St-Estephe Wine Region Summary
The northernmost appellation within the Medoc, Saint-Estephe is home to wines that bear some resemblances to those of Pauillac to the south; robust, structured and complex blends which cast a spotlight on Cabernet Sauvignon.
What differentiates it from many Left Bank communes is the high concentration of rich clay soils perfectly suited to growing Merlot - planted in greater proportion here than in neighbouring Pauillac, and sometimes making up more than half of the final blend for producers like Chateau Cos d’Estournel.
Terroir is also marked by cooler, wetter earth; meaning Saint-Estephe estates shine particularly in hot, dry years and are resistant to drought. Red wines here are deep and dark, characteristically tannic and unyielding in their infancy, greatly benefiting from years, ideally decades, of cellaring.
Saint-Estephe has just a handful of classed growths, including Second Growth chateaux Cos d’Estournel and Montrose, and Third Growth Chateau Calon-Segur. This has been to the favour of enthusiasts who recognise that many wines here are the equal of, or better than, a great many in other parts of the Medoc and yet are often more approachably priced.
Highest rated vintages for St-Estephe
I have had the 1990 Montrose on four separate occasions over the last several months, and I have consistently rated it either 99 or 100. Three of the bottles came from my cellar, and one was tasted at the chateau. None of them revealed any brett, which is not the case with bottles that were exposed to heat, or had bad storage issues. The wine remains a blockbuster, an inky/ruby/purple-colored effort revealing stunning concentration, amazingly high glycerin, and abundant amounts of sweet black fruits intermixed with notions of earth and spice. It is a fleshy, full-bodied St.-Estephe with atypically high amounts of fatness and fruit extract, but it is settling down nicely and seems set for another 2-3 decades of longevity. Many have felt the 1989 Montrose is better, and it is getting closer to meriting a three digit score, but it remains more tannic and backward. Release price: ($350.00/case)
One of the greatest young wines I have ever tasted, the monumental 2009 Cos d’Estournel has lived up to its pre-bottling potential. A remarkable effort from winemaking guru Jean-Guillaume Prats and owner Michel Reybier, this blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot (33%) and a touch of Cabernet Franc (2%) was cropped at 33 hectoliters per hectare. It boasts an inky/black/purple color along with an extraordinary bouquet of white flowers interwoven with blackberry and blueberry liqueur, incense, charcoal and graphite. The wine hits the palate with extraordinary purity, balance and intensity as well as perfect equilibrium, and a seamless integration of tannin, acidity, wood and alcohol. An iconic wine as well as a remarkable achievement, it is the greatest Cos d’Estournel ever produced. It is approachable enough at present that one could appreciate it with several hours of decanting, but it will not hit its prime for a decade, and should age effortlessly for a half century.
A colossal effort, the 2009 Montrose represents a hypothetical blend of the monumental duo of 1989 and 1990 combined with the phenomenal 2003. With 13.7% alcohol (an all-time high at Montrose), it is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and the rest tiny quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Some structure and minerality can be detected in the background, but the overall impression is one of massive blackberry, black currant and mulberry fruit intermixed with forest floor, damp earth, crushed rocks and a hint of spring flowers. Full-bodied with sweet but abundant tannin, Jean-Bernard Delmas believes this is the greatest wine he has made during his short tenure at Montrose since retiring from Haut-Brion. This wine will undoubtedly shut down for a decade, then unleash its power, glory and potential perfection. Anticipated maturity: 2020-2050+.
This is considered to be among the greatest vintages ever made in Montrose, right up with the 1929, 1945, 1947, 1959, 1961, 1989, 1990 and 2009. Harvest was October 15 to 17. The wine has really come on since I last tasted it, and it needs at least another 10 years of cellaring. The blend was 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine is opaque black/blue, with an incredible nose of blueberry and blackberry liqueur, with hints of incense, licorice, and acacia flowers. Tannins are incredibly sweet and very present. The wine is full-bodied, even massive, with great purity, depth and a finish that goes on close to a minute. This is a 50- to 75-year-old wine that will repay handsomely those with good aging genes. (Note: The Chateau Montrose website gives an aging potential of 2020-2100.)
