The revenge of Saint Estèphe

Bordeaux 2016 barrel tasting notes

By Panos Kakaviatos for 

29 April 2017

Most readers have read the positive feedback from the barrel samples of Bordeaux 2016, including from me.  Yes, there is hype, as usual, and some prices are high (such as for Cos d’Estournel, one merchant told me), but I do believe that 2016 is a more homogeneously positive than 2015. That is to say that the highs of 2016 seem higher than most highs in 2015. And the low points of 2016 seem not as low as the low points of 2015.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked 2015 a lot. But I got an overall more exciting impression from 2016. Now that does not apply to Margaux: in 2015, Margaux was wondrous virtually across the board. In 2016, it was merely good to some cases of great. Same goes – albeit to a lesser extent – for Graves and Pessac-Léognan. But you can find class acts from both regions in 2016. Contrast that to 2015 and, say, Saint Estèphe. It was mostly a bit lacklustre in 2015. But, as Ulysses Cazabonne representative Robin Corvet, said it: 2016 is the “revenge of Saint Estèphe.” What better place to start?

Wines I liked in particular in bold; when red and bold, even more. When underlined, too, a barrel sample nirvana.


Château Calon Ségur: Superb density on the mid palate highlights this famous third growth. The fully ripe 60% Cabernet Sauvignon yielded vivid notes of graphite and cassis. The nearly 20% Cabernet Franc lends cilantro like freshness and lift, while the Merlots bring subtle richness. Tasted as well at the negociant Ulysse Cazabonne, with similar results: long and refined. Director Vincent Millet stressed how the old vine Merlots, planted in 1942, ripened so well in the vintage. Like others in Saint Estèphe, he explained how cooler clay soils were able to withstand the arid summer. “The mid September rain was great, but we did not need it as other parts of Bordeaux,” he said. The density is such that it fully integrates the 100% new oak. Great Calon Ségur in the making. 93-96

Laurent Dufau and Vincent Millet at Château Calon Ségur

Château Capbern (Saint Estephe) – Belonging to the same ownership as the more famous Château Calon Ségur, this is a textbook guide for fine tannin, elegant and bright fruit, and sheer drinking delight. Although 14% alcohol, you get the impression of elegance over weight, no doubt given perfect balancing acidity. While not as deep or as long as Calon Ségur, the price is right for anyone seeking quality Bordeaux without breaking the bank. 90-93

Château Cos d’Estournel: OK, this puppy is out for over $150 per bottle in the U.S. You could find back vintages of quality, ready to enjoy, for that same amount. Whatever the price, the 2016 is darn good. As director Aymeric de Gironde stressed, Saint Estèphe benefitted from the cold clay soils in 2016, as they were not as sensitive to the arid and rather hot conditions of the summer. The result? A cool and suave wine with underlying grip and power, but never heavy handed. A “return to classicism” that de Gironde began with so well in the 2014 vintage continues. For me, 2015 was a bit of a let down. It seemed a bit underwhelming, no doubt due to the more challenging weather, but 2016 comes roaring back with finesse, length and density. “Just” 13% alcohol, with rather high tannin and acidity, this blend of over 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, about 25% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc exudes pristine and clean elegance and balance, with deep, ripe dark fruit and a very long and subtle finish. Superb wine that yet again shows off how successful Saint Estèphe was in 2016. 96-98

Aymeric de Gironde of Cos d’Estournel: many reasons to smile

Château Cos Labory (Saint Estèphe) – Fresh herbal aspect, cool blueberry fruit nose. Linear and focused. Slightly more closed in than some of the others I tried, but showing much nuance. 90-92

Château Le Crock (Saint Estèphe) – The best Le Crock I have ever had from barrel. What juiciness! What smooth tannin, what energy! There are floral notes as well as bright red cherry fruit. “It’s all about freshness,” said owner Didier Cuvelier. An unheard of IPT index of 94. And yet nothing hard about the tannin. The 14% alcohol seamless incorporated. A super duper value: do not miss this. Buy magnums. 92-94+

Didier Cuvelier, owner of both Léoville Poyferré and Le Crock.

Château Haut Marbuzet (Saint Estèphe)– Gorgeous nose jumps out of the glass, with spice, ripe blackberry, cherry and cassis. The fresh, lifting aspect to the bright fruit on the palate is exciting, followed by more subtle, full-bodied red and dark fruit, and oak derived spice notes again serve ideal seasoning, never overbearing. One of the best Haut Marbuzets I have ever had en primeur! 92-94

Château Lafon Rochet (Saint Estèphe)– Never too pricey for a fourth growth, this is a key purchase for savvy consumers. The light toast aromas from the oak serve as perfect seasoning to the bright red and dark fruit. The palate is so juicy and scrumptious yet displays poise and power as one would expect from the appellation. Ends with freshness on the long finish. 92-94+

Wine taster Christian Schön appreciating the Saint Estèphes

Château Lilian Ladouys (Saint Estèphe) – Inner core of bright red fruit, the sample is easy to chug almost, with rather sweet fruit and soft tannins. This estate has made strides in quality in recent years, and has reached a kind of summit this year. Highly recommended. 90-93

Château Meyney (Saint Estèphe)– Another excellent cru bourgeois from Saint Estèphe. Quite juicy indeed in this sample, smooth and polished tannins, not as immaculate as, say, Montrose, but there is much to admire here. Plenty of mid-palate depth. 92-94

Château Montrose: 2016 makes for a terrific Montrose triumvirate, with 2014 and 2015. The Cabernets were particularly successful this vintage for the estate, remarked director Hervé Berland. Indeed, the overall impression is of splendid finesse and polish. Aromatics combine mint freshness, black olive, white pepper and a forest after rainfall. The palate is, as expected, quite dense and suave in its expression of power, with tannin that is higher than that encountered at nearby Cos d’Estournel, leaving the impression of Montrose playing the role of Latour to Cos d’Estournel’s Lafite. 96-98

Quite a Montrose!

Château Petit Bocq (Saint Estèphe) – Lovely energy here, with red fruit crunchiness that beguiles the senses. Long finish marked by grape skin like intensity, not just grape juice. Tannins are high, folks, but rather suave and fine grained, too. Bravo! 90-93

Château Phelan Ségur (Saint Estèphe) – Yet another fine Saint Estèphe, darker fruit, ripe and smooth. With fine lift on the finish. 90-92

Château Tour de Pez (Saint Estèphe) – This has rather firm tannins, like an old school wine. But there is ripeness and depth. Time in bottle should reward your patience! Not as succulent as, say, Tronquoy Lalande. 89-91

Château Troquoy-Lalande (Saint Estèphe) – Yet another lovely Saint Estèphe, its 14% alcohol so well integrated, with the high acidities and freshness pleasingly delivering cool blue fruit ripeness. The palate has a creamy texture, the tannins very smooth, and finishing “très croquant” (French for very crunchy). Blend is nearly 60% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. 90-93

Château Serilhan (Saint Estèphe) – Fresh and showing verve on the attack. The tannins just a bit raw on the finish, but not drying. Barrel aging should round out the edges. Recommended with confidence. 89-91

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