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St Estèphe 2023 en primeur: tasting notes

db’s Bordeaux correspondent Colin Hay gives his verdict on the wines from St Estèphe , following the publication of his report on the appellation

A note on the ratings

This year, as is now my habit, I have again decided to provide an indicative rating for each wine alongside the published comment. All such comments and ratings are necessarily subjective (they cannot be anything else when one thinks about it). I would urge you to look at the two together and, if anything, to privilege the comment over the rating. My aim is more to describe the wine in the context of the vintage, the appellation and recent vintages of the same and similar wines, rather than to judge the wine per se.

The ratings, of course, reflect my subjective evaluations and relative preferences between wines. Your palate is likely differ from mine. I hope that my comments give you at least enough information to be able to recalibrate my ratings and, in so doing, to align them more closely to your own palate. To give an example: if the idea of the ‘new classicism’ leaves you cold, you may well wish to discount the (typically high) ratings I have given to wines described in such terms.

2023, like both of its predecessors is, of course, a far from homogeneous vintage – and, consequently, my ratings span a considerable range (from the very top of the scale downwards). I see little interest, either for the consumer or the producer, in publishing very low scores. Consequently, I have decided not to publish scores for classed growths (or equivalent wines) that I have rated below 90 (here the range 89-91) and for crus bourgeois (or equivalent wines) that I have rated below 89 (here the range 88-90). Where no rating is published, the wine would have scored below these thresholds. Where my written assessment of the wine might also have proved unflattering to the property, I have simply chosen to publish neither the commentary nor the rating.

Finally, élevage is likely to be very important in determining the quality in bottle of these wines. I am no soothsayer and cannot predict how that will turn out (another reason for the use of banded ratings). But all en primeur ratings should be treated with caution and taken with a certain pinch of salt.

Detailed Tasting Notes

Le Boscq (St-Estèphe; cru bourgeois exceptionnel; tasted at Belgrave). Plush and actually quite opulent on the attack, but then the considerable if fine-grained tannins grip and stretch this back towards the spine and it becomes rather more traditionally St-Estèphe. A little angular and stern on the finish, but with a succulent and quite juicy mid-palate. 89-91.


Calon-Ségur (St-Estèphe; 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; pH 3.7; IPT 73; aging in new oak barrels; 55% of the production made the selection for the grand vin; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 14% alcohol; tasted at the property). Wild strawberry, blueberry, red and darker cherries, damson. Violet. Full and plush and rich. There are graphite and walnut notes too, dancing cheek to jowl with the florality and the black cherries. This opens rather gracefully in the glass with gentle aeration. I find this reassuringly familiar as Calon-Ségur – it’s almost a little ‘old school’. Big and bold, though not the amplest or broadest of frames but deep – not so much cylindrical or spherical as lozenge-shaped in the mouth. Bold, quite serious though never austere. Classical. Gravelly. Growly. And with lots of girth and substance. Very different from Montrose and Cos, with less silk and more velour. Juicy but with quite a lot of tannin still to resolve. 94-96.


Capbern (St-Estèphe; 69% Cabernet Sauvignon; 29% Merlot; 1% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; IPT 86; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 14.6% alcohol; tasted at Calon-Ségur). Saline, earthy and mineral. Nicely made, bright and quite sweet-fruited. Full with the intensity reinforced by the more narrow frame. An excellent Capbern, its quality aided by the higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Juicy. Succulent and fresh. Pleasingly quaffable. Good intensity. 91-93.


Cos d’Estournel (St-Estèphe; 65% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 1% Cabernet Franc; 1% Petit Verdot; pH 3.75; IPT 72; 12.9% alcohol; aging in oak barrels, 50% of which are new; the first time that they’ve green-harvested here for many vintages; a final yield of 45 hl/ha, as in 2016; in conversion to organic viticulture; tasted with Michel Reybier and Dominique Arangoits; no anti-botrytis treatments were used so skins are softer and the extraction of tannins was somewhat easier and more gentle). A wine of total grace, poise and elegance. Very harmonious, neither introvert nor extrovert, but one has the sense that one is in the presence of a greatness that is only partially revealed for now. Graphite. Damsons. Dark cassis, blackcurrant and bramble. A little shaving of the finest chocolate. So ample that it pushes out the cheeks and then a Kaleidoscopic revelation of layering from the top down. This has a wondrous structure and is fascinating in the mouth, with hyper-refined tannins. Very peppery but less exotic in its spicing that it used to be – with subtle hints of nutmeg, heather and wild herbs. A glorious Cos. So juicy and so long and slender on the slowly tapering finish which seems to lead us on a sinuous path to the very distant horizon. A singular wine in a singular vintage. It also feels very natural. 96-98+.


