I had the opportunity to go with June to a tasting of 35 chateaux located in St. Emilion on the Right Bank yesterday. Put on by Balzac Communication, our marketing company and the representative of this group of wineries, the tasting was held in San Francisco and featured the 2009 and 2010 vintages, nearly 70 wines total.
St. Emilion grows the classic Bordeaux varieties, Merlot making up the bulk of each wine, followed by Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of the wines we tasted yesterday had at least 65% Merlot while many contained no Cabernet Sauvignon at all.
Coming from the perspective of a California winemaker this tasting was amazing for its ability to show how different familiar grapes can be when grown and vinified in different climates. It took a while to noodle through the intricacies of flavor and structure that belong to St. Emilion, and with just a fledgling understanding still of the region, there were a number of observations I’m comfortable making:
- The 2009 vintage was uniformly darker in its fruit presentation (think dark to black berry flavors) and seemed to be richer through the mid-palate in terms of viscosity and tannin
- 2010, while showing redder fruit than 2009, had extraordinarily focused tannin and acidity, and a length that far-outstripped 2009.
- Many of the 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc blends, especially in 2010, showed significant red fruit and acidiity. The addition of Cabernet Sauvignon markedly changed the structure of the wine, addiing midpalate richness and a change in the “color” of the fruit.
- Compared to California, these wines appeal most to those who prize structure over fruit, who want a wine that is leaner and harder through the mouth and that may show its best with significant age.
- There is very little difference between alcohol levels in this part of Bordeaux compared to California. In fact, many of the wines crept into the high 14% and low 15% range. This was one of the most surprising personal discoveries. I think the California wines show less alcohol than the St. Emillion wines because of a sense of more fruit-forward, fleshier structure.
If one is attempting to make blends from traditional Bordeaux varieties like I am with LINEAGE | Livermore Valley that can compete against the world’s best, it is absolutely essential to have at least a passing familiarity with how those grapes are being handled in other parts of the world. This tasting was a great opportunity to accomplish that.