St Julien/St Estephe

Gironde 

ST ESTEPHE continues to flank the left side of the great Gironde Estuary, north of Pauillac. Unlike Pauillac, St Julien or Margaux, it doesn't host many of the top Chateau, but it's still a great place to seek out fine Bordeaux. There are one or two gleaming jewels too. The reason that there is less quality here is quite simply a terroir issue. Millions of years ago, the Ice Age did it's thing and deposited tons of Cabernet loving sandy gravel on the left bank of the Gironde. The best of this lies South in the above mentioned AC's. The further North you get, damp clay starts to creep in. That's not necessarily a bad thing as Merlot can be grown on it. Still, the best Medoc properties seek the gravel to fashion their ageworthy Cabernet. There are still some excellent patches of this in St Estephe which is expertly used by a few select estates.

Chateau Cos D'Estounel is the leading property here, with one or two others not far behind. The Cos gang are another Second Growth who seriously believe themselves to be a First in quality. They've spent millions improving the facilities and recently built the snazziest winery in Bordeaux. Check it out!! Cos CellarWe'll have to see if this improves things further but the wine was already praiseworthy. Where they are lacking in gravel terroir, they grow approx 40% Merlot which, when blended in, makes the Grand Vin very sleek indeed. It's an interesting looking Chateau building too as the original owner traded horses with the Far East and this influence ended up in the masonary! You can see the Pagoda-esq result proudly displayed on the wine label. (pictured)

Cos D''EEstournelThe wines have a deep, rich intensity about them but also delightful plummy sweet aromas. I often find a gameyness present too. That can be a tad rustic for some but it's right up my street! It's very agable, with the long haul capability of top Pauillacs. It's the first building you come to on leaving Pauillac so it's not too surprising there are similarities. Plenty of backbone! Not cheap though I'm afraid - £100+ a bottle...boo! ...of course they've got a new winery to pay for!

Chateau Calon Segur is possibly my favorite wine in St Estephe. A Third Growth and that seems a fair ranking IMO. It's the most Northerly classified estate in the Medoc and is blessed with the last chunk of gravelly soil before heavier clay takes over. They can therefore plant 65% of their vineyards to Cabernet Sauvignon and turn out a choice left bank Claret. There's a real meatyness about Calon Segur that I enjoy and also tons of lush blackcurrant/cassis and vanilla aromas. The estate, named after former owner Marquis Nicolas-Alexandre de Segur, actually dates back to the Middle ages though the vines were planted in the 1700's. It's always a wine that's rolled out for Valentines Day due to the famous 'love heart' label (pictured). Apparently it's Johnny Depp's favourite wine too which is the the sort of daft trivia you never forget! Calon Segur

You can't talk about St Estephe without mentioning Chateau Montrose. Another Second Growth that's very  popular with Claret collectors. There's no Scottish link btw...I believe it's just named after the flowers that grew there! Montrose is slap bang next to the estuary (I took the 'St Estephe' picture above at the edge of it!) and, like Calon Segur, has a serious patch of gravel that lends itself to  Cabenet Sauvignon. Very long term aging is possible - 50 years+! Chateau MontroseIn modern times though, these types of Claret can be broached a little sooner than they used to be. I like to gauge at 3/4 years but generally I'd keep a good Montrose for 10 before popping the cork. It's important to point out that these timescales are vintage dependent. It's only worth cellaring vintages long term if they possess enough quality tannins to fortify the wine and give it the backbone it needs to gain complexity over the years. Weaker vintages, such as 2007, are lighter and not really going to make the journey. They lose their fruit and fade away in the cellar. They still make delicious, pressure off, young drinking though. I should also say that if a vintage is generally perceived to be 'amazing' and ageworthy or 'miserable' and non-ageworthy, there will always be exceptions at individual Chateau. Some may overperform in tough years and make an ageworthy wine. 2001 is a good example of a year where some Left Bank estates didn't do so well, but others really pulled it together. Montrose thankfully for us, excelled!

There are some other highly noteworthy St Estephe's. Chateau Lafon Rochet's distinctive yellow label has been gracing my table for some years now. It's owned by the Tesseron family who also call the shots at Pontet Canet in Pauillac. Lafon RochetIt's a lot cheaper than PC though, and you can buy unmatured wine for less than £200 for 12. A higher % of Merlot is used to great effect here. Chateau Haut Marbuzet is also worth seeking out. It's sandwiched between Cos & Montrose though doesn't have the quality of terroir. They really squeeze a great Merlot led wine out here though, with tons of oak. Chateau Meyney is very decent Cru Bourgeois for around the same price as Lafon Rochet. Chateau Les Ormes de Pez is delightful and my last pick would be Chatean Phelan Segur. This has good 50/50 Cab-Merlot terroir next to Calon Segur & Montrose. It's another estate that doesn't seem to get good marks from Robert Parker so this keeps the price down. All good for fans like me! You can get cracking at about 5/6 years and a case will keep coming for 10 or more. Nice place too...you'd think they'd put vines on their lawn?? I imagine that's a flood plain though. St Estephe is a 'must sample' Bordeaux...Phelan Segur