St Julien

St Julien

ST JULIEN is a small but desirable Left Bank appellation, choc a bloc with high end vineyards, lying North of Margaux and South of Paulliac. It also benefits from the warming effect of the Gironde Estuary. I tend to find its wines slightly softer than Paulliac but not as fragrant and violety as Margaux. The wines here could be catorgorised as the archetypal classic Bordeaux and for that reason it's a good place to start before comparing with other AC's. It's certainly the right place to find perfect examples of the cedar/blackcurrant flavours associated with Bordeaux. There are some fabulous Chateau producing lush, charming wines. In fact 'charm' is the best single word to sum up St Julien wines. Most of the Chateau here are classified growths, the best being the closest to the Estuary. It's fantastic to work your way around Bordeaux wines & find the individualities of each AC...

My favourite estate in St Julien, is Chateau Leoville Barton. It's run by the legendary and approachable Anthony Barton, whose Irish decendant family have been in charge since 1821. It's an extremely well proportioned, tannic, long haul wine that really needs 12-15 years of cellaring before drinking. It could improve for another 50 though! When it's finally ready...it expresses perfection! Leoville BartonIt holds a lofty Second Growth classification but Anthony is very reasonable with the pricing of it. Where other 2nd's can release at £900 a case, and he could easily follow suit, LB tends to hit the market around the £300 mark which is  (cleverly) fair. This see's it sell out in Bordeaux immediately every year. It can then be bought on the secondary market at a higher price. New upstarts like myself can't seem to get a look in for an allocation (I'm working on it!) so what I tend to do is pick this Chateau up from selected merchants or at auction. It has a high Cabernet Sauvignon content in the blend (roughly 80%) and can be viewed and tasted as a top example of a traditional old school Claret. I try to ration it but sometimes I just wish I worked there! It has a sister estate, Chateau Langoa Barton next door which, although not quite as fine, is cheaper and still really excellent Claret for laying down. This is where both properties are vinified as their isn't actually a Chateau at Leoville! The gates and building on it's label (pictured) are rather oddly, of the Chateau at Langoa.

Chateau LagrangeAthough St Julien is a very small AC it is home to the largest Medoc estate Chateau Lagrange. A Third Growth 270 acre vineyard that is owned by the Japanese company Suntory. The huge investments they have made into improving quality since 1983, have seen Lagrange become a real force to be reckoned with in Bordeaux. As they have so many vines to play with, they are able to be really strict with berry selection. They are also able to offer it at a very reasonable price when they release it. As with Leoville Barton, this often means that it will be bought up quickly on release. The 2000, pictured here is my favorite Lagrange so far. It's burly, due to using more Cab Sav that year, but it's still very fine indeed! A sumptuous wine that I'm very glad I bought for TBC.

The word 'Leoville' is synonymous with St Julien. There are three major Leoville estates that once made up a mammoth vineyard before being split up. Ch Leoville Barton, Ch Leoville Poyferre and Ch Leoville Las Cases. The latter of these is the finest in the appellation. Las Cases is considered to be of First Growth Quality, though is actually a Second Growth. It's statuesque gates are an unmissable statement of Medocian might as you drive up the D2 road towards Pauillac.Las Cases The wine is gloriously rich, with a touch of Pauillac about it. It neighbours Chateau Latour to the North and is also perfectly positioned next to the estuary. It's collectable and tends to weigh in around £1500++ a case. I tend to try and sample it at tastings when I can, but when it comes to purchasing for drinking, opt for Poyferre or Barton. Although they are a notch off the quality of Las Cases, they offer more value for money IMO. Still. a serious Claret collector would aim to have top vintages of Las Cases (82,96,00,05) in their portfolio. Despite being pricey, it will still rise in value. The '82 is at the time of writing trading at £3500 for 12 and will increase as it is consumed and rarified. That's the nature of the market for top Claret. The massive speculation that goes on around it is in some way loses touch with what wine is made for - drinking! On the other hand, gaining the knowledge required to do it, and being involved in all aspects of buying and selling is enormous fun as well as (potentially) financially rewarding. Exquisite wines have a unique mystery which sets them apart from conventional stock trades. When I buy a case to sell on rather than drink, I'm still picturing, rather romantically, 12 tissue wrapped glass cylinders nailed into a wooden box, stacked up somewhere cold! Also the profound drinking experience that could be enjoyed...by someone else! Las Cases certainly isn't priced as a 'peoples Claret' but it is the premier St Julien.

Other St Juilen's worth a mention are Chateau Gloria very good value Cru Bourgeois. The vineyards are scattered all around St J & are vinified in a soft style. I particularly liked the young '08. Chateau Branaire Ducru Fourth Growth Chocolatey Claret from mature parcels of vines, again from all over the AC. The '02 was brilliant for the vintage. Chateau Talbot Fourth Growth which some rate higher. Sturdy wine that ages for yonks! Chateau Ducru Beaucalliou is some peoples favorite St J. A Second Growth that isn't cheap but is very sleek! A Chateau on the rise is Chateau St Pierre, a lush Fourth Growth. Finally, if you'd like a cheaper option other than Gloria, perhaps look to Chateau Du Glana. From '04 onwards I've been awarding this Chateau some good marks on my red stained tasting note sheets as I make my (merry) way up the rows of tasting tables! It's a Cru Bourgeois at around £12-£16 a bottle. Lengthy wine for that price. Whatever you opt for, I sincerely hope you enjoy delving into St Julien as much as I have...