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Bordeaux 2018 revisited: Saint-Emilion

In the first of a series of appellation profiles to be published over the next few months, our Bordeaux correspondent, Colin Hay, revisits the 2018 vintage in Saint-Emilion, providing an overview of the appellation in this challenging, heterogeneous yet potentially excellent vintage, and detailed tasting notes on 179 wines. His Pomerol profile will follow shortly, with articles on each of the leading appellations of the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan to be published later in the year.

My overview of the 2018 vintage – enthusiastically drafted, as I recall, on the train back from Bordeaux after en primeur week – was entitled ‘freshness is the key’. Almost two years on, with all but a handful of these wines now in bottle, and having just re-tasted very many of them, that still seems right. The impression is perhaps reinforced by having started my in-bottle re-tastings on the right-bank with a near-comprehensive (if, alas, largely virtual) tour of St Emilion. For it was the wines of St Emilions that I had principally in mind when I wrote those words back in April 2019.

But what strikes me now is that, in a vintage whose climatic pre-conditions made freshness very difficult to achieve, and which would – a decade earlier – have resulted in wines that were anything but fresh, freshness abounds. Returning to these wines two years on I was craving freshness, purity and mid-palate delineation; and, for the most part, that is exactly what I found – rather more so perhaps than I was expecting.

2018, especially on the right-bank, and especially in St Emilion, is a vintage forged out of climatic excess; and that so many of these wines are so good is testament to the quality of both vineyard management and the choices made afterwards in the chai (and, in some cases, a little bit of luck too). That is even more apparent now that it was two years ago.

2018, then, is a very good vintage. It deserves its place, just about, in the pantheon of the recent greats – 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2018 (and 2019 too) – though for rather different reasons and with more caveats. For, given the climatic conditions in and out of which it was born, it is no surprise that it is also far more uneven than the others.

It has produced wines that, at their very best and on the very best terroirs, are close to attaining the level of 2015 and 2016. But it has also produced wines that are nowhere near that level. And where greatness has been achieved this is, typically, only because of better wine-making – above all, wine-making better adapted to global warming. Put bluntly, the 2018s were better made than the 2015s and 2016s. But they needed to be. For the climatic conditions were less propitious. This is above all the case in St Emilion.

The climatic challenges of 2018

As is perhaps already clear, to understand this vintage we need to return to those climatic conditions themselves. In so doing I draw on Laurence Geny & Axel Marchal’s wonderfully detailed report on ‘The 2018 vintage in Bordeaux’ published by the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin at L’Université de Bordeaux.

First, the good news. After 2017, a vintage ravaged by frost, there were some initial concerns that yields in 2018 would be significantly reduced by residual damage over the two-year vegetative cycle. That did not prove to be the case and recovery from the frosts of 2017 was, if anything, better than anticipated. Yields were in 2018 reduced by a variety of factors; but that was not one of them.

Indeed, the year began well, with early bud burst and prolific early growth (dispelling any anxieties about lingering damage from the frost of the year before). But what seemed good at first was rapidly to become a problem. For the spring and early summer brought massive and sustained rainfall (with over 80% of the total annual precipitation recorded in the period between March and June). On the voluminous canopies that were, by this stage, already well established this made ideal conditions for downy mildew. This hit vineyards indiscriminately throughout the region. It was particularly difficult to cope with for those using organic farming methods, with the authorised treatments proving no match for extreme conditions of this kind. Least effected were the windier dry côtes and plateau of St Emilion (and, indeed, the Northern Médoc).

If the situation were not already bad enough, violent if localised hail storms saw significant damage inflicted in two short bursts in late May and again in mid-July (most notably in Bourg and Blaye, and in parts of the Haut-Médoc, Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes). In fact, by the second of these episodes, conditions had already started to change. And when they changed, they changed dramatically, with the localised hail that destroyed the entire harvest at Chateau Guiraud in Sauternes ushering in one of the longest, driest and sunniest summers on record. This would save the vintage in miraculous style.

An odd and almost perfect climatic balancing act was being performed. For, literally, the only possible way in which a harvest of optimally ripe grapes could be achieved following the unprecedentedly dreadful conditions of the spring and early summer was with the almost unprecedentedly benign, long, dry and sunny mid- and late-summer that followed. Bordeaux got lucky, very lucky indeed. The irony, of course, is that global warming makes both the extreme (damp) conditions of the spring and the extreme (warm, dry and sunny) conditions that followed more likely. But the serendipitous coincidence of the two remains an extremely low probability event – and not the kind of thing that one wants to have to rely upon.

The point is that Bordeaux’s ‘new normal’ increases the risks to wine-makers in the region (from frost, hail, monsoon, drought and excess heat). Here, in what has come to be referred to as a ‘miracle vintage’, it helped clutch perfect ripeness from the jaws of climate weirding.

But it did so, churlish though it might seem to point this out, at a price. That price was sugar and hence potential alcohol levels – which are elevated. Final reported levels on bottled 2018s in St Emilion are, with very few exceptions, between 14.5 and 15.5 degrees (with, of course, the appellation rules allowing a 0.5% margin). In fact, things could have been worse. For the hydric stress of the latter part of August and early September led to alcohol levels reaching a peak and in some cases actually falling, notably after a little light rain on the 20th and 22nd of September. This restored balance and allowed for a long, relaxed and relatively languid harvest period as the chateaux waited for full phenolic ripeness of their grapes without having to trade this off against the risk of further elevated alcohol levels or reduced acidity (something aided by the built up of water reserves in the first part of the year).

In a final irony it is worth noting that some of the first to pick in St Emilion did so seeking to lock-in freshness at the expense of optimal ripeness only to see the rain on the 20th and 22nd of September reduce alcohol levels and freshen up the grapes that remained unpicked on their neighbours’ vines.

Vineyard yields

Though they don’t tell anything like the whole story, overall yields are shown in the following table, calculated from French customs and CIVB returns.

2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Average (2010-19)
St Emilion 46.2 21.7 39.7 43.0 36.7 39.1
Pomerol 44.4 23.9 36.2 43.0 39.8 37.7
Left-bank average 47.7 43.1 40.8 47.8 37.3 41.0

Average vineyard yield by appellation (hl/ha)

Source: calculated from @GavinQuinney, Duane/CIVB

For St Emilion, as this demonstrates, final yields were very close to the 10-year average. But it is also important to note that the 10-year average has itself been falling; and it includes within it two very low yielding vintages, 2013 and 2017. Indeed, the 2018 yield was close to double that achieved in the frost-ravaged vintage that preceded it. After the mildew pressure of the late spring and early summer that seemed like something of a miracle and was, itself, cause for great relief if not quite outright celebration.

Finally, yields (which I have sought to include in the tasting notes below where they were available), vary massively between vineyards. Troplong Mondot, on the most elevated and most exposed terroir of the appellation, saw essentially no mildew and attained an impressive 49 hl/ha. But 30-35 hl/ha is closer to the norm amongst non-organic St Emilion producers; and, sadly, 20-25 hl/ha is closer to the norm amongst organic and biodynamic producers, with Chateau Guadet returning a final yield of only 10 hl/ha (though the wine itself is excellent).

Regardless of yield, the wines are generally highly concentrated, with near optimal ripeness and with a ratio of physical matter (skins and pips) to juice often exceeding 50 per cent.

The quality of the vintage

2018 as a vintage is, then, far better than the first half of the year gave anyone the right to expect. It is a vintage that had already been written off by many wine-markers by mid-July. So, just how good is it? How good could it be, given its inauspicious start? And, above all, how does it compare with other recent vintages?

Well, having tasted in the space of the last four months 179 wines from St Emilion (including all of the Premiers Grands Crus Classés A & B and all but two of the other wines of the 2012 edition of the official classification), my impressions forged en primeur have largely been confirmed.

Few if any of those wines that I liked en primeur I find myself down-grading now; a few I find a little better than I had initially thought. And, more significantly, there are plenty that I didn’t have the chance to taste en primeur (often from small and/or lesser known vineyards) that I find to have coped very well with the cards nature dealt in this tricky vintage.

Overall, then, and unlike some other commentators and critics, I find these wines a little less heterogeneous now than I did en primeur, and that despite tasting more broadly.

But that is not because 2018 St Emilions are homogeneous in any sense. The climatic conditions and the way those conditions interacted with different types and qualities of terroirs was never going to make this anything other than an unusually heterogeneous vintage.

However, I am struck now at how well most chateaux (big and small, famous and far from famous alike) responded to the significant challenges of the vintage. As such I simply don’t agree with the view of at least one leading critic (whose judgement of the best wines of the vintage, incidentally, I find impeccable) that alongside the notable successes there are many who “made a pig’s ear” of 2018. That I find (uncharacteristically) harsh.

That said, there are recognisable limits and weaknesses in 2018 St Emilion taken as a whole. First and foremost, and at the risk of repeating myself, freshness and acidity are key. It is only really with compensating freshness, and hence with acidity, that the elevated alcohol levels in, frankly, all of these wines could achieve harmony and balance. Where it is not present, there is no harmony and no balance. But no-one who made any of the 2018 St Emilions that I re-tasted was not aware of that. Yes, it is true that they responded to the challenge the vintage presented in different ways, with different resources at their disposal, and with varying degrees of success. But the point is that an impressive number of them fashioned the proverbial silk purse from the sow’s ear!

More positively, the quality of tannin-management in the leading wines of the appellation is exceptional, especially where extraction was not pushed too far. This is most certainly not just a story of 2018. But, once again, it strikes me that wines made in a (hypothetical) vintage like this even a decade ago would have been brutally tannic, monolithic and soupy in a way that these are not.

Similarly, a little oak went a long way in 2018, not least precisely because of elevated alcohol levels, and there were significant dangers in its over-use (the more so the more toasted the oak and the higher the degree). But here again the general story is one of restraint rather than excess. St Emilion today uses less oak than it did; and the oak it does use it uses more cautiously. That undoubtedly helped in this vintage.

The weaknesses of these wines are, then, familiar ones which, in effect, were reinforced by the climatic conditions of the vintage itself. They are: over-extraction leading to soupiness and a lack of both refinement and mid-palate delineation; over-ripeness leading to alcoholic ‘heat’, residual sugar and dry or (worse still) drying tannins and dry or confected (rather than fresh) fruit notes. Where a combination of these faults were present, the wines tend to be one-dimensional, monolithic, monotonic, heavy, dense and without lift, undifferentiated and lacking in elegance or layered complexity; they may also finish hot (from excess alcohol), sweet (from residual sugar) or dry (from raw wood tannins and/or over-extraction). These comments certainly appear in my notes, but probably no more so than they did in 2015 or 2016.

There is a danger that St Emilion is done something of an injustice in this vintage. That injustice is a legacy, I think, of the initial expectations for 2018 before anyone even tasted it. They were, as I recall well, that this would prove to be much more of a left-bank than a right-bank vintage. That was an understandable mistake; but it is a mistake nonetheless.

Critics arriving in Bordeaux for the en primeur tastings in April 2019 were, typically, apprehensive about alcohol levels, over-ripeness and over-extraction. They had also become accustomed (not unjustly) to thinking of these as sins to which the right-bank was more prone. And such anxieties were reinforced by the impression (again, not false) that St Emilion had endured the worst of the summer heat. The suspicion, then, was of over-ripeness and excess alcohol, especially amongst St Emilion’s blockbuster Merlot mono-cuvées.

But therein lies the problem. For there are very few Merlot mono-cuvées left! Of the 179 St Emilion wines that I tasted, only 15 are 100% Merlot and most of those are second wines. What is more, those that aren’t – Chateaux Bellevue and Les Grandes Murailles, for instance – can hardly be seen as suffering from a lack of freshness, purity or precision in this vintage. The times have changed.

Indeed, what is perhaps most intriguing of all is a sort of accidental convergence in styles that seems now to be taking place in St Emilion. First, there is a clear and conscious evolution in style amongst the leading crus of the appellation – including former ‘modernists’ and ‘garagistes’ – towards something fresher, more crystalline, more focussed, more precise and delineated, with typically less and more gentle extraction and less oak. However, climate change pushes in the other direction – in that it tends to accentuate the effect of oak and, indeed, extraction, not least through its influence on potential sugar and hence alcohol levels. Ironically, then, some of the most ‘modern’-tasting wines of the vintage come from those one might think of as traditionalists whose recipe, in effect, has remained relatively unchanged despite global warming.

As this suggests, 2018 is a complex if potentially excellent vintage, above all in St Emilion, in which – perhaps more than usually – the devil rests in the detail.

Wines of the appellation: Angélus; Ausone; Bélair-Monange; Cheval Blanc.

Exceeding expectations: Les Astéries; Beauséjour-Bécot; Bellefont-Belcier; Berliquet; Canon La Gaffelière; le Carré; Clos La Madeleine; Clos de Sarpe; Coutet Les Demoiselles Cuvée Emeri; La Croix de Labrie; La Fleur Cardinale; Guadet; Mangot Todeschini Distique No. 11; de Millery; Rocheyron; Soutard; Soutard-Cadet; Le Tertre-Roteboeuf; Trottevieille.

Confirming high expectations: Canon; Clos Fourtet; Clos St Martin; La Clotte; Le Dôme; Figeac; Larcis Ducasse; Laroque; Pavie; La Tour St Christophe; Troplong Mondot; Valandraud.

Best second labels/wines: Arômes de Pavie; Chapelle d’Ausone; La Closerie de Fourtet; Le Petit Cheval; Petit Figeac.

Potential value picks: Cap de Mourlin; Corbin; de Ferrand; de Fonbel; Laroque; Laroze; Lassègue; Peymouton; Quinault L’Enclos; La Tour St Christophe; Villemaurine.

The tasting process

Given the sheer complexity of assembling samples, the wines were tasted over a 4-month period between December and March, almost exclusively from samples supplied by the chateaux themselves. Other than a handful of properties that I visited in December (which are identified in the tasting notes below), all samples were tasted in Paris. As I have not sought to rate or score wines and so do not need to ensure that wines are tasted under identical conditions, I have had no qualms about trying to taste them at their best. So, where I thought it might help reveal them at their best, I have not been reluctant to decant samples. I have also used a range of glassware from Grassl, Reidel, Zalto and Sydonios. All wines (other than those tasted at the chateaux themselves) were tasted at least three times over a period of 48 hours. I am extremely grateful to all those who sent samples and to all those who helped me in the Herculean task of tracking down samples. Only three samples were rejected and, in each case, kindly replaced by the chateau.

2018 St Emilion & Satellites Re-tastings (November 2020)

No. 3 d’Angélus (St Emilion; 70% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% alcohol). Created in 1987, this used to be Chateau Mazerat, Angélus’ second wine of the time. Now it is more of a second wine of Carillon d’Angélus. It is made from five of the eighteen-hectares of vineyard designated for Carillon on three different terroirs. This is from the young vines. Already impressive, but the 2019 is better still. Light in terms of extraction and more evolved than most at this stage, with a more defined pink rim. Attractive pure light ripe yet fresh red berry fruit nose – fraise des bois, redcurrant preserve and raspberries with a hint of cinnamon and something more herbal – sage perhaps and crushed fennel seeds too. This is very much at the top of the palate. A nice clean pure precise raspberry fruit, with a little meaty, almost gamey, charcuterie note; no great complexity or length and a slightly discordant note on the finish. But give this another 6 months and it’ll drink very nicely.

Adaugusta (St Emilion; created in 2006; from a vineyard of 1.08 hectares on argilo-calcaire côte and sablo-argileux pieds de côte terroirs; the vines are of an average age of 40 years; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak for 15 months; 14,5% alcohol). The first time I’ve tasted this, and it makes an excellent first impression. Plenty of lift. Pure, honest, ripe croquant berry fruit – raspberries, loganberries, brambles and blueberries, a little hint of thyme too and black leaf tea. Sappy and juicy with the soft, fine-grained and almost delicate tannins dancing attractively on the roof of the mouth, giving this wine an impressive length. Very focussed, with little ripples of juicy berry fruit keeping one’s interest. Expressive, engaging and vibrant, if relatively light and seeking purity over complexity. There has a nice saline minerality on the finish.

Angélus (St Emilion; a vineyard of 42 hectares planted 50:50 with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, though only around 24 hectares of the oldest vines are now used for the grand vin; 65% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; aged in a combination of oak barrels, larger foudres and amphorae; in conversion to organic wine-making; pH 3.7; 14.5% alcohol). The Cabernet Franc, which is now all from vines of 60 to 80 years of age, brings so much to this – though using only the oldest vines means there is actually a little less in the final blend. This is intensely aromatic. Autumnal fruits and dark berries – brambles, mulberries, black cherries and a touch of cassis, and it is more floral than I remember it – with dried violets, roses and a hint of iris too.

There are also notes of incense and cedar; grated very dark chocolate; tapenade and a saline minerality; walnuts and sunflower seeds; new leather, a hint of pipe smoke; a pinch of cinnamon and clove; and, finally, hot summer rain on terracotta roof tiles. Not quite as refined and delineated in the mid-palate as the truly remarkable 2019, but very much a step in that direction. The tannins are very fine-grained – first, dusty, and then more crumbly as the grain widens and opens. This finishes long, cool and fresh. Very sleek, stylish and more elegant than opulent (though without any sacrifice in concentration, depth or intensity) – a slight evolution in style that I really appreciate.

Anna du Clos Dubreuil (St Emilion; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; this comes from separate parcels – 3 of Merlot, 1 of Cabernet Franc – on the northern side of the plateau of St Emilion in Saint-Christophe-des-Bardes, totalling 2 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir; aged in new oak for 16 months; a whopping 15,5% alcohol). Intense, with a radiant Merlot St Emilion nose. Very peppery and spicy with intense very dark fruit – black cherry and mulberries, blueberry compote too, with a hint of camphor.

Toasted walnuts, from the ultra-ripe pips, and black chocolate. Everything is dark and rich and despite this being, in a sense, a very modern wine, there is something cool, deep, graceful and even slightly austere about it. Very soft and gentle on the entry, but then the first trace of the oak appears as the wine starts to fan out on the mid-palate. Very broad-shouldered and powerful, but at the same time surprisingly light on its feet. The tannin management is very impressive and this is exceptionally long for a ‘second label’ (it is not a second wine at all). Very stylish and refined for such a big and powerful wine, but I do slightly worry about the alcohol level – though you don’t notice it until the very end.

Annonce de Bélair-Monange (St Emilion; the second wine of Bélair-Monange created in 2014; from a 23.5-hectare vineyard of plateau limestone and côtes clay on limestone terroirs; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 30% of which are new; 14,5% alcohol). Crimson with darker specks that catch the sunlight. Limpid and glossy. Lots of minerality and earthyness on the nose accompanying a fresh, quite lifted, red and black berry fruit– redcurrants, raspberries and brambles. Soft on the attack with lovely crumbly tannins which become chewier and spicier as this rumbles towards its quite high-pitched fresh long finish. Quite saline, with a touch of iron-oxide and that constant vertical lift from the calcaire tannins. This is a subtle and elegant wine. It seems quite slender; but that is a little deceptive. For the mid-palate intensity of the fruit, though disguised by the lift, is actually quite considerable. You really wouldn’t guess that this is a second wine. Accomplished and, above all, supremely fresh.

Armens (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 25 hectares on gravel-limestone, limestone and clay-limestone terroirs; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; aged in steel tanks and barrels; pH 3.66; 14.5% alcohol). More viscous and limpid in the glass than the Clos la Gaffelière tasted just before and with less evident extraction and a hazier rim. Garnet at the core. In the same style but a little more expressive – quite herby, with a raspberry and cassis fruit on the nose and notes of sous bois and hint of forest mushrooms, especially girolles. This has an attractively chewy texture with quite grainy tannins and a sappy, juicy red berry fruit. Quite simple, but pure and with a nice sense of focus. A little light and slender perhaps and quite short, but charming and accessible and with archetypically limestone St Emilion tannins.

Arômes de Pavie (St Emilion; much more now a second label now than a second wine, from a vineyard of 29 hectares on a combination of plateau, mi-côtes and pieds de côtes terroirs; 65% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; 17% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 42 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, half of them new; pH 3.56; 14.4% alcohol). Tasted with Olivier Gailly at Chateau Pavie. A wine with a new and rather distinct identity and personality that I really like (oh, and a new label too).

Unsurprisingly, at least a couple of shades lighter than Bellevue Mondotte, this is limpid and glossy. A genuine second label, rather than a second wine, this now comes from a combination of designated parcels on the plateau, mi-côtes and pieds de côtes. This has pure, precise, focussed and lifted blueberry and black cherry fruit, with considerable complexity and one can just about sense the cedar to come with a little more bottle age. It also has a lovely nutty note – walnuts and pine nuts. The tannins are finely-grained with a nice grip and they turn crumbly and almost chewy on the long cool, slightly menthol finish. Very bright, energetic and fresh. If this is the new identity for this wine, I’d happily provide a character reference!

Les Astéries (St Emilion; another tiny vineyard of 1.2 hectares planted in 1920, so now 100 years old, having survived the frost of 1956; here there is just a thin layer of clay over ‘Astéries’ limestone; 83% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Sauvignon; malolactic fermentation in 80% new oak; 14.9% alcohol). Just 400 metres from Le Carré but on a very different terroir and producing, as ever, a strikingly different style of wine characterised by its signature minerality. Limpid and inky in the glass with quite a pronounced viscosity. The aromatics are very vertical. Slightly reductive at first, then pure, fresh redcurrant and raspberry fruit with Szechuan peppercorns, nutmeg and a hint of clove; walnuts too.

