Bordeaux wines tasting notes

Wine tasting, Saint-Emilion wines

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     » Tasting notes index »  Saint Emilion vertical wines tasting: Tasting with Nicolas Thienpont, Bordeaux wines, France


The wines were uncorked and decanted several hours before tasting and poured into "INAO" glasses. 
1st flight

> Larcis-Ducasse 1999

(10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 65% Merlot)
Rather clear and luminous ruby colour. Very delicate nose, ripe fruit and violet. The mouth is well balanced with fine tannins. Slight wood interference due to the relatively low proportion of new barrels used. Not much expansive but delicate and smooth. 86/100

Nicolas Thienpont took over the operational management of Chateau Larcis-Ducasse in 2000. His target is to improve the production's quality by increasing the percentage of new barrels. Within the last couple of years, important efforts have been given by introducing more rigour into the production's process. Thienpont wants to take advantage of the Chateaux' most valuable "Côte sud" vineyards (fully exposed to the south). Here's an estate to write down on ones watchlist!  

> Pavie-Macquin 1999

(70% Merlot 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Beautiful luminous crimson colour. The nose is rich and pleasant (vanilla) followed shortly by some extraordinary white truffle and blackcurrant flavours. The first impression on the palate is wood but this doesn't last long. Sensual and crunchy tannins and beautiful ripe blackcurrant follow suit. Beautiful length. Very fleshy, fat and pure. This great bottle is undoubtly a worthy ambassador of the "Côte sud" style! 90/100

Nicolas Thienpont explains that the wines produced at this estate are naturally powerful. His main concern is to work on more smoothness, to the contrary of Cheval-Blanc whose wines naturally have much more finesse. 

> Cheval-Blanc 1999

(55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc)
Deep crimson colour. The nose is open, relatively smoked, wooded and vanilla, then arrives the fruit (raspberry). On the palate, the taste is soft and progressive, without any clash. Beautiful silky tannins. Bitterness appears on the middle mouth but this wine finally ends up perfectly well balanced. Delicate and elegant structure. I doubt this Cheval Blanc will be considered as the star of the vintage but it's still a very nice wine to drink today and probably for the next 10 to 15 years from now. 89/100




cheval blanc

2nd flight

> Ausone 1998

(50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc)
Very deep crimson colour. On the nose, the wine is subtle and very complex - liquorice, vanilla, spices, plum... On the palate, its texture is incredibly tight, granulous and soft at the same time. The fruit fills up the mouth gradually and powerfully with a slight wooden touch at the end. But everything is marvellously and rigorously made. A total demonstration of Alain Vauthier's talent and of the incomparable quality of Ausone's soil. So smooth though a little bit austere, which is the characteristic of Ausone's unique trademark. What a dimension! 97/100

> Pavie-Macquin 1998

(70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Deep, dense and luminous hue. On the nose, one finds the main characteristics of Pavie-Macquin 99, but in a more exuberant way - blackcurrant, white truffle and spices (pepper). To the contrary of the Pavie-Macquin 1999, the wood is in this case totally integrated and is replaced by the solar opulence of ripe fruits. The wine fills up the palate with a remarkable persistence. Soft tannins and complexity... an awesome example of purity and freshness!  95/100




It was difficult to surpass the extraordinary 1998 series. Both following wines surely suffered from the comparison.
3rd series

3rd flight

> Angelus 1995

(50% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Franc, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Ruby colour. The nose explodes into a stew of autumn ripe fruits (prune, cooked pears). Tannins are well integrated, alghough we are surprised by a curious impression of jammy roasted fruit, which is astonishing for such a young wine... some lactic feeling leaves me with an over-extraction impression. I am not totally convinced by this wine.. 87/100

> Magdeleine 1995 

(85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc)
Magdelaine's vineyards are well situated between blockbusters Ausone and Belair. Relatively light colour with orange fringe on the edge... such an evolution of colour really astonishes for a 7 year old wine! Pretty nose - raspberry and black currant. The mouth is horrible with an impression of alga (!) and greenish tannins. The wine's body is not very dense, relatively fluid and lacks concentration with the effect of exacerbated maturity on the fruit. According to Nicolas Thienpont, this bottle is not representative of Jean-Claude Berrouet's style. What happened to this wine? 82/100

4th flight

1990 holds many qualitative and quantitative records. The average yields ranged from 60 to 80 hl/ha (35-50 hl/ha for normal years!). According to the weather statistics 1990 was the hottest year since the end of the world war 2 (1947 and 1949). Therefore many estates suffered from a certain hydrous stress. But the sugar concentration in the berries was absolutely exceptional! Twelve and a half years later let us see how some Premier Grand Cru and Grand Cru St-Emilion are doing! The four wines were showing maturing like colours - ruby / orange hues.

> Canon la Gaffelière 1990

(50% Merlot 45% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Already many underwood flavours (autumn leaves, moss) which are starting to cover the wine's remaining red fruit. Generally smooth but tannins are still very present - almost a little dry. Great fruit maturity but the body misses some precision and complexity. I think it is time to start drinking this wine as it's currently reaching the top of its maturity cycle. 88/100

> Tertre-Roteboeuf 1990

(80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc)
The nose is particularly unpleasant with scents of wet wood and cabbage. After a while, this nasty aspect changes fortunately into a more classic fruity nose. In mouth, the body is stiff with an acid finish. Is it a specific bottle problem? François Mitjaville is accustomed to harvest the grapes very late in the season. Was it a wrong strategy for this very warm vintage? -- /100 (requests confirmation)

> Canon 1990

(80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc)
The ripe fruits largely dominate the other aromas. The wine has a nice body, although not extremely concentrated. The finish is a little bit linear, although the wine preserves an overall freshness. Canon 90 is certainly not a contest wine but should bode well with some white meat dish. 87/100

> Figeac 1990

(30% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Beautiful luminous ruby hue. Very complex nose. Splendid tertiary flavours - underwood, cedar, and leather - but also a concentration of prune syrup and very ripe strawberries. The body is perfectly balanced with wonderfully integrated tannins. The finish is long and silky. The high proportion of Cabernet was an advantage for Figeac in this particularly warm year. The undisputed winner of this 1990 test. A great moment! 92/100

Although not exhaustive, one can seriously wonder after this test whether if, because of the heat and of the hydrous stress, some right bank 1990 wines have not started to decline! The debate is open... 

