Bordeaux 2020 en primeur by appellation: St Emilion
St Emilion in 2020 provides an embarrassment of riches, finds Colin Hay, in his detailed appellation report, which includes in-depth tasting notes of all the key releases.
Despite its many stand-out wines, and as has been widely documented, this vintage is for the most part uneven and heterogeneous in quality. And St Emilion we know to be the most heterogeneous of the leading appellations in both the qualitative range and diversity of its terroirs. So we might expect St Emilion 2020 to be something of a mixed bag.
In a sense it is. But relative to one’s expectations (or relative, at least, to mine) all parts of the appellation and all of its many terroirs have excelled. Indeed, as with Margaux, 2020 is a vintage that encourages one to revisit one’s preconceptions of the appellation – reinforcing as it does the significant change in style and philosophy that has been quietly underway for at least five years.
St Emilion today is, typically, less oaky that we imagine it to be and it is less extracted too. There is greater use of amphorae in vinification and/or élévage; less use of oak; more use of foudres and other larger format oak vessels for élévage; gentler and more cautious extraction (increasingly, passive infusion with no pumping over); more use of cold soaks; more wariness of the possibility of higher alcohol wines ripping the raw wood tannins from the barrel; a greater desire to respect and express terroir specificity; and much greater attention to the health of the soil and the biodiversity of the vineyard either with or without the conversion to organic and biodynamic wine-making.
These trends are by no means exclusive to St Emilion. But they are at least as well-established now in St Emilion as they are in any other of the leading appellations; and, arguably, they make even more of a difference here and in this vintage.
The effect in 2020 is that there are many brilliant and brilliantly diverse wines in St Emilion that sing eloquently of their diverse terroirs. For me, as I have said before, they represent the culmination of at least half a decade of recalibration and reassessment resulting in something of a ‘climat’-isation of St Emilion.
I have tasted over 150 of these wines, with full and I hope detailed tasting notes below. It would perhaps be insidious given the sheer quality in diversity of these wines to single out some for special attention, but I do wish to underscore the large number now of super-fresh, super-bright, highly terroir-expressive, lively and energetic wines that are – not by accident – organic and biodynamic.
There are others too, but I would particularly draw your attention to the following, not all of which are (yet) as well-known as they deserve to be: Chauvin, Croix de Labrie, l’Etampe, Fleur de Lisse, Fonplégade, Guadet and Mangot.
Picks of the appellation: Ausone (98-100)
Cheval Blanc (98-100)
Truly great: Angélus (97-99)
Beauséjour Duffau Lagarrosse (96-98+)
Clos Fourtet (96-98)
Clos St Martin (96-98)
Croix de Labrie (96-98)
La Gaffelière (95-97)
Tertre Roteboeuf (95-97+)
Troplong Mondot (95-97)
Value picks: Beauséjour-Becot (94-96)
Clos La Madeleine (94-96)
de Ferrand (93-95)
Grand Pontet (93-95)
Le Prieuré (94-96)
La Tour St Christophe (94-96)
Revelatory: Calicem (93-95)
Fleur de Lisse (92-94+)
Grace Dieu des Prieurs (94-96)
Full tasting notes
No. 3 d’Angélus (St Emilion; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon). 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. Light in colour and extract. Bright, lifted, aerial and very pure and direct on the fruit-forward nose – red berry fruits and a touch of mint leaf and cedar. Raspberry, cranberry, redcurrant and a hint of black currant leaf, with a nice point of acidity hinting at the freshness on the palate. In the mouth, this is similarly pure and bright with crunchy fruit and a nice granularity from the limestone tannins. Simple in a way but elegant, bright and lively.
Alverne (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 3.6 hectares on the argilo-calcaire plateau; aged in new Radoux blend barrels for 20 months; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol). An interesting wine that is perhaps less dominated by the Radoux blend barriques than you might imagine it would be. Floral and spicy on the nose in a way that just about has you thinking Mitjavile and Tertre-Roteboeuf, with a touch of violet, cinnamon, clove, fennel seeds and saffron alongside the combination of fresh and baked plums, there’s also a touch of hoisin salinity and a sprinkling of star anise.
The palate is quite open-knit, with the effect that the fruit is distributed rather thinly over the broad structural frame. It feels just a little stretched in places, though that also reinforces the sense of fluidity that this has over the palate. Overall, then, a light, accessible and attractive wine that perhaps lacks just a little density and delineation in the mid-palate. But it has nice grippy tannins, it will drink early and the Radoux blend barrels bring floral, spicy interest. Nicely judged.
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; 60% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; aged in a combination of oak barrels, larger foudres and amphorae; in conversion to organic wine-making; pH 3.65; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted twice, first from a sample sent from the Chateau and then at Caves Legrand in Paris with Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal. Translucent at the core, but very much towards the blue-indigo-violet end of the spectral range, this has an almost fluorescent pink/indigo rim. It is slow to reveal itself on the nose, as it so often is, and requires a combination of patience and gentle encouragement.
But it is fascinating to follow the flourishing of the phoenix in slow motion. The first note to appear is graphite with a little suggestion of cedar, then the fruit starts to arrive – plump, ripe, juicy blueberries, mulberries, sloes, damsons and finally the more opulent red and black cherry notes present themselves with violets and irises and a little hint of macadamia nuts. The old-vine Cabernet Franc, as ever, brings so much to this and yet, as with the other great wines of this exceptional vintage, one feels that one is really only scratching the surface, with so much more still to be revealed.
The tannins are of gossamer, imparting a calm almost spiritual sense of awe – like walking from the bright bustle of the city into a dark cathedral and adjusting one’s vision to the dappled light from the stained-glass windows. But the wine is extremely dynamic in the mouth, and the tannins build in intensity and granularity helping illuminate, in an almost pixilated way, the details of the densely layered and tightly focussed mid-palate, building to a lovely sappy crescendo and an almost austere calm finale. Bright and radiant but more sombre and serious in personality, this is a little more introspective and a little less indulgent and hedonistic than it used to be – and, for me at least, more harmonious, elegant and beautiful for it.
Arômes de Pavie (St Emilion; since 2016 much more a second label than a second wine per se, from selected parcels which sum to 29 hectares on a combination of plateau, mi-côtes and pieds de côtes terroirs; 50% Merlot; 50% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, half of them new; pH 3.47; 14.8% alcohol). Tasted with Jean-Baptise Pion at Chateau Pavie. This gets better every year and there is quite a notable step up in quality from the 2018 tasted recently.
Now much more of a genuine introduction to the grand vin itself. This has an impressively broad fruit profile of red and darker berry and stone fruit, lots of graphite, assorted cherries, a hint of freshly crushed peppercorns and a lovely wild note more of herbs and bushes than flowers per se. On the palate it’s the sloes and damsons that I notice, alongside the walnut shell and cedar elements. This is focussed, precise and densely layered with great detail and complexity and a very sapid and refreshing finish. It feels very natural and very complete. The Cabernet Franc here is particularly impressive.
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; 50% Cabernet Franc; 50% Merlot; aged for 20 months in new French oak barrels; the average age of the vines is 54 years, but with the parcel around the chapel over 110 years old). This is just glorious and much more accessible that it usually is at this stage. The nose is defined by the wondrous cedar element that seems to bring together and incorporate seamlessly every other component – brambles, black cherries, blueberries and plums, sloes and damsons with assorted aromatic and exotic baies and peppercorns and a hint of walnut shell.
There is also a shimmeringly beautiful floral element, rare in Ausone especially at this stage – violets, wild oregano and marjoram flowers – with pencil shavings and freshly roasting (as distinct from freshly roasted) coffee beans. The tannins are of velour and they produce little ripples of sappy freshness; but, at the same time, they are quite tactile and textural too. It’s as if the fresh fruit of the mid-palate is conveyed on tiny spherical rollers of tannin that somehow both massage the fruit and illuminate the detail. The finish is remarkable and the empty glass has the almost haunting lingering perfection of violets and cedar. Quite brilliant.
Clos Badon Thunevin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 6.5 hectares; 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.7; 14% alcohol). Big, rich, quite boisterous as you’d expect, with a bright plummy nose, plenty of spice, Szechuan peppercorns and star anise, and a hint of the toast and vanilla pod from the oak, but also a nice floral and herbal undertone. On the palate the attack is soft, but this is quite a massive wine with broad-shoulders and considerable heft. The tannins remain supple, however, and although there is quite a lot of extraction, it’s been very carefully managed. Not very characteristic of the vintage perhaps and a bit of bruiser, but there’s definitely a place for this.
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; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 60% new for 18-24 months; 14.5% alcohol). Dark in hue, this is garnet/indigo at the core, but light in extract and it captures the light beautifully. The nose is fresh and herb-tinged, giving this a very natural and slightly wild personality, with deep, dark autumnal berry and stone fruit and dried autumn leaves. Quite plump and rich on the attack but the limestone tannins rein this back nicely, refocussing this through the mid-palate. It perhaps lacks a little complexity, and the tannins are slightly dry if never drying, but this is an elegant if simple expression of the vintage.
Beauséjour-Bécot (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 17 hectares on an argilo-calcaire plateau terroir just behind Chateau Canon; 85% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; average age of the vines is 45 years; final yield of 42 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%); Thomas Duclos is the consultant here). The latest in a recent series of great wines and possibly the greatest of them all – though the 2019 certainly offers stiff competition; one also has the sense that there is still so much to come with this wine – it’s open, yes, but far from revealing all of its secrets.
Very bright, very pure and very bold and direct on the nose with plump, rich, crunchy black cherries and wild blueberries, a hint of walnut oil from the ripe pips, a slight suggestion of freshly baked gingerbread or Christmas cake and a note of cinnamon. On the palate this is, again, rich and ample, but the extraordinarily fine-grained tannins rein in the fruit, bringing it back and then stretching it out along the spine whilst revealing their grippy-grainy-chalky character. This is very much a wine from a calcaire terroir and I love that. It has a fabulously lifted, plump juicy and sapid finish very much at the top of the mouth – and very long too. Very refreshing, like all of the best wines of the appellation in this vintage.
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; 83% Merlot; 17% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; around 14% alcohol). Tasted with Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse at the chateau – indeed, I was apparently the first to taste the final blend. Be careful with tasting notes for this wine (not that there are many of them). For some critics were sent the original version of this wine. If you see a tasting note for an 100% Merlot version of this, it is not the final wine.
The back story here is very complex; but the long and the short of it is that this is a simply fabulous wine, made by Nicolas Thienpont and David Suire and assembled by Joséphine Duffau-Lagarrosse. On the nose we have blood orange, fleur d’oranger, cassis, blueberries, brambles and a lovely graphite-inflected minerality. The palate is rich and opulent, but classical and sublimely sinuous and luminous, very expressive of its top terroir and the appellation an impression reinforced for me by the important role played here by the Cabernet Franc (which actually seems like it represents more than 17%). The grippy and slightly crumbly chalky tannins structure the wine beautifully, shining a focussed and precise light on the pixilated detail of the mid-palate, binding the fruit quite tightly to the spine and stretching the wine out towards its very long tapered finish. This is incredibly pure, precise, bright and fresh and as good a wine from Beauséjour Heritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse as I can recall.
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; 98% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 15% alcohol). In 2020 there is only 2% of Cabernet Franc in the blend here, despite the vineyard being planted at 10%. Glossy, extremely limpid, impressively translucent at the core and with a profoundly glass-staining indigo-violet rim. Divine. This has such a composed, cool, refined, elegant and subtle nose.
Cedar, graphite, brambles, mulberries, blueberries and sloes with a gorgeously fresh, bright acidity. Sumptuously soft and plunge-pool cool on the entry in a way that catches you slightly by surprise. The effect is to prime the senses and to make you concentrate – and that allows you appreciate in a kind of slow motion, highly pixilated, almost frame-by-frame way, the unfurling and unfolding of the fruit over the palate. It’s as if the structuring mineral-acid-tannic backbone of the wine rations and moderates the release of the fruit, crafting and building the wine towards its glorious crescendo which takes the form of a succession of little ripples of juicy freshness right at the top of the palate. The structure – and the sense of structure – is extraordinary. Alongside Trotanoy, one of the wines of the vintage. In 2018 I preferred Trotanoy; in 2019 I preferred Bélair-Monange; in 2020 … it’s a tie!
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; 70% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in a combination of oak barrels, 30% of which are new, and ovoid-shaped ceramic vessels; a final yield of 37 hl/ha; pH 3.65; 14.5% alcohol). Wonderfully situated and with the most august and refined of neighbours – Pavie, Larcis-Ducasse and Tertre Roteboeuf – and now just starting to provide some serious competition after significant investment in the vineyard and in the new wine-making facility.
Subtle and slightly introverted on the nose, this has a cool, calm natural authority and a lovely sense of harmony. The fruit is plump and dark – black cherry but also briary autumnal fruits like brambles and blackberries – and there is a lovely rich cedary-graphite minerality which works so well with the nutty aromas coming from the ripe pips. Silky and very elegant on the palate but also with bags of vertical lift and a surprisingly crystalline brightness and sense of energy. This is, for me, the most classical and elegant vintage of Bellefont that I have tasted en primeur – less flamboyant and opulent perhaps but with a generous, ample, soft and welcoming natural charm. Truly excellent and with a wonderful sense of balance and harmony.