Cos Labory (St-Estèphe; 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 8% Cabernet Franc; 4% Petit Verdot; pH 3.73; IPT 70; aging in oak barrels, 30% of which are new; 13% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and then again at Cos Labory with Michel Reybier and Dominique Arangoits). This for me would win the prize for the steepest recent upward ascent amongst the classed growths of the Médoc. Axel Marchal is bringing all of his skill to this as a consultant and it is very much a property to watch. A cool terroir profile – so very different from Cos itself – and one that you might not expect to excel in this vintage. But it does. Peonies. Cassis. An evident stoney minerality. More cassis. Wild heather and wild herbs. A dark berry fruit, a little damson too. This is tense and lithe, crystalline yet with lots of energy despite the impressive depth and concentration. Always a slightly austere wine, above all in this vintage which it reveals its terroir more than ever before. But I rather love that. It’s time to recalibrate your expectations of this property. 92-94+.


Le Crock (St-Estèphe; cru bourgeois exceptionnel; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 33% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 50.7 hl/ha; IPT 80; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at Leoville-Poyferré; in conversion to organic viticulture). Very Leoville-Poyferré in style and in a vintage which flatters the northern Médoc (or at least St-Estèphe) that makes this rather seductive – one could almost be further south in a rather different vintage. Saffron, irises and red and darker cherries, damson and mulberry, blackcurrant, a little lemon thyme, nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon, black liquorice root. This is an excellent wine, very much on a par with the 2022. 92-94.


Dame de Montrose (St-Estèphe; 61% Merlot; 32% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 48 hl/ha; 13.8% alcohol; some green harvesting during the heatwave period, especially on young vines; tasted at Montrose with Charlotte Bouygues and Pierre Graffeuille). Darker berry and stone fruits when tasted after Tronquoy. Damson, above all, with its beguiling aromatics and integral acidity. Walnut. Crushed black raspberry, blueberry, bramble, all with a very natural sweetness. Ample, but not too ample. Radiant and brilliantly crunchy in its fruit signature. Excellent, with lovely purity and precision. Harmony and elegance. Succulence and sapidity. Highly recommended. 92-94+.


Domeyne (St-Estèphe; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 40% Merlot; from a vineyard of 9 hectares on a gravel and clay soil purchased by Vincent Ginestet from Claire and Gonzague Lurton in 2006; a final yield of 52 hl/ha; Eric Boissenot is the consultant here; tasted in Bordeaux from a sample supplied by Boissenot Consulting). This is lighter in extraction than most, and rather more blue-purple in both hue and fruit profile. Oh, I love it! It’s very floral – we could almost be in Margaux – a character, in a way, of this vintage. Wisteria and peony but then that deep, dark earthy, slight austerity of the appellation to remind you where this hails from. A little trace of graphite too and a waft of cedar. Excellent. A lovely touch, a gentle harmony and lots of finesse. A revelation. I’m so pleased I got to taste this. 91-93.


Franck Phélan (St-Estèphe; 50% Merlot; 42% Cabernet Sauvignon; 8% Cabernet Franc; IPT 77; pH 3.78; 13% alcohol; the longest harvest ever here, with de-leafing of the Cabernet Sauvignon at the end of the season; tasted at the property). Saline, with peanut brittle (really!) accompanying the dark plum, damson and black berry fruit. Glistening texturally. There are nice peppery notes too. An excellent second wine, very much in the new style of the property. Light in its extraction with a tight frame and so enhanced density in the mid-palate. Chewy and crumbly, if just a little strict on the finish. 89-91.


Haut Marbuzet (St-Estèphe; 50% Merlot; 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3% Petit Verdot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% alcohol). Plump, plush and seductive, just as it should be. There’s always something rather reassuring about Haut Marbuzet and it doesn’t disappoint here. Indeed, it’s another rather floral expression of St Estèphe in this vintage with crushed petals, peonies, pollen and violet accompanying the deep berry fruits. Soft and, again, plump and rich on the palate with very fine-grained tannins, this is excellent. The oak is already very well absorbed and this is a finer and more refined and elegant wine than in recent vintages. A great success. 92-94.


