Bordeaux 2020 : Saint Emilion shines bright
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
26 June 2021
For my summary on the vintage, please read what I had published in Club Oenologique. And you can also read my overall Top50+ wines across appellations, after having tasted hundreds of barrel samples of Bordeaux’s latest vintage, 2020.
Saint Emilion is a star appellation in 2020. Readers should note that 2019 can be just as good, and in some cases more “airy elegant”. Also, American buyers given current exchange rates have a better deal with the 2019 vintage. But the best 2020s in Saint Emilion can outshine 2019 and 2018. And that includes wines that are in the $25-$50 price range.
2020 seems a modern version of the 1998 vintage, which was so utterly juicy and refined (and delicious) for Merlot-driven wines of Saint Emilion. Indeed, 1998 pre-dated the heavy oak extraction of the 2000s that affected vintages between 2005-2017. But that era is, for the most part, over.
So we have barrel samples sumptuous, juicy and driven by ripe (not over-ripe) fruit. From colder soils, such as deep clay or limestone, some of the best en primeur from Saint Emilion that I recall ever having tasted since I began going to these barrel tastings back in 2004 for the 2003 vintage.
As the Futures campaign had drawn to a close, many cases exist where I prefer the “airier elegance” of the 2019 vintage, and now I prefer (also) the better price tags. But 2020 in Saint Emilion often combines the density of the 2018 vintage with the juiciness of the the 2019. Read on and see 😊.
Many thanks to individual estates, the Association of Grands Crus Classés of Saint Emilion, the Grand Cercle, the CVGB, the UGCB and Maison Joanne for proposing such exemplary en primeur tastings where these wines were assessed.
TASTING NOTES : As usual, if in bold, I like in particular. If red and bold, even more. If also underlined, wine barrel sample nirvana. If there is an asterisk, that means also a solid price/quality ratio.
Note on scores this year: Perhaps I have fallen victim to grade inflation or over exuberance in scoring, but we critics face pressure to “up” the scores, as the 100-point scale is being reduced to 5 points that matter, between 95 and 99, and a mythical 100, which I cannot give to a barrel sample… This has to be seriously addressed!
Saint Emilion Grands Crus (not “Classés)
Before we get to the more exciting wines, I note that while most Saint Emilion Grands Crus Classés have come to embrace nuance, freshness and brightness, more reflective of respective terroirs as expressed by Merlots and Cabernet Francs, many estates from the non-classified Grands Crus seem stuck in the mid-2000s. Here some examples I mark for “improvement” although I understand why a transition may be needed for clients accustomed to (or still enjoying) the more oaky extracted style.
Clos Dubreuil – A successful estate in 2020, as this wine exudes a noble nose of fine ripe fruit, with a stately elegance but also a juicy mid palate. The tannic power at this early stage is noticeable and, while I prefer Godeau, as it is juicier, this wine punches higher than its official ranking. 91-92+
Château La Croix Younan – With some nine hectares of vines, this estate was formerly known as Chateau la Croix Fourney, but changed when La Croix Younan was acquired by La Grande Maison Younan Collection in 2015. While there is a juicy mid palate, this blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon has somewhat hard tannin, with an austere finish. While I do not feel that it dries out, so time in bottle should improve matters. 89-91
Château La Croizille – Located in Saint Laurent des Combes on a limestone molasse on the south borders of the Saint Emilion plateau, opposite Château La Tour Saint Christophe, also a non-classified grand cru (that I prefer), the five hectares of vines here are dominated by the bright orange winery that you cannot miss. The style of the wine, aged in 100% new oak, reminds me a bit of the older (“modern”) style of Troplong Mondot, nearby. I visited this estate some 10 years ago: an impressive sight. While the wine here is sweeter on the attack than the La Croix Younan – more welcoming – the tannins also clamp down on the finish and seem rather dominated by drying oak tannin. This vintage blends 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. The mid palate is juicy and enjoyable, hence a relatively high score, also allowing for lovers of a more modern style. 90-92
Château Fonbel – One of several estates under the same ownership as the illustrious Château Ausone. The blend includes a whopping 7% Carmenère, the last grape to be picked on 1 October. The rest is 65% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc. I like the smooth and refined tannins and juicy mid palate, with freshness on the finish. For vines grown on some hot sands and gravels (there are some clays, too), this is pretty darn good. It clocks in at 13.8% alcohol and with a pH of 3.7. 91-93
Château La Fleur d’Arthus – A 100% Merlot, but over extracted with drying tannin on the finish.