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). This has a glorious limpidity in the glass with bluish purple highlights on swirling. Another extremely aromatic and expressive wine at this early stage – with bunches of spring flowers accompanying the fresh red cherry fruit. This is very accessible and appealing on the palate too – red cherries, almonds, frangipane (think Special Agent Dale Cooper’s cherry pie from Twin Peaks) and, once again, there are lovely spring floral notes. Sometimes I feel Bellevue could do with just a little Cabernet Franc, but in this wonderful vintage for Merlot this has an irresistible energy and an accessible charm that I find very attractive.
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; 100% Merlot; the vines have an average age of 50 years; a final yield of 18 hl/ha; aged in new French oak barrels; pH 3.5; just over 14.9% alcohol). Tasted with Jean-Baptise Pion at Chateau Pavie. This is not unlike Pavie Decesse but if anything even more marked by the calcaire terroir. We find copious black cherries, black currant, chocolate-coated violets irises and peonies and graphite and cedar, especially as this starts to open in the glass. This is full, lithe and again surprisingly sinuous given that it is also extremely dense and compact – more so even that Pavie Decesse. A ballerina wine that is incredibly light on its feet despite the broad shoulders. Voluminous and yet luminous with all the poised tension that implies, if perhaps just a little monochromatic.
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; 66% Merlot; 34% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels with a medium or medium-long toasting, 50% of which are new for 16 months; 14.5% alcohol; the fruit was picked between the 14th and 24th of September, the Cabernet all being picked on the 24th). Purple/blue/black at the core, yet not overly extracted and with an almost fluorescent lilac rim. Searingly vertical on the nose – instantly placing this on or near the St Emilion plateau (though that’s always an easier trick to perform when you can see the label).
A spicy peppery nose – green Szechuan peppercorns seem to have been crushed in a pestle with a combination of red and darker berry fruit – raspberries, loganberries, mulberries and brambles. Heather and wild herbs too and a little sandalwood. On the palate, this is very engaging with a gentle natural sweetness that seems to characterise the Chanel St Emilion wines in this vintage. It works well with the, at first, filigree tannins which then build slowly in granularity, turning crumbly and then chewy as they do so. This is very structural and, once again, very strongly defined by its calcaire terroir, with a lovely, long chiselled and tapered finish that is extremely palate-cleansing and which imparts a calm air of tranquility and harmony. Very fine indeed, though I think I just prefer the 2019.
La Bienfaisance de Chateau Sanctus (St Emilion; from a 25-hectare vineyard in St Christophe des Bardes on an argilo-calcaire terroir; 14.5% alcohol). I find this rather confected and overly sweet on the nose and the palate. Palma violets, candied rose petals, rosewater, candyfloss and Turkish delight rather dominated the baked plum and raspberry fruit – though to give this credit, the more air this breathes in the more the fresh fruit triumphs. Soft and gentle tannins frame this light and elegant wine rather well. It’s made to be accessible and easy-drinking and it will be precisely that. I find the nose, above all, a little sweet-tinged; but for some that is part of its charm.
Boutisse (St Emilion; 24 hectares of vineyard on the clay limestone plateau at St Christophe des Bardes; 92% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 4% Carmanère; some vinification en barrique; 14.5% alcohol). Quite direct, fresh and fruity on the nose – crushed raspberries, cassis and blackcurrant and blackberry coulis, with hints of wild thyme and oregano and freshly cracked black and green peppercorns. This feels very natural and that sense of purity and precision is maintained on the palate which is cool, with a slight hint of fresh mint on the attack, and then soft and elegant and refined through the mid-palate to a crunchy fresh if quite tannic finish. Languid with a subtle quiet elegance and plenty of bright energy. Highly recommended.
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; aged in medium-toasted oak barrels, a third of which are new). Tasted twice with similar notes. Translucent at the core, with a radiant violet rim and bluish-purple highlights on swirling. A direct, pure and lifted nose of bright redcurrant, red cherry and fresh raspberry fruit and, underneath, a dusty, earthy, herby minerality that I rather like. There are slight hints of almond and frangipane that help one pick out the red cherry element. Pure, clean and with an engaging sense of vitality and freshness on the palate, this has a lovely mouthfeel with the very fine-grained tannins bringing definition and grip. Impressive and with a nice peppery finish. A property to follow.
Calicem (St Emilion; 100% Merlot from old clones planted at Couvent des Jacobins in 1961, so now of 60 years in age; with a naturally limited yield of around 20-25 hl/ha and with no green harvesting and very limited de-leafing; only 10 barrels in 2020; vinification intégrale in 500 litre oak vessels; just 2000-3000 bottles; pH 3.65; 14.5% alcohol; the consultant is Thomas Duclos). An exciting project and an exciting wine that I really love in this vintage. A very vertical ‘calcaire’ nose of pure, fresh, bright crystalline and crunchy (croquant) blueberry, blackberry and mulberry fruit, with a nice trace of graphite and a lovely saline-marine minerality and just a hint of cedar. On the palate this is compact, densely layered and with prominent but supremely fine-grained dusty chalky tannins which bring a pixilating focus to the detail of the mid-palate. This glides and rolls over the palate to a lifted crescendo and then towards a long tapering chewy finish. There is great structure here and, crucially, both the concentration of fruit and the brightness and energy of the vintage to make this a very exciting prospect – but it will need at least a decade to be appreciated at anything resembling its best. I love the sense of refinement and the elegance of this.
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; the consultant is Stephane Derencourt; aged in oak, 35% new, for 14 months; 14.5% alcohol). Spring flowers accompany red cherries and darker stone fruit on the nose, with just a hint of graphite and cracked black pepper, with a smokier background note too that I actually find a little distracting. This is lithe and dynamic on the palate, with a nice bright pick-up but the fruit is stretched quite thinly over the tannic frame and this will need to put on a little flesh during élevage if it’s not to come across just a little skinny. I like the chewy, natural grape-skin finish.
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; 67% Merlot; 33% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new for 18 months; pH 3.53; 14.5% alcohol; picked between the 4th and 23rd of September). Garnet/purple at the core with blue/purple highlights and a violet rim. Very open and charged with fresh fruit on the nose – compote blueberries and raspberries, red cherries, a hint of leather, frangipane and toasted almonds. Glossy and quite plump on the attack with fleshy ripe yet fresh raspberry and red cherry fruit stretched out along its long fine-grained chewy chalky tannic spine. This has a lovely sense of levity and seems to dance across the palate despite the considerable density and concentration on the finely delineated mid-palate. Pure, precise, focussed and very well integrated and harmonious. The tannins are so soft that one really has to concentrate to appreciate the role they play in stretching out the fruits over the long, elegant highly-contoured and layered mid palate. This has a beautifully gathered clean finish. The latest in a succession of superb wines from Canon.
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; 55% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; certified organic; final yield of 32.5 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 13.5% alcohol). Lightly extracted and with a shimmering limpidity in the glass that seems to capture well the luminosity of the wine itself. The nose is a beautiful study in tension itself, between the fresh vertical lift of the pure almost crunchy berry and cherry fruit and the stony, gravelly, graphite and cedar minerality and wild herbyness that are both so equally present.
The ultra-soft and supple tannins on the entry disguise well the density and concentration of this slightly austere and imposing wine. Rich, if always elegant rather than opulent, this has a shimmering almost crystalline blueberry and black cherry fruit and the finest grained of fine-grained tannins that bring an almost pixilating focus to the fruit in the mid palate, before a sumptuous rippling, rolling sappy finish. Extremely harmonious even at this very early stage.
Cap de Mourlin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 14 hectares situated to the north of St Emilion on an argilo-calcaire and argilo-siliceux terroir; 65% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 44 hl/ha; 14.3% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC. Open aromatically and quite flamboyant on the nose – even from a rather chilly sample. Cassis, blueberries, black cherry, cedar. Full and plump on the attack, with a big hit of ripe crunchy cherries, with the tannins bringing some definition and helping incorporate the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg spice from the barriques. A little on the massive side, but with just enough compensating freshness.
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; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 60% of which is new; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; pH 3.5). Extremely limpid and with a lovely glossy sheen, but relative light in terms of extract, if dark – magenta/purple with blue highlights – in colour.
Aromatically intense and expressive, with a darker shade of fruit to the No. 3 – brambles, blackberries, a little blackcurrant and a little wild blueberry, with nutty notes from the ripe pips and a generous graphite and earthy minerality. Plush and enveloping on the palate, this is very refined and laid back, very dark, dense and rich but in a quietly understated way. It dances a fine line between opulence and elegance, austerity and levity, profundity and radiance, comfidence and introspection – you’re not quite sure if you’re in the crypt or the discotheque. But that produces this wonderful tension and sense of dynamism. The best Carillon I’ve tasted, continuing the steep ascent from the already excellent 2019.
Chapelle d’Ausone (St Emilion; the second wine of Ausone; 35% Merlot; 60% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in new oak barrels for 20 months). Tasted at the chateau. This is even more sinuous and lithe. On the nose we have concentrated graphite and cedar and loads of Ausone minerality. The attack is brilliantly engaging, with a massive presence of cedar and lovely glossy intense mouthfeel that sings of class and quality. The palate is sumptuously plump and ample with waves of cedar-coated blueberries and mulberries. The ultra-fine-grained tannins beautifully illuminate and accentuate the details of the mid-palate, giving this an exquisite clarity. Cedary perfection, texturally sublime and with a lovely touch of fresh pepper right at the end.
Le Châtelet (St Emilion; 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 the then rather larger vineyard was sold in 1979) on a plateau terroir of calcaire à astéries. Slightly reductive on the nose at first with a hint of pear-drops, aniseed and black leaf tea alongside the raspberry coulis and baked plum fruit. Bright and very energetic on the entry, this is dynamic and lively, very much at the top of the palate but with more depth and concentration than many ostensibly similar wines in the vintage. My only criticism is that the mid-palate lacks a little delineation and layering – coming across just a little monochromatic as a consequence. But there is lovely crystalline clarity to the fruit and the glossiness of the cool menthol mouthfeel will win many admirers.
Chauvin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 15 hectares between Cheval Blanc and la Butte de Roi on the Pomerol border and on a terroir of sandy-clay over crasse de fer; 70% Merlot; 28% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in french oak barrels, 60% of which are new; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). Much darker in the glass, but clearly the product of a very gentle extraction as this remains translucent in the centre. A lovely glossy limpidity which usually augurs well.
This has a darker but no less creamy fruit profile than the second wine – brambles, blackberries and a touch of cassis, with cracked black pepper, dark pen ink and fresh rain on a hot clay path. There is a lovely floral dimension too – irises and iris bulbs. This feels very natural. Very glossy with satin tannins that stay impressively soft even as the fine-grained crumbly tannins start to build across the long, quietly composed and well-structured palate. Very linear and focussed with a nice sense of progression, impressive depth and concentration and with a long chewy, spicy finish. Even better than the already impressive 2018 tasted recently. Sylvie Cazes is doing a great job here.
Cheval Blanc (St Emilion; a vineyard of 39 hectares comprised of 52 parcels on a fantastic network of interlinked terroirs bordering Pomerol with 71% of the total production being selected for the grand vin; 65% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; the final yield is an impressive 37 hl/ha despite this being the dried summer at Cheval Blanc for 50 years; aged in 100% new French oak barrels; 14.2% alcohol). Utterly profound, utterly sublime and a clear candidate for the wine of the vintage. This is fabulously bright, fresh and floral on the nose – violets and wild herbs, the signature cedar and graphite of Cheval (though not generally en primeur), gorse and heather, sous bois and even a hint of truffles and girolles. Deep, dark, rich and compact yet intensely layered on the palate – once again I have the mental image of sheets of silk billowing in the breeze. This is incredibly tense and poised with so much natural energy and crisp, brilliant fresh fruit and sapidity, yet at the same time that profound and slightly austere elegance and total refinement that I associate with no other wine in the world. Above all, though, this is just incredibly luminous, almost radiant. Singular, unique and utterly compelling, this is wine of great grace and composure that feels completely natural and fabulously harmonious.
Clos Cantenac (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 6 hectares split over a variety of different terroirs – primarily gravel and limestone; 100% Merlot; 14.5% alcohol). Much darker and more extracted than the second wine with a lovely deep purple core, glossy limpidity in the glass and a violet rim. This has a gorgeous nose. Violets, rose petals, lily of the valley, cedar and a lovely deep dark glossy cassis and black cherry fruit (the former becoming more evident with aeration). The best yet from this property. Very svelte on the attack, but with plenty of substance, density, concentration and texture from the fine-grained tannins. This is rich and opulent and although the tannins are quite substantial, the extraction has been very carefully handled here and, as a consequence, this is light on its feet despite its very natural puissance. There is a lovely thread of graphite minerality that runs down the spine of this and that seems to hold it all together. Bravo!
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; in fact, 0.5 hectares is not in current production; 100% Merlot; aged in 40% new oak for 16-18 months; 14,5% alcohol). Acquired by Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix in 2017. Aromatically beautiful, with black and red cherry fruit, graphite, a touch of cedar, cloves and hazelnuts, with a lovely sense of fresh summer rain on baked earth. This is very lithe and open-textured, super svelte and sinuous on the shimmering mid-palate and it has a glorious structure and texture. In fact, there are three rather distinct phases to the evolution of the wine in the mouth: an opulent, rich and yet gentle and generous attack, then the grip of the tannins unleashing a lovely crescendo of sapid fresh juiciness leading, finally, to a very long and slowly tapering finish. Something of a hidden gem and spectacular in this vintage.