A candidate for a perfect score, the 2003 Montrose has been a superstar since the first time I tasted it in barrel. Showing no signs of weakening, it is an amazing wine from this fabulous terroir. It boasts a deep blue/purple color as well as a stunning perfume of blueberries, black currants, blackberries, licorice and camphor. Dense, full-bodied and rich with an unctuous texture, well-integrated, melted tannins, and a long, heady finish, this big, brawny, super-intense, gorgeous 2003 is just beginning to enter its plateau of full maturity. It should remain there for at least two decades.
This was not in the tasting at the chateau, but I opened two bottles on my return home, because this is another near-perfect wine from Montrose. It is an unusual two-grade blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The wine emerged from another very hot, sunny, dry growing season, with early, generous flowering. Harvest in Montrose took place between September 11 and 28. The wine has never had any issues with brett, making it a somewhat safer selection than the more irregular 1990. Like a tortoise, the 1989 has finally begun to rival and possibly eclipse its long-time younger sibling, the 1990. The wine is absolutely spectacular and in auction sells for a much lower premium than the 1990. That should change. This is a magnificent Montrose, showing notes of loamy soil undertones, intermixed with forest floor, blueberry and blackberry liqueur and spring flowers. It has a full-bodied, intense, concentrated mouthfeel that is every bit as majestic as the 1990, but possibly slightly fresher and more delineated. This great wine should drink well for another 40-50 years.
The prodigious, fantastic 2003 Cos d’Estournel is a candidate for “wine of the vintage.” A blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon (unusually high for this chateau), 30% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, 17,500 cases were produced from low yields. An inky/blue/purple color is accompanied by a compelling perfume of black fruits, subtle smoke, pain grille, incense, and flowers. With extraordinary richness, full body, and remarkable freshness, elegance, and persistence, this is one of the finest wines ever made by this estate. The good news is that it will be drinkable at a young age yet evolve for three decades or more. Kudos to winemaker Jean-Guillaume Prats and owner Michel Reybier.
While I am not convinced the 2005 Cos d’Estournel will eclipse the compelling 2003 Cos, it is unquestionably another superb classic from proprietor Michel Reybier and his brilliant winemaker, Jean-Guillaume Prats. Made from an unusually high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon (78%) and the balance mostly Merlot with a tiny dollop of Cabernet Franc, this superb effort requires plenty of time in the bottle. It boasts an inky/purple color as well as a glorious perfume of licorice, Asian spices, creme de cassis, blackberries, and toasty oak. This full-bodied St.-Estephe is exceptionally powerful, pure, and dense with a layered mid-palate that builds like a skyscraper. While there are massive tannins, they are remarkably velvety and well-integrated in this big, backstrapping effort that should enjoy an unusually long life. Forget it for 8-10 years, and drink it between 2017-2040.
The 2010 is a more structured, restrained, less flamboyant version of the 2009. A final blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot that hit 14.5% natural alcohol, this wine (which represents only 55% of the estate's production) is full-bodied, classic and built along the lines of the 2000 (although that wine was made before Reybier acquired the estate and upgraded quality significantly). This wine exhibits beautifully pure notes of creme de cassis, blueberry liqueur, pen ink, graphite and hints of toast and vanillin. The wine is full and rich, and although aged in 80% new oak, the wood is a subtle background component. This beauty will take longer to round into shape than the dramatic and compelling 2009. Forget it for 5-8 years, and drink it over the following three-plus decades. These are two terrific wines from Cos d'Estournel. Proprietor Michel Reybier will have to continue his great success over the next decade without his top lieutenant, Jean-Guillaume Prats, who has taken another job, but the estate seems to be in superlative condition, and at the very top of its game.
In 2005, a very serious drought year stressed most vineyards in Bordeaux, which are all dry-farmed. The volume of rainfall was less than half the average of the previous 30 years. The clay subsoils at Montrose have always played a major role in not only dry years, but also in extremely hot ones, such as 2003, as they retain more moisture. The grapes were harvested between September 23 and October 9. This is a very powerful, full-bodied wine that is quite tannic, but the tannins are relatively velvety. The wine is rich, complex, majestic, multi-dimensional and also avoids any of the austerity that some 2005s possess. It has done quite well in its bottle evolution and should turn out to be a great Montrose, capable of lasting 30 to 50 years.