The oak is there, but it’s nicely held in check. We also find something I’ve noticed before with this wine – crushed rocks but also summer rain on a stony path. Rather lovely. On the palate this is really engaging and dynamic, giving a sense of forward thrust and momentum. Pure, focussed and it’s as if there is an arrow of limestone tannin racing down the spine of this wine bringing fresh, ripe, sappy red and black berry fruit juice with it and little hints of graphite and a more ferrous mineral note too. Lovely fine-grained slightly crumbly tannins and a super-refreshing juicy fruity finish. This was quite disjointed, I recall, en primeur. It’s really starting to come together very well.

Ausone (St Emilion; a vineyard of 7.25 hectares on its unique limestone and clay-limestone plateau and côtes terroirs with a southern and eastern exposure; 60% Cabernet Franc; 40% Merlot; aged for 20 months in new French oak barrels; the average age of the vines is 52 years, but with the parcel around the chapel over 110 years old; a total production of 20,000 bottles; a final yield of 35 hl/ha with significant loss to mildew; pH 3.6; 14.4% alcohol). This is massive, profound and quite unlike any wine I have previously tasted from the property. Another candidate for the wine of the vintage which is defined by its Cabernet Franc. Dark and imposing with fleshy berry fruit –blueberries and blackberries, but also black cherries and with a lovely floral element that is more pronounced now than it was en primeur – irises and violets, maybe a hint of lavender too.

Ausone is often just a little impenetrable this young and the characteristics of the vintage accentuate that further here. It is a wine that reminds me again of my mortality – before it reaches its prime I will long since have shuffled off this mortal coil. Its texture is extraordinary; its depth seemingly limitless. Like many of the best wines of the vintage its tannins are so soft and its density and presence on the palate so considerable that it imparts an almost anaesthetic cool calm quality, leaving no discernible trace of tannin on the finish, just the lingering taste of grape-skins. Yet at the same time one is acutely aware of the heat of the summer – we have late season brambles, damsons and plums, but we also have chocolate ganache, mocha and a touch of liquorice. The finish is seemingly eternal and yet this remains juicy and sappy; the slight suggestion of the cedar and the truffles to come is irresistible.

L’Autre Mangot (St Emilion; no sulphur, aged entirely in clay and with indigenous yeasts; 50% Merlot; 50% Cabernet Franc; made from just 2 parcels – one from the slope, one from the terracing, both argilo-calcaire and at around 65 metres of elevation; 13,5% alcohol). All sold out. The first vintage of this was 2011. This is very different from practically anything else I’ve tasted. It reminds me most of Le Rey Rocheuses and I guess it has quite a lot in common with it conceptually. This is all about the fruit. It is ultra-pure, ultra-precise and ultra-focussed – plums, blueberries and blackberries, but with a suggestion of wood-smoke and a lovely hint of crushed Szechuan peppercorns.

The tannins are very fine-grained but a constant, grippy presence, giving a fascinating juicy rippling texture to the wine and contributing to a long and slowly tapering finish. We could almost be in the Loire here – with all that pure fresh crunchy Cabernet Franc and no oak at all (though the peppery and smoky elements that come from the Merlot also work so well here). Fascinating; another one of those wines that will be very difficult to get hold of outside of Bordeaux once the word gets out (indeed, I think it has already – the 2018 is all sold).

Balestard La Tonnelle (St Emilion; 70% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; a vineyard of 10.5 hectares on the argilo-calaire plateau of St Emilion at the gates of the town of St Emilion; 14,5% alcohol). Elegant and gentle in style. Dark and limpid in the glass with lots of evident glycerol. Somewhat closed at first, with soft but bright fresh black raspberry and Baie de Timut notes, sandalwood and hoisin too with more aeration. Soft tannins which become grippy and crumbly in the mid-palate. Not especially complex or lengthy and a little lacking in depth leaving the finish just a little hollow.

Barde-Haut (St Emilion; 16,89 hectares on clay over limestone that forms a natural amphitheatre on the St Emilion plateau to the East of St Emilion next to the terraced vintage of Chateau La Tour Saint Christophe; 73% Merlot; 27% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 80% new for 18-24 months; 15% alcohol). Dark in the glass and quite extracted too, with a deep garnet/purple core. This has an open and intense dark bramble and blackberry fruit nose, with nice floral scents in the background – violets, peonies perhaps, rose petals and a touch of hoisin, liquorice, incense and candlewax. Big, bold and quite punchy on the palate and with a considerable body of still unresolved tannin. Very much built like a vin de garde, this will take a while to soften; but there is excellent balance, a pure and impressively intense spicy berry fruit (a little redder on the palate than the nose) and good persistence. Promising and, no doubt, a wine that will reward the patience it requires. Though big and bold I find this is more refined and elegant than it used to be.

Barrail Saint Andre (St Emilion; from a clay-rich limestone terroir in Saint-Etienne de Lisse owned by Vignobles Coutant; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; aged in barrel, 50% new; 15% alcohol). The first time I have tasted this wine. Boysenberries and mulberries, maybe a hint of blueberries too. Quite inky and just a little heavy in the mid-palate, but it is fresh and fruity and quite lifted – very much marked by its argilo-calcaire terroir. This just lacks a little definition and complexity, but the lift and sense of energy go some way to compensate; and the alcohol, though elevated, is less noticeable than in many St Emilions at 14,5%.

Beauséjour Bécot (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 17 hectares on an argilo-calcaire plateau terroir just behind Chateau Canon; 80% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; average age of the vines is 45 years; final yield of 46 hl/ha; the wine is aged for 16 months in a combination of new oak barrels (65%) and vats, amphorae and larger oak vessels (35%); 14.5% alcohol). Tasted just after Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse. Very similar in the glass, if perhaps a shade darker in colour and a shade lighter in colour density.

This is much more open and expressive. A really gorgeous nose, charged already with cedar and pencil-shavings, and with a rich and opulent dark berry and cherry fruit – blueberries, brambles, blackcurrant too and, of course, those crunchy Morello cherries. On the palate this is succulent, fresh and packed with ripe fruit – red and black cherries, again, blueberries and plums and with a cool menthol note too. The tannins are a constant structuring presence, but they are so micro-textured that they merely serve to add detail and interest to the juicy fruit. This is one of those wines that seems almost pixilated. There’s a little hint of liquorice bark and fresh thyme too and I really like the cool fresh natural tranquillity imparted by the long menthol finish. There is a lovely balance and tension to this. Certainly as good a Beauséjour Bécot as I can recall.

Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse (St Emilion; a fantastically well-situated vineyard of 6.8 hectares on the argilo-calcaire côtes and plateau neighbouring Angélus and Beauséjour Bécot; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 27.5hl/ha; 14.3% alcohol). Tasted just after Larcis-Ducasse and Pavie Macquin. A shade or two darker in both colour and colour density than either of its siblings and a least a little more expressive (thankfully) than the latter (at least today). But this, too, shuts down a little on the nose, despite all encouragement to reveal its secrets. What we do get is a very pronounced terroir minerality – it is ferrous with a marine salinity and a note of summer rain on terracotta roof-tiles.

Then we get the fruit, which is dark and rich – plums, blueberries and brambles. This has the cashmere tannins of Pavie Macquin, but they are bigger, punchier and more flaky, increasingly crumbly towards the finish. This is sappy and juicy – and, like Pavie Macquin, tight and compact and a little closed at this stage. The finish has just a slight touch of dryness to it. The biggest of these three wines with the greatest mid-palate density and concentration and the one that will take the longest, I think, to come round. Extremely promising; but somewhat impenetrable on this showing. I look forward to re-tasting this.

Bélair-Monange (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 23.5 hectares on a combination of terroirs – limestone on the plateau and blue clay on limestone on the slopes; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 35% of which are new; 14,5% alcohol). Tasted alongside Canon. Similar limpidity in the glass and with a similar degree of opacity at the centre, though this is more crimson-garnet to Canon’s purple-garnet; glass-staining pink/crimson rim, but less so than Canon. An utterly gorgeous and profoundly mineral-defined nose. Violets and black fountain pen ink, with loads of graphite, pencil shavings and a more resinous pine-cedar element.

Sapid, succulent and tender on the palate with the most beautiful attack, this is charged with pure and intense raspberry and blackberry fruit – like a slightly reduced and unsweetened coulis. This has laser-sharp precision, purity and finesse. It builds along an arrow-like spine of acidity and limestone tannin and has the most beautiful texture with a micro-fine yet still discernible grain to the tannins. I just love the purity, freshness and radiant bright energy of this. Right at the top of the tree in 2018, exactly where it was for me en primeur.

Bellefont-Belcier (St Emilion; a fantastically situated vineyard of 13.5 hectares on the limestone plateau and a south-facing clay-limestone slope, making almost a natural amphitheatre; 68% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 12% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in a combination of oak barrels, 30% of which are new, and ovoid-shaped ceramic vessels; 14,5% alcohol). A wonderful vineyard with the most august neighbours – Pavie, Larcis-Ducasse and Tertre Roteboeuf – and, like at least part of its vineyard, on a steep upward trajectory. Tasted just after La Tour Saint Christophe, it is wonderful how different these wines are. You sense immediately the sunshine here (from this suntrap vineyard).

Bright, energetic, lifted, vibrant on the nose, with red and black cherries, redcurrants, blood oranges, garrigues herbs, baked earth and the spice-box notes that one doesn’t find with the slightly more sombre and austere La Tour Saint Christophe. Rich yet pure, very full and with a lovely tension and yet harmony. The tannins are more classic here, increasingly crumbly and flaky towards the composed finish. They impart a great sensation of flesh and grip to the mid-palate and provide a very natural transition between the svelte, soft, richness of the attack and the sappy, grippy long and tapered path to the chewy fresh grape and cherry-skin finish. Jean-Christophe Meyrou has made another fabulous wine from this top terroir that is slowly acquiring the recognition it deserves.

Bellevue (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 6.8 hectares just across the road and up the hill from Angélus on an excellent argilo-calcaire côte and plateau terroir; 100% Merlot with an average age of 40 years; aged in new oak for around 16 months; 15% alcohol). Like Carillon d’Angélus this is quite light in terms of extract and more translucent at the core than the vast majority of wines in this tasting; but it has a very fuzzy-hazy rim and is really glass-staining. A little closed at first, but very engaging and actually very aromatic when it does decide to reveal itself.

Lifted, aerial, with a herb-coated, fresh red and blueberry fruit and an interesting suggestion of fennel seed and hazelnut oil. Quite vibrant on the attack, with very fine-grained tannins that turn quite chewy and substantial in the mid-palate before breaking up on the finish a little like waves washing onto the shore (think desert island beach more than North Atlantic winter seascape!). Sappy and juicy with a very clean pure fresh fruit – but, frankly, not a great deal of complexity. It might be a little sacrilegious to say so, but I have often thought that just a little bit of Cabernet Franc would go quite a long way here!

Bellevue Mondotte (St Emilion; from a tiny vineyard of 2 hectares, an enclave of Pavie Decesse perched high up on the argilo-calcaire plateau at around 80 metres of altitude; this is owned by Gerard Perse and made by the team from Pavie; 90% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; the vines have an average age of 50 years; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; aged in new French oak barrels; pH 3.5; just over 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Olivier Gailly at Chateau Pavie. Very dark and concentrated, almost black and pretty opaque at the core, but with a lovely glossy limpidity that seems to draw towards it the bright sunlight streaming through the windows of Pavie’s tasting room.

Intensely aromatic, with a pronounced and vertical nose of raspberry compote and crushed red and black cherries, with patisserie and frangipane notes. The limestone tannins are very fine-grained and provide a broad-shouldered structural frame for this massive wine that the layered fruit already fills out very impressively. A little dense and impenetrable at this early stage, but with great amplitude and impressive concentration and just enough lift and freshness to keep this from becoming heavy. I love the cracked black pepper and walnut note on the finish.

Bellisle Mondotte (St Emilion; a little vineyard of 4.5 hectares on argilo-calcaire terroir and rather well-placed, neighbouring, as it does, La Mondotte and Tertre Roteboeuf on the steep slopes of Saint-Laurent-des-Combes; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; certified organic; 14.5% alcohol). This deserves to be better known – and if they carry on making wine like this it will be. Dark in the glass and with a lovely viscous sheen and limpidity. Wow. Rather singular and distinctive on the nose. Very pure, precise, fresh and vertical. Currants: black, red and, indeed, white, with a hint of pear drops and sandalwood. This may neighbour La Mondotte and Tertre-Roteboeuf but it is nothing like either. Intensely fresh with a very crunchy fruit and bold, chewy tannins that give this a lovely juicy, sappy quality. This has a very well formed structural frame, but it is in no sense big or rich or deep or intense. Instead we have something light, sprightly and energetic that dances very much on the top of the palate and the roof of the mouth. It is, more than anything else, refreshing. Fascinating and rather different.

Berliquet (St Emilion; from a fantastic vineyard of 10 hectares, 7.5 hectares of which are in production, on the argilo-calcaire plateau and côtes of St Emilion between Chateaux Canon and Angélus; the vines have a south and south-western exposure; this is made by the team from Chateau Canon; 78% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; final yield of 30 hl/ha; aged in new oak barrels with a medium or medium-long toasting; 14.5% alcohol). Almost opaque still at the garnet/ruby centre, with crimson highlights, evidently high viscosity and a less hazy pink rim than many. Very direct, vertical, pure and precise as befits it limestone terroir. It takes a little while for the nose to coalesce as we pass through black cherries to the more acidic and fresher notes of cassis, with even a little hint of redcurrant.

There is a deep loamy earthiness to this too, plenty of graphite minerality and a note of crushed chalk or limestone, to go with the hazelnut shells. On the palate this is bright, fresh and dynamic. The fruit clings quite tightly to the central spine of acidity and structuring limestone tannins, which are very fine-grained and increasingly crumbly to the point where they become just a touch dry right at the very end. That said, the overall impression is of a very bright, tense, energetic wine with loads of juicy sappiness. This was the first vintage made by the talented Nicolas Audebert (with Thomas Duclos as consultant) and it is a work in progress. The 2019 is better still, but don’t underestimate how good this already is!

Bernateau (St Emilion; 63% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; aged in a combination of barrels (60%), demi-muids (20%) and foudres (20%); 14.5% alcohol; certified organic; from a plateau and terraced vineyard on an argilo-calcaire terroir; tasted from a barrel sample). There’s a lot of Cabernet Franc in this and it is this that you pick up on the nose first – with that plush, damson fruit and a very strong impression of pencil shavings; a hint of cedar too. Soft and quite rich on the attack with, once again, the Cabernet Franc giving this more interest and lift than I suspect it might otherwise have. Juicy, quite fresh, but just a little indistinct in the mid-palate; the tannins, which are svelte and polished at first, come across as quite brazen in the mid-palate but are more tempered by the time the wine tapers to its long finish. This perhaps lacks a little complexity and definition, but it will certainly make for accessible relatively early drinking; excellent value.

La Bienfaisance de Chateau Sanctus (St Emilion; from a 25-hectare vineyard in St Christophe des Bardes on an argilo-calcaire terroir planted 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). This has an expressive nose of raspberry coulis, with a hint of freshly-turned earth and moss. Quite salty on the attack, with a pure, quite precise red cherry and berry fruit. A little short on the finish and lacking a bit of structure; there’s also a touch of residual sugar. Simple, but pure and focussed.

Boutisse (St Emilion; 24 hectares of vineyard on the clay limestone plateau at St Christophe des Bardes; 88% Merlot; 11% Cabernet Sauvignon; 1% Cabernet Franc and a hint of Carmanère; some vinification en barrique; 15% alcohol). This is intensely fresh, a wine with a strong argilo-calcaire plateau terroir identity. The tannins are considerable, especially for a wine that is actually quite delicate and subtle; but they are finely grained and have been very nicely managed. They give a palpable, almost physical, sense of structure to this fresh and quite acidic herby wine. Bright briary fruit – cranberries and blackberries with a little bit of blackberry leaf too. Ultra-fresh and quite croquant, more like a 2017, but with the substance and intensity of 2016.

Cadet Bon (St Emilion; a well-situated 6-hectare vineyard on the southern slope of the côte de Cadet just outside the gates of St Emilion itself on a combination of limestone (with calcified and fossilised starfish) on the plateau and clay and limestone on the côte itself; the vines have an average age of 40 years; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; with a final yield of 35 hl/ha; aged in medium-toasted oak barrels, a third of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Dark in hue – garnet with a pronounced purple rim – but seemingly quite light in extraction. This is very engaging on the nose. Bright, lifted yet subtle and gentle, with delicious red berry and cherry fruit combined with a loamy, earthy minerality and just a hint of baking spice. Gentle again on the attack with well-tempered tannins. This dances elegantly on the top of the palate, and is lighter and less dense and concentrated than most. But it is energetic, bright, pure and refined and I like it a lot. It has a lovely pure sappy saline finish. Cadet Bon? Oui, pas mal!

De Candale (St Emilion; from a south-facing vineyard of 8 hectares at the foot of the slope on clay and limestone; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 30hl/ha; the consultant is Stephane Derencourt; aged in oak, 30% new, for 12 months; 15% alcohol). Darker and a little richer than Roc de Candale and the greater proportion of Cabernet Franc brings with it additional complexity. It also brings a certain classic ‘black and blueberry fruit meets limestone’ St Emilion terroir signature which I very much like. This will reward patience and needs time to soften; but the considerable tannins are finely-grained and give impressive structure to this. Promising.

Canon (St Emilion; from 24 hectares of the 34-hectare vineyard of Chateau Canon, with the other 10 hectares dedicated to Croix Canon high on the argilo-calcaire plateau just outside St Emilion itself; the vines have a south and south-western exposure; 72% Merlot; 28% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.69; aged in oak barrels, 52% of which are new; final yield of 42 hl/ha; 14% alcohol). A little darker in hue, at least, in the glass than Bélair-Monange (tasted alongside). Oh, this is gorgeous. As is so often the case with recent vintages of Canon, there is the most beautiful deep cedar dimension to the aromatics which intermingles with the lifted, pure cassis and blueberry fruit to produce something very special indeed. That said, one actually senses that there is quite a lot more to come here, as this remains a little closed and reticent.

But what there is has a subtle calm elegance and refinement that is captivating. We have the same purity and profound freshness on the palate, which is a little more expressive (though still giving the same sensation that there is much more to come). In comparison with Bélair-Monange, the fruit is darker and more autumnal – blueberries, black raspberries and brambles – and it is a little more sombre and austere, accentuated by the slightly cool menthol element; but there is a very similar sense of brightness, energy and an internal radiance which comes directly from the purity and precision of the almost crystalline fruit. Where the Bélair-Monange is just a little spicier, the Canon is herbier and earthier. In fact they complement each another beautifully. A top wine from Nicolas Audebert once again.

Canon La Gaffelière (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 19.5 hectares at the foot of the slope, down the hill from Ausone on argilo-calcaire and argilo-sableux terroirs; 50% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; certified organic; final yield of 35 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted immediately after La Gaffelière (as one can do when the samples come to you) and no less impressive, though very different in style and personality. Actually, this looks very similar in the glass – maybe a little more towards garnet than purple at the core and slightly less glass-staining, but with a similar degree of extraction and equally limpid and viscous.

Though this is by no means an oaky wine, the nose is much more a product of the interaction with the oak. It is slightly toasted, with the cedar and graphite notes accentuated and more evident, and there is a gentle warm spiciness. Cinnamon, cumin and cloves accompany the damson, black plum and Morello cherry stone fruit. Very soft and gentle on the entry, with lovely bright dark berry and cherry fruit and a pinch or two from the spice rack. There is great power, density and concentration too – but it is nicely disguised. The tannins here are more chewy and they intermingle with the sappy fruit to bring little alternating ripples of dryness and juiciness. This, then, has a lovely texture and the overall effect is to stretch out the long finish into a distant vanishing point. Very elegant, very complete and with lovely balance and yet energy too.

Clos Cantenac (St Emilion; from a small vineyard of 5 hectares quite close to the river; 100% Merlot; aged in oak, 45% of which is new, for 12 months; 14% alcohol). More limpid and more opaque at the core than Petit Cantenac. This has a lovely red-earthy, deep dark berry, black cherry and cedar nose, with those self-same baking spice notes – cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fennel seeds and a little vanilla pod (but not too much). On the palate this is quite broad-shouldered with plenty of mid-palate intensity but also considerable energy and a bright, slightly zingy, mulberry and bramble fruit, a touch of black pen ink and a lovely herby earthy minerality. There is an engaging tension about this that I particularly like; it manages to combine substance and density with lift and energy.

Cap de Mourlin (St Emilion; 65% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14 hectares situated to the north of St Emilion on an argilo-calcaire and argilo-siliceux terroir; 14.5% alcohol). Just beautiful. Very dark and yet intensely floral on the nose. Peonies and irises and rose petals and a lovely plump rich dark berry fruit – brambles, mulberries, black raspberries and a little suggestion of glossy, crunchy black cherries too. Loamy and with a strong graphite minerality. Ultra-soft and lifted on the attack with cool filigree tannins and then a change of gear as the tannins start to bite and grip on the cheeks and the roof of the mouth whilst the fruit opens and broadens. Glorious, with great amplitude and yet great finesse too. I was not expecting this to be as good. A great wine in this vintage and something of a revelation.

