron and salty minerality, graphite too. Complex and exciting. Best yet. Finishes (after over a minute) on the signature grape skins of the vintage. Nice nuttiness. Best yet from here.

Troplong-Mondot (85% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 15%; pH 3,54; aged in a combination of 60% new oak, three 30hl foudres, three 7.5hl amphora, with the rest in oak of one year). Tasted over Zoom with Aymeric de Gironde. Wow, this is stunning. Another big step up. Much of the distinctiveness of this comes from the molasses – the clay terroir at the very summit of the hill, with its rocks and flint and its power, richness and minerality. Power in moderation.

And such great freshness – amongst the lowest of the vintage, a product of early-picking. Crushed rocks. Water on hot rocks. Each parcel (apparently) tasted completely different. Yet it makes for a seamless blend. All in elegance and harmony. Heather. Raspberries, wild strawberries, blueberries, cherries. Nutty – walnuts and pistachios – pips clearly perfectly mature despite the early picking. Amazing texture. Plunge-pool. Chewy tannins. Very energetic and lively yet at the same time profound, deep, intellectual, rich and so very complex.

Intensely floral – violets, wild flowers, heather again, even gorse. Overall, there is something rather wild and natural about it; the impression is reinforced by the saline minerality. Very exciting. The texture is incredible too. Were it not for the graininess of the tannins that kicks in on the mid-palate you could be forgiven for not noticing that there were tannins here. Very gently extracted. Whisper it quietly, but this is now very close behind Cheval Blanc and Figeac in quality.

Valandraud (90% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; alcohol 15%; 7 ha, producing 35,000 bottles; aged in 100% new oak). From a sample supplied by the chateau. Garnet. Limpid. Searingly impressive radiant nose (no swirling needed at all) of vanilla-tinged cedary, graphite-coated blueberries and red and black cherries; with a little air, kirsch and almonds.

Irises and rose petals. Lovely fruit intensity. Rich and plush and gorgeous. Gentle hints of Christmas spices – cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, even star anise. Fennel seeds too. Fresh with floral and heathery notes. Lovely fine-grained tannins, rippling all down the spine of this exquisitely structured wine. Long. Finishes on grape skins. Taut and tense and with a lovely balance. But it is the fruit intensity that really strikes you.

Vieux Chateau Mazerat (65% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; 13,8 alcohol; pH 3,76). Tasted from a sample supplied by Jonathan Maltus. Cedar, graphite, vanilla, exotic spices – something almost Cos-like about it. Complex, exotic, smoky, quite interesting, but quite sweet on the nose too – and quite toasted (more so than perhaps in recent vintages).

Oak needs time to incorporate. Impressively svelte tannins. Long, quite racy, plenty of grippy tannic ‘chew’. Black cherries, even black forest gateau, touch of mocha. Builds to a nice crescendo on the finish. Nicely done in its own distinct way. Not to everyone’s taste, I suspect. A little marked by the oak and, for me, actually a little sweet. Another one of these lower alcohol wines in this vintage with just a slightly disconcerting sweetness about it.

Villemaurine (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc). Tated ). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau and again at the UGC in Paris. Ruby, with lovely crimson highlights. Interesting, lifted and engaging nose of red berry fruit – red cherries, redcurrant, raspberries and wild strawberries, with a twist of white pepper. Summery hues and scents too.

Limpid and enticing. Joyous. Bright and energetic and light on its feet with those lovely fine-grained chalky tannins of the limestone plateau. Quite powdery in texture and distinct and engaging wild strawberries and cream fruit on the long and nicely defined palate. Stylish, elegant, delicate in its own way, this is a rather beautiful expression of its terroir. Not the most powerful, but impressively elegant. In the style of Clos Fourtet.

Virginie de Valandraud (70% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 9% Cabernet Sauvignon; alcohol 14%; 12 ha, producing 80,000 bottles; aged in 100% new oak). Tasted from a sample supplied by the chateau. Garnet purple. Very herby and floral – purple flowers, irises, saffron, loads of graphite and a ferrous minerality that is very attractive. Sloe, damsons and plum skins, kirsch and a distinct hint of shoe polish. Lovely intensity. Focussed attack and an instant freshness. Almonds and frangipane and red cherries – but stays very much on the fresh side of that sets of flavours. Rippling cherry fruit elongated by waves of chewy tannins. Very attractive. Complex. Interesting and well made.

Satellite appellations

D’Aiguilhe (Cotes de Castillon; 88% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; aged in 30% new oak; yields of 56 hl/ha). Tasted from a sample provided by the chateau. Garnet/ruby. More extracted than Clos Marsalette; almost opaque. Lovely graphite and cedary nose. Raspberries; black cherries. More plush; more extract; more mid-palate concentration. Soft svelte tannins, at least on the attack. Quite muscly and burly. Very Cotes de Castillon. The oak is actually more noticeable too and the tannins are just a little aggressive on the finish. For me just a touch overdone. But it’s still a very good advert for the appellation.

L’Aurage (Mitjavile) (Cotes de Castillon). Tasted from a sample provided by Francois Mitjavile. Raspberries. Nice and fresh on the nose. Touch of fruits of the forest; freshly ground coffee too. Attractive. Pepper. Gentle natural sweetness; little hint of oak but no more. Quite gentle tannins; actually quite delicate, especially at first. Very fruity. Fresh. Builds on the palate, but quite slender. Long. Nice focussed finish. Nice minerality too. Very precise. Promising. Quite restrained. I prefer this to the 2018.