Finally, Nicolas Thienpont presented his latest "baby": Château Bellevue. 2000 is his first harvest. Located on the western part of the most renowned "Côte sud" area, just north of Chateau l'Angelus, Bellevue's varietal is mainly characterized by very old Merlot vines. Because of a lack of investments and care, this estate had slowly fallen into a certain mediocrity since the 70's. The objective of Nicolas Thienpont is to make Bellevue stand up proudly again, thanks to increased processing control and to progressive reinvestments.  

la cathédrale de Saint-Emilion

> Bellevue 2000

(80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc)
Excellent saturated purple colour, sweet black cherry and currant fruit intermixed with smoke and toast. The mouth at this stage is still quite tannic and mineral but also shows great freshness and considerable fat. Enough acidity to guarantee a 10 - 15 years ageing. An interesting challenge for Nicolas Thienpont. 88/100

For, Alain Bringolf

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Discovering Saint-Emilion

Since the 4th Century and the return from Rome of the local poet and statesman Decimus Magnus Ausonius (or Ausone), to the huge developments of the wine industry in the mid 1800s, the region of St-Emilion has progressively become the prosperous centre we know today. The little city of Saint Emilion is located near Bordeaux (35 km) in the Southeast of France on the 'right bank' or north side of the Dordogne River. 

For several historical reasons before the French revolution (1789), the St-Emilion's land was initially divided into thousands of plots. Thus, the current average size of the St-Emilion's properties does not exceed 7 ha, which is tiny compared to the five times larger winerie's size in Medoc. Fortunately this historical inheritance later turned out to be an advantage when vines were planted around the little town of St-Emilion because of the astonishing diversity of local soils'. The total surface of the St-Emilion appellation covers a little more than 5400 hectares. The annual A.O.C wine production today exceeds 250000 hl. The area around Saint Emilion is famous for its excellent wines made primarily with the Merlot grape variety. The area receives frost earlier than the Medoc region and Merlot is Saint Emilion's primary grape as this varietal ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Saint Emilion is assigned to five main areas based on the type of soil.

1. Côte Sud - or South coast

Closest to the town of Saint Emilion is an area named the "Côte sud" or "Southern slope" characterized by deep limestone on fairly steep slopes. This area is the stereotypical Saint Emilion area. It covers about 2,400 hectares  and shelters 11 of the 13 highest rated Chateaux. In this sector Merlot grows and performs the best. 
The most famous estates are Ausone, Pavie and Tertre-Roteboeuf.

2. Graves de Figeac 

The "Graves de Figeac" area is located at the extreme Northwest of the St-Emilion mark. It is a 60-hectare area on the far west side of the commune of Saint Emilion (just bordering on Pomerol) that is basically made of gravel. This is where the other two of the highest rated chateaux of Saint Emilion (Chateau Cheval-Blanc and Chateau Figeac) are located. The gravely soil makes a good home for the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties.
The best properties are: Cheval-Blanc, Figeac and La Dominique.

3. The lower part of the Southern coast

There is approximately 50m difference between top and bottom of the Southern coast. Its soil is mostly characterized by clay and sandy soil. The grape's maturity along this terroir can be irregular and the wine making may sometimes be difficult.
The best Chateaux are l'Arrosée, La Gaffelière and Canon la Gaffelière.

4. The West coast

The West coast, whose soil is quite similar to that of the "Southern coast" with, however, less exposure to the sun. The declivity of the ground is less noticeable here. The grapes here mature a bit later. Merlot benefits from the relative freshness of the weather. 
The most famous chateaux are: l'Angelus, Grand-Mayne, Bellevue, La Gomerie.

5. The North coast

The less marked slope from a declivity point of view. The soil here is mostly aeolian sand (very fine sand brought by the wind). The grapes take more time to mature and the wines produced here have more austere characteristics. 
Larmande, Clos de l'Oratoire usually produce the best Northern wines.

6. The plateau of St-Martin. 

The soil is poor and consists of a thin argilo-sand layer covering a very thick layer of clay soil. Its clay-limestone soil is only 50 to 60 centimetres, on a subsoil of friable limestone that forces the vine's roots very deep in the ground for nourishment. The water drainage is excellent there whereas its exposure to the sun and to the warm breeze can be regarded as ideal.
The most famous estates: Magdeleine, Canon, Beausejour-Becot.

village medieval saint emilionThe next time you go and visit France, Saint Emilion must be part of your plans. It is a "must see" for all travellers to Bordeaux. The town of Saint Emilion was a centre of religious life around the 8th Century. The monks carved an entire church from a single huge piece of limestone over the course of 300 years beginning in 800 AD. It remains today as the greatest monolith church in Europe. St-Emilion is a living history lesson and retains much of the atmosphere and charm of past centuries. 

More about Saint-Emilion:

Saint-Emilion, right bank, Situation and soil..

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