Cardinal Villemaurine (St Emilion; just 3.3 hectares in production practically in the village of St Emilion itself on a terroir combining limestone plateau, clay and sandy slopes; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; yields of 25 hl/ha; 14% alcohol; aged in oak, 33% new). Purchased in September 2018 by the Leclerot family. The start of a project of modernisation of the wine-making facility and a restructuring of the vineyard itself. This is a big step up from the second wine and there has obviously been quite a strict selection here – an indication, I think, of the ambition of the new owners. There is much to admire in that, but I think this is pushed just a little too far. Bright and quite lifted on the nose, a little sweet perhaps, but full of vibrant red-berry fruit and with an interesting herby, rosemary note. But on the palate this is just a bit forced, with a big wall of unresolved and quite muscular and aggressive tannin. Promising and impressive for a first vintage; but with a slightly lighter touch this could have been better still in my view. Look out for the 2019.

Carillon d’Angélus (St Emilion; the second label of Chateau Angélus which comes from 18 hectares split over three similarly sized parcels on rather different terroirs – the first is next to Angélus itself, the second between Cheval Blanc and Figeac, and the third near Laroque on the limestone plateau; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 60% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). Limpid and with a lovely sheen, but quite light in terms of extract and with a hazy salmon pink rim. Very direct and fresh on the nose – pure, precise, quite lifted and with a distinct red fruit – plump fresh strawberries and crunchy raspberries that are only just ripe – and a slight hint of charcuterie. The oak is scarcely noticeable. On the palate this is again fresh, bright, lifted and with quite prominent flaky tannins giving that classic vertical ‘hour-glass’ shape in the mouth that is so characteristic of limestone terroirs. Pretty and very fresh, this is rather different in style from previous vintages – more stylish, more sleek, more subtle in a way, but also more slender (though it will fill out more with aging as it does with an hour in the glass). I think these are good and conscious choices, but they won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Le Carré (St Emilion; from a tiny vineyard of 1.05 hectares next to Clos Fourtet and purchased from Chateau Canon on a bed of deep clay over limestone; it was planted in 1956; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; malolactic fermentation in 80% new oak; 14.7% alcohol). Just a shade or two darker in the glass, but otherwise it looks just like Les Astéries with lots of limpidity and viscosity and a lovely capacity to catch the light. But it’s oh so very different on the nose and palate. A darker fruit – more blueberries and mulberries, maybe rosehips too, and expensive very dark black chocolate; it is earthier too – with a note that has me thinking of hot summer rain on a baked mud path. This has a glorious soft yet immediately engaging fresh fruity attack and that same sense of forward motion. The tannins are bigger, more thoroughly textural and crumblier, intermingling with the sappy fruit like breakers rolling ashore. And the chewiness of the grape-skin finish gives a lovely reminder of the calcaire tannins that are the signature of this wine. Another wine that has really benefitted massively from its élevage.

Chapelle d’Ausone (St Emilion; the second wine of Ausone; 50% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in new oak barrels for 20 months; a final yield of 37 hl/ha; only 500 cases made; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted alongside Le Petit Cheval (well, you would, wouldn’t you?), this is a couple of shades darker in hue, although still more towards the garnet/ruby/crimson end of the spectrum than most. Profoundly glass-staining and with very little evident colour set at this stage. The nose takes a little time to compose itself, but it’s glorious when it does – and could easily be Ausone itself, with all that gravelly, minerally Cabernet depth.

This is pronouncedly floral, with lilies most of all and perhaps a hint of violet and peony too, but more in the background. With more air, the complex minerality of this wine starts to reveal itself– or maybe it is just that one tunes into it better. We have alder and cedar, crushed rocks, almost a slight flinty note and a wonderfully deep, rich, plum and damson fruit. It’s difficult to draw one’s nose away from the glass – not least as this is very dynamic and extremely complex. On the palate (a little while later!), this is deep and rich but very pure and with the most velvety-textured tannins that seem to pulse – and, with each new pulsation, there is a little injection of sappy juicy pure berry fruit, a little more each time. Very long, supremely tense and lively and with the most exquisite balance. The oak, though still a discernible presence, is well on the way to melting completely into the intense and powerful fruit. Sublime.

La Chapelle de la Croix de Labrie (St Emilion; the terroir is gravel and clay, including blue clay; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol). More a second label than a second wine. Soft and yet fresh on the attack, with a touch of menthol before the dark berry and black cherry fruit kicks in. A nice waft of cedar and graphite on the nose, but also a slightly sweet-tinged spice-box and cinnamon note; with more air the oak becomes a little more prominent. There are nice choices here – the degree of extraction is just right to keep everything in balance and this stays impressively silky across the palate, finishing nicely with grape skins and a pleasing grip from the tannins. As with the 2019, this is really impressive.

Le Châtelet (St Emilion; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; malolactic fermentation in new oak and then elevage in 50% new oak; 15% alcohol). Reinstated to grand cru classé status in 2012, having been demoted in 2006, this is a little known small (3.18 hectare) property sandwiched between Clos Fourtet and Beauséjour Bécot (to which a significant part of then rather larger vineyard was sold in 1979) on a plateau terroir of calcaire à astéries. There has been significant investment and progress here in recent vintages. Deep and dark, soft and silky with a lifted herbal note on the nose. Stone fruit with an engaging crushed rock minerality, a hint of graphite and Assam tea and a twist of black pepper. Good concentration, nice and bright too and with a substantial fine-grained chewy archetypically calcaire tannin. The first time I have tasted this and I am impressed.

Chauvin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 15 hectares situated to the North West of St Emilion between Cheval Blanc and the Butte de Roi on a terroir of iron-rich sandy-clay soil on a clay sub-soil; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in oak, 60% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). Light in colour and more translucent that most. Fresh and floral – irises and violet petals – with red berry and cherry fruit and a hint of marjoram and oregano. This is very silky and gentle, with a lovely mouthfeel, nice crumbly but restrained tannins and a beautiful pure crystalline saline minerality. Very attractive and very fine.

Cheval Blanc (St Emilion; a vineyard of 39 hectares comprised of 52 parcels on a fantastic network of interlinked terroirs bordering Pomerol with 73% of the total production being selected for the grand vin; 54% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; 6% Cabernet Sauvignon; the final yield is an impressive 43 hl/ha; aged in 100% new French oak barrels; 14.5% alcohol). This is so deep, so intense, so elegant, and so wonderfully focussed – and it couldn’t be any other wine than Cheval Blanc. It exudes a very natural calm sense of authority, tranquillity and exquisite balance and harmony and it has the most sublime, if still guarded, nose of rich cedar and dark briary berry and cherry fruit.

The pure, almost crystalline, cassis, black cherry, blueberry and blackberry is accompanied by the vintage’s signature cool eucalyptus and mint with enticing hints of nutmeg, cloves and black pepper. This has great depth and weight, but at the same time it feels so effortless, aerial and lifted – and there is a wonderful forward thrust and precise focus to this; in short, it’s multi-dimensional with vertical lift, horizontal purity, as well as great breadth, depth, amplitude and length. This has great definition, almost pixilation, and its rippling tannins build to a lovely crescendo on the long finish. This is utterly exquisite if perhaps not quite as profound as the 2019 or 2016.

La Closerie de Fourtet 2018 (St Emilion; the second wine of Clos Fourtet and hence from the same 20-hectare vineyard of clay over limestone on the famous plateau just in front of the church of St Emilion; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted just after Côte de Baleau, this is a shade or two darker in hue and a shade more extracted, certainly no less glass-staining, and with lots of evident glycerine giving this a beautifully sheen and limpidity in the glass.

This does a lovely imitatation of Clos Fourtet, with pure quite lifted blueberry and cassis fruit that shouts loud and clear its plateau St Emilion limestone identity. On the palate, this is inviting soft on the attack, but the introductions are over quite quickly as this is a wine with a lot of forward momentum on the palate. The bright, briary, fruit engages quickly as one picks up the acidity and this stretches the wine out along its long mineral-coated limestone tannic spine. Very impressive for a second wine, as it tends to be. OK, this doesn’t have the complexity, richness or amplitude of the grand vin itself, but for a wine this accessible it has a very impressive structure. Vibrant, bright and highly recommended.

La Clotte (St Emilion; just 400 metres from Ausone, a vineyard of 4 hectares, only 2.5 of which are in production, on the terraced argilo-calcaire côtes of St Emilion; this a very similar south/south-east exposure to that of Ausone itself; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc; the average age of the vines is 55 years; aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months; 14.5% alcohol). Almost opaque at its garnet/violet core, strongly glass-staining and with a radiant pink if still, as yet, ill-formed rim. This was fabulous, I recall, en primeur and it’s at least as good now. An earthy mineral-rich nose showcasing a very pure and lifted raspberry fruit, with a little bit of red cherry too. On the palate this is plump, rich and creamy and with a gentle sweet plummy spicy fruit – with Chinese five spice and hoisin as well as a lovely note of lavender. The tannins are ultra-soft and refined and so svelte that the effect is to bring creaminess and depth to the texture rather than any grain or crumbliness. Long and elegant on the finish, this is a very stylish, lively and exquisitely balanced wine.

La Commanderie (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 4 hectares of south-facing vines on the St Emilion plateau on a gravel, iron-rich sand and clay terroir; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; malolactic fermentation split 50:50 between wood and concrete vats; aging in oak for 16 months, 50% of which is new;14% alcohol). Tasted immediately after Roc de Candale and de Candale, this is deeper and darker still, with more graphite and cedar notes; the fruit is bramblier and plummier (neither of which, my word processing software insists, are words) and there is a pleasing gravelly earthiness to this that is absent from the other Decoster wines. The tannins are fine-grained but substantial and will need time to soften, but there is considerable potential here for those prepared to defer instant gratification.

La Confession (St Emilion; 71% Merlot; 27% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; a vineyard of 7.34 hectares on an argilo-siliceux and argilo-calcaire slope to the north of St Emilion; a final yield of 41 hl/ha; malolactic fermentation and aging in oak, barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). A little difficult to assess and, frankly, a little disjointed at this stage. Rich, powerful and slightly sweet on the nose, with powerful baked plum and blueberry compote fruit, this has a pronounced ferrous-saline minerality as well as a touch of red liquorice and a suggestion of vanilla. Quite broad on the attack but lacking delineation, definition and focus despite the not inconsiderable tannins. These grip on and line one’s cheeks but without ever seeming to provide a core or spine on which the fruit can coalesce and unfurl. The result is a wine that is somewhat foursquare, monotone and edgy. It might just need time, but at present this lacks freshness and precision and leaves my palate confused.

Corbin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 13 hectares on a clay and clay-sand soil over an iron-rich clay subsoil; 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 42 hl/ha; aged for the first time in 50% French new oak barrels and 50% in vats to increase the freshness and precision and to reduce the influence of the oak; 15% alcohol). A shade or two darker in the glass, which much more viscosity, than the second wine, this is significantly more complex on the nose – blueberries, black raspberries, mulberries and rose petals, with a hint of walnut and a dry twist or two of black pepper. With a little more air one picks up the distinct hints of the graphite and stony minerality that will come through with more maturity. This has a lovely mouth-feel – svelte, cashmere tannins but without the menthol-cool almost anaesthetic quality that often accompanies them in this vintage. This is very tactile and one can almost feel the grain of the tannin changing as the wine unfurls in the mouth. Quite subtle, elegant and refined more than powerful and with a lovely poise and balance. There is a change in the wine-making here and it works for me. Very fresh, very dynamic and very attractive.

Corbin Michotte (St Emilion; 65% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; a vineyard of 7 hectares bordering Pomerol on a unique terroir comprised of a sandy-lime topsoil resting on ‘crasse de fer’ (the famous iron-rich clay subsoil); 14.5% alcohol). Different from the other wines of this part of the appellation, neighbouring Pomerol. This is darker and earthier, with more graphite and a ferrous minerality that is actually better integrated into the wine itself; and it is herbier too – with wild thyme and garrigues notes. Just a touch sweet for me on the nose and the palate – the fresh raspberry and mulberry fruit I really like, but there’s a hint of bubble-gum, Palma violets, Turkish delight and even candyfloss that I find slightly jarring. With air, vanilla and caramel notes too. Not terribly dense or, indeed, very long, but with a nice balance nonetheless. Interesting and different, but I find the hint of sweetness a little discombobulating.

Côte de Baleau (St Emilion; a vineyard of 11 hectares next to Chateau Laniote on an argilo-calcaire terroir; this has been owned since 2013 by the Cuvelier family of Clos Fourtet and is in conversion to organic wine-making; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of just 24 hl/ha with significant loss to mildew; pH 3.4; aged in French oak barrels, 20% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Now reliably excellent and often overlooked. Almost opaque at its garnet/purple core; intensely glass-staining, leaving fuzzy blue/pink traces; quite viscous. A peppery nose with raspberry coulis and summer pudding. This has a lovely almost structural vein of acidity down the spine around which the focussed and precise fresh sappy fruit coalesces. Quite rich, with slightly chalky tannins on the finish and a nice grip at the top of the palate. Not especially complex, but this is all about the intense and vibrant fruit; a success in the vintage and likely to represent excellent value.

La Couspaude (St Emilion; a vineyard of 7 hectares next to Trottevieille on the argilo-calcaire plateau close to the town walls of St Emilion itself; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months; 14.5% alcohol). By the standards of this vintage, if not perhaps some previous ones, this sees quite a lot of oak. But there is definitely enough flesh here for the fruit to come out on top. Crimson more than garnet, quite extracted and with a radiant robe, this has an interesting and complex nose of red cherry, red cherry preserve and sour red cherries (it almost seems more Barolo than St Emilion), with Asian spices, above all star anise, almonds, spearmint and a slight earthy minerality too. On the palate there are more Italianate notes – that sour cherries and preserved plums element from the nose and a gentle earthy-herbyness. Quite light in substance, but with plenty of freshness. This needs a little more time to knit together and I find the quite pronounced vein of acidity, especially on the finish, just a little distracting. A wine I’d like to re-taste in six months’ time. At this stage I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

Coutet Les Demoiselles Cuvée Emeri (St Emilion; from a tiny part of unique vineyard of 16 hectares, of which just 11.5 is planted, on an argilo-calcaire terroir neighbouring Angélus, Bellevue, the two Beauséjours and Franc Mayne; 50% Merlot; 50% Bouchet [Cabernet Franc]; a vineyard that has always been farmed organically, now with biodynamic certification too; the average age of the vines is 84 years; 13.5% alcohol). Sadly, due to mildew, there was is no Chateau Coutet itself in 2018. But there is this utterly wonderful micro-cuvée – though only a few hundred cases were produced (5000 bottles). This is a wine that, until 6 months ago, I had never heard of. It is wonderful. Viscous and limpid – almost more so than any other wine in the vintage from St Emilion (which is already saying something) – it’s as if someone had polished the surface of this and painted on crimson, ruby and purple highlights. A fascinating nose that is both soft and supple but also bright and engaging.

The first thing that one notes is just how expressively floral this is– rose petals, hyacinths, wild flowers and a sort of warm saffron note. This accompanies an extremely harmonious but at the same time very complex fruit profile – blueberries, raspberry coulis, mulberries, plums and cherries but also rosehips and sunflower seeds too. On the palate this is super-soft and cool at first … but only at first. For the experience is like walking through a small crack in the high wall surrounding a summer garden into a beautiful natural vista one was not expecting. The wine explodes on the palate in a profusion of tastes – a sort of natural firework show of floral, fruity and mineral sensations. It is difficult to describe, but unlike any other wine of the vintage – in St Emilion or any other appellation for that matter. ‘Wow’ doesn’t quite do this justice!

Couvent des Jacobins (St Emilion; from a 10.7-hectare vineyard encompassing the limestone plateau, sandy-clay over limestone, sandy-clay and clay and limestone; 82% Merlot; 11% Cabernet Franc; 7% Petit Verdot; a final yield of just 22 hl/ha; certified organic in 2020; 14.5% alcohol). The best vintage I have tasted from a property whose progression in recent vintages is quite remarkable (I was recently lucky enough to taste a series of even number vintages from 2008 onwards). Yes, it’s very dense and compact and it has a signature rusty, ferrous minerality that verges on the rustic. But, it also has a lovely lifted herby freshness and zing. The effect is to turn genuine terroir traits that were previously holding this wine back into advantages. Spicy baked plums and blueberries, a twist of pepper and bouquet garni, with hints of Chinese five spice and cinnamon. Sappy, juicy and with a lovely mouthfeel, this is really promising. A long and nicely focussed finish too. Very fine.

Croix Canon (St Emilion; though this is the second wine of Chateau Canon it in fact comes from around 10 hectares of separate, yet contiguous, parcels on the slope down towards Angélus; it is vinified in the 12th century Chapelle de Mazerat which features on the label; planted 65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 38% of which are new; pH 3.69; the final yield was around 42 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). I really liked this en primeur and I really like it now; this is such a good ‘second label’ (it is really more that than a second wine per se) and it is really worth looking out for. Creamy, quite rich, and beautifully cedary on the nose (as it often is), there is a lovely engaging dark plum and berry fruit and a mossy, sous bois, loamy earthiness, with just a suggestion of baking spices, possibly even Chinese five spice too. This of course lacks the fruit density and delineation of Canon itself on the palate, but the tannins are fine-grained and crumbly and this is lively, bright and intensely fruity. The quality of the terroir should not be underestimated here and no one who knows anything about it would question the quality of the wine-making – that makes for an exciting combination.

La Croix de Labrie (St Emilion; from 5.6 hectares of parcels in Rocheyron, Puymouton and Badon (the latter at the foot of the Pavie slope), on a combination of principally argilo-calcaire terroirs; 90% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Cabernet Franc; just 9000 bottles; pH 3.46; a final yield of just 20 hl/ha; certified organic winemaking; aged in new oak for 18 months; 14.5% alcohol). Very glossy, with a lovely sheen in the morning late winter/early spring sunshine. Medium extraction with a glass-staining lilac rim and a ruby/garnet core. A beautiful rich and deep earthy-herby nose, with an equally deep and rich dark autumnal berry fruit – blueberries, brambles and blackberries. This is quite floral too – violets and peonies – and very light and aerial. A touch of walnut oil and a little hint of vanilla. Plush, opulent and yet elegant too. The most beautifully svelte tannins – ultra-fine grained and building in grain and texture through the mid-palate to a super-long chewy, crumbly and actually quite tannic finish. More cedar notes on the palate at this stage than the nose. This is fabulous and on a par with the excellent 2019.

Clos de la Cure (St Emilion; from 7.5 hectares on a clay topsoil over a limestone sub-soil, with parcels on the plateaux of St Christophe des Bardes and St Etienne de Lisse; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; aged for 12-15 months in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; alcohol 15.5%). This has a strange but interesting nose – flint, crushed rocks, raw mushrooms (champignons de Paris and dried trompettes de mort), bracken and, most strangely of all, black radish. With air, the black cherry and ripe black currant fruit is more prominent and a hint of wood smoke emerges. I rather like the sense of calm austerity and authority as this slowly breathes and comes to life – all in its own time. Svelte and gentle on the attack and with quite considerable but impressively dense and finely-grained tannins. Less rich and broad-shouldered than I was expecting from the (dark) colour and the quite elevated alcohol level (which, actually, I scarcely notice in the wine itself), but the frame and structure are there and with air this starts to fill out nicely. This exceeds my expectations.

D de Dassault (St Emilion; on a sandy clay terroir on the northern slopes of the appellation; 75% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted alongside Relais de la Dominique, this is much darker in tone and a little more austere, the Cabernet much more in evidence. Plums and brambles with a more herbal note and walnuts too. Somewhat bigger, bolder on the attack and with more evident tannin, rather more stuffing and a longer finish. But it is neither as fresh nor as vibrant. Ready to drink and nicely balanced.

Dassault (St Emilion; from a vineyard in which 20 hectares are in current production; on a combination of sandy clay and clay on Fronsac molasse; 75% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in 70% new oak; vines average age of 27 years; 14.5% alcohol). Crimson/garnet at the core, quite glossy and with a pronounced and almost translucent lavender/pink rim. This has a beautiful nose, not entirely unlike the Faurie de Souchard (though these were tasted a couple of days apart).

There’s a lovely expressive pencil shaving note here alongside a deep, dark, rich, black cherry, cassis, bramble and damson fruit and a touch of salty sea mist and black pepper – a lovely combination and very nicely integrated. One of those wines you almost don’t need to taste to appreciate. There is a lovely fine balance to this. Very vibrant and fresh on the palate despite the extremely svelte and refined tannins – and that gives this an exciting tension and dynamism. Flaky, crumbly tannins that seem to release little gobbets of juicy fruit just at precisely the point when you expect this to turn a little dry. It doesn’t and that contributes both to its long tapered finish and to its lovely sapidity. Rather moreish and excellent with it.

Daugay (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 5.5 hectares at the foot of the southern and south-western part of the Saint-Emilion slope, largely on an argilo-calcaire terroir; 63% Merlot; 32% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 16 months in oak, 25% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). White pepper, nutmeg, blackberries and cherries, hedgerow flowers and a loamy-clay soil note. Quite fresh on the palate, but the tannins are just a little harsh. Lacks a little mid-palate density, but has a nice cool, chewy grape-skin finish, with a hint of fresh mint too.

