En Primeur: Saint-Emilion Goes Back to the Future

Photo by Dominik Dancs / Unsplash

The days of Saint-Émilion’s high-octane, low-production wines are in the past.

These less-than-stellar “garage wines,” as wine journalists called them, were made with artificially reduced yields (four bunches of grapes instead of the usual six) and fermented in new oak barrels, resulting in hugely concentrated, woody wines.

Such small quantities were produced that they could theoretically be made and stored in a small garage (hence the nickname).

But this year, the garage door closed, and when one door closes, another one opens. Producers have listened and learned, as the 2014 vintage reflects the traditional terroir-driven wines that the market seeks.

“The best Saint-Émilion today is less tannic, more traditional,” said David Suire, consultant for classed growth Château Pavie Macquin in Saint-Émilion. “Now you can find the best expression of the terroir.”

It’s no coincidence that it’s also a great year for Cabernet Franc. The Indian summer conditions enjoyed in September and October was good to the grape, allowing slow, steady maturation. By contrast, the earlier-ripening Merlot didn’t have quite enough time to overcome the cool July and August.

While my ratings and reviews from today’s barrel tastings reflect the new style of Saint-Émilion, they also reveal the problems some producers in Pomerol experienced with this vintage. These wines are mainly Merlot, some as high as 100%.

“The Merlot lacks concentration,” said Christian Moueix, whose family owns many top Merlot-dominated estates in Pomerol, including Hosanna, Trotanoy and La Fleur-Pétrus. “We have cherry ripeness rather than plum. We had to use every trick in the book in the vineyard to get even this level of ripeness.”

This follows a rough 2013 vintage in which Moueix was unable to release a Hosanna wine.

On the other hand, Vieux Château Certan (my top Pomerol pick) succeeded this year because it features 20% of Cabernet Franc in the blend.

Word on the Bordeaux block is that there will be a modest price increase in both Saint-Émilion and Pomerol.

Jean-Luc Thunevin, who owns Château Valandraud, now in its third year sold as a Saint-Émilion Premier Grand Cru Classé B wine, is also a négociant, which complicates his pricing decisions.

“It’s complicated for me because of that,” he said. “I know I will be increasing the price of Valandraud but no more than 8–10%. The world needs wine after three poor Bordeaux years, and as a négociant I want to do business.”

Moueix, on the other hand, is keeping the same price as 2013 for his Pomerol properties as well as for his highly rated Saint-Émilion Château Bélair-Monange.

Here are my top-scoring wines from Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. Click through for links to full tasting notes, ratings and reviews. Keep in mind barrel tastings are scored in a three-point range. When released in 2016, the wines will be tasted again and given a final score.

Top 10 wines from Saint-Émilion and Pomerol

96–98 Château Angélus 2014 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion).
96–98 Château Ausone 2014 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion).
96–98 Château Cheval Blanc 2014 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion).
96–98 Vieux Château Certan 2014 Barrel Sample (Pomerol).
95–97 Château Belair-Monange 2014 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion).
95–97 Château Valandraud 2014 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion).
95–97 Le Dôme 2014 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion).
94–96 Château Figeac 2014 Barrel Sample (Saint-Émilion).
94–96 Château Hosanna 2014 Barrel Sample (Pomerol).
94–96 Château la Fleur Pétrus 2014 Barrel Sample (Pomerol).

Tomorrow, stay tuned for Sauternes and Barsac reviews, plus an overview of the vintage and what to buy while you still can.

Follow European Editor Roger Voss @vossroger and #Bordeaux2014 to get minute-by-minute en primeur updates.

Published on April 2, 2015
Topics: BordeauxEn PrimeurWine Trends