Château Haut-Simard – A frank success among the several Vauthier properties tasted at Château Ausone It blends 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc, with alcohol at 14%. It is a lovely wine, exuding limestone freshness and mid palate sap. A touch austere on the finish, due to the Cabernet Franc, but that should be resolved with a few years of cellaring. 91-93
Château Lynsolence – Tasted twice with similar results: this estate retains an overly oak extracted style. Yes, there is juiciness from the 100% Merlot on the mid palate – this is the 2020 vintage character – but then overcome by the oak, which works here less as an enhancer and more as dominant partner. If you like that style, you will like this wine.
Château Montlabert – Here a wine that seems more toned down and “normal” as the balance between fruit alcohol and tannin is more successful, but it lacks the “panache” of some of the more exciting wines from the vintage, including that of La Croizille, despite the excessive drying oak tannin there. So, somewhat ho-hum. But the price should be agreeable, and let’s see how it tastes from bottle. 89-91+
Château Moulin Saint Georges* – One of the stars in this category of non classified Saint Emilion Grands Crus, exuding richness and sensuality. The 14.5% alcohol is well balanced by the acidity in this blend of 85% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc. More clay-limestone soil ideal for the Merlots. 92-93
Château Godeau – One of the best non-classified Saint Emilion grands crus that I sampled at the impeccably organised Grand Cercle tasting held at Château La Dauphine in Fronsac. Engaging aromas of fruit and tobacco, indeed the nose intrigues me most, with the palate suave and smooth in tannin and bright fruit. This wine has character and will not be expensive. The vines grow near La Mondotte and Tertre Roteboeuf, and the estate benefits from consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt. Vinified in a delicate manner, using manual pigeages (immersing manually the cap of skins into the juice) rather than with more aggressive mechanical pump-overs. 92-93
Château Pas de l’Âne – Blending 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Franc, the barrel sample is too austere, with hard tannin. Let’s see how it looks from bottle.
Château Patris Querre – In the same vein as the wine above, albeit slightly better. Again, let us see from bottle.
Château Tour Saint Christophe* – Another favorite among the non-classified Saint Emilion Grand Crus that I tried in late April from barrel. Assessed at the estate, this wine should retail for $30: a must to purchase. The 16 hectares of vines enjoy excellent terroir of limestone and clay at Saint Christophe des Bardes, one of the few in Saint Emilion vineyards with northern Rhone like terraces. The alcohol is 14.7% but in fine balance, with a low pH of 3.6. Wet stone, and ripe fruit of course, with black fruit. Orange clementine freshness on the finish. 92-93
Château Rol Valentin – One of the original garagiste estates austere and still shooting in that direction. I understand changes are afoot, but I am not a huge fan of the style, as it comes across too drying on the finish.
Château Simard – I liked the 2019 more than this vintage, as the wine seems to dry out a bit on the finish. It blends 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot and clocks in at 13.7% alcohol with a pH of 3.75.
I tasted some others at the Grand Cercle, including Château Roylland, Soutard-Cadet and Tauzinat l’Hermitage, which to varying degrees come across with somewhat hard or drying tannin. Will see again from bottle.
Now things get more interesting. You notice that most of the wines tasted below merit at least “black and bold”, as wines of the vintage that I like in particular. Some get red and bold. Although a few estates still reflect over extracted oak aspects – that drying finish – most are very good to excellent. A sea change compared to a blind tasting of these same wines from bottle from the 2017 vintage, the last vintage dominated by “modern” drying.
Good price/quality ratios indicated with asterisks.
Château Balestard la Tonnelle – Assessed at the UGCB tasting event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Bordeaux. The barrel sample, blending 75% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, clocking in at just under 15% alcohol, reflects a wine committed to an over extracted oak style. Not my cup of tea…
Château Barde-Haut – I attained more appreciation for this estate walking through its full south facing amphitheater vineyard, just across from Tour Saint Christophe. An estate that is leaving the modern style more slowly than some others but displays much depth and tannic power. Yes, I get some toasty oak derivation that may be a bit too prominent, still. But overall, a smooth delivery with bright fruit and juicy aspects. 92-93
Château Berliquet* – Tasted on two occasions and both excellent, this blend of 69% Merlot and 31% Cabernet Franc, at 14.5% alcohol. I love the gorgeous juiciness, rich and sap-driven on the palate. A fine 10 hectare-vineyard spread one third on the limestone plateau, one-third on the slopes and one third on the lower slopes. Lovely lift on the finish with orange rind freshness. It was telling how much brighter and exciting this was as a tasting experience coming after some very good wines from Saint Estèphe, at the CBGB tasting. 94-96
Château La Clotte – The density here is subtle, owing to the nearly 60-year-old vines. Bright red and deep ripe dark fruit on the mid palate, with freshness, like orange clementine, especially on the finish. Well balanced at 14.5% alcohol, blending 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. A bit tight on the finish and not as immediately appealing to me as the Moulin Saint Georges, tasted just before, but a very good wine. 92-93
Château La Couspaude – A blend of 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is spicy and very oak driven. Not especially my style. Tasted at the UGCB in Bordeaux.