Destieux (St Emilion; a vineyard of 8.12 hectares situated on one of the two highest parts of the appellation on an argilo-calcaire plateau terroir; 66% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Franc; 17% Cabernet Sauvignon; malolactic fermentation and élevage in 100% new oak; 14.5% alcohol). More crimson than garnet with a hazy purple rim and rather more visually evolved than most at this early stage. Baking spices, vanilla pod, cinnamon Danish pastry, black cherries, blackcurrant, plum compote, a little hint of cedar and toasted hazelnuts – the sweet and spicy notes from the oak being quite prominent. Round and quite gentle, with a pronounced and immediately noticeable marine yet ferrous minerality accompanying the black cherries; quite sweet too, with a hint of butterscotch or caramel au beurre salé. The tannins, though fine-grained are just a little dry and discordant and I pick up a little heat on the finish. This is fine, but I’d have preferred a little less oak.

Divin de Corbin (St Emilion; the second wine of Chateau Corbin from a vineyard of 13 hectares on a clay and clay-sand soil over an iron-rich clay subsoil; 100% Merlot; 14.5% alcohol). Translucent and quite light in the glass – with a crimson/garnet core. Raspberries and brambles on the nose. Bright, honest, direct and fruity. The tannins have quite a nice granularity and they grip on the roof of the mouth, helping to give this a nice sense of structure and some length. This of course lacks the density and complexity of many of the first wines tasted, but it has a strong St Emilion identity and personality and its purity and freshness deserve to win it admirers.

Le Dôme (St Emilion; a tiny vineyard of 3.2 hectares on a sand over crasse de fer terroir adjacent to Chateau Angélus and once a part of Vieux Chateau Mazerat; 80% Cabernet Franc; 20% Merlot; malolactic fermentation and élevage in 80% new oak; tiny yields with two green harvests; pH 3.83; 14.3% alcohol). Definitely on the lighter end of the spectrum in terms of extract and a little more evolved than some, with garnet, ruby and crimson highlights and with the fifty shades of purple of en primeur all gone. A beautiful and quite distinct nose of limestone St Emilion (as distinct from Pomerol) Cabernet Franc – blueberries and a hint of cinnamon and that lovely signature graphite minerality with a suggestion of green tea too and cedar (with more to come with bottle age) – and, finally, just a touch of vanilla spice and flambéed langoustine shell (an interaction between the oak and the slightly marine-iodine minerality).

This is deceptively light and aerial and it almost seems to glide on a magic-carpet of filigree tannins over the palate rather than actually making contact with any surface. But there is depth and concentration here, too, it is just that it is extremely well disguised. Very pure, very precise and actually rather more accessible, even at this very early stage, than many of Jonathan Maltus’ portfolio. But it remains the star of the show, even if all of the supporting cast deserve lengthy ovations too. The exquisitely fine-grained tannins interweave beautifully with the minerality on the finish.

La Dominique (St Emilion; an impressively situated vineyard of 23 hectares between Cheval Blanc and Evangile on the northern boundary of the appellation with Pomerol on a mixed terroir of gravel-clay, clay-limestone and sand over clay; 85% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; pH of 3.65; 14.5% alcohol). Very dark in colour and almost opaque at its garnet, almost black, core and with a pronounced and still ill-defined pink-purple rim. Pretty, if still a little closed on the nose, but with plenty of creamy-textured herb-encrusted plum and berry fruit and with an interesting spit-roast lamb meaty note too. Plush and full and yet wonderfully fresh and engaging on the attack, with plenty of saline minerality and a touch of cedar and alder. Probably the most vibrant and energetic La Dominique that I have tasted.

Dragon de Quintus (St Emilion; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 41.1 hl/ha; aged in oak, 30% new; 14.8% alcohol). From parcels that were formerly part of Chateaux Tertre Daugay and L’Arrosée. Interesting, suave and very elegant. Red cherry and raspberry fruit and a little patisserie note – frangipane, almond paste, toasted almonds – and a touch of rosemary too. On the palate more raspberry than red cherry, quite bright with a soft and well-tempered tannin. Pretty and elegant with a very glossy mouthfeel, but light and with much less body and density than Quintus itself. That said, this has harmony and a sense of refined composure that shows its class. Stylistically one can almost see the link to Chapelle de la Mission.

Clos Dubreuil (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 6.6 hectares on the plateau on a limestone terroir at St Christophe des Bardes; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; 15.5% alcohol). This is something of a block-bluster and not, perhaps, for the faint of heart; but it’s rather wonderful too. Amazingly glass-staining, pretty much opaque at the black/purple centre, very viscous and glossy and with a radiant almost fluorescent pink rim that it’s actually difficult to differentiate from the pink stain it leaves on the glass itself.

Slightly reductive at first, but then we get a big splash of dark black cherry fruit accompanied by fresh pencil shavings (from one of those motorised pencil sharpeners attached to the teacher’s desk for those of you old enough to remember such a thing), crème de marron and walnut shells. On the palate, more of the same really, but with a degree of plush opulence reinforced by the cashmere softness of the tannins. Black forest gateau, fresh black cherries and walnut oil. Long, intense, ultra-rich and very succulent. And with just about enough freshness to give this lift and energy and to stop it becoming all just a little too much. You get the idea!

L’Eclat de Valentin (St Emilion; 67% Merlot; 33% Cabernet Franc; a selection of old-vine parcels of around 1 hectare on an argilo-calcaire terroir; certified organic since 2015; aged in 100% new Allier barrels for 16 months; 14.5% alcohol). Very pure and finely chiselled with a taut and tightly focussed clean pure red-shading-to-darker berry fruit – raspberries, mulberries, brambles; and with air we pick up more blueberry notes from the big dollup of Cabernet Franc. Lifted, vertical and very much a wine from an argilo-calaire terroir – one can almost taste the limestone. Nice graphite notes too and a little suggestion of sandalwood and cedar and walnuts too. Fresh, bright and intensely fruity.

L’Eminence de Cardinal Villemaurine (St Emilion; there are 3.3 hectares under vine here on the clay and sandy slopes; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 25 hl/ha; aged in oak, 50% of 1 use, 50% of 2; 14.5% alcohol). This has a strangely funky nose – earthy, farmyard scents and baked damsons, with a hint of marjoram. On the palate, bright red berry fruit – raspberries and strawberries – but not a great deal else. A little thin, and the tannins are both rather punchy and ever so slightly drying on the finish. The property was purchased in September 2018, presumably just before the grapes for this were harvested. All things considered, not a bad start.

L’Esprit de Jean Voisin (St Emilion; 95% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; aged in 10% new oak; 14% alcohol). This has an attractive baked fruit, blueberry and quite earthy nose. Slightly sweet on the palate, with prominent cherry and frangipane notes and decent substance for a second wine. This is quite ample on the attack, but the downside of that is there is quite an aggressive tannic hit in the mid-palate which never really subsides; this is good, but a slightly more delicate extraction would have made for something more accessible I think.

Faugères (St Emilion; from a 37-hectare vineyard on a combination of the limestone plateau (asteria limestone subsoil) and a limestone and clay slope (limestone soil on clay-limestone molasse); 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in oak for 14 months, 50% of which is new; average age of the vines 35 years; 14.5% alcohol). This has a nice limpid viscosity in the glass, accentuated by its deep rich garnet hue. Very stylish. A little bit of smoke, a twist of pepper (but no more) and a bright dark blueberry and bramble fruit, with a hint of a freshly made and unsweetened raspberry coulis and liquorice stem. On the palate this is a little slender, quite cool and fresh on the attack but the chewy, crumbly limestone tannins give plenty of grip and bite to the fruit. What it perhaps lacks in mid-palate density it more than makes up for in elegance and refinement.

Faurie de Souchard (St Emilion; a vineyard of 12 hectares on the northern slopes of St Emilion, on a combination of clay and sandy clay terroirs; 70% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in oak barrels, 75% of which are new for 14 to 16 months depending on the plot; 14% alcohol). Not to be confused with Petit Faurie de Soutard or Petit Soutard and made by the team from Chateau Dassault. Dark in the glass, but actually more translucent than you might imagine with a garnet core and almost fluorescent lavender/pink rim and lots of glycerine. A touch of cedar and the darkest and smoothest of dark chocolates accompanying the soft, gentle black cherries, blueberries, violets and irises.

With a little more air the vanilla pod note from the oak is more evident and tends to dominate, but with time this will knit together beautifully I think. Very opulent on the attack but before this fans out on the palate the tannins rein it back just a little, giving this a very impressive sense of tension and structure and a very interesting mouthfeel and texture. But what I like most about this is the really chewy grape and cherry skin finish and the sensation, that comes with that, that the (considerable) length is sustained by the tannins from the skins alone. There is a lovely poise and harmony to this and the finish is asymptotic.

De Ferrand (St Emilion; a comparatively large vineyard of 32 hectares on the top of the argilo-calcaire plateau at Saint-Hippolyte at an altitude of over 100 metres on a mix of clay, sand and limestone soils; 73% Merlot; 27% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). The progression here in recent vintages is remarkable, aided by the introduction of a second wine and stricter selection for the grand vin from 2017. Quite light in the glass and translucent at its crimson core, accentuating its glossy limpidity and with a hazy pink/purple rim.

Direct and lifted on the nose with a lovely vertical streak of graphite alongside the slightly earthy late summer briary fruit. Ample yet silky and soft on the attack, with a ripe dark berry and cherry fruit and a hint of tobacco leaf. This opens nicely as it unfurls, gaining in substance and opulence as it does so. The tannins, too, are very fine-grained imparting a crumbly texture to the mid-palate and the finish – which is fresh and lifted and very much at the top of the palate and on the roof of the mouth. Stylish and elegant but with an impressive core of compact, rich, dense dark berry fruit coalescing around a central vein of acidity. A property on a rapid ascent whose wines remain very affordable.

Figeac (St Emilion; from a unique and distinctive 54-hectare vineyard of which around 40 hectares are planted on a Guntzian gravel terroir; 37% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 33% Cabernet Sauvignon; this was aged in new French oak barrels for around 16 months; pH 3.7; 14% alcohol). This is much more closed than it was en primeur and it really needs some time and encouragement to open. The tannins, especially when one considers that Cabernet makes up nearly two-thirds of the blend for this wine, are immensely soft and seductive and the overall impression is of a golden fist in a velvet glove. Dark berry fruit – blackberries, brambles, blueberries and mulberries – with loads of graphite, a touch of cedar and the vibrant intensity of the first summer rain that breaks the drought.

A lovely floral note too – violets, irises and gladioli (Dame Edna Everage would adore this!). Lots of good choices were made here in the temporary wine-making facility put in place whilst the new chai was built (it’s now complete and fully operational). The wine is fresh and to have kept it to 14% alcohol is impressive (the 2016 was already at 13.9%). En primeur this was, for me, a rather inky, impenetrable and monolithic wine in which one has the slight impression of wine-making techniques being deployed to counteract and compensate for the excesses of the vintage. But its élevage has transformed it. It still has the same amazing mid-palate density and intensity. But now that it is in bottle, I find it much more focussed and chiselled, complex and layered. Not perhaps quite as crystalline and pixilated as the 2019, but very similar in style and quality to the 2016 and, dare I suggest, full of premier grand cru classé A potential!

La Fleur Cardinale (St Emilion; a vineyard of 23.5 hectares on the northern rim of the argilo-calcaire plateau of St Emilion in the commune of Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse; 74% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; 4% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). Dark hued – purple/garnet core, hazy pink rim, quite extracted and almost opaque at the centre. A gorgeous dark-hued briary fruit nose with a mossy, herby, loamy earthiness and a twist or two of black pepper. Quite creamy with glossy gossamer chalky limestone tannins; very polished and suave. This has a lovely juiciness to it as it glides across the palate. Very elegant, very pure and another top St Emilion whose style has evolved in recent vintages towards something very precise, pure, focussed and with great finesse and balance.

La Fleur Morange (St Emilion; from a 4-hectare vineyard in three blocks on iron-rich argilo-calcaire côtes terroirs; 100-year old vines; established in 1999 and yet elevated to Grand Cru Classé status in the 2012 St Emilion reclassification; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 15% alcohol). Limpid in the glass, translucent at the garnet/crimson core and with a very hazy lilac/pink rim. A simple but bright nose of red berry fruit – raspberries and wild strawberries, with the slightest suggestion of black or even white currant too, with its more pronounced acidity.

This has a bright, quick pick-up on the palate, with plenty of fresh acidity and a very natural sweetness that comes entirely from the fruit; it is also bright, energetic and aerial. The tannins also build quite quickly in grain and texture and this becomes very chewy on the finish, almost to the point of turning dry. But, in the end, there is just enough sappiness and freshness to hold that in check (unlike the second wine, where I think this has been pushed just a step too far). Above all, this is bright and energetic with an impression sense of tension.

La Fleur Pourret (St Emilion; a little vineyard of 4.5 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir that is owned by Domaines Manoncourt of Chateau Figeac and situated 250 metres from the western gates of St Emilion; 54% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; 6% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 15-18 months in oak; 14.5% alcohol). A nicely mineral-inflected nose, with ripe plum and black raspberry fruit. The tannins are finely-grained and quite grippy but without ever becoming raspy and there is good mid-palate density and length here. Not as refined, delineated or precise and focussed as either de Millery or the Figeac wines themselves, but this is finely balanced, accessible and will make for a very enjoyable distraction whilst the Figeac ages gracefully in the cellar.

Folie de Chauvin (St Emilion; 14% alcohol). The second wine of Sylvie Cazes’ Chateau Chauvin. Light, bright and exactly what a second wine should be. It’s not got any great concentration or intensity, but I’d much rather that than a wine of this kind pushing the extraction envelope. The result is a wine that is balanced, fresh, pure and instantly appealing, with a delicate soft tannin.

Fombrauge (St Emilion; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; a vineyard of 58 hectares at Saint Christophe des Bardes on an argilo-calcaire and molasses du fransadais terroir; 16 months of aging in barrel, 40% of which is new; 14,5% alcohol). Plush and very ‘Bernard Magrez’ – there is even something of Pape Clement about this! Rich, plump, spicy and yet lively, fresh and peppery with impressively refined tannins. Dried flowers and pot pourri accompany red and black cherry fruit with hints of blueberries; chocolate too – almost black forest gateau. Powerful and with considerable density and intensity in the mid-palate. A fresh spicy peppery finish. The wood is quite noticeable but will bed in with time. Maybe not to everyone’s taste and quite modern in style but it’s difficult not to be impressed.

De Fonbel (St Emilion; 70% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Carmanère; a vineyard of 16 hectares to the South of St Emilion on a terroir of gravel, sand and sandy-clay; 14% alcohol; owned by the Vauthier family of Chateau Ausone). Bright, energetic and lifted – much more so than en primeur when I found it rather sombre and closed. It’s as if it’s added an additional – vertical – dimension. Soft and gentle with finely polished refined tannins. Plums and red cherries with a lovely herbal note and a gentle yet persistent ferrous minerality. Quite nutty, like many of the Vauthier wines in this vintage. Excellent, if not, of course as complex as their more famous crus. But I honestly don’t think I’ve tasted a better vintage of this.

Fonplégade (St Emilion; a comparatively large vineyard of 18.4 hectares farmed biodynamically on a mosaic of limestone and clay terroirs; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 27 hl/ha; aged in a combination of new oak (60%), oak of one year (30%) and concrete egg-shaped vessels (10%); 14.5% alcohol). Interesting and rather different. Very vertical and pure on the nose, with quite a pronounced fresh acidity. Redcurrants, blackcurrant leaf, rose hip, candied violets and walnuts skins. Intense, pulpy and fleshy, with lots of grip and bite.

A bit firm and closed, almost austere; but one can sense the potential energy – this is a bit of a caged lion at the moment. Marked by a prominent, almost pulsating, vein of acidity that stretches out along the quite pronounced structural spine and by both its graphite minerality and its marine-saline character. Very pure and focussed but at the same time quite chunky and substantial with a considerable tannic presence. An impressive vin de garde that will definitely reward patience. At this stage, one needs a little imagination to project where this will end up. It will be interesting to follow how this evolves.

Fonroque (St Emilion; a vineyard of 16.1 hectares of plateau and cotes argilo-calcaire terroirs; 82% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; aged in oak, 30% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol; certified organic and biodynamic). Sandalwood, red cherries and almond paste, this is soft, gentle and very harmonious and well-integrated on the nose. A cashmere entry on the palate, with a crisp, bright slightly herb-tinged red cherry and berry fruit. Nice crumbly limestone tannins and loads of energy. Very attractive; this will be approachable young.

Clos Fourtet (St Emilion; from a 20-hectare vineyard of clay over limestone on the famous plateau just in front of the church of St Emilion; 90% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 33 hl/ha; aged in oak, 60% of which is new; 14% alcohol). The uncrushed grapes were immersed in the must to give a particularly gentle extraction. Darker than most in terms of both hue and colour-density and still very much at the purple-black rather than garnet-ruby end of the spectrum.

This has a soft and gentle archetypically Clos Fourtet nose – lots of deep soft dark fleshy berry fruit – fruits of the forest, brambles, blackberries and blueberries, with a lovely graphite minerality and that sensation of rain on a limestone gravel path. This is gorgeous on the palate too – seductively soft with velvety tannins and a more focussed and pure blueberry, damson and cassis fruit than I recall from en primeur; there’s a nice pepperiness too and a super-sappy fresh juicy finish with a nice chewiness from the tannins right at the end giving this fantastic length. I liked this very much en primeur, but it is even better now – with a little more mid-palate density on the one hand and even greater clarity, freshness and focus on the other. Another fabulous wine from the Cuvelier family.

La Gaffelière (St Emilion; a selection of 22 hectares of the 38-hectare vineyard on a combination of plateau, côte and pied de côte argilo-calcaire terroirs; 58% Merlot; 42% Cabernet Franc; pH of 3.64; aged for 14 months in oak, of which 60% is new; 14.5% alcohol). This is the 60th consecutive vintage produced by Comte Léo de Malet Rocquefort at La Gaffelière and, to celebrate this, the label is a reproduction of that used for the 1959 vintage (and rather beautiful it is too). Very dark hued – with violet and purple highlights in the early spring sunshine – though not especially dense or extracted and more translucent than many at the core. Intensely glass-staining, giving the impression that the colour has really yet to set.

A very stylish, sleek, classic and classy plateau St Emilion nose – lots of graphite minerality, and a stony-rocky-earthiness, a dark rich plum and blackberry fruit and a hint of the cedar to come. But there is also the strong sensation that this is not yet showing all that it has to offer. Pure, precise, focussed and nicely layered, this builds slowly and effortlessly on the palate, staying fresh and vibrant as the layers and the archetypally limestone tannins build together. This finishes high on the roof of the mouth, with a little dry tannin in the cheeks. Very elegant, rather accomplished and probably the best La Gaffelière I can recall – though the 2019 is excellent too.

Clos La Gaffelière (St Emilion; from parcels at the foot of the slope of around 16 hectares from the 38-hectare vineyard of La Gaffèliere; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; pH of 3.64; aged for 12 months in oak, of which 15% is new; 14% alcohol). Quite light in terms of extraction with a garnet core and slightly hazy pink-violet rim. Herby ripe fresh red berry fruit – raspberry coulis, loganberries and a hint of eucalyptus oil and freshly turned soil and just a suggestion of black pepper. On the palate this is bright and actually more peppery still, with the same predominantly raspberry fruit. The tannins are a little edgy, but they give this an impressive structure for a second wine. Pure, precise and with a crumbly, chewy tannic finish, but one that I find just a little drying.

Godeau (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 3.5 hectares, close to Tertre-Roteboeuf and La Mondotte, on a clay-limestone slope in Saint-Laurent des Combes; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, a third of which are new, for 18 months; 14,5% alcohol). One of the final samples to arrive; but it’s always worth waiting for Godeau! Glossy and limpid in the glass, though still largely translucent at its crimson/garnet core. Fresh, pure redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit on the nose – almost reminiscent of Ribena – and again on the palate; with a little more air this becomes lovely a focussed cassis.

There’s a very pleasant grippy-graspy calcaire/chalky texture to the tannins that I really like here and that helps to give this more interest and delineation in the mid-palate – compensating in part for a rather simple if pure cherry and cassis fruit profile. There are little hints of lavender, baking spices and almond purée but what I like about this is that it remains more savoury and salty than sweet. Decent body and substance and a nice sense of balance. Another excellent 2018 from an estate that deserves to be better known.

Domaine des Gourdins (St Emilion; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; a small vineyard of 1.8 hectares at the gates of Libourne on a terroir of flinty sand and iron-rich gravel; Vignobles Estager; 14% alcohol; aged for 15 months in oak barrels, 30% of which are new). That this is vinified at Chateau La Cabanne (in Pomerol) explains why it is not identified as a St Emilion Grand Cru. Quite lively but a little feral and funky on the nose. A bit sweet and sour too – raspberry compote and hoisin, with a little note of Chinese five spice – and with slightly harsher tannins than the other Estager wines. There is also a pronounced ferrous note. At this stage, not altogether harmonious (unlike, say, the sleek and stylise Domaine de Gachet). It does settle down with a little air; but I am not sure that this is the best sample. I’d like to re-taste this.

Grace Dieu des Prieurs (St Emilion; a vineyard of 7 hectares on a terroir of sand and clay about half way between Figeac and the town of St Emilion itself; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; yields of just 19 hl/ha; malolactic fermentation in barrel and then aged in 100% new Radoux Blend barriques for 20 months; the wine-maker and vineyard manager is Louis Mitjavile; 14% alcohol). I think I would pick this quite easily blind. A wine with heaps of personality and interest. On the nose, it’s not difficult to detect the presence of the Radoux Blend casks, but this doesn’t have the Tertre Roteboeuf signature.