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; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; the average age of the vines is 57 years; aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months). Tasted at Chateau Ausone. Very ripe Morello cherries and blueberries, with cedar, fresh tobacco leaf, vanilla, saffron, sweet spices and hints of wild spring flowers and fresh thyme. In the mouth this is big and chewy, but it also glides and dances on the palate like a ballerina. There’s a lovely note of Szechuan peppercorns and hoisin too and the oak – which is quite present – brings little sparkles of additional interest right at the end. Excellent.
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; malolactic fermentation split 50:50 between wood and concrete vats; aging in oak for 16 months, 50% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). Almost but not quite opaque as its black cherry/garnet core, with a radiant pink rim and loads of glycerine. A voluptuous nose of deep dark berry and cherry compote fruit, the finest milk chocolate, freshly roasted and ground coffee beans, crushed rocks and walnut oil.
This is one of those wines that you can tell from the nose is going to be full and rich yet soft and graceful on the palate – and it is just that. Cool, with a slight menthol note on the entry before the plump black cherry fruit arrives, this is quite ample and opulent with broad shoulders and a certain authority and gravitas as it takes it take to unfurl along its graphie-charged mineral spine. Very attractive and finely balanced, with energy and yet a calm confident solidity too.
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). Reductive at first, but that clears quite quickly to reveal a somewhat sweet-tinged nose of candied and Palma violets, rose petals, kirsch and baked plums with lots of Christmas spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, perhaps a hint of star anise too and a little dry (tree) bark. Plush and quite full on the entry, this is big and glossy and rich. This feels very much like a hot vintage St Emilion and although the fruit remains fresh and vibrant and the tannins are nicely judged, I still find this just a little heavy.
Cote de Baleau (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 15 hectares on clay-limestone; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 50 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 20% of which are new, and vat; 14.2% alcohol). Jet black with purple highlights at the core and a shimmering violet ribbon around the rim. A beautiful creamy cedary nose with extremely dark pulpy black fruit – sloes, damsons, blackberries, black cherries and a hint of cassis. Super-soft and impressively plump and generous on the attack, this fans out very nicely across the mid-palate, though the calcaire tannins hold everything together and help deliver the fruit across the palate rather than allowing it to become too broad-shouldered too soon. There is lovely tension here and a delicious slightly chewy chalky grape-skin finish. Excellent and the best of the 2018, 2019, 2020 trio for me.
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; aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months). Glossy, limpid and pretty opaque at the core with a radiant purple rim. Very expressive and lively on the nose, this combines fresh red berry fruit with slightly cooler softer darker berry notes too, giving this a nice complexity with is further reinforced by the ‘summer rain on terracotta roof-tiles’ earthy minerality and little hint of violets too. Bright and sprightly on the attack too, with medium body, nice layering through the mid-palate and a well composed fresh, clean finish. This is not an especially powerful wine, but it has a very pleasing sense of harmony.
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; the first vintage certified organic; 14.5% alcohol). The first vintage of this wine certified organic and the best I have ever tasted from here. Dark in colour, through the product of a clearly very gentle extraction. Expressive and aromatic and with all the bright, fruit-forward freshness of the vintage but also the pronounced graphite, saline and ferrous minerality of this terroir – a lovely natural marriage. This has a pure and focussed dark berry and cherry fruit, a lovely graphite mineral spine and chewy, chalky grippy tannins that intermingle with the acidity of the fruit and the saline/ferrous notes to give pulsating waves of sappy juiciness on the long quite tapered finish. Big, ripe, rich and deep, but with plenty of energy and interest.
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; 65% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 30% of which are new, for 18 months; 14.5% alcohol). Light in colour and extract.
This has a very distinct nose – red cherry sweets from my youth, raspberry compote, saffron and patchouli, sandalwood and walnuts too. Bright and pure yet quite ample too though the calcaire tannic spine gives the wine a lot of forward momentum on the palate, stopping it from ever becoming broad-shouldered and contributing to a lovely sense of focus. This has, for me at least, deliciously crumbly slightly chewy chalky tannins and a pleasing sappy, juicy freshness on the grape-skin finish. A lovely introduction to Canon itself in this great St Emilion vintage. My only slight gripe is whether this has just a little trace of residual sugar.
Croix de Labrie (St Emilion; from 5.6 hectares of parcels in Rocheyron, Puymouton and Echères on the argilo-calcaire plateau, Badon at the foot of the Pavie slope and Cateau on gravel and blue clay; 92% Merlot; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc; just 14000 bottles; pH 3.55; a final yield of just c. 27hl/ha; certified organic winemaking; aged in new oak for 18 months; 14% alcohol). Tasted first from a sample sent to Paris and then with Pierre Courdurié at the Château with consistent notes. An amazing wine. To start with this has the most incredible colour – the most glossy and limpid en primeur sample thus far encountered. The rim is almost literally fluorescent – a shocking blue-purple pink. I’m almost tempted to find a dark room to see if it glows. And the nose is incredibly beautiful, with the most seamless and perfectly pure dark cherry, cassis and blueberry fruit, accompanied by lavender, rosemary, violets and cedar.
There is also a wondrous calcaire minerality that places this wine – from the nose alone – in this part of the appellation; and I love the idea of that. I have to tear my nose from the glass; but I am immediately rewarded for doing so. For this is exquisitely soft on the entry in an almost mystic way that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It has a lovely cool almost diaphanous quality. It shimmers as it glides across the palate and the tannins are so soft and fine-grained that they seem to hold the bright pure fresh fruit on a cushion of air. Sinuous, elegant, refined and yet brilliantly bright and energetic, this has so much tension – and I love it. A brilliant advert for organic and biodynamic wine-making as it is for the genius of Axelle and Pierre Courdurié.
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; aged in 70% new oak; vines average age of 27 years; 14% alcohol). Comparatively lightly extracted reinforcing its wondrous colour – fifty shades of blue-purple-lilac-pink. And the nose is a little like that too. This is very pretty and intensely floral – roses and crushed rose petals, rosewater and Palma violets, but we also have a lovely cedary note developing alongside the red and black cherry fruit. This is another wine whose nose I’d like to keep in a jar and carry around with me – in fact, just give me a bottle, because this is fantastic on the palate too. Bright, lively, fresh and charged with florality and fruit, this is beautifully textured – not cashmere or silk but something more texturally tactile and dynamic, like being immersed in an Atlantic breaker. A great advert for the appellation and likely to represent excellent value.
Destieux (St Emilion; a vineyard of 8.1 hectares situated on one of the two highest parts of the appellation on an argilo-calcaire plateau terroir; malolactic fermentation and élevage in 100% new oak). Shockingly pink/purple at the rim and practically fluorescent with a gentle swirl of the glass. Pear drops and cassis with red cherries, kirsch, crushed walnuts shells and the first big drops of summer rain on a dry mud path. Glossy and rich on the palate with an impressive sense of both energy and drive across the palate and nice chewy crumbly calcaire tannins. The pear drops on the nose and palate are a little disconcerting and there is a hint of residual sugar, but experience tells me that this will be fine in time.
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 3.69; 13.9% alcohol). Wonderful garnet/purple but less extracted than either Vieux Chateau Mazerat or Pontet Labrie. The Merlot was picked here quite late – later than, for instance, any of the other Maltus properties. And in a strongly Merlot vintage it is reassuring that this distinct blend – always strongly Cabernet Franc-dominated – performs so well.
This is very pure, bright and lifted on the nose and in fact it captures the personality of the vintage more than the other wines in the line-up. Blackberries, brambles, mulberries and baked plums intermingle with baking spices, lavender and peonies on the nose. The tannins are super soft and stay soft across the mid-palate. This is a big, bold crunchy wine and it’s multi-layered. But it’s as if, for now, the wine needs time for the layers to settle into their rightful place – this feels like a work in progress rather than the finished item. There is nothing at all wrong with that; it’s just that this is a wine, as it often is, that is difficult to gauge this early in its life.
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; a final yield of 46 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Big, rich, chewy and puissant (more than I was expecting) but with a refined and elegant structure – like an exoskeleton that sculps the wine very precisely and neatly and that brings the fruit back towards the spine after its grand and rather opulent opening. The tannins grip very well (and need to in order to achieve this effect) and when they do so they unleash a lovely sappy juiciness. We have fresh brambles, black raspberries and blackcurrant. Bold and massive, but a triumph in the vintage because it locks in all that freshness.
Le Dragon de Quintus (St Emilion; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, about 30% of which is new; 15.2% alcohol). From parcels that were formerly part of Chateaux Tertre Daugay and L’Arrosée; almost half a degree higher in alcohol than the 2018, though with rather more Merlot in the final blend. A beautiful limpid glossy dark purple/garnet in the glass, with a radiant pink/lilac rim and a little reticent on the nose at first. But when it does open this is future and lifted with a very dark berry and stone fruit nose – sloes and damsons, mulberry and a hint of black cherry, with a gentle graphite-tinged mineral undertone; the vanilla and cedary notes from the barrique arrive with a little more air. This is plush and bright on the attack, with a shimmering fresh and focussed berry fruit, quite pronounced grippy but very fine-grained, almost chalk powder coated tannins that bring a nice definition. A very accomplished second label and a continuation of the steep upwards ascent here over recent vintage.
Clos Dubreuil (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 6.6 hectares on the plateau on a limestone terroir at St Christophe des Bardes; 80% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 70% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). This is usually something of a block-bluster that is not for the faint-hearted, if often rather wondrous in all its glory and excess. In 2020 it’s a fascinating wine, where a subtle change in style (I think) reinforces the natural characteristics of the vintage to produce an exceptional wine that is sparkling with energy and vibrant freshness. The oak seems more moderate, the extraction a little lighter and this gives centre-stage, rightly so, to the fantastically luminous and joyous dark berry and lighter stone fruit that just zings and sings on the elegant, if still rich, ample, layered and deceptively dense and powerful mid-palate. The chalky fine-grained tannins bring detail and pixilation. One of those gravity-defying wines that is very characteristic of St Emilion’s better terroirs in 2020. Brilliant stuff.
L’Etampe (St Emilion; a vineyard of 1.5 hectares between Figeac and Montlabert and with vines between 40 and 50 years of ages; 84% Merlot; 16% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak barrels of one previous use; just 5000 bottles; biodynamic wine-making since 2017). Impressive stuff. Jean-Claude &Jean-François Berrouet are the consultants here, which goes some way to explaining the quality. This is the first time I’ve tasted this wine or, indeed, any of the wines in the Vignobles Jade range. Slightly darker in hue and extraction than Fontfleurie, but still nicely translucent and limpid in the glass. This has a lovely pure and lifted blueberry, bramble and raspberry fruit with wild herbs and very natural mossy/loamy undertones. Aerial and luminous on the attack, this is shimmering, very pure and precise with a lovely sense of forward momentum on focus. Very accessible and with the biodynamic wine-making really accentuating the brightness and freshness of the vintage. Highly recommended.
Faugères (St Emilion; from a 37-hectare vineyard on a combination of the limestone plateau (asteria limestone subsoil; 70% Merlot; 21% Cabernet Franc; 9% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 23 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 50 % of which are new; 15% alcohol) and a limestone and clay slope (limestone soil on clay-limestone molasse); aged in oak for 14 months, 50% of which is new; average age of the vines 35 years; 15% alcohol). Interestingly, the degree of alcohol here is actually higher than for the 2018.
Translucent at the garnet/purple core, with evident viscosity and with a shimmering band of violet coming from the unformed rim. The nose is instantly appealing – dried rose petals, violets, pot pourri and freshly turned pencil shavings combine with the plump, rich, dark berry and cherry fruit, with a little sprinkling of cocoa dust. Cool and composed on the palate, with a gentle and super-soft entry, refined and ultra-fine grained tannins that build in intensity and granularity towards an impressively gathered and elegant finish. I don’t notice the alcohol, but I do pick up just a trace of residual sugar (not uncommon in this vintage and not altogether unpleasant). Stylish, sleek and classy, this will find many admirers.
Faurie de Soutard (St Emilion; a vineyard of 12 hectares on the northern slopes of St Emilion, on a combination of clay and sandy clay terroirs; 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 clearly the product of a very gentle extraction, leaving this remarkably translucent at the core for a St Emilion en primeur sample. That allows one to appreciate all the more the blue/purple/violet hints that glisten as the glass rotates in the spring sunlight. Elegant, nicely lifted and vertical on the nose, this has a very pure, precise and focussed fruit profile – red and black cherries, kirsch, flakes of black chocolate, almost a little black forest gateau, hazelnut skins, nutmeg and all spice. On the palate this has a lovely graphite-mineral spine, and a touch of salinity too which helps bring interest and definition to the plump, ripe cherry and berry fruit. This has a lovely sappy finish and is nicely focussed.
De Ferrand (St Emilion; a comparatively large vineyard of 32 hectares a top the argilo-calcaire plateau at Saint-Hippolyte at an altitude of over 100 metres on a mix of clay, sand and limestone soils; 74% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Franc; 1% Cabernet Sauvignon; with a final yield of 44 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). The progression here is constant and this is quite simply the best wine that I have ever tasted from this property. Tasted blind there aren’t actually many wines this could be (though that is, of course, easy to say). But instantly, and from the nose alone, we know this is calcaire-rich high altitude St Emilion – Laroque, perhaps, or de Ferrand itself.