La Brande (Todeschini) (Cotes de Castillon; planted 67% Merlot; 22% Cabernt Franc; 8% Cabernet Sauvigon; 3% Petit Verdot). Tasted from a sample provided by the chateau. Vinified at Chateau Mangot. Purple/garnet, undefined rim, quite a pronounced border, yet not completely opaque. Attractive but strikingly peppery nose, hint of alcohol.

Smokey. Plums, damsons, very ripe, pure and precise nose – almost hint of Szechuan pepper too. Chewy argilo-calcaire terroir tannins. Plenty of grip. Powerfully tannic, reasonable mid-palate density and length – if a little unrefined on the finish. Nice natural sweetness and good freshness. Hoisin, hints of soy. Touch of harshness on the finish. Impressive – and has character – if just a little rustic

Clos de Bouard (Montagne St Emilion). (typically 85M; 10CF; 5CS). Garnet/purple, almost opaque. Soft, plush, intense markedly floral and herb-tinged nose; almonds and frangipane. Dark ripe berry fruit – cassis, bramble jelly, blueberry jam, fruits of the forest, baked plums. But a nice freshness too. Quite distinct. Attractive. Modern, but very well made. Nice chewy tannins. Not especially long, but a nice mouthfeel and some evolution on the palate. A little sweet and toasty from the oak, but that is the style.

Clos Lunelles (Cotes de Castillon; 80% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; alcohol 14,48%; pH 3,52; yields of 26 hl/ha). Tasted at Chateau Pavie. The low yields come from strict selection and two bouts of green-harvesting. This, too, is black at the core and radiant in the glass with pronounced purple highlights on swirling. A deep, dark, rich berry fruit – predominantly blueberries. On the palate a mix of croquant berries and crushed raspberries. A nice saline minerality and a certain lift coming from the freshness of the acidity and the calcaire tannins. Impressive.

Domaine de Cambes (Cotes de Bourg; Mitjavile) (80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 14,7% alcohol; pH 3,78; yields of 50hl/ha). The Merlot and the Cabernet Franc were picked only a day apart. Much bigger, richer and glossier than L’Aurage with more noticeable oak on the nose; but lovely freshness too. Herby – almost garrigue-y notes – thyme, lavender; blueberries and brambles – quite dark fruit, though the cherry notes are more red than black; touch of dark chocolate. Very Mitjavile (drawn from his spice cupboard) and very stylish actually. Big. Purple berry fruit. Spicy; saffron, cloves. White pepper. Creamy tannins. Nice vein of acidity. Very fresh. Again, very well managed. Impressive. No noticeable alcohol.

Montlandrie (Cotes de Castillon.; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14,5% alcohol; agend in 40% new oak; 11ha, producing 49,500 bottles). Tasted from a sample supplied by the Durantou family. The Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in 2009. Garnet with ruby highlights. Blueberries, cherries and bramble preserve, a touch of frangipane. Glossy tannins. Fine.

Not especially powerful, but the structure is actually more considerable that it seems – due to the delicately extracted and very fine tannins. Deceptive; this is more powerful than it first appears. Soft but a punchy fresh acidity gives tension and the structure gives definition. Pure, precise and focussed finish. Nice and grippy. Continues the steep upwards trend here.

Le Rey Les Argileuses. (Parcelles 1 & 3) (Cotes de Castillon; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 14.6% alcohol; yields of 39 hl/ha; aged in stainless steel). Vignobles K. Big step up in quality here. Exuberant. Pure, precise, focussed nose. Very fruit forward. Blackberries, touch of cassis but noticeable freshness of the fruit and acidity present on the nose. Touch of mint, with blackcurrant leaves. Lively. Racy. Energetic. Precise. Very approachable. Lovely fresh tense fruitiness – pure leafy cassis, raspberries, black cherries … delicate finish, but well sustained. The best ‘les argileuses’ yet. Lovely. Alcohol seems very restrained. Sleek. Quite radiant. Raspberries and pepper on the fine finish.

Le Rey Les Rocheuses (Parcelles 5 & 6) (Cotes de Castillon; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; alcohol 14.5%; yields of 38 hl/ha; aged in a combination of 20% new oak; 40% 1 year-old; 40% 2 year-old). Vignobles K. Blue/purple in the glass and in personality too. Peonies and purple flowers. Wow. Spicy. White pepper, touch of fleur de sel too.

Chalk terroir nose – you can almost begin to sense the chewy tannins from the nose! Pure and lifted like Les Argileuses. Raspberries, red cherries, blueberries and wine gums! Horse hair, leather. Tannins are bigger, a little grainier and give excellent structure. More serious and the very epitome of its chalk terroir. Superb. More serious in the sense of being more structured than Les Argileuses, but like its sibling, light on its feet and vibrant. Vibrant.  Finishes with grape skins; lovely texture with a gentle creaminess despite the impressive structure. Sappy. Overall, lovely grainy chalky tannins giving impressive structure to a very precise and layered wine – freshly picked raspberries much in evidence.

Roc de Cambes (Cotes de Bourg; Mitjavile) (85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14,8% alcohol; pH 3,8; yields of 50hl/ha). The Merlot and Cabernet Franc were picked four days apart, in early October. Very interesting and unique nose of flowers and petals – peonies, rose petals. Touch of spice – cinnamon and nutmeg, saffron, fennel seeds. Briary dark berry fruits with lovely freshness and acidity. Very herby. Intense. Rich. Broad on the attach. Bigger and broader shouldered than Domaine de Cambes.

Beautifully svelte tannins. Difficult to spit. Very engaging. Quite sweet on the palate. Long and soft.   Exotic and exuberant yet at the same time so soft and seemingly gentle – lovely finish, just the essence of grape (not the skins one often finds). Tapers in a very attractive way to an exceptionally long finish. Really quite exciting. Again, I prefer it to the 2018. No issues about alcohol.

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