In a way it’s a little more subtle and its profile is actually rather more Pomerol than St Emilion. Spicy, quite exotic, with turmeric, crushed cardamom and fennel seeds, cloves and that hint of Turkish delight and rosewater that is becoming the signature of Grace Dieu des Prieurs. On the palate this is much more red and blue fruit than, say, Tertre Roteboeuf, with fraise des bois, raspberries, blueberries and red cherries. The tannins are soft and fine-grained, even if they do not have quite the cashmere elegance of the 2019. That said, they’re pretty impressively svelte – all the more so with air, for the wine builds as it opens, filling out its initially more skeletal tannic frame very well indeed. This is very dynamic and energetic and quite unlike anything else from the appellation.

Grand Corbin (St Emilion; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; from a vineyard of 28.5 hectares on a terroir of silica over blue clay; 14.5% alcohol). This has a slightly strange almost marine/saline nose – hoisin, baked plums and soy and, strangely, bubble-gum. This is not so much sweet and sour as sweet and salty, with a pronounced ferrous minerality too. Dark and with a pleasingly soft entry. But it lacks much of a sense of transition, progression or even evolution between the attack, the mid-palate and the finish and so comes across as somewhat monotonic. Raspberries, loganberries and brambles with hoisin and Chinese five spice and a slightly raspy finish.

Grand Corbin-Despagne (St Emilion; from a 28.8-hectare vineyard close to the border with Pomerol on a siliceous clay soil over an iron-rich blue clay sub-soil; 75% Merlot; 24% Cabernet Franc; 1% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 34 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Hazy pink-purple rim; garnet core. Slightly firm and closed on the nose, but with air this opens nicely to reveal ripe peppery fresh berry fruit – raspberries, brambles and blackberries with a lovely note of fresh Piedmont hazelnuts. There’s a sort of rusty gate ferrous mineral note on the nose and it is mirrored on the palate. Seductively soft on the entry, quite plump and rich and with fine-grained yet chewy and almost slightly salty tannins, giving a nice sensation of both freshness and length on the finish. On the palate the fruit is rich – plums, cherries and brambles – and there are hints of tobacco leaf and liquorice. This finishes super sappy and salivating and very much at the top of the palate. A good combination of finesse and power.

Grand Corbin Manuel (St Emilion; 76% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; 12% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5 hectares in the north west of the appellation close to the border with Pomerol on blue clay and ancient sand on clay; 14.5% alcohol; Vignobles de Gaye). Fresher, brighter and a little more vertical than most of the wines of this part of the appellation. Red berry fruit – raspberries, wild strawberries and red cherries, with a pleasant hint of freshly hulled almonds. Soft, svelte and nicely granular tannins which bring an almost physical sense of structure to the mid-palate and to the fresh, saline, finish. Not the most complex, perhaps, but with a nice shape and evolution over the palate.

Grand Faurie La Rose (St Emilion; a vineyard of 10 hectares at the foot of the slope on a terroir of sand on clay; 82% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 8% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 20% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Pure raspberry coulis on the nose with quite a pronounced saline mineral note – rock salt and crushed rocks. Simple, but again pure and quite precise on the palate. Raspberry with a touch of liquorice root. The tannins though not especially massive are just a little harsh, but I do like the almost rusty gate ferrous mineral-saline note. Light, easy, simple, but lacks a little stuffing in the mid-palate and fades quite quickly on the finish.

Grand Mayne (St Emilion; a vineyard of 17 hectares (14.5 of which are in production) on the western slope and foot of the slope of the plateau of St Emilion on a mix of argilo-calcaire and clay terroirs; 67% Merlot; 33% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 22 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). 60% of the Merlot here was lost to mildew and a programme of replanting is in course to raise the overall proportion of the more resilient Cabernet Franc to around a third. This needs a little coaxing from the glass, but it is very elegant and harmonious – Morello cherries, blackcurrant, chalk from the blackboard and a ferrous iron oxide minerality, with a hint of winter spices and wood smoke. Full and yet gentle on the attack, with refined tannins, this opens out very nicely through the mid palate as the tannins start to grip on the cheeks, injecting a salivating fresh sappiness. Not especially powerful, but nicely focussed and I particularly like the sense of balance and the fresh, crunchy cherry skin finish.

Les Grandes Murailles (St Emilion; from a parcel of 1.46 hectares on the limestone plateau next to Clos Fourtet whose owners, the Cuvelier family, acquired it in 2013; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; aged in oak, 60% of which is new; 14.4% alcohol). Intensely lifted and vertical on the nose and with that slightly dry chalky calcaire dimension that so characterises this terroir and this wine. Svelte and gentle on the attack and with a very creamy texture that never threatens to become cloying because of the vein of acidity and the gossamer calcaire tannins. Elegant, fine, refined and very mineral; a wine of tension and intensity rather than density or concentration per se. I like this very much, as I did en primeur; but its purity and focus perhaps come at the expense of some complexity. There is something of the gentleness of Clos Fourtet about it that appeals very much. A lovely nutty and crunchy grape-skin finish.

Les Gravières (100% Merlot; a vineyard of 4.52 hectares on sandy gravel, deep gravels and cool ferriferous sub-soil; 48 hl/ha; average age of vines is 40 years; malolactic in new barriques; aged in oak, 60% of which is new, for 14 months; 14.5% alcohol). Strikingly fresh; quite distinctive on the nose; herby, floral, purple flowers and fuchsias, with a hint of turmeric; very deep, rich with a dark purple fruit – plums, damson compote and blueberries with dark black cherries and cherry stone. Graphite and crushed rocks, iron ore (but not in a dominant way – this is less saline than many and that helps prevent the ferrous minerality from dominating).

With air, the oak reveals itself a little more. Vanilla, a touch of cedar, liquorice root and cinnamon; a lovely earthy/loamy note too. On the palate, very broad and svelte. Really excellent. Cool, with a note of menthol. Sappy and vibrant. Plush and plump, very opulent at first and then a wall of fine-grained tannin kicks in; there is a nice grip about this. Made for the long haul and quite firm and austere at this stage on the finish but with great potential. Nice peppery finale but the alcohol is well kept in check and easily handled by the richness of the fruit here.

Guadet (St Emilion; from a famous vineyard of 11.25 hectares just 100 metres from the walls of St Emilion itself on an argilo-calcaire terroir that is certified both organic and biodynamic; 55% Merlot; 45% Cabernet Franc; tiny yields of just 10 hl/ha and so only 5000 bottles produced; 14.5% alcohol). This would usually be a more classic 80:20 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but sadly much of the Merlot was lost to mildew. The French critics seem to like it much more than their US counterparts and I can understand why; it is not an easy wine to taste at this stage; but I would happily stick my neck out and say that this has great promise.

I find it very authentic, very direct and very honest. It has a distinctive and quite unusual nose – very earthy at first and a little reductive, with a pronounced minerality and the fruit just a little hesitant to reveal itself. This remains more like an en primeur sample that practically any other wine of the appellation at this stage. But with air and time, a very pure, precise and focussed blueberry fruit starts to appear, with a little cassis, some black and red cherry notes, walnuts and a suggestion of aniseed. On the palate, we have exactly the same fruit profile. But it is the structure that really sets this apart. This is very sculptural and highly chiselled by its pronounced calcaire tannins. It will need some time to soften. It is austere and both a little old-school but, at the same time, a very pure, bright and vibrant expression of its terroir, no doubt accentuated in that clarity by the organic and biodynamic wine-making here. A wine that will divide opinion; but I like its freshness, its directness and its profound sense of place.

Haut Brisson (St Emilion; from Vignobles K; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 22 hectares in the three communes of St Emilion, Saint-Sulpice de Faleyens and Vignonet combining clay-limestone, fine brown sand and sand-gravel terroirs; aged in oak, of which 40% is new; 14.5% alcohol). Vignobles K’s first acquisition in 1997, purchased in 2019 by Stephane Schinazi; this is now made in a partnership between the two. Dark and earthy on the nose with briary, brambly berry fruit and freshly pounded cracked black pepper and a lifted floral and herby note – wild thyme and irises. There is nice engagement on the attack, with soft and gentle tannins, a lovely freshness and a big, corpulent spicy mid-palate. The tannins are very fine-grained and they give this is a sparkly, tingling finish. Though this is powerful it’s very light and lifted at the same time with excellent balance.

Haut Cadet (St Emilion; 80% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; from a vineyard of 13 hectares; from Yseult de Gaye, better known for Grand Corbin Manuel and La Creation in Pomerol; just 13.5% alcohol). From the north west of the appellation near the border with Pomerol on a blue clay and sand-over-clay terroir. A lovely wine. The first time I’ve tasted this. You can almost feel the blue clay – there is something just a little Pomerol-esque in the very gentle nutty sweetness, the bramble and blueberry fruit, the cool svelteness of the tannins on the attack and that definite hint of violets. I like very much the classic cedar component to this. Sappy, juicy, energetic and with lovely fine-grained but slightly chewy and notably textural tannins contributing to the long rippling finish. Needs a couple of years to soften and integrate but I like the potential of this (this is already great after a couple of hours in a decanter). There is a lovely clean, fresh menthol coolness on the finish. Very composed, harmonious and elegant.

Haut Sarpe (St Emilion; a vineyard of 21.5 hectares on the edge and slope of the Plateau de Sarpe on a limestone terroir; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; élevage in French oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Big, rich and dark with quite a lot of extract. Pronounced pink/purple rim and pretty much opaque at the core. Dark berry and stewed plum on the nose, with white pepper and green Szechuan peppercorns, almonds and walnut shell notes too with a hint of orange zest and pith. Big, broad, plump and creamy, with fine but substantial tannins that serve to breath breadth and width into the mid-palate before then drawing the wine out along its mineral-limestone spine to a long tapered finish. Very impressive, if slightly austere, but with a pleasingly bright, fresh sappy finish.

Haut Simard (St Emilion; a vineyard of 10 hectares situated at the foot of the St Emilion côte; it has been owned by the Vauthier-Maziere family since 1917 and is under the direction of Alain Vauthier, co-proprietor of Chateau Ausone; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol). A little darker in hue, though no more extracted, than Simard. Darker on the nose too – with a complex but ultimately harmonious combination of fresh and baked plums, pain d’épices, dried herbs, almonds, black pepper and a gentle sous bois note. Velvety soft tannins on the attack, a quite opulent and plump mid-palate leading to a juicy fresh fruit-forward finish with a stoney-slatey minerality and just a hint of black truffle. Very attractive and, like Simard, more lifted, vertical and less austere than I remember it en primeur.

Clos des Jacobins (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 8.3 hectares at the foot of the slope on a south-facing, limestone and clay/limestone scree terroir; 80% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; malolactic in new oak and aging in barrels, 75% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Darker in the glass – very slightly – than the Decoster’s other Grand Cru Classé, La Commanderie; but this is actually less dark in personality. Indeed, in the glass this is somewhere between de Candale and La Commanderie – though the tannins are more refined than in either. A hint of cedar and graphite, very gentle tannins, a cool menthol element on the attack and a deep dark pool of black cherry, plum, damson and bramble fruit in the corpulent mid-palate. There is a nice twist of pepper too and a slightly salivating marine minerality. Very fine, though I do notice the alcohol on the finish and it detracts a little from the crumbly scree of tannins.

Jean Faure (St Emilion; 60% Cabernet Franc; 35% Merlot; 5% Malbec; certified organic and in conversion to biodynamic wine-making; ‘just’ 13.5% alcohol). This is wonderfully placed between Cheval Blanc, Figeac and Evangile on an iron oxide rich clay terroir of 18 hectares. Pink/purple rim and purple/garnet core. An interesting nose with something of the stable about it – saddle leather, horse hair and red berry fruit – wild strawberries, raspberries and loganberries. Cool, soft and quite plump on the attack and with chewy quite savoury tannins. I like the texture of this, but at this stage it’s not offering much mid-palate density nor any great complexity. Easy-going, very pleasant and with a nice iron-twist to the salty minerality, but I’d like a little more definition and delineation in the mid-palate.

Jean Voisin (St Emilion; 100% Merlot from a small 3.5-hectare vineyard on a sandy clay soil on an iron-rich blue clay undersoil; 14% alcohol). Very closed, tight and taut on the nose, with just a suggestion of dark blue and purple berry fruit and a waft of pencil shavings. Dark, cool and initially very soft on the palate, but this opens out to reveal rolling, grippy tannins. These turn just a little dry and even slightly astringent towards the finish and at this stage they disguise the slightly reticent fruit. Gently smoky and even a little peaty, with a pronounced salinity and prominent spice-box notes too, with a little dark chocolate on the finish. At this stage the seasoning is more in evidence than the fruit. Not the best moment to taste this I suspect and hence difficult to assess.

Jean Voisin ‘Le Club’ (St Emilion; 100% Merlot; just 846 bottles of this tiny micro-cuvée from the best parcel of this the vineyard; 14.5% alcohol). Not yet bottled. Almost black, with just a suggestion of purple at its opaque core. No discernible rim; deeply glass-staining. Quite viscous. An interestingly herbal nose – eucalyptus, spearmint and wild sage accompanying sweet baking spices – cloves, cinnamon and all spice – and a black raspberry and baked plum fruit and blood orange too. Very silky and pure on the attack, with a lovely resinous spine. This is big, bold, rich and very deep – there are layers to this, but it’s so dense that they are a little difficult to discern at this stage. The tannins are very considerable too and this will take a long time to soften. At this stage, a blockbuster. But all the ingredients are there for the long journey ahead – richness, freshness, fruit intensity and minerality.

La Fleur (St Emilion; 92% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; from a vineyard of 27.5 hectares on the northern slopes of St Emilion on a clay soil with a limestone sub-soil; three-quarters aged in barrel, a third of which are new; 14.5% alcohol; from Vignobles Dassault). A wine, I suspect, for quite early drinking. I really like the pronounced graphite and cedar signature on the nose; this is earthy and dark with even a slight hint of moss and a gravelly blueberry and wild bilberry fruit, with a little black cherry too. Quite tannic and a little one-toned on the palate, finishing a touch dry.

Laforge (St Emilion; 92% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol; from Jonathan Maltus). Always very distinctive and, as the name would perhaps imply, recognisable from its iron minerality. This is much softer and rounder than it was – and often is – en primeur. Dark and much plumper and richer than the simpler Teyssier – more intense, more introspective and more austere. But there’s a lot to like in that. Plums and damsons, black raspberries, mulberries and brambles, there is a lovely softness and amplitude to the fruit here, which is nicely reinforced by gentle hints of sweet spice and those more savoury ferrous notes. Maybe lacking a little in mid-palate delineation and layered complexity, but this is nicely integrated, more elegant than it often is and very harmonious. Another success from Jonathan Maltus in this vintage.

Laniote (St Emilion; 74% Merlot; 21% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; from a vineyard of 5 hectares on an argilo-calcaire soil over calcaire a astéries (limestone with calcified starfish); a final yield of 35 hl/ha; aged in oak, of which 40% is new; 14.5% alcohol). This needs a little coaxing to reveal itself. When it does there is plenty of fresh red-berry fruit– redcurrants and raspberries picked off their hulls, with a little blackcurrant and blackcurrant leaf and fresh thyme and even crushed juniper berries – quite interesting and distinctively aromatic. On the palate, the relatively fine-grained tannins grip nicely and there is a lovely zest and minerality to this. Spicy, fresh and zingy with nice tobacco leaf notes to accompany the croquant (crunchy) fruit. I was impressed by this, having not had the chance to taste it en primeur.

Larcis Ducasse (St Emilion; a vineyard of 10 hectares close to Pavie on a prime south-facing argilo-calcaire côtes terroir; 89% Merlot; 11% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 45% of which are new; 14.5% alcohols). More garnet/ruby than purple at this stage and quite translucent at the core but with lots of glass-staining pink pigment at the rim. What a glorious nose. This is searingly pure, precise and intensely fruity – pure raspberry coulis and crunchy, perfectly ripe, new season red cherries, but with a little twist or two of the pepper mill and a frangipane-patisserie note of almonds. Direct, fresh and quite compact, with great fruit density tightly focussed around a very linear limestone tannin backbone. This doesn’t so much fan out on the palate as very slowly widen in amplitude, a bit like the sensation of walking towards the light at the end of a long tunnel. The finish is very composed and fantastically well sustained and supported by the finely-woven beads of tannin. This is really excellent and it exceeds my expectations from en primeur.

Larmande (St Emilion; 17 of 20 hectares are in production on a combination of clay-limestone, ancient sands and siliceous clay terroirs; an impressive final yield of 45 hl/ha; 80% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 18 months in oak and amphorae; 14.6% alcohol). Another very fine wine from Véronique Corporandy. Quite deep hued – garnet with purple, almost blue, highlights and a violet rim. A briary fruit nose that comes across as quite autumnal – dried leaves, truffles and sous bois notes accompanying the dark berries. There is also a slightly meaty-gamey richness to this and plenty of graphite minerality, with just the suggestion of the cedar notes to come with more bottle age. Very silky and glossy on the attack and with a slightly cool menthol element. The fruit is fresh, lively and engaging, giving this an immediate sense of forward momentum, freshness and bite on the palate. The tannins grip, build and gather towards the finish giving this a lovely sense of crescendo and contributing to the considerable length. Fine, balanced and composed and rather stylish.

Laroque (St Emilion; a superbly situated 61-hectare vineyard on one of the highest parts of the appellation on a combination of red clay over limestone and blue clay over limestone terroirs; 97% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; an impressive final yield of 46 hl/ha but with only 41% of the production making it into the first wine; aged in oak barrels and larger foudres; pH 3.48; 14.5% alcohol). Purple/crimson at the core, notably viscous and with a radiant limpidity, this is glass-staining with a wide hazy lilac-pink rim.

The nose immediately signals that we are in the presence of a limestone terroir (and its tannins). This is sky-scraper vertical, very pure and precise as David Suire’s wines tend to be, with a strong whetstone and graphite minerality alongside the fresh raspberry and red stone fruit. There is a hint of hazelnut shell and hazelnut oil too. Gentle, soft and slow to open on the palate, with a relaxed almost glacial evolution and progression towards a very long tapered finish. The tannins are ultra-finely grained and a constant presence across the palate, giving this a finely chiselled sense of structure. Extremely harmonious, poised and lithe with plenty of freshness. I love the relaxed sense of balance and the exquisite fruit purity. This is not about fireworks nor biting freshness, just a composed, if slightly austere, elegance and total harmony.

Laroze (St Emilion; from a 27-hectare vineyard at the foot of the slope to the North-West of St Emilion itself, with its distinctive silica-clay terroir; 60% of the potential harvest was lost to mildew giving a final yield of only 22 hl/ha; 47% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in oak, 100% new; 14% alcohol;). Dark and gravelly with briary fruit – brambles (fresh and baked), mulberries, blackberries and damsons – and a lovely intense cedar-inflected graphite minerality. Crushed rocks too – and a floral dimension, violets and lilies.

There is a lovely cool depth and breadth to this on the attack and considerable amplitude in the mid-palate. The tannins are beautifully grained. And, almost like certain cuts of meat, the grain of the tannin is striated – soft along the grain, but crumbly and tense across the grain. This gives a wonderful sense of grip, that helps propel the fruit along the impressive backbone of this wine. This may be a very unusual final blend for Laroze – where 70 per cent of the Merlot was lost to mildew – but the result is a spectacular success; the best wine I have tasted from this property.

Lassègue (St Emilion; 62% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 12 months in 60% new oak). A property that has been a steep upward trajectory for a while now. The 2019 may just be better still, but this is already deeply impressive. Plush, plump, rich and very ripe but fresh, bright and energetic too. Silky very dark chocolate notes and freshly ground Arabica coffee beans accompany the intense blue and purple berry and stone fruit, with a suggestion of marjoram and oregano and, with more aeration, cedar and pencil shavings.

Glossy, cool and elegant on the attack but there is a considerable tannic presence hence – it is just that the tannins are so ultra-fine grained that it takes a little while to pick them up. As that already suggests, the structure is very impressive and this is very slow to unfurl and express itself across the palate. A vin de garde and of the highest quality with great balance and poise and with sufficient density of fruit to fully enrobe the considerable structure. The oak is a little more prominent at this early stage than you might imagine from the numbers. But give this even a year or two in bottle (and it deserves longer) and it will be seamlessly integrated.

Leydet-Valentin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 8.87 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir; certified organic since 2015; 83% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). A bit funky on the nose at first, but that blows away quite quickly. Raspberries, sour cherries, hoisin and soy with an earthy-herbal note too and then black tea leaf with more air. Medium-bodied, with quite textural and grippy tannins and a pleasant floral note appearing towards the fresh finish. Not terribly long and the flesh clings quite tightly to the structural bones of this, but I suspect it’ll grow in amplitude as it ages.

Lucia (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 3.1 hectares, 1 hectare of which was planted in 1901 on an argilo-calcaire terroir, with the two other plots close to Monbousquet on a clay-siliceous terroir; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; malolactic fermentation and aging in oak, 50% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). A little known garragiste wine that I have never actually tasted before though often wanted to – and it is very good indeed. I suspect that this is made rather differently now than it once was. It certainly shows lovely freshness, natural lift and elegant restraint in the wine-making. Dark hued, but translucent at the core with a pleasing viscosity.

