‘Classic’ and ‘Balanced’ Wines at L’Association de Grands Crus Classés de Saint Emilion Tasting
Altitude 360, 5th June 2013
The annual tasting of Saint Emilion Grands Crus Classés took place at the trendy and spacious Altitude 360 in Pimlico. This year, vintages on show were 2009 and 2010, so the growers had little to apologize for. That said, Ch. Faurie de Souchard was one of those hit by hail in May in 2009, Thibaud Sciard, presenting the wines, described to us the difficulty of losing 90% of his crop as a result.
Otherwise, the wines were largely as expected, with only good surprises, really. The reputation of these two vintages is well known, not only due to the comments of a certain American with the same name as a pen, but also because of the interest and ‘buzz’ that two magnificent vintages in a row creates; everyone has written about them.
Don’t you love Bordeaux euphemisms? ‘Classic’ is a word often wheeled out to excuse unripe wines from a poor year; this time, though, it seems to work for the 2010s. They are anything but unripe, and have a deep coloured, dark fruited spicy character, and aniceed freshness. ‘Balance’ is used in a different context, often to justify high alcohol, and again the sceptic in me wakes up when I hear it. However, I tasted all three of Jacques Capdemourlin’s 2010s, Châteaux Balestard le Tonnelle, Cap de Mourlin, and Petit Faurie de Soutard (please note the similar spelling to Faurie de Souchard, above; they are indeed two different châteaux, it’s just part of that adorable French complication). Part of my note to the Balestard la Tonnelle reads: “A huge mouthful of tannin and acidity, balanced by ripe and generous black fruit”. Thierry Capdemourlin pointed out alcohol levels of, 15, 15.5 and 15.5%, in order, for these three wines, but talked of the balance, and my note confirms this. The alcohol didn’t stand out in any of these, nor in any of the other wines I tasted on the day.
My tasting notes are repetitive. Big, ripe, soft fruited 2009s, with red, sweet Merlot fruit, lowish acidity, and velvety tannins, drinking well now, and more angular, serious, spicy (both words versions, I suspect, of ‘classic’, a word I don’t really use) 2010s, with “A huge mouthful of tannin and acidity, balanced by ripe and generous black fruit”. Have I said that before?
Another common theme appears to be the consultant Michel Rolland; he’s everywhere. I recently read a cartoon book called “Robert Parker Les Sept Péchés capiteux” (The seven ‘heady’ sins), by Benoist Simmat and drawn by Philippe Bercovici, which portrays Big Bob colluding with Michel Rolland to homogenize the flavour of Bordeaux and create a ‘Parker taste’ (‘capiteux’, in the title, translates as ‘heady’ while ‘capitaux’ is deadly, which would be the more familiar expression). It’s a great book, by the way, very witty (if you are a wine nerd, otherwise you won’t understand it) but it hasn’t been translated. It is, of course, satirical, but most of the Rolland consulted wines seemed to show a full, chocolaty, extracted character, and high alcohol (none less than 14%), but those are also characteristics of both vintages. The three from Capdemourlin above are all consulted by his laboratory.
One exception to this was Château Grand Corbin d’Espagne. François d’Espagne, the very affable owner, explained that he was fully organically certified, and trying out biodynamic production. He tried to point to this fact in the otherwise very well-presented fact sheet that accompanied each estate’s page, but it wasn’t there. He remarked that, although he did inform them, the Association must have omitted to print this information (a bit of Bordeaux politics, perhaps)? His wines of both vintages showed a charming harmony, with easy acidity, melted but prominent tannins, and yes, great balance, even classics. They were still 14% (2009), and 14.5% (2010).
An enjoyable and informative tasting of two great vintages. If the following one features 2011 and 2012, a different set of euphemisms will come to the fore. Anyone who hasn’t been living on Mars for the last few years will be familiar with the financial sector’s descriptors of choice: challenging, and difficult. Bordeaux has added a new variant to these two for the 2012 vintage: A winemaker’s vintage (but aren’t all vintages)? Maybe the turnout will be lower for that one.