The fruit is searingly vertical and fantastically fresh and pure – cassis, red currants, raspberry and even wild strawberries with a lovely crumbly chalkiness (or at least the aromatic profile one associates with that) and a wonderful wild heather moorland note and spring flowers too. On the palate this is impressively rich and plump, but the crumbly, grainy calcaire tannins act like an exoskeleton, stopping the fruit from fanning out and instead driving it forward along the mineral spine of this highly architectural wine. It’s like a gothic limestone cathedral! Yes, patience will be required but the potential here is extraordinary.
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; 32% Cabernet Franc; 31% Cabernet Sauvignon; this is aging in new French oak barrels for around 16 months; a final yield of 37 hl/ha, though the Cabernet Sauvignon yielded only 30 hl/ha; pH 3.7; 13.9% alcohol). Tasted at the chateau. A sumptuous Figeac which really shines in this vintage despite the climatic challenges that had to be negociated. On the nose, this has rather classical notes of leather and graphite, chocolate and violets, crushed stones, a touch of both cedar and acacia and a hint of clove and vanilla.
There is also a suggestion of patchouli, dried rose petals and garrigue herbs – very redolent of the vintage. On the palate, this is bright, dynamic, energetic, lively and engaging with an impressive sapidity and lift despite the no less impressive depth, concentration and sheer density of the compact mid-palate. Each cépage brings something distinct – aromatically, structurally and texturally – and yet what is most impressive about this wine is its seamless integration and the sense of natural harmony that it exudes. An excellent Figeac, very much on a par with the 2019 and 2018.
La Fleur Cardinale (St Emilion; from a vineyard of which just over 23 hectares are in current production, on a combination of argilo-calcaire terroirs and next to Valandraud; the average age of the vines is 40 years; 77% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; pH 3.57; 14.5% alcohol). Glossy deep purple in a way that has you asking how a colour like that is even possible naturally. Expansive and expressive and intensely floral – pot pourri, dried rose petals, peonies and irises intermingle with the bramble and blackberry fruit and the lovely graphite-cedar note that starts to develop with a little more air, and there’s almost a hint of coal dust – certainly a rocky mineral note. This has a nose that you want to bottle any carry around with you! Full, plush, plump and pulpy on the palate, with incredibly soft yet not inconsiderable tannins and impressive mid-palate density and concentration. A big and powerful wine, but with oodles of charm, great freshness and plenty of energy.
Fleur de Lisse (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 8.65 hectares with vines aged between 40 and 50 years on the foot of the lime and limestone slopes of Saint-Etienne de Lisse; 74% Merlot; 26% Cabernet Franc; biodynamic wine-making since 2017; aging in oak foudres, barriques and in amphora; Jean-Claude & Jean-François Berrouet are the consultants here). Another brilliant wine from Vignobles Jade. Limpid, pure, translucent and with an evidently very gentle and careful extraction. Wonderfully expressive of the luminous character of the vintage, this is charged with bright, aerial, fresh dark berry, raspberry and cassis fruit, assorted crushed peppercorns, wild herbs, gorse and heather and a touch of graphite too. I love the touch of red and blackcurrant leaf on the attack that gives this a brilliantly lifted entry, reinforced by the very fine-grained tannins that stretch this out over the top of the palate and the roof of the mouth. Elegant, refined and refreshingly moreish too, this is the first time I have tasted this wine; it won’t be the last if I have anything to do with it.
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; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% alcohol). Limpid and viscous in the glass, almost translucent at the garnet/purple core and with a hazy blueberry/purple rim. A lovely vertical nose of pure, lifted, cassis and blueberry fruit, with an interesting liniment note too, but also a rich earthiness and hints of wild herbs and hillside heather. Cool, soft and compact on the entry, this is elegant and refined with very finely-grained tannins which build slowly along its chiselled calcaire spine to unleash a rolling, rippling juicy finish. Very stylish and composed and a marked success in this vintage.
Folie de Chauvin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 15 hectares on a terroir of sandy-clay over an iron-rich subsoil; 95% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; aged in one-year old oak for 14-16 months; 13.5% alcohol). Fresh but creamy on the nose – black cherries, fruits of the forest preserve and loganberries plucked from their stalks. Impressively soft and creamy for an en primeur sample with a nice granularity to the tannins which impart, in turn, a pleasant chewiness to the finish. This is quite generous, bright and fruity and extremely accessible. In short, an excellent second wine.
Fombrauge (St Emilion; from 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). Clearly the product of a very gentle extraction, this is limpid and translucent at the core with a vibrant violet rim. Very floral and aromatically intense – confit rose petals, pot pourri and a touch of cedar combine well with the blueberry and black cherry fruit, with just a suggestion of sundried tomatoes. There is just a little trace of raw oak too. Big, bold, plush and plump on the palate, this is super-svelte on the entry but the tannins, as they build and build, I find a little dry. Indeed, they make the wine seem almost a little soapy on the finish – it is as if my palate has been de-glazed; and once again I sense the slightly raw oak. This will be fine, but it needs time to integrate and come together.
De Fonbel (St Emilion; 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; 65% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 8% Cabernet Franc; 7% Carmanère). Cedar and black cherries on the nose with a touch of chocolate and lavender, this is spicy and peppery and quite rich, if almost a tad rôti. There’s an impressive fine grained chewiness to the tannins too. Quite impressive.
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; aged in a combination of new oak (50%), oak of one year (40%) and concrete egg-shaped vessels (10%); 14.4% alcohol; organic and in conversion to biodynamic viticulture). Viscous, glossy, limpid and with a shimmering blue-purple-garnet radiance in the low evening sunshine. Lifted, light and aerial on the nose with a combination of red and darker berry fruits – raspberries, redcurrants, brambles, blackcurrant leaf, rose hip, Palma violets and a hint of hazelnut too. This is big and fleshy, but bursting with fresh fruit and with an almost explosive juiciness that is really palate-cleansing and which gives this wine a sense of lift and energy. I was very impressed by the 2018 tasted recently; this is better still – and it captures really well the essence of the vintage, with great freshness, vibrancy and yet with considerable depth and concentration too.
Fonroque (St Emilion; a vineyard of 16.1 hectares comprised of plateau and cotes argilo-calcaire terroirs; certified organic and biodynamic). Though not as glossy or viscous nor as extracted as most wines of the appellation, this is intensely glass-staining. A very pure and focussed raspberry and raspberry compote nose, with a little hint of Szechuan peppercorns and fresh rain on a baked clay path and a hint of sandalwood. The tannins are soft and gracious on the entry and what this lacks in mid-palate density is nicely compensated for by the energy and brightness of very pure and focussed fruit.
Fontfleurie (St Emilion; a vineyard of 17 hectares in Saint-Hippolyte, with a smaller parcel between Ausone and Pavie-Macquin; 68% Merlot; 32% Cabernet Franc; 13% aged in amphora; organic and biodynamic; Jean-Claude & Jean-François Berrouet are the consultants). Light extraction, garnet core with purple highlights. Very floral and herby on the nose – dried lavender and freshly picked sage with pure raspberry juice. Bright and gently caressing on the entry with a lovely clarity in the mid-palate, a wondrous sense of energy and a sapid juiciness. Simple but very pleasurable, with grippy-grainy calcaire tannins, this finishes on the ever-present note of lavender, a twist of black pepper and a touch of salt.
Clos Fourtet (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 20 hectares on the argilo-calcaire plateau just outside of St Emilion itself; 90% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 40 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new, and amphorae (2%); 14.5% alcohol). With an identical final blend to the 2019, the same pH (3.6) and the same degree of alcohol. Deep purple at the core, with blue/garnet highlight and a luminescent violet glow from the rim, this is viscous and limpid in the glass.
The nose is defined by the graphite minerality which wraps itself around and becomes a mechanism for the delivery of the dark, gracious blackberry, bramble and mulberry fruit. There are lovely floral notes here too – irises, iris bulbs and stamens too and a slight suggestion of whole green tea leaves. Super-svelte and with great depth, density and concentration on the palate, the cashmere tannins are incredible. They create a wonderful clear textural tapestry which allows one to experience in a more sharply focussed way the pixilation and layered complexity of this extraordinary wine. This is bigger and richer than recent vintages, but with the same gorgeous mouthfeel and texture. Very harmonious, beautifully integrated, utterly compelling and despite all its power and density so light and aerial.
Franc Mayne (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 5 hectares on clay, plateau limestone and sand on clay terroirs; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 37 hl/ha; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC and not a wine I have tasted much in recent vintages. This is quite closed on the nose, not aided by the very cold sample. It is pure on the palate, but just a little lacking in definition and delineation, though there is a nice point of acidity and I like the sense of lift on the sappy finish and also the hints of ferrous minerality. I will need to re-taste this as it’s not giving much away at this stage; but there is undoubted promise.
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, though in fact only 19 are in production; 60% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; pH of 3.47; IPT 73; aged for 14-16 months in oak, of which 60% is new; 14.15% alcohol). Tasted immediately after Valandraud this is quite a contrast. It’s not a lot less dark in colour, nor a lot less viscous and it, too, is wonderfully translucent at the core and clearly the product of a very gentle extraction. This has a very focussed, pure and precise nose that is quite distinctive and utterly lovely.
Yes, it’s floral, intensely so in fact, but it’s a gentler and milder florality – peonies, perhaps and Damask roses. There’s a distinct note of walnut shells and cedar and a twist or two of black pepper to go with the crunchy red and black cherry fruit. The palate has a shimmering beauty which is very characteristic of the vintage. It seems light and diaphanous because of the freshness and brightness of the fruit and the vivid acidity that it presents. But don’t be mistaken, this is a dense and compact wine, with the power beautifully disguised and delivered in layers rather than in a single punch. The latest in a recent succession of really top wines from La Gaffelière.
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). After struggling to extract the cork from the en primeur sample, I feared that I would, once again, be waiting for Godeau. Thankfully all was quickly resolved (and apologies for the running gag). And this is excellent. It is extremely lifted and vertical on the nose, highly expressive aromatically, with a very focussed and precise cassis red cherry and kirsch, and blueberry nose, a nice touch of graphite and some freshly ground black pepper – maybe a little hoisin too. On the palate one picks up again the saline minerality. With the ultra-fine-grained tannins this helps to structure and rein in the quite ample mid-palate, focussing things nicely for the sappy, juicy, vibrant crescendo on the finish. A lovely expression of the vintage – joyous, luminous and energetic.
Domaine des Gourdins (St Emilion; 68% Merlot; 32% 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; 14.1% 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. Bright, lifted and fresh with ripe ‘croquant’ red berry and cherry fruit – predominatly raspberries in fact. This is relatively simple in a way, but it has a lovely purity and precision and there’s a lot to be said for a St Emilion with such a crisp, bright yet thoroughly ripe zingy berry fruit.
Grace Dieu des Prieurs (St Emilion; a vineyard of 8.06 hectares on a terroir of sand and clay about half way between Figeac and the town of St Emilion itself; 82% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; yields of just 20hl/ha; malolactic fermentation in barrel and then aged in 100% new Radoux Blend barriques for around 20 months; the wine-maker and vineyard manager is Louis Mitjavile; 13.5% alcohol). Rather more Cabernet Franc in the blend (only 10% in 2018 and 2019). Picked between the 22 and 30th of September. Relatively light in terms of extract and, as a consequence, vibrantly translucent at the core, but dark in colour with a shimmering violet rim.
This has a gorgeous and intensely floral nose – the first wild meadow flowers of spring with red and black cherry fruit, a little hint of almond paste, even marzipan, walnuts and Chinese five spice – and then a wave of graphite and a hint of cedar start to emerge with a little more air. This is less marked by the oak than previous vintages (perhaps due to the somewhat lower alcohol) and I find it delightfully delicate, focussed and precise. Lovely on the attack too, this is super-svelte as I have now come to expect with Grace Dieu des Prieurs. The tannins are gently supportive of the fruit and almost diaphanous –the wine seems to glide and float across the palate as if transported on a pillow of tannin. And the finish is rippling, rolling and very sappy. There’s lots of energy and definition here and a certain classicism and the elegance that comes with that which makes this, for me, the best wine I’ve tasted from the property.
Grand Barrail Lamarzelle Figeac (St Emilion; 72% Merlot; 28% Cabernet Franc). Quite closed at first, to the extent that one notices the oak, even though only a quarter of the barrels are new. With more air, baked plums, cassis and a hint of cinnamon. A lovely trace of cedar and graphite on the palate, which is quite refined and sinuous. Impressive length and a nice grip from the tannins; though they are perhaps a touch harsh at this stage. Finishes with a hint of fresh herbs and liquorice.
Grand Corbin (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 28.5 hectares on a terroir of silica over blue clay). Relatively light extraction, quite limpid in the glass with a garnet/purple core. Very open and expressive – and, as it tends to be, defined on the nose by its slightly ferrous minerality. Game and charcuterie notes accompany the red and darker berry fruit – raspberries and blackberries, with little hints of finely grated dark chocolate and a loamy earthiness. Soft and gentle on the attack but with a little less substance and mid-palate density than the nose prepares you for. Quite spicy and peppery and with just a hint of dryness on the 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; aged in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.8% alcohol). Another wine with a higher degree of alcohol in 2020 than the 2018. Almost, but not quite, opaque at the blue-tinged-purple/black core, visibly viscous in the glass and with a lovely glossy sheen. An opulent nose of dark yet bright crunchy black cherry fruit, Szechuan peppercorns, star anise and cinnamon and with a hint of graphite and cedar that will surely develop with more age and with that distinctive ferrous minerality that is one of the signatures of this terroir. Plush, plump and fleshy on the palate, with a big, bold rolling entry followed by a little pause as the wine seems to gather before unleashing a fine-grained tannin-charged wave of sappy juicy fruit. Elegant and yet opulent, deep and resonant yet bright and lively, this has a lovely tension to it. My only minor quibbles are a slight lack of mid-palate delineation and a touch of dryness on the finish (which seems to come from the oak); but this is a fine wine that will age gracefully.