This is full of bright briary autumnal fruit and wild herb/garrigues notes and a hint of fine charcuterie. Walnuts too, from the ripe pips, a freshly used pencil sharpener, and a hint of something I struggle to put my finger on at first – but it’s almost like baked earth and brick dust, with a little ferrous note too. On the palate, the tannins are very finely grained but they still have a noticeably crumbly texture, giving this wine a very dynamic mouth-feel, as the grip and chewiness of the tannins build across the palate. I love, too, the little ripples of fresh, sappy juicy red berry and red cherry fruit that seem to undulate and alternative with ripples of tannin. There is a lovely energy, balance and poise to this. Every bit as good as I had hoped for and a superb introduction to this property.

Lynsolence (St Emilion; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 28.40 hl/ha, about 650 cases; average age of the vines is 55 years; from a vineyard of 2.5 hectares in the commune of St Sulpice de Faleyrens at Le Bert; on a terroir of very gravelly sand and deep gravels with a cool ferriferous sub-soil and from 2 plots, the first near Monbousquet, the second near Valandraud; Jean-Luc Thunevin is the consultant; 14.5% alcohol). Almost black, with a pronounced narrow purple rim. Viscous – much more than its sibbling Les Gravières. Oakier too. Acacia, cedar, wood smoke, incense, fresh tobacco, cinders over baked plums, blueberries and black cherries, with a hint of red liquorice. With aeration, a hint of cedar. Seductively svelte but then a wall of tannin. Very impressive. Opulent, quite rich but super fresh too and quite vertical – more so than Les Gravières. A little more obviously ferrous and earthy and more marked by the wood; but this is a vin de garde made in a slightly garagiste style; that said, the oak will integrate well with time. Powerful but a wine whose personality is less evident and more masked at this early stage than that of its sibling Les Gravières; this is more impenetrable though the potential is still very evident. There is a lovely lithe freshness and spiciness to this (reminiscent, almost, of old vintages of Cos!) and the alcohol is not noticeable.

Clos la Madeleine (St Emilion; a vineyard of 2.3 hectares on a clay over limestone terroir within the vineyard of Chateau Bélair-Monange on the south-facing plateau and terraces of St Emilion; 76% Merlot; 24% Cabernet Franc; aged in 40% new oak for 16-18 months; 14,5% alcohol). Acquired by Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix in 2017. Very dark in the glassy with a nice sheen and plenty of viscosity. Intensely mineral, with lovely graphite and pencil shaving notes. This is very pure and with a vertical limestone streak.

The fruit profile, with punnets of fresh ripe blueberries and black cherries, almost has me thinking we’re in Pomerol (it reminds me most of another J-P. Moueix favourite of mine, Latour à Pomerol). Black fountain pen ink, and classic bell peppers, rare in St Emilion, and walnut skins too. Super-grippy on the palate; the tannins have a lovely grain and texture and, though they are quite prominent, this is a wine I’d happily start to drink already. Lovely integration, great harmony and very vibrant and interesting texturally. As you can tell, I really like this. It was a little impenetrable en primeur and it remains ever so slightly austere, mysterious, even gothic. But that’s what I love it about; a wine with considerable personality.

Magrez-Fombrauge (St Emilion; from a little vineyard of 1.95 hectares at Saint-Hippolyte on an argilo-calcaire terroir and on an old archaeological site previously famous for the discovery of a 2500-year-old skeleton; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; aged in a combination of new oak and terracotta vessels for 18 months; 15.5% alcohol). Dark, almost black at its viscous core, quite opaque with a pronounced, almost radiant and already well-formed crimson pink rim.

On the nose this is a little closed and reductive at first, with earthy and truffly notes accompanying the cassis and Morello cherry fruit which is wrapped in chocolate – giving a black forest gateau dimension, though with a pleasing graphite minerality too that cuts a little the richness. Big, rich, plump and deep on the palate with very fine-grained but considerable tannins – a wine of heft and breadth and depth, though with not inconsiderable softness and charm too. There is just enough lift and freshness here to stop it getting heavy and although this has the highest (reported) alcohol level of any wine I have tasted from the appellation in 2018 I have to think about to pick it up.

Mangot (St Emilion; there are 34 hectares under vine here; a mix of 4 argilo-calcaire or calcaire terroirs from the foot of the slope, the slope, the plateau and a terraced part of the slope; 80% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; the average age of the vines is 40 years; this is aged predominantly in barrels, 30% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Very limpid and glossy in the glass. Polished and elegant with a very svelte and rounded attack that disguises, at first, the considerable tannins. When they arrive they are nicely textured and they help structure the mid-palate. Closed and firm at first, this takes a little time to open – the cool, focussed attack almost makes one think this is a little hollow; but with air, the wine fleshes out nicely, bringing fruity substance to the chiselled structure. Red and blackcurrant fruit and crushed almonds. Promising, but needs a year or two in bottle. I love the chewy grape-skin finish.

Mangot Todeschini Distique No. 11 (St Emilion; a micro-selection of 5 parcels from the 34-hectare vineyard of Chateau Mangot on a clay-limestone over limestone and crasse de fer terroir; 40% Cabernet Franc; 40% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; vinification, malolactic fermentation and élevage in new French oak barrels; 14.5% alcohol). Purple/black at the core and almost opaque; a fuzzy, almost radiant, shocking pink/purple rim. Quite viscous in the glass. Searingly lifted and bitingly fresh like L’Autre Mangot.

Very pure and crystalline but here with a darker fruit profile – blueberries, black cherries and brambles and an attractive moorland heather and wild herb note. Menthol cool on the attack, rich and plump and with very elegant silky tannins but with just enough grain and texture to help trace the contours of this impressively structured wine. Grippy, sappy and chewy with a nice natural sweetness and a great sense of lithe energy and freshness. The zingy Cabernet Franc is the star of the show and, as with L’Autre Mangot, we could almost be in the Loire.

Martinet (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 17 hectares planted on a sandy gravel terroir; 65% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). Slightly rustic and a little brutal at this early stage, with quite drying tannins on the finish. Christmas spices and baked plums, but also something a little sharper and greener, before the slightly astringent tannins kick in and threaten to overwhelm the fruit. The oak is not yet incorporated and part of the dryness on the finish, I fear, comes from the barrel-aging itself. This will soften and come together with time, but for the moment it remains dry and a little green around the gills.

La Marzelle (St Emilion; a vineyard of 17 hectares in conversion to organic wine-making on a gravel and sand over clay terroir; 75% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in a combination of new oak barrels and terracotta vessels; 14% alcohol). Very dark and quite extracted, this is practically opaque at the its garnet/purple core and with a very fuzzy almost radiant lavender/purple rim. With just a little patience and a gentle swirl of the glass, this opens very gradually like the first rose of summer, revealing a beautifully intensely cedar and graphite-rich dark briary fruit with notes of sous bois, dried Italian herbs and a hint of fennel seed, nutmeg and cinnamon. On the palate, this is again very deep, dark and earthy with a rich, plump fruit, ultra-soft yet chewy tannins and a nicely lingering finish with something for both the very top and the bottom of the palate. Very harmonious, very balanced and with a lovely floral lift that stops this becoming heavy.

Mathilde de La Fleur Morange (St Emilion; the second wine of La Fleur Morange; 100% Merlot; 14.5% alcohol). Quite translucent and with a little evolution, so primarily crimson/garnet at the core with relatively well-defined scarlet/pink rim. Pure and quite vertical on the nose, with a clean cassis and redcurrant fruit accompanied by a wet clay earthiness (think of the potter’s wheel) and a twist of black pepper. Quite a pronounced marine/saline/iodine minerality here, accentuating the bright, slightly sharp acidity of the fresh fruit. No great length or complexity, but I like the freshness and there is quite impressive concentration too. That said, I think this has been pushed just a little too far, leaving the finish if not dry then at least a little harsh and unbalanced.

Clos des Menuts (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 25 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% alcohol). This I find slightly difficult to gauge. Comparatively light and translucent in the glass. Fresh and herby on the nose – wild thyme, raspberries and blackberries, with a little hint of straw; but also quite smoky and with the oak quite present. Soft and gentle on the attack, but with a slight hollowness in the mid-palate and quite penetrating, crunchy tannins. Not entirely harmonious at this stage, but it starts to come together with aeration and is just in a slightly difficult phase I think. Difficult to judge.

Clos des Menuts L’Excellence (St Emilion; from 4 hectares selected from the oldest parcels on an argilo-calcaire terroir; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc; aged in 100% new oak barrels; 14% alcohol). Interestingly, only a smidgeon darker in hue in the glass than the Clos des Menuts and no less transluscent, but noticeably more glossy and limpid – an old-vine signature.

This, too, is a little closed but it is more integrated and harmonious. There is a delicacy and finesse about this that is altogether absent from, and in contrast to, Clos des Menuts itself. Damsons and steeped cherries, with just a hint of tobacco leaf and a gravelly earthy undertone. Svelte, taut, slightly cool and restrained, this unfolds very slowly at first and then gains in amplitude as the crumbly tannins start to announce their presence, bringing an impressively slow yet sustained crescendo through the mid-palate. Very long, with a lovely gathered and then tampered finish. At this stage it’s not awfully complex aromatically, but the chiselled argilo-calcaire structure of this I really like.

Le Merle de Peby Faugeres (St Emilion; almost entirely Merlot [90%], as it has tended to be in recent vintages, with just a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon [10%]; 15% alcohol). Deep garnet and still almost opaque in the glass. Very glossy. Pure and nicely focussed – more so perhaps than in recent vintages and most like the (excellent) 2015. Very architectural – by which I mean that this is initially quite narrow on the attack. But then it opens out very attractively, rather like a claustrophobic entrance passage leading to a vast underground cave replete with stalagmites and stalactites. The effect is quite dramatic. A nice hint of the graphite and camphor that will come with a little more bottle age and hedgerow flowers. The oak is nicely incorporated here, giving just a little extra sweet spiciness – cinnamon and allspice – to reinforce the natural slightly ferrous saline minerality.

De Millery (St Emilion; a tiny and largely unknown property of 0.82 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir on the plateau just to the East of the town of St Emilion in St Christophe des Bardes and producing just 4500 bottles; owned by Blandine de Brier Manoncourt of Chateau Figeac; 95% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 70% new, for 15 months; 15% alcohol). If you have ever wondered what Figeac’s wine-making might bring to an argilo-calcaire terroir, this is the answer! For a long time, Thierry de Manoncourt’s “secret garden” (it was purchased by him in 1942 and its limited production was largely retained for personal consumption). It is now tended by the team from Chateau Figeac for his daughter, Blandine de Brier Manoncourt.

This has a dark purple core with a pronounced though still ill-defined rim and great limpidity in the glass. Lovely gentle soft mineral-rich dark berry fruit on the attack – blueberries, blackberries, black cherries and brambles. Earthy too, with a touch of cedar and a cool graphite vein. Focussed and with a nice sense of drive on the mid-palate and a very fine-grained calcaire tannin. This has lovely poise and exquisite balance; it is clearly the product of great care in the vineyard and judicious wine-making. There isn’t very much of this (alas), so don’t pass up any chance that comes your way to put a bottle or two in the cave.

Monbousquet (St Emilion; a vineyard of 32 hectares owned by Gerard Perse of Chateau Pavie on a variety of iron-rich sand, clay-sand and gravel-sand terroirs; 60% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 39 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, half of which are new; pH 3.78; just under 14.4% alcohol). Tasted with Olivier Gailly at Chateau Pavie. Purple/black at the core which is almost opaque, with quite a narrow and already well-defined rim. Big, rich and dark. Boysenberries and brambles, black cherries and blackberries, almonds and walnuts, with a hint of cloves and quite a ferrous minerality. The tannins are soft on the entry but this is a little monolithic in the mid-palate and lacks the delineation of its siblings. But this is juicy with sufficient acidity to maintain a sense of freshness and it has a nice rolling finish.

La Mondotte (St Emilion; from a little vineyard of 4.5 hectares on a fantastic argilo-limoneux-calcaire terroir perched high on the plateau; the vines here have an average age of 60 years; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; an impressive final yield of 40 hl/ha, especially given that this is certified organic and the age of vines; aged in French oak barrels, 70% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). The star in the von Neipperg firmament and, gosh, doesn’t it shine brightly in 2018. Tasted immediately after Canon La Gaffeliere and La Gaffelière.

Much darker in colour and colour density in the glass, this is practically opaque at the centre and garnet/black at the core, with a glass-staining lilac/lavender rim. The nose indicates immediately that we are in the presence of quite a massive and monumental wine (more so even I think than the 2016 or 2019 here). This is closed and intensely spicy – giving almost the sensation that every jar in the spice-box has been emptied into the mixing bowl from which this was assembled. There’s lots of cinnamon and nutmeg, but cumin and coriander too.

The fruit is dense and dark – almost like a reduced and ultra-concentrated coulis or unsweetened preserve – of plums, damsons, assorted cherries and mulberries too. And there is also an interesting note of dried leaves and dried herbs, sage above all. On the palate this has black-hole density, massive concentration and intensity and although it has plenty of freshness and lift about it (impressively so in fact) it’s pretty closed and impenetrable at this stage. All the ingredients are here for something of breath-breaking beauty in a decade or two’s time. But this is manifestly not a wine to be approached any time soon.

Mondou (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 5.2 hectares on a gravel-clay terroir this is planted 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc; the average age of the vines is 40 years; aged in 100% new oak). Dark in the glass and almost opaque in the centre, with an equivalently deep and dark fruit profile – blueberries, Morello cherries, figs and walnuts, with a touch of cocoa and roasted coffee beans. With air, an attractive cedar element too, but it is quickly overpowered by the vanilla pod, toasted brioche and, frankly, woody notes from the oak. Plush, velvety-textured, quite salty and menthol cool, but quite big, rich and a tad sweet too. A bit soupy in the mid-palate and with just a slight harshness on the finish. Whilst there are elements that I like in this, it has been pushed just a little too far in my view and I also sense the alcohol on the somewhat dry finish (though, as this is not yet in bottle, I don’t have a note of the actual level).

Monlot (St Emilion; 67% Merlot; 33% Cabernet Franc; a vineyard of 8 hectares on a clay-limestone terroir near the town of St Emilion itself purchased in 2011 by the Chinese actress Zhao Wei; consulted by Claude Bourguignon and Jean-Claude Berrouet; 15% alcohol). Although the vineyard is of 8 hectares, the grand vin comes largely from the 3 hectares on the limestone-clay hillside not far from Chateau Lasségue. Sandalwood with baked plums and raspberries on the nose and, with a little more air, cedar and graphite too. Glossy, plump and soft on the attack, with a cool menthol note, fine-grained but quite prominent tannins which grip and then build in the mid-palate helping the fruit to fan out in the mouth. I like the structure of this and this is nicely layered too with a sappy saline minerality which gives added length. It is not at this stage especially complex, but I like the frame of this and the sense of ambition it communicates. A property whose progression will be fascinating to follow.

Montlabert (St Emilion; a vineyard of 21 hectares on an interesting terroir of sand and gravel over clay with veins of blue clay; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 50% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). Dark in the glass and with a very dark and distinctive fruit profile too – damsons, mulberries and wild blueberries (‘blaeberries’ in Scotland), with a slight waft of wood-smoke. This is very fresh, with a croquant, sappy fruit that is ever so slightly green and that in a blind tasting would have me more in 2017 than 2018. The tannins, though soft on the attack, are a little astringent in the mid-palate, but I like the fresh, crunchy grape-skin note on the finish. A little strict and conservative and not altogether characteristic of the vintage, but singular and interesting.

Moulin de Cadet (St Emilion; 100% Merlot; a vineyard of 2.85 hectares situated on the plateau, in fact the northern slope of the hill at Cadet, purchased in 2015; 45 hl/ha; malolactic fermentation and aging in barrel, 80% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). This is made by the team from Chateaux Sansonnet and Soutard-Cadet and it’s rather good, though it needs a little aeration to spring back to life from its bottled incarceration. Soft and enticing but at the same time rich and densely packed with dark berry fruit. Aromatically, there is a lovely earthiness to this, plenty of graphite too, a hint of camphor and a pleasing mineral dimension. The fruit is dark – fruits of the forest and blueberries and this is nicely sustained by its gentle finely-textured tannins. Finishes on chewy, crunchy grape-skins and with a nice fresh kick.

Moulin Saint-Georges (St Emilion; a vineyard of 7 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir opposite Chateau Ausone and just a little up the rise from Chateau La Gaffelière; it has been owned by the Vauthier family of Chateau Ausone since 1921; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in new oak; 14% alcohol). Crimson/dark cherry skin hued with a hazy pink rim. Briary berry fruit, violets and dried flowers, tapenade and a lovely slightly iron-oxide tinged loamy earthiness on the nose, with a little hint of vanilla and even freshly grated coconut (presumably from the oak). Lifted, fresh and with loads of wild spring mountain flowers. This is already very gathered, composed and harmonious on the palate. The pure dark berry fruit is very attractive and the subtle background hint of cedar and vanilla together with the ferrous minerality and a subtle cigar-box smokiness bring a little complexity. Crumbly yet accessible tannins remind one that this is still a very young wine; but I’d happily drink this from now, even if it will continue to improve for at least a decade. This is very complete.

Muse de Val (St Emilion; from a tiny vineyard of just 1 hectare and just 5000 bottles produced; on an argilo-calcaire slope; the average age of the vines is 35 years; 50% Merlot; 50% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; malolactic fermentation and aging in 100% new oak). Much darker in the glass and clearly more extracted than Petit Val; and on the nose, too, this is richer, darker and more austere. Indeed, there’s something slightly sombre, even gothic, about this that I really rather like. Very earthy, almost a little crypt-like, with a hint of the graphite that will come with more age. Cool and soft on the attack, but rich, intense and with considerable body and amplitude. The oak is already very well-absorbed. Raspberry and plum crumble, but with a nice vein of acidity and interesting hints of laurel and bay. A vin de garde that will need, just as it will reward, some considerable patience. For now, it remains a little closed; but there is plenty of potential.

Clos de l’Oratoire (St Emilion; a vineyard of 13.1 hectares well-positioned on the north-eastern slopes of the plateau of St Emilion on a terroir of argilo-calcaire with Fronsac molasse on the top of the slope and sand over clay at the foot of the slope; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 45% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). Very glossy and limpid in the glass; blue/purple at the core and with a pronounced pink rim. Gorgeous, if still slightly modern-styled nose, in which the oak, though well-integrated, is clearly present. Graphite and cedar-coated damson and dark fleshy plum fruit, with a touch of sous bois and then, again, a little hint of sweet spices, hoisin sauce and vanilla. Very silky on the attack, with dark plum, blueberry and black cherry fruit, violets, lavender and incense. Then the granular tannins start to build on the roof of the mouth and the top of the cheeks, given this a classic hourglass shape in the mouth. Great density and intensity and a long, flowing finish. Very fine; there has been a marker progression here in recent vintages.

Du Paradis (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 5 hectares by the banks of the river on a gravel terroir; 63% Merlot noir, 26% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol; Vignobles Bardet; aged in barrel, half of which are new; Hubert de Boüard in the consultant oenologue). Rather woody and with a slightly confected nose. Pot pourri and dried rose petals, dark chocolate, baked plums, a little wood-smoke. Rich and broad on the attack, quite ample and concentrated in the mid-palate but a little lacking in delineation and layering at least at this early stage and with a slightly desiccated and, again, strangely smoky finish. Impressive in a rather modern way, but possibly pushed just a tad too far. I notice the alcohol on the finish too. Needs time. Paradise postponed?

Pas de l’Ane (St Emilion; 55% Merlot; 45% Cabernet Franc; from a collection of parcels amounting to 3.2 hectares on a combination of sand-clay over limestone and iron-rich sand-clay terroirs on the highest part of the plateau in St Etienne de Lisse to the east of St Emilion; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted immediately after the Corbin wines, this comes from very different terroir and presents a totally different but equally authentic St Emilion experience. We are back to vertical, hour-glass, crumbly calcaire tannins and a wine that is very lifted and bright. The nose is at first a little restrained and more delicate – offering a combination of red and darker berry fruit, a twist of pepper and a gently spiciness – mace and allspice. On the palate the wine unfurls much more slowly, with more delineation and a more pronounced sense of a spine. Not in any sense a blockbuster, but delicate, elegant and with a nice sense of energy, poise and harmony. A great success in this vintage.

Pavie (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 27 hectares with a combination of plateau and mi-côtes argilo-calcaire arterroirs; 60% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; 18% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 38 hl/ha (rather higher than the 2019); aged in French oak barrels, 80% of which are new; pH 3.58 (very close to the 2019); just under 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Olivier Gailly at Chateau Pavie. Purple/black still at the core, which almost seems to suck in the light, with a lovely glistening sheen and silky limpidity.

Wild and with great personality, with herb and heather notes accompanying the autumnal bramble, bilberry, boysenberry and black cherry fruit, with hints of almond and walnut oil too and then, with a little more air, liquorice bark, cinnamon, cloves, Chinese five spice and, of course, that lovely deep soft cedar note. This is calm, cool and composed on the entry with the most velvety of tannins, and a lovely full, ample creamy texture. it is very opulent and yet ever slightly sombre, with a certain calm solemnity, and with more finesse and elegance than some recent vintages, but with precisely the same depth and breadth – yet here with a grace and, above all, a focus and precision that I find just a little new. A wonderful wine.

