As early as the 2nd century, Romans planted vineyards on the right bank of the Dordogne River in southwestern France. Centuries later, this area became the wine-producing commune of Saint-Émilion. It is the oldest wine area of the Bordeaux wine region and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The wines of Saint-Émilion are among the most revered and sought-after in the world. They’re typically full-bodied red blends of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and are characteristic of wines produced on the right bank of the Dordogne, which are more feminine in style than the Bordeaux on the left bank. They also tend to be drinkable at an earlier age than most Bordeaux. The terroir consists mainly of limestone and clay.
On Saturday, I had the great pleasure of tasting some amazing Bordeaux wines produced by 25 top wineries in Saint-Émilion. This sneak preview of their 2011 vintages was hosted by The Wine House (http://www.winehouse.com/) in Los Angeles. Every wine was a Grand Cru Classé, a classification that denotes a higher quality wine, with fewer wineries in this classification.
Participating chateau owners and directors were there to pour the wines:
CHÂTEAU BELLEFONT-BELCIER (Emmanuel de Saint-Salvy)
CHÂTEAU CHAUVIN (Marie-France Février)
CHÂTEAU CLOS DE SARPE (Charles-Antoine Beyney)
CHÂTEAU CORBIN (Anabelle Cruse-Bardinet)
CHÂTEAU DASSAULT (Laurence Brun)
CHÂTEAU DE PRESSAC (Jean-François Quenin)
CHÂTEAU DESTIEUX (Nicolas Dauriac)
CHÂTEAU FAUGERES (Antoine Michel)
CHÂTEAU FLEUR CARDINALE (Florence Decoster)
CHÂTEAU FOMBRAUGE (Alix Combes)
CHÂTEAU FONPLEGADE (S&D Adams)
CHÂTEAU FONROQUE (Alain Moueix)
CHÂTEAU FRANC MAYNE (Hervé Laviale)
CHÂTEAU GRAND CORBIN (Charles Cruse)
CHÂTEAU GRAND CORBIN-DESPAGNE (Marie Loustalan)
CHÂTEAU GRAND PONTET (Marie Pourquet)
CHÂTEAU GUADET (Vincent Lignac)
CHÂTEAU JEAN FAURE (Fanny de Kepper)
CHÂTEAU LA COMMANDERIE (Thibaut Decoster)
CHÂTEAU LA DOMINIQUE (Gwendeline Lucas)
CHÂTEAU LAROZE (Guy Meslin)
CHÂTEAU LE PRIEURE (Paul Goldschmidt)
CHÂTEAU PEBY FAUGERES (Antoine Michel)
CHÂTEAU YON FIGEAC (Alain Château )
CLOS DES JACOBINS (Thibaut Decoster)
COUVENT DES JACOBINS (Denis Pomarede)
Most notable for me were:
Chateau Bellefont-Belcier – Emmanuel de Saint-Salvy (retail $49.99):
Robert Parker has given this vintage a rating of 90-92 and for good reason. It’s a winner with its savory nose, medium fruit, smooth tannins and a hint of chocolate on the palate. The long, silky finish gives lasting pleasure. This was one of my favorites, second only to the Chateau Peby Faugeres, and at $49.99 a bottle, it’s a bargain.
Chateau Clos de Sarpe – Charles-Antoine Beyney (retail $59.99)
There’s lots to contemplate in this lovely selection that pays tribute to the stony terroir of its origins. Mineral is balanced with some smoke and black raspberry. Its dry, tight tannins should soften and open up as it ages and develops more dimension.
Chateau Faugeres – Antoine Michel (retail $34.99)
A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this medium-bodied vintage bestows a light floral aroma and smooth tannins balanced with plum, licorice and a hint of earth on the palate, and a light berry finish.
Chateau Fonroque – Alain Moueix (retail $32.99)
A bouquet of mineral and spice and everything nice, this wine is beautiful in the glass with its deep plum/ruby color. The flavor is a pleasant balance of mineral, tobacco and currants, with a creamy, medium finish and soft tannins.
Chateau Grand Pontet – Marie Pourquet (retail $35.99)
Cassis and floral fragrances lead to very tight tannins, mineral, black pepper and some herbs on the palate. Its silky mouth feel and fully body make this an enjoyable, if not exceptional, vintage.
Chateau le Prieure – Paul Goldschmidt (retail $34.99)
This is another of my favorites, lovely and fresh and full of mineral, plum and floral flavors in a feminine-style blend. The old-vine Merlot and Cab Franc grapes are grown in a terroir of clay over limestone on south-facing slopes. Aside from the obvious mineral, there’s a subtle woody flavor balanced with black fruit.
Chateau Peby Faugeres – Antoine Michel (retail $94.99)
This opulent vintage made from 100% old vine Merlot was the highlight of the afternoon. Its light floral nose gave way to a rich depth of flavors that included ripe dark berries, rich chocolate with some licorice and smooth tannins. In spite of its young age, it drinks extremely well.
Wine from the above chateaux can be pre-ordered from The Wine House, but are restricted to increments of three bottles. Though these wines have been bottled, they will not be released until late spring of 2014.