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; 74% Merlot; 23% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 41 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 70% of which are new, for 18 months; 14.1% alcohol). Tasted at the UGC. One of the best wines in an impressive flight from St Emilion, this is broad-shouldered and quite ample, but nicely focussed too and with a lovely sense of freshness and lift but also depth and charm. Grape and cherry skins, graphite and hazelnut, with a lovely note of cracked black peppercorns on the lifted finish.
Grand Pontet (St Emilion; from a well-situated vineyard of 19 hectares not far from Beauséjour-Bécot and Clos Fourtet on the approach from the north into St Emilion itself on a thin clay and sand over limestone soil). Beautiful in the glass with a lovely translucent limpidity and very expressive on the nose too. Blueberries, blackberries and black cherries with a very slight hint of kirsch and very fine dark black chocolate. Gloriously soft on the gentle cool entry but what I particularly love about this is the combination of fresh explosive vibrant fruit which seems to want to break the shackles of the calcaire tannic frame and yet a certain sombre austerity and opulence too. This is a wine with great tension and loads of energy, but also a certain classicism and elegance. Altogether lovely and quite the best wine I have tasted from here.
Les Grandes Murailles (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 1.96 hectares on a clay-limestone terroir next to Clos Fourtet; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). A shade lighter in extraction and, as a consequence, a little more purple than jet black when compared to Cote de Baleau. Identical pH and alcohol to the 2019. This is a little firmer and more closed than its stablemate and needs more tempting from the glass. Very different in personality too – bright spring flowers, red berry fruits and white pepper. This is very energetic and expansive, dancing on the top of the palate with little juicy explosions of raspberry and mulberry fruit sustained by the very crumbly chalky tannins, which are dry but, crucially, never drying. Youthful, radiant and joyous and a lovely contrast to the comparative austerity, cedary creaminess and refined elegance of Cote de Baleau.
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; a final yield of just 10 hl/ha and so only 5000 bottles produced; 14.5% alcohol). Lightly extracted, quite viscous and limpid in the glass with a crimson/garnet core. Intensely aromatic with all the lift and brightness that seems to come from limestone plateau terroirs in this vintage, accentuated I feel by the biodynamic wine-making.
This is incredibly vibrant and energetic. On the sumptuous nose, we have a profusion of wild herbs and early spring wild flowers, red and black cherries, brambles, mulberries, sloes and damsons – and a lovely hint of apple and acacia wood. The palate is no less bright and fresh, with a lovely crystalline feel in the mouth supported by the tactile slightly chalky limestone tannins. There is great balance and harmony here and a calm natural authority and beauty. Bravo. The best yet from Guadet; it’s just a shame that there is so little of it.
Haut Brisson (St Emilion; from Vignobles K; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 18 hectares in the three communes of St Emilion, Saint-Sulpice de Faleyens and Vignonet combining clay-limestone, fine brown sand and sand-gravel terroirs; a final yield of 32 hl/ha; aged in oak, of which 35% is new; 13.8% alcohol). Magenta/blue/purple, beautifully glossy and with a radiant punk pink/purple rim. This has a gloriously pure lifted dark berry and cherry fruit nose supported by a touch of cedar and graphite and the vertical lift that seems to come from the limestone terroir. Clean, pure and with a powerful forward thrust across the palate, the fruit clinging tightly to the calcaire tannic spine. I really like this, especially the changing mouthfeel as the tannins grip, then reveal their granularity, and then turn crumbly towards the long sappy chewy finish. Another wine where I struggle think of a stronger vintage en primeur.
Haut Sarpe (St Emilion; a vineyard of 21.5 hectares on the edge and slope of the Plateau de Sarpe on a limestone terroir; élevage in French oak barrels, 40% of which are new; 14% alcohol). A very fresh and pure young fruity nose – mulberries, brambles and raspberries, but also peonies, lily of the valley and blood orange – and one picks up immediately the clear trace of the crumbly chalky tannins from the limestone terroir. Very fragrant, very lifted and very pretty. Soft, gentle and creamy – but not excessively so – on the attack before those crumbly chalky tannins kick in and grip and break up the fruit into a succession of rollers crashing ashore on the long finish. This is very much like the excellent 2018; I’m becoming quite a fan of this property!
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-Mazière family since 1917 and is under the direction of Alain Vauthier, co-proprietor of Chateau Ausone; 60% Merlot; 40% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol). Tasted at Chateau Ausone. This is finer, less saline but slightly sweeter and more ferrous on the nose than Simard. Black cherries (again), but here with blueberries. This is soft and gentle on the attack, but with considerable amplitude as it unfurls in the mouth. There’s good grip and tension, however, and this is fresher and more refreshing, especially on the finish, than Simard or de Fonbel. It will be interesting to see how this evolves as the freshness is very much on the back end of the palate.
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; malolactic in new oak and aging in barrels, 75% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). As it typically is, darker in the glass – very slightly – than the Decoster’s other Grand Cru Classé, La Commanderie; and darker in personality too. Plump, plush and intensely aromatic, this is charged with crunchy black cherry fruit, rosemary and thyme, privet, flecks of the finest black chocolate and a whiff of leather and pipe smoke. Super-svelte and opulent on the entry, with broad shoulders and a considerable sense of structure coming from the fine-grained chalky/calcaire tannins, this is dense and compact yet expansive and elegant. The graphite minerality and the note of fleur de sel on the long fresh finish leave one craving more. A vin de garde with great potential.
Jean Faure (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 18 hectares, wonderfully situated certified between Cheval Blanc, Figeac and Evangile on an iron oxide rich clay terroir; 65% Cabernet Franc; 30% Merlot; 5% Malbec; already organic and in conversion to biodynamic wine-making; 13.5% alcohol). Almost certainly the highest proportion of Cabernet Franc in the blend of any St Emilion Grand Cru Classé, but nothing unusual about that and, yes, this has a very Cabernet nose. Nicely translucent with a clearly very careful extraction and a lovely glossy limpidity in the glass. Graphite, cedar, even that classic ‘bell pepper’ note with brambles, blueberries and blackcurrants and a hint of wild thyme, all accompanied by a gentle loamy earthiness. Svelte and yet with a quick pick-up on the entry, this is vibrant, bright and fresh, charged with plump, ripe berry fruit and nicely brought together around a crumbly tannic spine. Not the most complex of wines and I find it slightly sweet on the palate, but there is lots of charm and a zingy energy to this.
Laforge (St Emilion; 92% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.69; 13.8% alcohol; from Jonathan Maltus). Blue/purple at the core with a radiant pink rim, this too is very expressive aromatically with cedar, cracked black peppercorns and the signature iron filings minerality of the forge (Laforge) accompanying the plump blueberry and damson fruit. This is very fresh on the palate with grip from the tannins and plenty of lift and energy. Not as massive as it sometimes is and with a nicely disguised sense of power and weight if not, perhaps, the mid-palate delineation or complexity of Pontet Labrie or Le Dome itself.
Laniote (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 5 hectares on an argilo-calcaire soil over calcaire a astéries (limestone with calcified starfish). Black/purple and almost opaque at the core, this is extremely silky in the glass, visibly viscous and with a bright and radiant lilac rim. A cool and gathered nose of black raspberries and fruits of the forest, crushed juniper berries, almond skins and a gentle savoury herby element that I rather like. Slightly sombre and austere, with cool succulent black cherry and raspberry fruit on the palate and a nice grip from the fine-grained tannins. Impressively harmonious and elegant.
Larcis Ducasse (St Emilion; a vineyard of which around 10 hectares is in current producton close to Pavie on a prime south-facing argilo-calcaire côtes terroir; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 50-55% of which are new; pH 3.5; 14.5% alcohol). This is a little reductive at first and needs a good 20 minutes in the glass for that to clear. But what a nose, when it does!
This is incredibly intense and breathtakingly monumental – with the plumpest, ripest red and black cherries, little hints of frangipane and almond purée, walnuts, pencil lead and cedar and just a hint of pear-drops too, with a lovely quite ferrous, iodine-salty marine minerality and cinnamon too – oh, and cracked black peppercorns just for good measure. The palate is sublime, incredibly dense and compact with an unbelievable mass of soft, pulpy bright and fresh berry and stone fruit, but no hint of heaviness despite the density and concentration because everything is so bright, energetic and vibrant. A wine I have liked more and more with each consecutive vintage in recent years; this is the best yet.
Clos Lardière (St Emilion). If Clos Romanile is ‘old school modernity’ then this is ‘old school modernity’ with interest – it’s a long time since I’ve found so much toasty new oak on the nose of an en primeur sample! We also have raspberry and blueberry preserve, walnuts and a rather nice waft of cedar which comes as a bit of relief but brings a nice complexity to this. The tannins are soft at least at first, but this is a little soupy and sweet for me with just a hint of dryness on the finish. This feels like a trip down memory lane.
Larmande (St Emilion; 17 of 20 hectares are in production on a combination of clay-limestone, ancient sands and siliceous clay terroirs; with a final yield of 40 hl/ha; 77% Merlot; 19% Cabernet Franc; 4% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 18 months in oak, 60% of which are new, and amphorae; 14.6% alcohol). Intensely floral, as are so many of the St Emilions in this vintage, but rather different in its florality to many. This is light and aerial on the nose, with quite delicate yet at the same time intense wafts of rose petals and saffron, an impressive graphite minerality, hints of cedarwood and crunchy dry autumnal leaves alongside the dark stone fruit. It is very open-textured on the palate and has an almost translucent feel, disguising well the decent fruit density and concentration in the mid-palate. This is bright, light feeling, lively and energetic and another excellent wine from this up-and-coming property.
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; aged in oak barrels and larger foudres; 14.5% alcohol). More crimson/purple than garnet/purple at the core with a remarkably radiant shocking pink rim. Heather and hedgerow flowers on the floral nose with all the lift that comes from the calcaire terroir and lovely ripe plump blueberries. Succulent and savoury on the palate with the most remarkably accessible silky soft filigree tannins and then lovely sappy, juicy waves of fresh berry fruit rippling and intermingling with the grains in the calcaire tannins. Another exceptional wine from David Suire at Laroque that is rather different in personality to the also excellent 2018 and 2019. This is a little more opulent and richer on the palate, very much in the style of the vintage and, I think, his best yet.
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). Viscous in the glass, translucent at its garnet/purple core and with an extremely hazy violet rim. This takes a little while to cohere on the nose, but when it comes together there is a lovely pure freshness and focus to the cassis fruit, with little hints of wild thyme, red currant leaf and almost a hint of truffle; with a little air a delicious cedary element intermingles with the fruit. Soft and gracious on the entry with a refined opulence and gentle grandeur that exudes class. The fruit is a little darker on the palate, with black cherries and sloes replacing the cassis. If one is being picky, the mid-palate lacks just a little bit of delineation and I also find the tannins just a touch dry (if not drying) on the finish. But this is a stylish and elegant wine completing an excellent trio since 2018.
Lassègue (St Emilion; 60% Merlot; 35% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged for 12 months in 52% new oak; a final yield of 43 hl/ha; pH 3.6; 14.5% alcohol). Another beautifully limpid and glossy en primeur sample with a radiant and almost fluorescent pink/lilac rim. Open, expressive and fragrantly fresh on the nose with a lovely combination of deep purple flowers (peonies perhaps), blue and purple berry and stone fruit and a traditional classroom full of pencil shavings (if that is the appropriate collective noun!). Bright, light, aerial and almost gravity-defying on the palate despite the considerable density and intensity of the fruit, this is one of those deceptively powerful wines because of the sheer quality and compactness of the grain of the tannins. There has been a sharp and steep progression at Lassègue in recent vintages and this is perhaps their best yet. Exquisitely joyous and exquisitely complete.
Louis (St Emilion; a vineyard of 4.2 hectares on an argilo-calcaire terroir with a Northern explosure on the côtes and hauts côtes of St Christophe des Bardes; 64% Merlot; 36% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, 60% of which are new, for 18 months; 14.5% alcohol). An interesting wine that I have seldom tasted. This is very limpid, viscous and correspondingly soft and glossy on the palate, with a lovely voluptuous mouthfeel and ultra-fine-grained tannins, at least at first. There is also a pleasing freshness and lift to the cool berry and stone fruit and I like too the herbal notes and the touches of stony/gravelly minerality on the finish. I have two minor reservations, however – the mid-palate lacks perfect a little delineation and the tannins are just a little dry on the finish. But this should make for a fine and appealing St Emilion.