Laffitte Carcasset (St-Estèphe; cru bourgeois supérieur; 50% Merlot; 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Cabernet Franc). An intensely dark (purple-black) berry fruit – mulberries, damsons and blueberries, all very much picked à point and, as a consequence, with a somewhat marked acidity. This, then, is quite strict and firm, very linear and just a little coarse on the finish. But I like the hint of florality and the tannins are certainly soft and refined. 88-90.


Marquis de Calon (St-Estèphe; 50% Merlot; 48% Cabernet Sauvignon; 1% Petit Verdot; 1% Cabernet Franc; a final yield of 45 hl/ha; 14.6% alcohol; tasted at Calon-Ségur). Rose petals and dark cherries. Black forest gateau, mocha and black chocolate. Cedar. Very juicy and sapid, dense and compact. A nice plump mouthful of berries and cherries. Pushes out the cheeks but then also nicely tapering on the finish with a lovely spherical core. 91-93+.


Meyney (St-Estèphe; 58% Cabernet Sauvignon; 29% Merlot; 13% Petit Verdot; tasted from a sample sent to me in Bordeaux). A super wine from Meyney, with grace, elegance, charm, appellation and terroir typicity, and substance. A lovely harmony between red and darker berry fruits, a little plum skin too. White and black pepper, a little saffron, beeswax and petunia. On the palate this has quite a broad frame for the vintage. This helps to reveal the crystalline purity of the mid-palate. Long and glossy on the finish, where a nice graphite mineral note intermingles with the sensation of chewing on grape skins. Cool and refreshing. Another great success from an habitual over-performer (though it’s less surprising when you look on the map and see where the vineyard is located!). 92-94.


Montrose (St-Estèphe; 75% Cabernet Sauvignon; 21% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; for the first time at least in recent history the grand vin in 2023 is sourced exclusively from the 45 hectares of vines planted on Terrace 4, the historic core of the vineyard as classified in 1855; a wine from the 12 hectares planted on Terrace 3 will be released separately; with such a strict self-imposed selection just 35 per cent of the total production enters into the grand vin). Divine. Limpid, lithe and incredible in both its hue and radiant clarity in the glass. Cassis. Blueberry. Bramble and assorted dark berry fruits. Damson and damson skin. Walnut. Olive oil and black pepper. A wine of such incredible purity and elegance, a most intense and refined fruit, so picture perfectly pixilated in its precision. Not overly ample, with quite a tight and well-formed frame at first but with the more gorgeously glacial and crystalline texture and such intensity and layering. A miraculous mirror pool, charged with energy and a wondrous elegance. So pure. So fine. So audacious. So utterly breath-taking. The potential wine of the vintage. Poetry. 98-100.


Ormes de Pez (St-Estèphe; 55% Merlot; 34% Cabernet Sauvignon; 6% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; IPT 77; pH 3.71; aging in oak barrels, 45% of them new; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and then at Lynch Bages). Peony and iris and a slightly more artificial floral perfume note, above all when tasted Lynch Bages. Chunky, bold and deep, if just a little severe and austere. Bramble and blackberry; assorted briary fruits. The tannins are somewhat considerable and a bit edgy on the finish. Not flattered perhaps by being tasted alongside the wines from Lynch Bages, I will look forward to tasting this with interest. 89-91.


Pagodes de Cos (St-Estèphe; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 45% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Franc; 2% Petit Verdot; IPT 69; pH 3.74; aging in oak barrels, 20% of them new; 12.9% alcohol; tasted with Michel Reybier and Dominique Arangoits). Deep and velvety, very Cos in its opulence, but tranquil cool and resplendent in the mid-palate. Cedar, graphite and brambles. Creamily textured and with staggering freshness. Supple and quite succulent in its sapid juiciness. There’s a lovely Cabernet lift and lots of energy to this. A broad and ample frame, reinforcing the sensation of a lithe and crystalline mid-palate. Suave and elegant. Velvet aromatically, more silk on the palate. Tender and chewy on the finish with a restrained spiciness, but lots of pepper. Very fine indeed. 92-94.