Pavie Decesse (St Emilion; a vineyard of 3.65 hectares made by the team from Pavie on the south-facing high plateau at around 85 metres of elevation; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aged in new French oak barrels; pH of 3.57; just over 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Olivier Gailly at Chateau Pavie. This has a pretty and very floral nose – violets, irises, and lavender accompanying the crunchy ripe black cherry and blueberry fruit with a splash of walnut oil. The chalky tannins are super-soft on the attack, building and becoming progressively more crumbly and chewy through the mid-palate and this also has a lovely freshness to it. The oak remains a little prominent at this stage, but there is plenty of fruit density to cope. There is a slight dryness on the long, layered, smoky finish.

Pavie Macquin (St Emilion; from a well-placed vineyard of 15 hectares on the argilo-calcaire plateau situated between Pavie and Troplong-Mondot; 78% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; 90% of the production was selected for the grand vin; an impressive yield of 47 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 45% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted just after Larcis Ducasse and rather different in character and profile. This is perhaps just a shade darker in hue in the glass, but similarly translucent at the core.

The nose opens immediately and then shuts down quite tightly, given little away even with a fair amount of encouragement. The fruit is a little darker and more autumnal – more fruits of the forest, blackberries and blueberries; but what I do pick up more clearly, perhaps precisely because the nose is more closed, is a delightful floral element – rose petals, peonies but also bracken, sous bois and blood oranges (as with Bellefont Belcier). This is more ample on the palate than Larcis Ducasse with cashmere tannins and a degree of opulence that contrasts the more focussed precision of its sibling. The tannins are fine-grained and build towards a chewy finish, but one that never threatens to become dry. And that’s it really. For other than the lovely texture, this is a wine that is not revealing too many of its secrets for now. I look forward to revisiting it.

Péby-Faugères (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 7.45 hectares in Saint-Étienne de Lisse on a south and south-eastern sloping clay-limestone terroir; 100% Merlot with an average age of 45 years; malolactic fermentation and aging for 18 months in new French oak barrels; 14.5% alcohol). Crimson/black at the core, quite extracted, deeply glass-staining and with a very undefined hazy violet rim; lots of viscosity. Quite a pure and vertical nose – black cherries, thyme, graphite and pencil-shavings, cedar and a hint of tobacco, vanilla pod and dark, dark chocolate – with a background note of Asian spices and hoisin.

This is very slow to open on the palate – the attack is cool and composed but the wine seems almost shy and taciturn. There is a central spine of acidity, minerality and very fine-grained tannins and the fruit, when it starts to emerge, is a mix of damson and cherries. The oriental theme continues, with soy, hoisin and star anise and this has quite a pronounced acidity. Great depth, mid-palate concentration and density. This is another wine that deserves a good decade in bottle.

Petit Cantenac (St Emilion; the second wine of Clos Cantenac and taken from the same 5-hectare vineyard; 90% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in oak barrels, 30% of which are new, for 12 months; 14% alcohol). Very pretty on the nose. Baked plums, with a little hint of cinnamon and cloves, maybe even cardamom pods and an almond and vanilla note too. Soft and gentle on the attack, with good concentration and depth especially for what is, ostensibly, a second wine, with a nice sense of balance and poise and a slightly cool and composed finish.

Le Petit Cheval (St Emilion; the second wine of Cheval Blanc, representing 10% of the total production from 5 plots all of which made it into the grand vin in 2016; 1500 cases; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; final yield of 43 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted alongside La Chapelle d’Ausone this is a shade or two further towards the crimson/ruby/scarlet end of the spectrum with a slightly more defined lilac/pink rim. It catches the light beautifully. The nose is sublime, with a pure and concentrated cedar element that I absolutely adore alongside a vibrant violet and iris florality, both accompanying a deep, dark pure blueberry and blackberry fruit.

On the palate, this remains ever so slightly closed and one senses that it is choosing for now to reveal only some of its many charms. One can just about start to pick up the graphite and cedar element, but then it fades and the cherry and blueberry fruit comes more into focus; the tannins have a very constant and ultra-fine granularity to them. They build slowly across the palate, helping the wine fan out and supporting effortlessly the considerable density and concentration of the fruit such that this always feel bright, light, lifted and energetic. In 2018 Le Petit Cheval is very layered and there is great complexity here, even if it remains for now more impenetrable than La Chapelle d’Ausone. A truly great wine, but one requiring just a little more patience.

Petit Faurie de Soutard (St Emilion; a property of 8 hectares, only 6 hectares of which are in production, on the high plateau of St Emilion with vines planted on the clay-limestone slope and the sandy foot of the slope; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 50% of which is new; 14% alcohol). Dark hued in the glass – garnet with a hint of crimson and a hazy purple rim; translucent at the core. Quite a rich, creamy nose, with baked damsons, sandalwood, rose hips, cinnamon bark and a hint of smoke. Rich and quite plump on the palate too.

But what is interesting is the way in which the limestone tannins rein it back a little and stop this becoming broad and ample, pushing the wine forward along its structural mineral/calcaire spine instead of outwards. The effect is to produce a nice sense of focussed precision, forward momentum and, of course, impressive length (rather than breadth and girth). This is a fine expression of its terroir and it represents excellent value. But it is not as complex, layered or delineated in the mid-palate as either Larmande or Soutard from the same stable.

Petit Figeac (St Emilion; the second wine of Chateau Figeac from a famous 54-hectare vineyard of which around 40 hectares are planted on a unique Guntzian gravel terroir; 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 39% Merlot; 16% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). Lightly extracted in comparison with most of these wines. Translucent at the centre, which is crimson/garnet. This has a hazy lilac rim and a lovely sheen. A delightfully engaging pure honest nose that shouts ‘Figeac’ very eloquently – there is just something about the fruit profile (and, indeed, the share of Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend) that gives away its identity.

This is floral, herby and heathery (very much, for me, a Figeac note), with oodles of fresh raspberries, blueberries and brambles and a suggestion of the cedar that is just starting to appear and that will come through gloriously with more bottle age. The tannin management is remarkable for what is a second wine and the only indication, perhaps, that it is not the grand vin itself is how remarkably open and accessible this already is. That said, the chewy tannins on the finish and the lovely sensation of crunching on grape-skins that they impart, make it clear that this will be better still in another five years or so. But it’s going to be difficult to resist opening this sooner than that.

Petit Gravet Ainé (St Emilion; a tiny vineyard well situated next to Canon La Gaffelière of 2.3 hectares on a deep sandy terroir practicing organic viniculture; only 11k bottles in 2018; 90% Cabernet Franc; 10% Merlot; vinification in new barrels; average age of the vines is 70 years; 14.5% alcohol). A lovely limpidity and sheen in the glass, accentuated by a seemingly relatively restrained extraction. Garnet at the core with a hazy violet-pink rim.

A gorgeous nose, a little held back at first, but with the most lovely graphite-mineral intensity accompanying a ripe silky cherry fruit, with just the subtlest suggestion of salt and spice in the background. Soft and svelte on the entry, but this is a big wine that fans out quickly on the palate to fill thoroughly its considerable frame with a dense, rich, plum and cherry fruit and a violet floral element too. The oak is actually more noticeable on the spicy palate than it is on the nose. This has a cool menthol note on the finish, but for me that rather masks the fruit and I’d like just a little more acidity and freshness. Big, punchy and quite rich and opulent, but just a little inky and impenetrable. Time will tell.

Petit Soutard (St Emilion; not to be confused with Petie Faurie de Soutard, this is the fusion of the second wines of Soutard and Larmande and comes from a combination of different terroirs: clay-limestone from the plateau, clay from the slopes and sand from the foot of the slopes; 54% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Malbec; aged in a combination of new and one-year-old barriques and amphorae; 14% alcohol). Dark hued but translucent at the core and with an impressive degree of viscosity.

Really excellent for a second wine in this vintage. Iron filings (reminding me of physics experiments – though it is best not to get them up your nose!), raspberries and red plums with a little note of scorched red earth and sage and rosemary. Slightly sweet and slightly salty – but in a very natural way giving an impressively multi-dimensional character to this (if more so on the palate than the nose). Quite broad-shouldered and very open if not especially dense or compact, this is fresh and lively with an expressive pure raspberry fruit and attractive mineral and earthy elements. Very well-judged, highly accessible already and a superb appetiser for the grands vins. You really want to find out just how good Larmande and Soutard are if this is the second wine (spoiler alert – they are both excellent in a way that helps makes sense of the quality of this too)!

Petit Val (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 11 hectares on the sandy-clay/clay-limestone slopes; the average age of the vines is 35 years; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 38 hl/ha). I like this. An interesting, engaging and quite distinct nose – fresh, floral with red berry fruit and Victoria plums and a touch of wild thyme. On the palate, this is quite focussed and precise with a nicely chiselled evolution, fanning out at the end as the tannins, which remain soft and restrained even through the mid palate, eventually reveal the grain of their texture. Delicate, elegant and with a gentle sense of poise and harmony.

Peymouton (St Emilion; from a 31 hectare vineyard which combines two types of terroir – a thin layer of rich clay over limestone and a deep red clay, both on the highest part of the plateau (at 80-100 metres of altitude); 70% Merlot; 23% Cabernet Franc; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; this was originally part of the large vineyard of Chateau Laroque but baptised as a separate property when almost half of Laroque was promoted to Grand Cru Classé status in 1996; this remains in the ownership of the Beaumartin family and the wine is made, like Laroque, by David Suire; it is an exclusivity of J-P Moueix; 14,5% alcohol).

Ooh, lovely. This has a really lifted nose that sings so eloquently of its limestone terroir – you can almost taste the calcium carbonate (and this is before I’ve put the glass to my lips). Blueberries, damsons and baked plums and black fountain pen ink, a little bit of blackcurrant too with more air, and walnut shell. Fascinating on the palate too – with a very dark and rather distinctive fruit profile – blackcurrant and black cherry compote (without the sugar of jam). The texture is incredibly soft giving this a cool menthol note. Lovely chewy, crumbly tannins on the back end and the finish is, appropriately enough, like chewing on cherry skins whilst sucking the tannins from a cherry stone. Very accessible; perhaps not terribly complex; but a very attractive and eloquent expression of its terroir.

Pindefleurs (St Emilion; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 17 hectares on a gravelly clay-limestone terroir at the foot of the hill close to Chateau Angélus; aged for 12 months in new oak; 14.5% alcohol). As the name would perhaps imply (or maybe I’m just impressionable) this is attractively floral, and sappy on the nose. Dark in the glass and with dark berry, blackcurrant and plum fruit on the nose and palate. Quite peppery too and with an interesting note of dried Italian herbs. Ripe, soft tannins and with a salty minerality that accentuates their fine granularity. Not especially dense or intense, but with decent length and a nice sinuous finish.

Poesia (St Emilion; from an 8.9 hectare organically maintained vineyard on the argilo-calcaire plateau of St Emilion; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 80% of which are new; 14.4% alcohol). Garnet yet translucent at the core, with a purple rim; an attractive sheen and notable levels of viscosity. Lifted, pure and very floral (as the name would lead one to expect) on the nose. Dark berry fruit – brambles and blueberries, a touch of graphite, a sprinkling of chalk dust (you can tell that this is from a limestone terroir) and (if I am allowed a little poetic license) a posy of peonies. Quite full and rich, with impressive fruit concentration, yet pure and fresh with a vibrant sense of energy and a forward thrust that propels the wine along its chiselled calcaire tannic spine. Crumbly, fresh and chalky on the finish, this is very good – the best I have tasted from here.

Pontet Labrie (St Emilion; made from a single parcel near Le Carré but, ironically, with a terroir much closer to Les Astéries; around 300 cases are produced annually; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.65; 14.5% alcohol). Lighter in the glass – both in terms of hue and extract – than either Le Carré or Les Astéries – and less obviously glass-staining. This is also a little more evolved on the nose, with more pine, alder and cedar notes alongside the slightly Italianate sour cherries, griottes, blueberries, damsons and baked plums.

There is also an earthy element to this, with a touch of baking spice and star anise too and, finally, tapenade, a hint of truffle and trompettes de mort. In short, it’s quite complex – or, at least, difficult to describe simply (which is not quite the same thing)! On the palate, this is fleshy, grippy and nicely balanced, the fruit crunchy and fresh and the gentle sweet spiciness never dominates. This is a wine of impeccable balance and it’s a little more accessible at this early stage than either Le Carré or Les Astéries. The gathered finish is beautifully composed and this is very long and finely balanced.

De Pressac (St Emilion; from 41 of the 47 hectares under vine on plateau calcaire and côteaux argilo-calcaires terroirs, with the bas côte parcels largely in the second wine; 71% Merlot; 16% Cabernet Franc; 9% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Pressac (Malbec); 2% Carmenère; aged for 18 months in oak barrels, 50% new; 14.5% alcohol). From St Etienne de Lisse not far from La Fleur Cardinale, Faugères and Valandraud. Another wine that I much prefer to the 2019. Interesting and quite distinctive, with a pronounced ferrous minerality and notes of dried herbs – sage, marjoram and thyme. Raspberry and red cherry fruit and a hint of patisserie – croissant or brioche alongside all spice and a touch of cinnamon. The tannic mass is quite considerable, but it is never abrasive and there is pleasant nuttiness on the finish.

Quinault L’Enclos (St Emilion; made by the team from Cheval Blanc on a graves and argilo-limoneux terroir bordering the Dordorgne in the town of Libourne itself and with the same attention to detail as Cheval Blanc; there has been a complete renovation of the wine-making facility here and a slow increase of the proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard and now in the final blend; despite replanting, the average age of the vines is 45 years; 71% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 14% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 12 months in large oak barrels of 500 litres, 50% of which are new; 14% alcohol). Dark hued but comparatively light in terms of extract.

Garnet/crimson core with a luminescent violet rim, this is glossy and limpid in the glass. Very lifted and vertical with a very direct yet complex fruity nose of cassis, damson, raspberry and fraise des bois accompanied by linseed and sandalwood and perhaps even a suggestion of straw. On the palate, it is the cassis and redcurrant notes that are most prominent, with fresh wild herbs, pine nuts, Kalamata tapenade and a ferrous minerality that was less evident en primeur. This still needs a year or two in bottle to fully integrate, but the promise is there.

Quintus (St Emilion; a property created by Domaine Clarence Dillon – the owners of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion – from the bringing together of the two vineyards of Tertre Daugay and L’Arrosée in 2013 after the initial acquisition of the former in 2011; 72.3% Merlot; 27.7% Cabernet Franc; final yield of 41.1 hl/ha, but with only 29% making the grade for the first wine on a very strict selection; aged in oak barrels, 38% of which are new; 15.5% alcohol). Purple, almost black, at the core although more translucent than many with a lilac rim and impressive limpidity.

A deep blackcurrant, cherry and plum preserve fruit, with a distinct loamy earthiness and notes of moss and sous bois and with just the slightest suggestion of grated truffle too. Composed and rich on the palate, but this is one of those 2018 St Emilions that unfurls at a glacial pace over the palate. A little sombre and austere, this demands, as it rewards, focussed attention – not least to appreciate the layered complexity. Not at all showy or exuberant, but with plenty of tension and freshness nonetheless. The tannins are crumbly and very fine but never become chewy. A tender, plush and focussed wine with a long and, not doubt, distinguished future ahead of it. Though the 2019 may be better still, the 2018 is something of a new bench mark that recalibrates our expectations of what it possible from this vineyard.

Relais de la Dominique (St Emilion; the second wine of La Dominique; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol). Bright and very fruit-forward – raspberries and red cherries, with a little hint of stony minerality. Simple but vibrant, very accessible and ready to drink. No great density or length but that’s not what this wine is about – nor should it be. Unpretentious and direct, this offers immediate gratification.

Ripeau (St Emilion; from a 16.1-hectare vineyard between Figeac and Corbin on a terroir of slightly gravelly sand with a seam of iron-bearing clay in the sub-soil; 67% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; malolactic fermentation and aging in 100% new oak; average age of the vines is 35 years; a final yield of 22 hl/ha, so just 25,000 bottles; alcohol 14.2%). A significant step up in quality here and the first vintage made in the new wine-making facility, allowing more precision and delineation. An attractive crimson/garnet in the glass with a relatively undefined hazy purple rim.

A gorgeous cedar and graphite nose at first with plump ripe black cherries, blueberries and black raspberries, and violets too. But with just a little more air this is rapidly overwhelmed by dark chocolate shavings, cocoa powder, vanilla pod and sweet spices. With soft svelte tannins on the attack this opens rather slowly, revealing a slender quite elegant if still considerable structure. There is lot of focus and purity here which I like a lot. This does not come across as especially big or powerful, but it has a very natural, slightly disguised underlying puissance and intensity and – it certainly doesn’t lack fruit density. That is just as well, because there is quite a lot of oak influence here. If that has been reined back just a little this would be even better in my view; but it is still a very appealing and attractive wine with a lovely juicy fresh finish. A property to watch; it seems now to be on a steep upward trajectory.

Roc De Candale (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 5 hectares on a south-facing vineyard at the foot of the slope on clay and limestone; 95% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40hl/ha; the consultant oenologue is Stephane Derencourt; aged in oak, 30% new, for 12 months; 14.5% alcohol). Soft and slightly cool on the attack, but just a little smudgy and soupy in the mid-palate. Damson and blueberry fruit and a pleasing herbal note – thyme and marjoram. No great density or length on the palate, but this is nicely poised and the crumbly tannins on the finish help give this structure. It just lacks a little delineation on the front end; but this is still a sensitive expression of its terroir.

Rochebelle (St Emilion; a vineyard of 3 hectares of the highest part of the plateau on a terroir of clay and limestone; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). Garnet core, with a crimson/pink rim. Expressive, if a little stolid and austere, with an intense and lifted nose of dark berry compote – blueberries, blackberries and loganberries with lemon thyme, dried oregano and flecks of dark chocolate. Creamy, rich and quite full on the attack, but with a pleasing sense of structure – a wine built along a linear spine of acidity and grippy tannins. Good length and nice purity, though if one is being picky this perhaps lacks a bit of mid-palate delineation. Ever so slightly stern and foursquare at this early stage, but the raw ingredients are promising.

Rocheyron (St Emilion; a vineyard of 8.45 hectares co-owned by Peter Sisseck and Silvio Denz on the plateau on an Astèria limestone terroir behind Chateau Laroque; 70 % Merlot; 30 % Cabernet Franc; just 6000 bottles; aged in French oak barrels, 30% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). The first time I have tasted this – I certainly hope it’s not the last. Glossy and limpid, with a lovely light-catching sheen and with beautiful garnet and crimson highlights in the sun. A silky soft and quite profoundly aromatic identity. On the nose, this is full of dark berry fruit – boysenberries, mulberries, loganberries and black raspberries.

There is also an interesting note of exotic crushed peppercorns – Baie de Timut, maybe even green Szechuan peppercorns and preserved green peppercorns too. Lots of graphite minerality and a note of black pen ink. Unbelievably soft on the attack – the fruit is almost presented on a pillow of cashmere tannins. But on the mid-palate and especially towards the long finale these become much more textural and grainy, gripping tightly to the roof of the mouth and giving this wine an extremely long and tapered finish. This is not perhaps quite what I was expecting – the oak, though present, is not at all noticeable and this has a lovely precision and purity about it but, at the same time, a svelte opulence and elegance. Tense and bright yet soft and gentle and with considerable fruit density, there’s lots of interest and complexity here. A vin de garde of great potential.

Rol Valentin (St Emilion; a vineyard of 7 hectares split over two vineyards 7 kilometres apart, the first in St Emilion itself, the second in Saint-Étienne de Lisse; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). Dark berry fruit – blackberries, blackcurrant and mulberries – and, with a little more air, black cherries joining the party too. This has lovely cedar graphite notes and an almost marine saline minerality. Soft and gentle on the attack with medium body and a nicely gathered slightly salty almond skin finish.

Clos Saint Julien (St Emilion; at the gates of St Emilion itself on a rocky limestone terroir close to Chateau Soutard and not unlike Soutard-Cadet in fact in personality; 70% Cabernet Franc; 30% Merlot; old vines – the Cabernet is of 40 years, the Merlot of 80 years; practicing organic viniculture; a vineyard of 1.2 hectares and so just 5000 bottles; 15% alcohol). Another very glossy, limpid wine with considerable glycerine and viscosity, giving this crimson-purple highlights in the sunshine.

A ‘delicious’ nose in the (figurative) sense that it really whets the appetite. This is creamy, rich and intensely aromatic, with a deep plum and Morello cherry fruit and with traces of cedar, coconut (possibly the signature of this property), vanilla, incense, peonies, violets and roses, and an assortment of sweet baking spices (though with enough freshness overall that this never seems sweet). Soft and rich, with cashmere tannins yet plenty of structure. A deep, rolling wine that is opulent, slightly exuberant, but very refined and elegant at the same time. It’s distinctly modern in style and there is quite a lot of extract and quite a lot of oak; but, crucially, the tannins have been very well managed and the oak is already very well incorporated. The pronounced saline minerality adds almost another dimension to this.