Lynsolence (St Emilion; 100% Merlot; a final yield of 29.40 hl/ha, about 700 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; Stephane Derenoncourt is the consultant; 14.5% alcohol). Another brilliant wine from Denis Barraud, which is very true to its terroir, its appellation and its signature style. On the nose we have graphite, acacia and cedar, a touch of incense, fresh tobacco and wood smoke all accompanying the blueberry and fresh stone fruit, with a hint of red liquorice. On the palate this is soft, yet ample and full, the wine unfurling in a great flourish of fresh and pure fruit at the start – like turning on a firehose charged with fruit. The crumbly tannins bring nice definition to the mid-palate and the finish is nicely composed and lifted. Excellent once again – a wine that deserves to be better known.
Mangot (St Emilion; there are 37 hectares under vine here in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse; 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; 75% Merlot; 20% 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% alcohol). Dark, glossy, limpid and pretty much opaque at its rich garnet core, with a shimmering magenta rim. Bold, rich and quite toasty on the nose, with a ferrous minerality, a plump cherry, bramble and baked plum fruit with a hint of fine cocoa powder and pepper, walnut oil and toasted brioche. More focussed and precise on the attack than the recently tasted 2018 and with a little more forward momentum through the mid-palate, this is impressively structured with considerable though never dominant fine-grained and crumbly chalky tannins. The oak is much less evident here and despite the considerable concentration this is quite bright and diaphanous. A vin de garde, but with excellent potential.
Mangot Todeschini Distique No. 13 (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). More limpid and viscous still than Mangot itself and a shade or two darker in the glass though certainly no more extracted, this too is quite marked by the oak at the early stage (but this is a wine that will only be in contact with the oak for 12 months).
Vanilla, toasted brioche with ripe, plump black cherries and blueberries, liquorice root, single estate dark chocolate and a herby wild earthiness that I rather like. Again, like Mangot this is more sinuous and etiolated on the palate than you expect, with the bright fresh fruit quite tightly wound around the mineral and tannic spine of this wine. Those tannins are grippy and increasingly chalky and crumbly, becoming almost chewy on the long tapered and fresh finish. This, too, will need time in bottle to soften and cohere and one needs a little imagination to protect how it will evolve, but all the ingredients are there.
La Marzelle (St Emilion; a vineyard of 17 hectares in conversion to organic wine-making on a gravel and sand over clay terroir; aged in a combination of new oak barrels and terracotta vessels; 14% alcohol). Very dark in hue though rather less extracted than, for instance, the 2018 tasted recently. Not quite opaque at the its black/purple core and with a radiant garnet/purple rim. This takes a little while to settle and compose itself in the glass.
But when it does, it’s glorious – like the 2018, there is already plenty of graphite and cedar to accompany the intense, glossy, plump ripe black cherry, mulberry and blueberry fruit. This is very pure, nicely lifted and aerial. On the palate this is cool, dark, nicely composed and with a refined and creamy texture, the grainy tannins adding a little pixilation and preventing this from becoming just a little monotone. It is not especially complex, but a fine and nicely focussed expression of its terroir. Towards the elegant and opulent end of the spectrum, but with plenty of lift and freshness, this is another stylish wine from La Marzelle.
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; 70% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 30 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, half of which are new; pH 3.75; just under 14.7% alcohol). Tasted with Jean-Baptise Pion at Chateau Pavie. This is full on the attack, quite plump and with a pleasing saline minerality. On the nose this exhibits a touch a cedar with brambles, Asiatic plums, cassis and assorted baking spices. The oak will need some time to be fully incorporated. Whilst there is a palpable change in direction for all the other Perse wines in recent vintages, this still remains the most ‘modern’ of their wines.
Mondot (St Emilion; the second wine, really more a second label, of Troplong-Mondot; aging in oak barrels (30%) and tank (70%); 100% Merlot). Tasted over Zoom with Aymeric de Gironde. Extremely impressive, this could be a ringer for the grand vin – until one tastes them side-by-side! Rich, broad, fresh and lifted with graphite, cedar and wild herbs nicely accompanying the plump, rich, crunchy (croquant) cassis, mulberry and blueberry fruit. Rich, impressively broad and open on the palate, this has a lovely central bead of acidity around which the joyously vibrant fresh and sappy juicy fruit seems to dance and glide. Excellent.
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; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 36 hl/ha despite organic certification and the age of the vines; aged in French oak barrels, 60% of which are new; 14% alcohol). A little darker still, a shade more extracted but still translucent at its bright and radiant shimmering garnet/purple core.
This is bigger, bolder and more burly on the nose than Canon-La-Gaffelière and much more marked, as you’d expect, by the gloriously ripe and more opulent Merlot. Red and black cherries, damsons and baked plums, almonds and frangipane, cinnamon, nutmeg, toasted and crushed fennel seeds and a gamey note too, with just a hint of violet and lavender – a heady mix, but all in harmony. On the palate, this is cool and fresh with a touch of mint leaf on the entry before the gloriously ripe and fresh cherry and berry fruit starts to ripple and roll and unfurl on the stage that is the mid-palate of this wine; the tannins play a sensitively supportive role but never steal centre stage and this has a beautifully sustained, elegant, long and tapering finish. Really excellent and charged with brightness, energy and tension.
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). I was not sure about the 2018, but this I think is a more balanced wine, albeit in quite a modern style with plenty of extraction and plenty of toasty oak influence. On the nose, we have hints of vanilla, cinnamon patisserie, cloves and tobacco smoke accompanying the black cherries, blueberries, toasted hazelnuts and roasted coffee notes. With a little more air, there’s a hint of graphite and cedar. The palate is plush, quite rich, but at the same time quite open-knit, giving this a more sinuous feel reinforced by the freshness of the fruit. There’s maybe a little too much toast and spice for my taste, but this is a well-made wine that will have many admirers.
Montlabert (St Emilion; a vineyard of 21 hectares on an interesting terroir of sand and gravel over clay with veins of blue clay; 70% Merlot; 30% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 50% of which is new; pH 3.69; 15.3% alcohol). Fresh, bright and with a nice lift about it, this is less extracted than the 2018 tasted recently. The fruit profile is dark, a mixture of damsons, blackberries and blueberries and there’s a little hint of warm spice from the oak – cinnamon and nutmeg. This is quite open-knit in texture but one feels that the fine-grained tannins, rather than picking out details, serve actually to highlight the rather slender mid-palate. That is my only gripe. As with the 2018, the finish is nicely gathered and leaves that lovely sense of chewing on grape-skins. Accessible and for early drinking, this will bring a lot of pleasure.
Moulin du 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; a final yield of 38 hl/ha; malolactic fermentation and aging in barrel, 80% of which are new; 14,5% alcohol). A lovely and intensely herb-encrusted nose with plenty of lift. Gingerbread, cinnamon patisserie, fresh and baked plums, garrigues and dried Italian herbs and a touch of dark chocolate all vie for aromatic attention. On the palate this is quite open-textured with an impressively sinuous opening and an almost crystalline mid-palate. Tender and long on the juicy finish, the progression here in recent vintages is impressive.
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; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; aged in new oak; 14% alcohol). Tasted at Chateau Ausone. On the nose we have cherries – both red and black – with sweet baking spices, especially nutmeg and cinnamon, both fresh and baked plums and the signature ferrous minerality. This is plump, rich and full, a touch sweet but fresh and sinuous at the same time, with a lovely clarity and luminosity in the mid-palate that belies the concentration and power. Well-structured and with a lovely sense of grip and bite from the calcaire tannins. Closer in quality to La Clotte than ever.
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; malolactic fermentation and aging in 100% new oak). There is more graphite here than Le Petit Val and the fruit is darker, with more bramble and darker cherry notes alongside the red cherries of Le Petit Val. There is also a lovely herby, loamy, mossy earthiness. On the palate, too, this is deceptively open-textured with a broad-shouldered frame that makes you fear that the rather limpid and glossy fruit will be stretched too thinly – but actually that’s not what happens. This glides over and around the palate and has a charming lift and freshness to it that is very characteristic of the vintage and that the open texture helps reveal rather nicely. Quite luminous and very impressively crafted.
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; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak, 40% of which is new; a final yield of 36 hl/ha; 13.5% alcohol). Very much at the magenta-purple end of the spectral range and impressively translucent and limpid in the glass, this has a soft and elegant graphite and cedar wood scented nose, charged with fresh ripe dark berry fruit – blueberries and brambles – with damsons too. A similarly gentle and refined attack, with gossamer tannins that build slowly towards a sappy, fresh juicy finish. This doesn’t have the complexity or density of Canon-La-Gaffelière but it is an excellent expression of the vintage and an elegant and stylish wine that deserves to be better known.
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). I liked very much the 2018 and I like this too. It’s very subtle, sensuous and more delicate than most and comes from relatively low-yielding old vine fruit on an excellent collection of well-situated parcels. Fresh early spring wild flowers, gentle spicing – mace, nutmeg and allspice – and a combination of red and darker berry fruit – wild strawberries, raspberries and loganberries, mulberries and maybe a few early brambles. This is very much ‘just ripe’ with all the freshness that comes from that, and I really like than in a vintage that, in general, in St Emilion and Pomerol is very much more on the slightly over-ripe side of the spectrum. On the palate, this is again gentle, open-textured and lithe with lots of freshness and energy and with the fine-grained chalky tannins almost massaging the fruit. Quite singular, probably not to everyone’s taste, but very much to mine.
Pavie (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 27 hectares with a combination of plateau and mi-côtes argilo-calcaire terroirs; 50% Merlot; 34% Cabernet Franc; 16% Cabernet Sauvignon; a final yield of 31 hl/ha (close to the 2019); aged in French oak barrels, 80% of which are new; pH 3.61 (very close to the 2019 and 2018); just under 14.8% alcohol). Tasted with Jean-Baptise Pion at Chateau Pavie. Very viscous and limpid in the glass with a shimmering shocking punk pink rim.
This is cool, poised and very pure – and it slowly draws you in as it starts to reveal at least some of its secrets. But it remains ever so slightly introverted and introspective, even a touch moody. The nose is sublime – blueberries, cassis, cherries, damsons, walnuts, wild herbs, gorse and heather, a hint of slightly sweeter spices and crushed fennel seeds. On the palate, this is both spectacularly luminous but also richly layered – like a kind of milles feuilles of silk shimmering in the breeze. It is compact, dense in and through the mid-palate and then wonderfully sapid and fresh towards the finish which is comprised of a series of alternating ripples and larger waves of bright, crunchy juicy fruit. The finish seems eternal.
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; 88% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; aged in new French oak barrels; a yield of just 17 hl/ha; pH of 3.52; just over 14.8% alcohol). Tasted with Jean-Baptise Pion at Chateau Pavie. Opaque at the core with a pronounced violet/lilac rim. Gloriously rich with black cherry, cedar and graphite and a lovely suggestion of peonies and spring flowers. This is lithe and sinuous on the palate with great mid-palate depth and concentration, but also a pleasing freshness, lift and energy. Great harmony and super length.
Pavie Macquin (St Emilion; from a well-placed vineyard of 15 hectares on the argilo-calcaire plateau situated between Pavie and Troplong-Mondot; 85% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Cabernet Franc; 85% of the production was selected for the grand vin; a final yield of 31 hl/ha; aged in oak barrels, 50-55% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Limpid, glossy and translucent, with a beautiful dark purple/garnet core, this is utterly divine on the nose.
We have deep dark graphite and acacia wood notes, lavender, lots of quite floral peppercorn notes (Baies de Timut, green Szechuan peppercorns, Baies de Selim), lilac, wild thyme and marjoram all beautifully integrated with the pure, almost crystalline, blackberry and blueberry fruit. This is intensely fresh on the palate, with a bright, crisp pick-up and considerable forward thrust coming from the ultra-fine-grained limestone tannins, but there is a really impressive creaminess to this too – and, overall, the wine has a juicy, sapid sinuous flow across the palate. I love the little combination of fresh mint leaf with a delicate trace of pepper on the very fine and gently asymptotic finish. Truly excellent.
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; a final yield of just 17 hl/ha; 15% alcohol). Viscous, glossy, limpid, still just translucent at the core with a radiant crimson/pink rim. Very floral and quite creamy on the nose with violet and crushed rose petals interwoven with the black cherry and cassis fruit and pencil shavings; the vanilla from the oak is quite evident but will incorporate well with time. Soft on the entry and plump in the mid-palate with a very pure black cherry fruit, gossamer tannins and a lovely structure where the fruits clings quite tightly to the limestone tannic spice. I like, too, the slightly flaky-crumbly tannins on the finish and the sensation that they give of chewing on grape-skins.
Petit Cantenac (St Emilion; the second wine of Clos Cantenac; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% alcohol). Light in terms of extraction, dark in terms of colour. Fresh, pure, and very open and lifted on the nose. Pure, bright raspberry fruit, black plums, black pepper and the suggestion of dried violet petals. Big and plump on the palate with quite considerable chewy tannins. Impressive for a second wine.
Le Petit Cheval (St Emilion; the second wine of Cheval Blanc, representing 12% of the total production, a little more than for the 2018; 41% Merlot; 59% Cabernet Franc; contains no press wine; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; pH 3.7; 14.3% alcohol). Tasted at Cheval Blanc with Pierre-Olivier Clouet and Arnaud de Laforcade. Loads of archetypally Cheval Blanc cedar and graphite on the nose with wild strawberries, blueberries and brambles, a little raspberry compote too, a touch of pepper and a gentle wild and natural floral element as well. This is very poised, soft and gentle with the most gorgeous mouthfeel. The tannins are extraordinarily svelte and one keeps asking oneself if this is not in fact the grand vin itself – always a good question to be asking oneself two samples into a three sample tasting! As with Arômes de Pavie, the Cabernet Franc is crucial in this vintage to the identity of the wine.