De Pez (St-Estèphe; 61% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38% Merlot; 1% Cabernet Franc; pH 3.6; 13.5% alcohol; a generous final yield of 53 hl/ha; Eric Boissenot is the consultant here; aging for 15 months in oak and 3 months in foudres; tasted at the UGC Press and then at the property with Florent Genty; the average age of the vineyard is now 26 years). A transformation has been taking place here since 2018. The parcel-by-parcel vinification is the key. Such a lovely wine with fabulous aromatics. Another candidate for the most rapid upward ascent (along with Cos Labory, though the transformation began earlier at de Pez). Spherical and seamless. Pure violet at first, wtih a little bit of violet-encrusted ultra-dark chocolate and Parma violets too. This has the texture of extremely expensive pure dark chocolate. Glacial tannins, silky and enveloping, yet light and aerial, so unusual for an appellation that used never to be able to make wines like this with such great tannic polish and finesse. But slowly and surely the authentic grain and grip of those argile St Estèphe tannins starts to break through from the exterior. It’s as if we start in Margaux, with that aerial florality and soar upwards and in a northern direction to land on the highest part of the St Estèphe plateau. A journey in a glass. There’s a lovely calcaire salinity on the finish. The best I’ve tasted from here and a tribute to the work underway. 93-95.


Phélan-Ségur (St-Estèphe; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38% Merlot; 2% Petit Verdot; a final yield of 52 hl/ha; 55% new oak; IPT 80; pH 3.83; 13.5% alcohol; tasted at the UGC press tasting at the Cité du Vin and then at the property; a selection of yeasts from the vineyard is cultivated prior to vinification; 60 per cent of the production made the selection for the grand vin). Quite distinctive in its aromatic salinity and minerality. Blueberries. Mulberries. Brambles. A loamy earthiness. A touch of cherry with aeration too (a decanter and/or time would/will reveal more). An intense wild heather and herbal note. Maybe a hint of violet. In In the mouth this is fine and glossily textured. A delicate cassis and menthol freshness is revealed with gentle inhalation and aeration. Nice layering and impressively deep, dark and dense in the mid-palate but with a lovely radiant and luminous quality. A little less joyous in this slightly more austere vintage than it was in 2022, but this is very fine and it is lifted by the gentle sweet spicing. Succulent and juicy with a fine sense of harmony and balance. 92-94+.


Ségur de Cabanac (St Estèphe; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; Boissenot consulting). A old favourite that rarely disappoints. Aromatically expressive, a little richer than Domeyne, floral too, though less evidently so. Silky tannins, lots of mid-palate matter and density, and yet a freshness and a radiance that used to be so rare in the appellation. Nicely done. Well-composed and with great attention to detail. It’s a good vintage up here in the north of the Médoc. 89-91.


Tour de Pez (St-Estèphe). Another slightly tart and relatively simple wine, very strict and linear, with quite intense fresh dark berry fruit. Precise, I guess, but monotone. It lacks a bit of levity and joy. That said, the tannins are soft and fine-grained and there is a crystal quality to the mid-palate that I do enjoy. This will need time.


Tour de Termes (St-Estèphe; cru bourgeois supérieur). Creamy, round and caressing, with a very bright and crisp dark berry fruit. This is a little broader in frame than many wines of the appellation at this level and it has an impressively pure and limpid mid-palate with a pleasing taper towards a long finish. But it also remains rather strict, very much in the style of the vintage. It will need time, but there is good potential here for the patient. 88-90.


Tronquoy (St-Estèphe; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 38% Merlot; 11% Petit Verdot; 13.2% alcohol; in organic transition and should be certified for the 2024 vintage). There’s lovely purity here, with purple and blue berry fruits, raspberry and even a little wild strawberry. Brambles, blackberries, crushed and gently peppered. A touch of walnut too and a more spicy, peppery note from the Petit Verdot (of which there is rather more than usual in the blend). This exudes harmony and has something of the Montrose touch to it. Aerial. Lifted. Limpid, lithe, pure, with a lovely texture and great intensity without seeming weight. It is almost gravity-defying and highly recommended once again. 92-94+.


See here for db‘s appellation analysis for Margaux, St JulienPauillacSt Estèphe and Saint Émilion.

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