Clos Saint Martin (St Emilion; a tiny vineyard of 1.33 hectares – the smallest of the grand crus classés – on an argilo-calcaire plateau terroir next to Chateau Canon with a south-western exposure; 75% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 16 months in oak barrels, 25% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Very glossy and limpid, though not actually that viscous. Dark and glass-staining, garnet/crimson at the core and with a pink-violet rim. The most beautiful aromatics that put me in mind of Clos Fourtet (not that I had re-tasted the 2018 at this point). This is intensely cedary, with a deep damson and black berry fruit, black pen ink, crushed limestone, flaked coconut and a slight saline-marine note too. Cool and rich and super-svelte on the attack with a plump fleshy blueberry and Morello cherry fruit, violets and a hint of lavender and, again, that lovely graphite-cedar minerality. Very fresh and bright but very composed, balanced and refined, this is just my kind of St Emilion.

Saintayme (St Emilion; from a 9-hectare parcel of 35-year old Merlot vines in Saint Etienne de Lisse; 100% Merlot; aged in French oak barrels, 30% of which is new; Denis Durantou’s penultimate vintage; 14.5% alcohol). Garnet core with a lilac rim. Lifted, fresh, pure red berry fruit – raspberries and redcurrants with a touch of blackcurrant leaf and floral notes – hyacinths perhaps. On the palate this is nicely focussed, balanced and harmonious with lots of texture and flesh stretched out along a narrow, sinuous structural frame of chalky minerality and acidity. The is very fine and as good a vintage of Saintayme as I have tasted. Excellent value and highly recommended.

Sanctus (St Emilion; made from a strict selection of around 5 hectares from a 25-hectare vineyard at St Christophe des Bardes on an argilo-calcaire terroir; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). A lot more interest and personality than La Bienfaisance, this is earthier, more intensely herby and with a more lifted and energetic nose. Much softer and more refined tannins and altogether more engaging on the palate – with an intriguing almost slightly Italian sour cherries note.

Interestingly, alongside that is a purer red cherry note – indeed it’s a little like sucking on a red cherry stone having crunched on the skin to release the slightly grainy tannins. Grippy and fresh, with the tannins helping to release little ripples of juicy cherry fruit that extend further the long and tapered finish. No discernible residual sugar here and a nice sense of balance, poise and energy. Not perhaps terribly complex, but very well made and with a lovely mouth-feel.

Sansonnet (St Emilion; from a 7-hectare vineyard on a clay-limestone soil over Astèria limestone on the St Emilion plateau just opposite Trottevieille, purchased by Marie and Christophe Lefévère in 2009; 90% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Franc; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; final yield of 35 hl/ha; aged in 225 and 500 litre oak barrels and amphorae, with 80% of the barrels previously unused; 15% alcohol). Almost black/purple in the glass, viscous, glossy with lots of glycerine (with legs like the proverbial butcher’s dog) and almost opaque at the centre. This is one of those wines one can tell a lot about just by looking at it.

Rich, plush, opulent black plum, blueberry, cassis and black cherry fruit on the nose with cracked red peppercorns, cocoa powder and freshly ground and freshly roasted Arabica coffee beans. Opulent and graceful, at least at first, with svelte but considerable tannins that build quite quickly as the wine’s substantial frame and the épaulettes on its broad shoulders reveal themselves. It’s like a wrestler puffing out it’s chest. Powerful, almost massive, with considerable concentration and density, this is a vin de garde that will require some patience. The tannins are just a little dry on the long, smoky, spicy, salty finish. Whilst the style might not be to everyone’s taste, and it is possibly pushed just an iota too far for mine, this is undoubtedly very impressive and its freshness and energy prevent it from becoming monolithic.

Clos de Sarpe (St Emilion; from a little very well situated vineyard of 3.7 hectares on an argilo-calcaire côte terroir with a south-west exposure on the Plateau de Sarpe – a vineyard that copes very well with heat and hydric stress; 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 70% of which is new; 15% alcohol). Wow, this is excellent and not quite what I was expecting. Very dark and extracted, still practically opaque at the centre, with a deep purple hazy rim; garnet/black at the core. Glossy, limpid and with considerable viscosity.

Graphite, cedar and intense dark briary fruit on the nose, with a lovely touch of sous bois earthiness and with black cherries, fresh new season walnuts and a hint of frangipane with more aeration. Intensely floral too! A silky soft ultra-svelte attack but the fine tannins are a constant presence, building in grain, grip and texture as the wine fans out in the mouth and across the rich and full palate. Very long and, once we get there, this has a lovely intense cherry skin and saline mineral finish. Big, rich, plump but with excellent freshness (the pH is, as ever, very low here) and impressive complexity (floral and nutty notes, blood oranges, cedar and a cornucopia of dark cherry and berry fruit). Much feted and deservedly so (though the 2019 might be even better).

La Serre (St Emilion; a vineyard of 7 hectares on a plateau terroir of clay over limestone with a southern exposition; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; an exclusivity of J-P Moueix; aged in oak barrels, half of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted immediately after Clos La Madeleine, this is very different though almost equally good – but much more instantly recognisable as plateau St Emilion.

Dark with a gorgeous searingly lifted vertical limestone St Emilion nose of cedar-coated damsons and black raspberries with freshly cracked baie de Timut (a very floral black peppercorn); with more air the oak becomes a little more evident, bringing a touch of warm spicy and vanilla. This will need a little time to integrate. Smoky and intense on the palate with soft, glossy, fine-grained chalky tannins, a much more saline and ferrous minerality than Clos La Madeleine, and a distinctly gamey meatiness to it. Long with a slowly tapering, chewy, spicy finish that leaves quite a lot of tannin on the roof of the mouth and the top of the cheeks. A superb if quite robust and chunky wine, and one that will require a fair bit of patience.

Shelby Company St Emilion Grand Cru (St Emilion; official ‘Grand Cru’ of the series Peaky Blinders, made by Vignobles Bardet from parcels selected from one of their Grand Crus St Emilion properites; 61% Merlot; 39% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol). They don’t provide much detail on this and there is not a lot of it – 15 barrels, apparently, “made in the style, taste and tradition of the 1920s”. I rather doubt that. But this is soft, supple and easy. It’s not terribly complex, with fairly classic plummy notes, a little wood spice and a touch of liquorice – even a hint of blueberry compote with more air. Give it an hour in a decanter and it will drink very nicely from now. It’s made to taste a certain way and it achieves that admirably.

Simard (St Emilion; a vineyard of 40 hectares situated at the foot of the St Emilion côte; it has been owned by the Vauthier-Maziere family since 1954 and is under the direction of Alain Vauthier, co-proprietor of Chateau Ausone; 70% Merlot; 25 Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.5% alcohol). Another one of the Vauthier wines that has really benefited from its élevage. Limpid, glossy and quite viscous in the glass with a dark garnet core, though quite translucent. An attractive crystalline and pure raspberry coulis nose, with an earthy note like a freshly ploughed field. Quite soft and a little closed and restrained at first on the palate, but this then fans out nicely, with the fresh raspberry and red cherry fruit notes prominent. Not a big or powerful wine. But I like very much the way that the ultra-fine grained tannins seem to build in the middle of the roof of the mouth releasing little injections of juicy, sappy berry fruit. This has a lovely sense of progression and evolution over the palate, even if it lacks a little concentration.

Soutard (St Emilion; 20 hectares of a large contiguous 30-hectare vineyard are under vine here, all on the limestone plateau; 70% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 1% Malbec; aged in oak, 60% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). An interesting contrast to Larmande, tasted just before. Similar in the glass, if slightly more limpid, viscous and glossy and perhaps a shade further towards the violet-lilac-purple end of the spectrum. On the nose, this too is autumnal, with plenty of dark briary berry fruit – brambles, black berries, mulberries.

But this has black cherries too and it is earthier, a little richer, and smokier as well, with a more pronounced graphite minerality. Again, though ultra-soft and almost menthol cool on the attack, this has a quite pick-up as the fresh fruit bites and engages and gives considerable forward momentum on the palate. There is a lovely gentle spiciness to this – nutmeg, mace and fennel that seems to coat to tannins and so build as they gather towards the very fresh, lifted aerial finish. This is beautifully poised and, for me, the pick on an excellent line-up of wines from Véronique Corporandy.

Soutard-Cadet (St Emilion; just 2.7 hectares on the south-facing slope of the hill of Cadet on an argilo-calcaire terroir just in front of Chateau Soutard; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; this is aged in oak barrels of 225 litres and small oak vats of 500 litres, 70% of which are new; 15% alcohol). Very glossy and limpid with considerable glycerine giving this shimmering shards of crimson and purple velvet in the sunlight, despite its almost black/purple core and ill-defined hazy violet rim.

Quite closed at first and it is soft earthy minerality that reveals itself first – graphite and then an amazingly pure note of freshly turned rich soil (somewhat ironically, given that the soil here is anything but rich) and then a soft and delicate yet full, plush black cherry fruit. This is luscious and opulent on the attack with the gentlest of cashmere tannins and a silky ripe black cherry and blueberry fruit, violets and autumnal leaves and sous bois. The tannins bring a delightful slight chewiness to this and with that the sensation of crunching on fresh cherries and sucking the cherry stones at the end. Slightly indulgent, absolutely delicious and with a super sappy fresh finish. You might say that it’s not terribly complex, but beautiful things don’t always have to be complex.

Tertre Roteboeuf (St Emilion; from a south-facing downward-sloping suntrap vineyard on an agilo-calcaire côtes terroir in the form of a mini amphitheatre; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged, famously, in new Radoux Blend barrels; 15% alcohol – though I am sure it was closer to 16% en primeur!). Tasted just after Valandraud. I was actually expecting these wines to be more alike; but tasted alongside one another, they are strikingly different despite their ostensible similarities. In the glass they are very similar in terms of colour-density and degree of extraction (somewhere in the middle of the spectrum).

But the Terte Roteboeuf is much more evolved in colour at the core and the rim. The nose is extraordinary and explosive – a cornucopia of floral elements, both fresh and dried. But it is almost as if these natural ingredients have been enhanced by the parfumier’s art – for we have floral notes that are so aromatically intense they could simply not have come from even the most fragrant of flowers. On the palate, this is so invitingly soft, warm and luxuriant – and quite unlike any other wine I think I have ever tasted. It is, I have to say, quite dry on the finish.

But it is also utterly glorious, totally unique and has to be sensed (and not just tasted) to be believed. There is butterscotch, toffee apple and burnt caramel, the leather seats of a vintage Rolls Royce, all varieties of dried flowers, candied petals, saffron, Turkish delight, Palma violets, figs, dried plums, dates and walnut skins. I could go on, but I suspect you get the picture. This could only be one wine. But, at the same time, this is not a wine you can ever prepare yourself for. It is always more than you imagine it could be: shocking and revelatory in equal measure.

Teyssier (St Emilion; Vignobles Jonathan Maltus; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). A good Teyssier that I think I prefer to the 2019. A nice pure predominantly raspberry fruit, with a little blackcurrant and blackberry and with just a hint of saline minerality. Quite plump on the attack but this is not trying too hard, and what it perhaps lacks in density or concentration it more than makes up for in balance and harmony. Nicely focussed and impressively lengthy too. This is well made, the trade-offs well managed.

La Tour Figeac (St Emilion; from a 14.6 hectare vineyard on sandy gravel over deep clay; the average age of vines is 35 years; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). This is interesting and quite distinctive and I am not quite sure what to make of it. On the nose, there is, for me at least, a very pronounced almost rusty ferrous-saline minerality and even a hint of oxidation which I find a little disconcerting.

But at the same time, there is an earthy, loamy, sous-bois note that I rather like and which works very well with the rich plum and dark berry fruit. With more air, the ferrous note subsides a little and we pick up Morello cherries and hints of roses and violets. On the palate this is deep, dark and rich, the tannins which start quite soft are actually just a little aggressive but I like the sappy, juicy finish. Overall, though, I find this a little disjointed and I find the slight hint of oxidation a bit off-putting. Others clearly like this more than I do. I’d be interested to re-taste this in a year or so’s time.

La Tour du Pin Figeac (St Emilion; a vineyard of 11 hectares in the north west of the appellation, contiguous with Cheval Blanc on a gravel terroir; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). Fresh, bright and with an almost crunchy berry fruit – red and blackcurrant predominantly. The tannins grip nicely and have an almost chewy texture to them which works well with the fresh berry fruit. Not especially concentrated nor terribly long, but focussed, precise and with a well-defined backbone to which the fruit clings nicely.

Tour de Pressac (St Emilion; Merlot 71%; Cabernet Franc 16%; Cabernet Sauvigon 9%;Carmanere 2%; Malbec : 2%; alcohol 14.5%; this is second wine of de Pressac and has a shorter élevage, around half of which occurs in barrel). Light, engaging, accessible; a little short and without any great intensity or concentration; but these are good choices here – the red berry fruit is bright and vibrant and this is easily appreciated.

La Tour Saint Christophe (St Emilion; a wonderfully situated vineyard of 20 hectares atop the argilo-calcaire plateau and on the terraces at St Christophe des Bardes at the very limits of appellation; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 15% alcohol). Very dark hued and almost opaque at the black/purple core, this has a lovely sheen and limpidity about it, great viscosity and the rim is like a band of fluorescent pink! Super-pure and intensely lifted on the nose, with loads of graphite-ferrous-saline minerality, crushed rocks or perhaps even a limestone gravel path and a lovely fresh blackcurrant and mulberry fruit.

With more air, there is an enticing suggestion of the cedar element to come and an interesting toasted basmati rice note. The use of oak is very subtle and, for me, perfectly à point. Soft at first and actually very floral on the palate, this is fascinating texturally. It is almost like ascending the terraces in the vineyard itself, with the limestone tannins providing the structure that takes us, step by step, through the layers (oddly I usually think of layering in wine as a descent, but here it feels like an ascent). Very complex, yet also fresh, precise, pure and focussed. This was very good en primeur and it is really interesting to see how it has developed. For me it confirms just how great this terroir is and how sympathetically it has been expressed in this vintage. Chapeau!

Trianon (St Emilion; a vineyard of 14.5 hectares on argilo-sableux over crasses de fer and graves rouges terroirs; 86% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Carménère; a final yield of 36 hl/ha; aged in oak, 70% new for 16 months; 14.5% alcohol). What is nice about this is the minerality – ferrous and saline, almost a little feral, but in a good way. The oak is quite prominent and, with the reasonably high alcohol, that gives a tannin that is a little raw and a touch dry on the finish. The mid-palate is initially a little slender, but actually it fills out quite nicely with aeration. I prefer this to the 2019, even if it is just a little raw and rustic around the edges.

Troplong Mondot (St Emilion; the highest vineyard in the appellation on a famous argilo-calaire terroir; 85% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Cabernet Franc; an impressive final yield of 49 hl/ha; pH 3.56; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Aymeric de Gironde. A great wine; the new Troplong Mondot is born. Remarkably, 2018 saw the highest yield ever at Troplong Mondot – a product of attention in the vineyard and both altitude and its windy location, which helped protect against the mildew ravaging so many nearby vineyards.

They picked first and actually last too (on the Northern slopes). This is just so fresh and lithe and energetic, but it is big and quite spicy too. It is very true to its excellent form en primeur and remarkably open at this stage. Blueberries at first and almonds with apricot stones too. Very calcaire, very vertical. Mineral too – ferrous with marine/saline notes. The fruit is crushed black raspberries and loganberries with cracked black peppercorns – all very croquant and very pure. This is herbal and quite floral too – rhododendrons, peonies, irises. The barrel-aging has contributed to this very stylish restrained puissance. Pure, precise, focussed but big and punchy.

There is a touch of fleur de sel that stretches the already considerable sense of structure contributing to the long and tapered, airy finish. Very sappy and very juicy. This was picked extremely early to lock in the freshness. Expansive, ample and layered, with dusty, chalky granular tannins on the finish, contrasting the elegance and softness of the attack. Finishing on a long rippling crescendo of fresh fruit. Bravo. This is Troplong Mondot, but like you’ve never tasted before. My only qualm is the slight trace of alcohol on the finish.

Trottevieille (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 10 hectares on a terroir of red-clay over limestone on the plateau of St Emilion; 54% Cabernet Franc; 44% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in new French oak barrels; 14.5% alcohol). A wine that I often adore, but one that I have sometimes found a little erratic, with great variation in style and, frankly, success, between vintages. But this is one of those vintages that I really like. Quite dark in both colour and colour-density, though more garnet/ruby than garnet/purple, this is extremely glass-staining at the still unfocussed ruby/lilac rim.

Very earthy with a load of pencil-shaving-graphite-and-crushed-rock minerality (if that’s a thing!) and that really deep, dark intense summer pudding/fruits of the forest character that I associate with this terroir – and, crucially, the high proportion of Cabernet in the blend. Soft and plush on the entry, this is broad-shouldered and quite voluptuous (not a typical 2018 St Emilion descriptor). It will need a little time in bottle to flesh out and enrobe fully the broad structural bones, but when it does this will be fabulous. Lots of complexity – from the violet and lilac floral component, the fresh menthol note (especially on the finish) and the more earthy-gravelly minerality. The oak signature is there, as it tends to be with Trottevieille, but it’s already a lot less evident than it was en primeur and this is already much more harmonious. 

Valandraud (St Emilion; the original ‘garagiste’ first made in 1991 and originally from a miniscule vineyard of 0.6 hectares between La Clotte and Pavie Macquin, this now comes from parcels totalling 8.9 hectares all on the argilo-calcaire plateau; 90% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Malbec [the first time in 2 and half decades that this has been in the blend]; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; pH 3/6; aged in new French oak barrels; 15% alcohol). Still purple/black at the core with a radiant though extremely hazy pink/lilac/lavender rim.

Glossy and viscous as it always is in the glass as it shimmers in the low later winter sun. Wonderfully inviting and deeply aromatic – a marriage of cedar, graphite and the gentle sweet spiciness that it draws from the oak, with a deep, rich, velvety dark berry, black cherry and plum fruit. This is also extremely floral – dried lavender, rose petals and candied violet with a hint of incense. Super fine-grained tannins enrobe the rich, slightly sweet black cherry and baked plum fruit as this fans out gracefully on the palate.

Though there is very impressive density and concentration in the mid-palate (just where one wants it), this is so svelte, soft and polished than one never equates it with anything as vulgar as power. Camphor, incense and baking spices bring an added dimension to this, though they never detract from the sense of freshness and focus. Very accomplished modern wine-making. The slightest hint of heat on the finish (something to which I am, I suspect, particularly sensitive) is my only minor qualm.

Vieux Chateau Mazerat (St Emilion; a tiny vineyard of 4.15 hectares opposite Beauséjour Duffau Lagarosse, surrounded by parcels of Chateaux Angélus and Canon, and planted between 1947 and 1962 on a terroir of clay over limestone; 65% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; malolactic fermentation and élevage in 80% new oak; a yield of around 30 hl/ha – which is around the average here; 14.7% alcohol). This is just a shade, perhaps two, darker in hue and density of colour than Pontet Labrie, but still a couple of shades lighter than Le Carré or Les Astéries. Glossy, limpid, viscous and enticing as it always is.

A more opulent and exotic nose – not quite Tetre Roteboeuf or Grace Dieu des Prieurs, but one could almost imagine here the presence of Radoux Blend casks. Creamy, rich, layered with plenty of sweet baking spices – all spice, cinnamon, clove, star anise – alongside the ripe blueberry plum fruit. Like Pontet Labrie there is a little suggestion of Italiante sour cherries (more usually a Barolo or Barbaresco note). Ultra-soft on the palate with plush tannins and plump black cherry fruit. There’s a lovely freshness to this which cuts and balances out the sweet notes from the spicy nose and, for me at least, gives this a lot more interest. It remains more modern in style than Maltus’ other wines and there will definitely be those who prefer the possibly more direct expression of terroir that one finds in, say, Le Carré and Les Astéries, but I rather like the breadth and diversity of this set of wines. And Vieux Chateau Mazerat in 2018 is exuberant, exciting and delicious.

Villemaurine (St Emilion; on the plateau of St Emilion just outside the town itself on 12 hectares of argilo-calcaire over Astèria (calcified starfish) limestone; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 75% of which is new; 15% alcohol). Fresh, lifted, with plenty of dark plum, cherry and berry fruit, a pleasing herbal note and quite a pronounced slightly marine, salty minerality.

The vanilla pod and spice-box elements from the oak are quite noticeable, but will incorporate well with time and I suspect they’ll just serve to reinforce the graphite and cedar element that starts to emerge with air. Gloriously refined, soft, and ultra-fine-grained tannins – very much a signature of this property in recent vintages. These pave the way (much like a limestone pathway) to a rich and focussed, impressively savoury, mid-palate and a long, elegant evolution. What I really like is the way in which the crumbly tannins start to build towards the finish, giving this a lovely crescendo, and reinforcing the chewy grape-skin and black cherry-skin finale. Very long and composed.

Virginie de Valandraud (St Emilion; from 10 hectares on an argilo-calcaire and gravel terroir; 65 % Merlot; Cabernet Franc 25 %; Cabernet Sauvignon 5 %; Malbec 4 %; Carmenère 1%; aged in 100% new oak; 15% alcohol). Assembled from dedicated parcels so more a second label than a second wine. Lovely very vertical dark berry fruit, Kalamata olive and black truffle nose. Beautiful intense graphite over blueberries and damsons, with a hint of irises and violets too. Glossy, rich and impressively concentrated for a ‘second’ label; ultra-soft and elegant, with exceedingly fine-grained tannins. This is truly excellent; and it’s only the warm up act for Valandraud itself!

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