Petit Faurie de Souchard (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; 92% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon; aging in oak for 18 months, 60% of which is new; 14.35% alcohol). Very pretty and expressive on the nose. Violets and purple flowers, cedar, pencil-shavings fresh from the classroom, rich, ripe and plump cherry fruit, with wild blueberries too. This is pure and yet quite broad on the attack, with a lovely sappiness that renders the mid-palate very refreshing. Perhaps not the most complex of wines, but like the 2018, tasted recently, this is refined and elegant and the fresh juiciness will have you craving more of it.
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). Reductive at first, the nose needs a little time to clear. Pear drops and cherry flavour sweets, fresh plump red cherries, almonds and frangipane with baked plums, star anise and Chinese five spice, a touch of hoisin too – and a little vanilla pod. This is quite sweet-tinged, but it feels very natural (more so than in some ostensibly less sweet tinged wines actually). On the palate this is very open textured, lithe and sinuous, but there’s plenty of fruit here to cover the frame. I rather like this, especially the little hint of green and black leaf tea on the very pure and clean finish.
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); 79% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; 9% 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% alcohol). A great wine that really deserves to be better known. Supremely limpid and glossy with extraordinary viscosity and very much at the lilac-magenta-purple end of the chromatic spectral range, accentuated by its shimmering translucence. This has a gorgeously floral nose – peonies and lilies with a hint of lavender and a rich, plump very ripe red and black cherry and berry fruit. I love, too, the wild heathery and almost peaty undertones and the cedar that emerges with more air. On the palate this is both rich and compact on the one hand and yet bright, sinuous and aerial on the other; it dances effortlessly on the palate and rolls as it ripples around the mouth. The grain of the tannins is very fine and this is luminous and crystalline. I really liked the 2018 tasted recently; this is even better.
Pindefleurs (St Emilion; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 179 hectares on a gravelly clay-limestone terroir at the foot of the hill close to Chateau Angélus; aged for 12 months in new oak). This is bright, fresh and crunchy – rather more so than Peymouton. There is a touch of spice and graphite minerality on the nose and it has delightfully chewy chalky limestone tannins. Unpretentious, not especially complex, but rather moreish. Another great value St Emilion from J-P. Moueix.
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, 60% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). A lovely garnet colour at the translucent core, with a lilac rim and a brilliantly bright crystalline nose of zingy blackcurrant, supported by blackcurrant leaf, confit rose and violet petals and wild thyme and oregano. Fresh and lifted on the attack, with delicate fine-grained tannins that add textural interest and pixilation without breaking up the sinuous flow of the fruit across the palate. Quite simple in a way, but a sensitive and lovely expression of the vintage. Highly recommended.
Pontet Labrie (St Emilion; made from a single parcel near Le Carré but, ironically, with a terroir much closer to Les Astéries [both, sadly, absent in this vintage due to the ravages of mildew]; around 300 cases are produced annually; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.49; 13.4% alcohol). Darker still in hue than Laforge and with a load more viscosity and limpidity – this seems to draw light towards its shimmering black/garnet core and the shocking violet rim. A lovely nose of black cherries, cedar, nutmeg, ground mace and violets. This is a whole percentage lower in alcohol than the 2018, has a very low pH and is super fresh on the palate. The tannins are exquisitely soft and velvety on the entry but actually quite considerable – their fine granularity almost like a little conveyor belt of tiny finely-polished marbles or glass beads conveying the fresh blueberry and cherry fruit along the palate to a lovely gathered slightly chewy finish. On a par with the wonderful 2018 tasted recently.
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; aged for 18 months in oak barrels, 50% new). From St Etienne de Lisse not far from La Fleur Cardinale, Faugères and Valandraud. Notably light in extract, with a pronounced purple-lilac rim. Strange on the nose. First quite acidic, almost harshly so, and then very closed. But then it starts to express itself, with dark plum and baked plum fruit, garrigues herbs, a hint of red cherry and Chinese five spice and star anise. On the palate this is bright, but almost sharp and I find the tannins a little harsh and raspy. I am not convinced of the sample and will endeavour to re-taste this.
Le Prieuré (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 6.24 hectares between Trotevieille and La Serre on an argilo-calcaire plateau terroir; certified organic and in conversion to biodynamic viniculture; 14.3% alcohol). Utterly beautiful in the glass – even in this vintage of very elegant looking en primeur samples this stands out. It is amongst the most limpid and it is certainly more translucent than most, which helps. A very pure, focussed and precise yet gentle nose of exquisite beauty. Another extremely floral St Emilion that reminds me a little of de Millery (Figeac’s little known argilo-calcaire gem), which can’t be that far away in fact. Very fine and elegant on the palate, this is a beautifully delicate wine with the most extraordinarily refined mouthfeel – and exquisitely fine-grained tannins which give a razor sharp pixilation and definition to the mid-palate. This is very long too. Recently acquired by Les Terroirs de Suravenir from Artemis, Le Prieuré is very much a wine to follow.
Quinault L’Enclos (St Emilion; made by the team from Cheval Blanc on 19 hectares of 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; despite replanting, the average age of the vines is 45 years; 78% Merlot; 22% Cabernet Franc; aged for 12 months in large oak barrels of 500 litres, 50% of which are new; 14% alcohol).
This is very nicely managed, with plenty of freshness and lift on the nose. Graphite, cassis and croquant redcurrants, with spring flowers and violets and just a hint of graphite. This has the depth, substance and concentration of the vintage but with the freshness of fruit that is more characteristic of 2017. The tannins have a lovely tight fine grain that reinforces the detail in the mid-palate and also the precision and focus. A bright, sapid and refreshing finish has one craving more. Very natural, nicely poised and with plenty of tension if, of course, not the complexity of the other wines from Cheval Blanc.
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; 62.5% Merlot; 37.5% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, c. 40% of which are new; 15.4% alcohol). A lovely shocking indigo-violet in the glass, impressively translucent at the core and with a shocking pink/lilac rim, this has a beautifully and intensely aromatic nose that I find very stylish and elegant.
The oak is quite noticeable, but it beautifully reinforces the floral themes – violets and lily of the valley – and, indeed, the cedar, which it seems to coat in very dark chocolate powder and vanilla. The palate is beautifully limpid, sinuous and diaphanous with a gorgeous mouthfeel; the tannins are velvety and seem to hold the fresh, bright cassis fruit hovering just above the palate and the beautifully refined fine-grained tannins seem gently to massage the fruit highlighting little detail as they do so. I might have said this last year too, but this is the finest vintage of Quintus to date in m y view.
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). Translucent at its dark brooding garnet core with plenty of viscosity and a radiant rim. An interesting nose that seems to combine a variety of raspberry notes – raspberries freshly plucked from their hulls, unsweetened raspberry coulis, raspberry preserve and even raspberry-flavoured sweet, bubble-gum or candyfloss. There are nutty notes too – walnuts and almonds and a hint of frangipane. And, finally, a lovely sous bois and wild herb element too. Soft, cool and enveloping on the entry, this has a gloriously opulent mouthfeel that exudes class. Ample, rich and with rolling slightly chewy tannins, this is a very impressive wine from Ripeau – a property on the rise that warrants a little more attention than it typically receives.
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). A relatively light extraction leaves this limpid but translucent at the core with an intensely glass-straining violet/purple band at the rim. Expressive on the nose, with a pure and focussed raspberry and blueberry coulis fruit, hedgerow flowers and a lovely wild heathery note too. Bright and communicative on the palate too, with soft fine-grained tannins, a quick pick-up and plenty of forward thrust and energy. The tannins grow in density and become increasingly chewy, but never shade towards dryness; indeed, they help deliver a very juicy, sappy fresh finish.
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; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 25 hl/ha; aged in French oak barrels, 50% of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Quite a bit darker in colour than Péby-Faugères, but no more extracted. An attractive purple-tinged glossy sheen. Pure, quite lifted and aerial, slightly creamy and just a little introspective and reticent on the nose, but very beautiful and composed with it. Briary autumnal fruit, heather and almost a mossy, earthy note, this is elegant, subtle and refined. Silky smooth on the palate, with a calm tranquillity ,this has as exquisite sense of harmony and balance. Another wine with a lovely diaphanous mouthfeel and with an impressively disguised puissance. The crumbly tannins help this build to a very pure and precise, tightly focussed finish. This is very complete, ever so slightly sombre and, for me, it has a calm and subtle beauty.
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). A slightly unusual nose that is very fresh and lifted but with a very marked acidity and salinity – hoisin and baked plums, blackberries and cassis and redcurrant leaves. On the palate this is pure and precise, rather more so than the 2018 tasted recently – one detects a notable change in style. But I find the acidity and the salinity again rather dominant and that makes it a bit difficult to find the fruit – I am reminded of Japanese preserved and salted plums more than anything. Maybe I need to re-taste this. I will reserve judgement for now.
Clos Romanile (St Emilion). This is quite ‘modern’ in style; but the irony is that what I mean by ‘modern’ is what passed for modernity quite a while ago now! There’s lots of toasty oak and vanilla on the nose in a way that almost makes one feel slightly nostalgic. Alongside the oak, we have a bright blueberry preserve, black cherries and black forest gateau. This is actually not as sweet-tinged as you might think it would be and I rather like it. Why do I feel like I’ve just revealed a guilty secret?
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; aging for 18 months in oak barrels, 80% of which are new, and the remaining 20% in amphorae; 80% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon). Something of a bell-weather wine – when it shines, it’s a great vintage for the appellation. It shines! A gorgeous colour – fifty shades from blue to garnet at the core and fifty shades of rose pink to violet at the rim, and blue/black on swirling.
The nose is utterly profound, very dark and almost slightly mysterious – with, so much graphite it’s like a nuclear reactor core, but there is a lovely floral dimension too – not the roses of Dassault or Villemaurine but violets and peonies with a hint of lavender too and then plump black cherries and very dark black chocolate. But it’s the combination of graphite and flowers that does it for me! This is wonderful on the palate too – quite sublime for an en primeur sample and very, very special in this vintage. I have never tasted a wine from Clos St Martin that is either so elegant or so powerful – and to have achieved both simultaneously is quite exceptional. Undoubtedly one of the stars the vintage. Incredible. A wine to do serious damage in the Southwold tasting in a few years’ time.
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 are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted with Noëmie Durantou over Zoom. This is rather lovely and more stylish and interesting that it has sometimes been, with a touch of violet and cedar on the nose that I don’t recall previously and a bright, lifted fresh dark black berry, bramble and blueberry fruit. Plump and very gentle on the attack this has a very charming slight natural sweetness (not at all the residual sucrosity that I find in some other wines). Very pure, precise and with the fine-grained tannins nicely stretching this out towards a long and tapered finish. Simple, perhaps, but very refreshing and nicely judged.
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; 14.5% alcohol). Much darker in colour, though still quite light in extract, this is a very different proposition from La Bienfaisance. There is a pleasing fresh lifted florality to this – a touch of violet and lavender too – which marries well with the dark berry and cherry fruit and the earthy and herby undertones. Svelte and plump on the attack, this unfurls impressively on the palate revealing decent density and some layering before a juicy, sappy finish. I prefer this to the already impressive 2018 tasted recently.
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; 95% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; final yield of 30hl/ha; aged in 225 and 500 litre oak barrels and amphorae, with 80% of the barrels previously unused; 15% alcohol). Very dark in the glass and although not entirely opaque at the garnet/black centre, this is one of the bigger and richer wines of the vintage.
On the nose, as you might expect given that, we have baked plums and blueberry purée, incense, tar, liquorice, a hint of patchouli, vanilla, baking spices and just a suggestion of cedar. This is quite sweet-tinged on the entry, quite massive in the mid-palate too and it packs a punch. Thankfully there is plenty of lift, brightness and energy as well – though one feels that those very authentic traits of the vintage have been given quite a lot to cope with here. This won’t be to everyone’s taste – and, personally, I find it just a touch chewy and a little sweet. I notice, too, just a hint of alcohol on the finish.
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; aged in oak, 70% of which is new; 15% alcohol). Almost opaque at the garnet/purple core and extremely viscous. This has a very gathered, composed, opulent nose – violets and lilacs, graphite and cedar, black cherry and black forest gateau with a hint of vanilla and the palpable presence of the oak. Sumptuous, too, on the palate, with a cashmere mouthfeel and great depth and extraordinary concentration. The calcaire tannins are very fine-grained but they have an almost slightly spikey granularity that is crucial here in stopping this from becoming just a bit monochromatic and one-dimensional. The extraction has been pushed quite far, the oak is quite prominent too and I feel the presence of the alcohol. A wine that I suspect will divide opinion; for me, this has been taken just half a step too far.
La Serre (St Emilion; a vineyard of 7 hectares on a plateau terroir of clay over limestone with a southern exposition, neighbouring La CLotte and Le Prieuré; an exclusivity of J-P Moueix; 85% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; aged in oak barrels, half of which are new; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted twice with similar notes. The translucent blue/purple core and the shimmering radiance of the lavender-pink rim leave a visible trace of the careful and gentle extraction. Aromatically expressive, with a very precise and lifted nose of blueberries, black cherries and damsons and a slight hint of star anise, Chinese five spice and baie de Timut (a very floral black peppercorn). This is very elegant and sleek on the palate, with a gloriously soft entry sustained by the ultra-fine grained crumbly chalky tannins. But it’s also bright, lively and charged with fresh juicy fruit. There has been an impressive evolution here in recent vintages, with a little less extraction and a little more finesse, focus and precision. Another rising and, as yet, little known star of the appellation.
