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Wine of the week – Chardonnay from Saint-Emilion

Our wine of the week is a remarkable Gold-medal winning drop that’s the first and only Chardonnay from Saint-Emilion and by far the priciest ‘Vin de France’ ever made.

The Chardonnay, called Cuvée Elena, comes in a custom-made magnum produced by French glassmaker Waltersperger

At the end of December’s Global Chardonnay Masters, as I and my fellow Master of Wine judges tasted our way through a final set of £50 plus barrel-fermented fine whites, we sampled something delicious but unusual, leaving us wondering where it might be from.

It was fine, but not rich and buttery in the manner one might expect from top Californian Chardonnay. Neither was it taut and smoky, like so called ‘new wave’ Aussie examples. And it did not have the matchstick, lemon and floral notes of great white Burgundy.

I thought it might be Italian, with fond memories of the ripe but fresh style of Chardonnay made by Gaja in Piedmont’s Langhe DOC.

But I was wrong, and the point of our tasting was not to guess source region, but simply to assess quality, and we all agreed this was certainly a Gold-medal worthy Chardonnay.

At the end of the day, we looked up the origins of our top scorers, and indeed all the wines we had tasted, and discovered that this particular drop was from Saint-Emilion – the home of great red wines crafted around Merlot, not whites, let alone those employing Chardonnay.

While a few producers do make white wines in this area – the most notable newcomer being Château Cheval Blanc – such bottlings can only be labelled Bordeaux Blanc: Saint-Emilion cannot be used on the label.

However, because our sample was not made with traditional Bordeaux grapes – which are of course Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for whites – it could not even be labelled as a Bordeaux, but had to be downgraded to Vin de France – the nation’s catch-all classification for entry-point wines; the modern-day equivalent of the old Vin de Table.

But this was Chardonnay planted on great terroir: it was from vineyards at Château La Grâce Dieu Des Prieurs – a property in a prime position that counts among others, Châteaux Figeac and Cheval Blanc as its neighbours.

On hearing the name, I immediately remembered the wine, as I had been told about it at Vinexpo Bordeaux in May 2019, and had penned a story on its impending launch back then – which you can read here.

What’s interesting to note here is not only the fact this Chardonnay, which hails from a one-hectare plot planted in 2014, comes from prized terroir – for Bordeaux grapes at least – but also that it is made by a brilliant rising star winemaker: Louis Mitjaville (the son of François Mitjavile, the highly-respected owner and winemaker at Saint-Émilion’s Château Le Tertre Rôteboeuf).

Unfortunately for those who want to try it, the inaugural 2019 vintage of this white rarity has been made in tiny quantities – 1,300 magnums – that are destined to sell at auction, with the property’s owner, Russian billionaire and chess champion, Andrey Filatov, insisting that the proceeds from this wine’s sale go to charity.

It’s been called Cuvée Elena and housed in a custom-made magnum produced by French glassmaker Waltersperger – Filatov is also a lover and collector of art.

Since this article was first published, db has been told that 10 magnums are to be sold in the UK from May via new luxury website for £1,300 each, with proceeds going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

Anyway, here’s a tasting note for Cuvée Elena 2019:

An intriguing wine with aromas and flavours of caramel, baked apple, honeydew melon, apricot, toast and charred oak. The wine, while ripe in terms of fruit, doesn’t feature the buttery richness that can beset Chardonnay, but rather a gently oily, slippery texture and a lingering, salty, smoky, fresh finish. Persistent, interesting, and delicious, even in this youthful state. 

My score: 94 points

Medal in The Global Chardonnay Masters 2020: Gold

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