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; 60% Merlot; 20 Cabernet Franc; 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Petit Verdot). Tasted at Chateau Ausone. This is immediately more saline and floral than de Fonbel, with black cherries, candied violets and rose petals, a hint of dark chocolate and roasted hazelnuts. It is soft, plush and opens nicely but with the quite pronounced and chewy tannins bringing this back to the mineral spine. A little harsh on the finish, but with impressive depth and concentration and a good sense of structure.
Sol Beni 3.4.3 (St Emilion; from two parcels of 1.56 hectares in total neighbouring Chateaux Monbousquet and de Pressac on sand on gravel and argilo-calcaire terroirs respectively; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; the Merlot is aged in oak, the Cabernet Franc in stainless steel; a final yield of 35 hl/ha; pH 3.68; 14% alcohol; just 500 cases; this is made by the former French footballer Philippe Troussier). The first time I’ve tasted this. Dark in colour, light in extract and with a slightly reductive fresh cassis, redcurrant and pear-drop nose. Soft and gentle on the entry and just a little hollow in the mid-palate. The tannins build and build and, as they do, they turn harsher and drier and this rather mars the finish at this stage. Time will tell.
Sol Beni Coup du Chapeau (St Emilion; from a single parcel of 0.25 hectares next to Valandraud on limestone and clay; 100% Merlot; malolactic fermentation and aging in new oak barrels for 22 months; a final yield of 25 hl/ha and so only 100-120 cases; pH 3.72; 14.2% alcohol). Darker in colour, more evidently viscous but with the same seemingly gentle extraction. This, too, is slightly reductive on the nose but with a lovely pure radiant and luminous cassis and blueberry fruit once that clears, with notes of wild herbs, flakes of dark chocolate and sweet baking spices and vanilla. Again, though, after a soft and gentle almost sinuous attack the tannins turn increasingly dry, breaking up the flow of the fruit across the palate and leaving this slightly astringent on the finish. I’m slightly sceptical that 22 months in new oak will help this find a point of equilibrium.
Soutard (St Emilion; 20 hectares of a large contiguous 30-hectare vineyard are under vine here, all on the limestone plateau; 76% Merlot; 14% Cabernet Franc; 6% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Malbec; aged in oak, 55% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). Bolder, bigger and richer than Larmande but similarly floral on the nose. Violets, candied rose petals and rosemary and thyme accompany the dark briary berry fruit – brambles, black berries, mulberries, but there are black cherries too – more evident, in fact on the palate. This has a gentle yet impressively ample attack, but at the same a lovely, light diaphanous feel; the fruit is bright and engaging with plenty of lift and interest and the fine-grained tannins build slowly at the back end to reinforce texturally the sappy, juicy finish. Lovely wine-making, this is very elegant and yet quite substantial too in an understated way.
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; 85% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 29 hl/ha this is aged in oak barrels of 225 litres and small oak vats of 500 litres, 70% of which are new; 15% alcohol). Beautifully glossy and limpid in the glass, this shimmers in the sunshine. Big, rich and yet fresh and bright too. This is very open and aromatically expressive, with roasted coffee beans, pencil shavings, blueberry and mulberry compote, walnut oil and a hint of lavender and wild herbs all very evident. On the palate this is ample, broad-shouldered and quite opulent with sufficient fruit density to coat the significant frame. The oak is, at this stage, just a little obvious and this is one of the rare wines in the appellation in this vintage where one picks up the toasted notes from the barrique in the mid-palate. It will need time in bottle to fully integrate; but there is plenty of promise here. This is likely to remain more opulent than elegant.
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; 14.5% alcohol). Wow – and then wow again. Each year I think I know what to expect from this wine; but each year, though instantly recognisable in its utter singularity and unmistakable as Tertre Roteboeuf, it surprises and shocks me. This has never been more true than in 2020.
A staggering wine that I almost feel I could sense from across a crowded room, so redolent and effusive and exciting in the nose. This has all the floral elements of the other three Mitjavile wines combined – candied violets, Palma violets, roses, rosewater, dried rose petals, confit rose petals, peonies, irises, saffron and turmeric – but then also lavender and thyme, oregano and then a profound cedar-graphite minerality. And all of this is seamlessly interwoven with the red and black berry and stone fruit. The tannins are soft and gentle, yet lithe and tactile, bringing definition, order, clarity and a sense of layering to what might otherwise seem just too much complexity. But above all in this vintage, this is radiant, bright, fresh and multi-dimensional. A desert island wine.
Teyssier (St Emilion; Vignobles Jonathan Maltus; 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.50; 13.9% alcohol). Another excellent Teyssier from Jonathan Maltus and his team that is sure to represent excellent value. Glossy, limpid and blue/purple at its dense core, this has a lovely open expressive nose – darker and spicier than usual and with a cool, calm sense of gravitas. Green Szechuan peppercorns and baie de Timut, baked plums and brambles, cedar, cinnamon and nutmeg all combine in a distinct and impressive nose. Soft and supple, cool and with a slight hint of menthol, this is very fine, with a good bite from the crumbly tannins and clean, fresh finish. Whilst it lacks the density of the other wines in the range, it is still very accomplished.
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; 14.5% alcohol). Almost opaque, but not quite at its blue-black/purple core, quite viscous in the glass and with shimmering blue-purple highlights. I find both the nose and the palate a little lacking in definition – it’s just all a little blended and homogenous at this stage. There is an earthy, loamy, sous-bois element that I have found before in La Tour Figeac and that I rather like and this certainly combines nicely with the rich, ripe plum and dark berry fruit. There is also quite a pronounced ferrous and saline minerality here but, for me, it threatens to overpower the fruit. I miss a little bit of the freshness and brightness of the vintage and find this just a little heavy-handed; it becomes almost soupy in the dense mid-palate. Time will tell.
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; yield of 37 hl/ha; a final pH 3.6; 14.7% alcohol). Interestingly, less opaque at the core than the 2018 tasted recently, but significantly darker in colour – very much towards the blue-indigo-purple end of the spectral range. This has a typically dark autumnal fruit profile, with heather and wild lavender and thyme and rosemary and with loads of graphite – it’s very beautiful but in a very natural way, like a rugged windswept moorland.
Big and quite plump on the attack but with the calcaire tannic frame reining in the fruit and projecting it forward along the spine to give great delineation, definition and interest in the almost pixelated mid-palate. The impression of pixilation is accentuated by the texture and granularity of the tannins which become more flaky and crumbly towards the long finish. A vin de garde, most definitely, but with great potential and a worthy successor to the excellent 2018 and 2019. This is likely to remain excellent value.
Troplong Mondot (St Emilion; the highest vineyard in the appellation on a famous argilo-calaire terroir; 85% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Cabernet Franc; aging in oak, 60% of which is new; pH 3.53; IPT 75; 14.5% alcohol). Tasted over Zoom with Aymeric de Gironde and then at the chateau itself with similar notes. I detect an interesting slight change in style. This is bigger, bolder and richer than the 2018 or 2019, back to the broad-shouldered style of earlier but with a more gentle maceration and hence extraction and with a lot less obvious and obviously toasty oak. On the nose this is less floral than many – or, at least, the floral element is more subtle and more towards small wild spring flowers rather than the more demonstrative violets and peonies and roses.
This is earthy and wild and herby, with heathery moorland notes accompanying the very dark and slightly sombre fresh ripe plump berry fruit – that seems to build in freshness and acidity as the wine opens in the glass. And then the waves of cedar and graphite arrive bringing further depth and reinforcing the tension between the vibrant fresh fruit and the more austere earthy and herby undertones. Sumptuous and soft and elegant and refined on the palate, with rolling fresh fruit charged with sappy acidity flirting with the tongue as it stretches itself out along the mineral-acid-tannic spine. There is great depth and concentration here too and although this is multi-layered and multi-dimensional it feels seamless and perfectly balanced. I love, too, the slightly crumbly, dusty chalky tannins which bring first a sharp focus and definition to the mid-palate and then lift the wine at it builds towards its long, tapering yet intensely layered finale. In comparison with previous vintages, this has even more precision, even more focus and further layers of complexity – with more to come as this ages. This is, like the very best wines in this exciting vintage, luminous. Bravo.
Trottevieille (St Emilion; from a vineyard of 10 hectares on a terroir of red-clay over limestone on the plateau of St Emilion; 50% Cabernet Franc; 49% Merlot; 1% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in new French oak barrels; 14.5% alcohol). Trottevieille can be something of a weathervane for the vintage. It is a terroir that seems to have the potential for absolute greatness; but it seems also to be one of the more erratic of the great argilo-calcaire St Emilion terroirs. And in 2020 it’s not giving too much away at this very early stage.
The nose is dark and rich, but slightly sombre, insular and introspective. I love the dark wild heathery and almost peaty moorland undertones and also the sumptuous yet subtle and restrained graphite notes that seem to fade in and out of the nose and that will no doubt be more prominent later. The fruit is also dark and autumnal – plump briary berries and late autumn plums and damsons. On the palate this is soft and gentle but actually has a considerable depth and profundity to it. It is richly layered, finely detailed and very long. This may not be the most flamboyant of St Emilions in this vintage, but I think it will be truly fabulous in a decade’s time.
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 7 hectares all on the argilo-calcaire plateau; 90% Merlot; 7% Cabernet Franc; 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; pH 3.5; aged in new French oak barrels; 15% alcohol). Purple/black at the core, more viscous than any other wine that I have tasted thus far and another one of those wines where the colour seems almost to have been dripped in from a pipette and has yet to set – if one swirls the glass one imagines the colour will stay put!
An utterly sumptuous and entirely hedonistic nose of violets and rose petals, confit and Palma violets and candied rose petals, black cherries, concentrated blue berry compote, the graphite rods from the reactor core, tar and baked earth, tobacco leaf, cedar (with more to come) and vanilla. The palate is no less hedonistic, with silky soft and ultra-fine-grained tannins, masses of deep, dark rich cherry and berry fruit, black forest gateau and a rolling-rippling sappy fresh juicy fruit that helps hold this all in some kind of balance, strange though it might seem to think that any kind of balance could be struck. There’s something a little mad and chaotic about this, but it has its own sense of integrity and harmony. Not perhaps for the faint-hearted; but wondrous in all its excess.
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; 90% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; malolactic fermentation and élevage in 80% new oak; a yield of around 30 hl/ha – which is around the average here; pH 3.58; 13.2% alcohol). Darker still – almost jet black at the core with a fabulously regal purple rim. The 2018 was a 14.7% alcohol, this is 13.2% and it’s an altogether different wine – cool, calm, composed and almost slightly austere. The nose is charged with cedar and graphite, black cherries but also red berry fruit – raspberries and even wild strawberries – a little hint of liquorice root, vanilla (but less than the 2018 or 2019) and a pinch of baking spice. Very harmonious and elegant on the palate with a little less concentration than it sometimes has, this is a little more subtle as a consequence. Whilst it is certainly very fine, it seems to have lost some of its more boisterous personality. At this stage, at least, I find it strangely tamed and a little introspective. Time will tell.
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; aged in oak, 75% of which is new; 14.5% alcohol). The last vintage produced before the recent sale of the property to its near-neighbour Sansonnet – and possibly the best yet. Pure, precise and very lifted on the nose. Like many of the best plateau St Emilion in 2020 this is extremely floral – rose petals and rosewater, a hint of patchouli and rich, ripe damson and Morello cherry fruit – a beautiful combination. With rolling, velvety tannins, this is sinuous on the palate. The depth and concentration of fruit is also remarkable, as is the quality of the tannin-management here. This is a property that has been thoroughly transformed over the last decade and this is, for me, the epitome of that dedicated focus and attention to detail. Chapeau!
Virginie de Valandraud (St Emilion; from 12 hectares on an argilo-calcaire and gravel terroir; 80% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in 100% new oak for 18-22 months; pH 3.6; 14.5% alcohol). Assembled from dedicated parcels so very much a second label than a second wine per se. Limpid and glossy and dark in hue yet translucent at its shimmering, radiant core and brilliantly glass-staining.
A stunning nose that one could easily mistake for the grand vin (or, certainly, a grand vin). Loads of graphite and cedar and a beautiful floral element – peonies and cherry blossom – and toasted brioche, baking spices, vanilla (of course) and maybe blood oranges too. Full, rich, plump and plush. Again, one is struggling to imagine that this is anything other than the grand vin itself. There’s a lot of oak here, but there’s also a lot of compact ripe cherry and berry fruit and very fine-grained tannins too. An incredibly accomplished and stylish wine and about as good an advert as it is possible to find for élevage in new oak barrels. My only slight qualm is that the oak accentuates the natural sweetness of the vintage.
Yon Figeac (St Emilion). Glossy, limpid and almost translucent at the core. This has a pure, slightly smoky nose of dark fruits of the forest, cedar and sandalwood and crushed rocks. The attack is soft and gentle, but I find the mid-palate rather monochromatic. For me this lacks layering and delineation and the fruit is just a little baked; not as fresh as many of the other leading wines of the appellation and with a hint of residual sugar.