Château Grand Mayne – With a brisk attack and a juicy mid palate with density, this is a frank success. It blends 74% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, clocking in at just over 14% alcohol. 91-93
Château Corbin – Tasted on three occasions with similar results, this blends 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc, clocking in at 14% alcohol. I like the dark ripe fruit aromatics and palate density but it lacks the succulence I usually get, ending up just a bit underwhelming. Could it be that the dry heat of the vintage did not go quite as well this year for the hot sandy gravel terroir? There is a clay subsoil… Let us see how it tastes from bottle. 90-92
Château Bellefont Belcier* – Here a clear example where I do believe that the 2019 freshness may edge out the 2020 density, although let us see how this evolves from bottle. A star among the Vignobles K estates, enjoying a superb southern côte terroir, where Cabernet Franc can thrive. In 2020, it blends 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, aging in 30% new oak. So the wine is a bit more “massive” than last year, coming across a bit more firm in tannic expression. But with impressive density and fine texture. And I like the orange rind freshness on the finish. With time in glass, it opens up, so a very good sign for the future. 92-94
Château Cadet Bon – Initially a bit closed the wine opens up with depth and freshness, although it lacks the tension and succulence of better wines from the Grands Crus Classés. 90-92
Château Chauvin – Enjoyable floral aromatics and juiciness on the palate, with a bittersweet chocolate finish that is marked by somewhat hard tannin. Pretty good, but let us see from bottle. 90-92+
Château Clos de Sarpe – I had trouble with this sample. Note reserved.
Clos des Jacobins* – The wines are getting better here, and the soils proved ideal for the vintage, with a thin layer of gravel and sand over limestone, on the plateau. I like the spicy nose and deep dark fruit aromas leading to a palate that is both concentrated yet taut. The fruit is pure and the finish is a touch austere, but in a good way: these tannins will melt and reflect the “wet stone” of the terroir nicely. Conservative score, since a barrel sample and only tasted once. 91-93+
Clos Saint Martin – Located next to Bellefont Belcier, this estate exudes a bright nose leading to a palate that is taut but with more bright red and dark fruits, albeit with some oak extraction noticeable. Worlds collide? The very low 3.58 pH reflects energy in the palate to this blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. 91-93
Château La Commanderie – While it has ripe fruit, the palate is somewhat austere. Let us see from bottle. 89-91
Côte de Baleau – Healthy yields from this estate, which has 90% Merlot and comes across rich but not heady, with notes of cherry and plum. It reminds me of the 2012 vintage, with length, more with a “bubble of fruit” (bulle de fruits). The finish tightens up, but with a smoky aspect. I find it a bit tight. Aging in 20% new oak. Owner Matthieu Cuvelier explains that the estate used copper sulfite treatments (the famous ) because “we cannot afford to lose half the vines as in 2018” so they did two sprayings non organic. 91-93+
Couvent des Jacobins* – An impressive terroir driven wine, with limestone freshness and a taut aspect that will benefit from aging. It is a bit austere on the finish and because of the Petit Verdot in the blend, the wine seems a bit jarring in the line up of wines assessed at Château Dassault. 2020 marks the first year of organic certification. You cannot miss the estate in the middle of the town of Saint Emilion, although its vineyards cover many different soil types including the limestone plateau and sandy clay and clay limestone. Potential for a red and bold down the line… 91-93+
Château Dassault – A solid effort from this estate, known for its black sand over pure clay soils, including strands of crasse-de-fer. I like the aromatic profile both floral and pure fruit, with mid palate sap and more fruit driven expressions, although the finish comes up just short for its pedigree. It blends 77% Merlot, and the rest a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, clocking in at 13.8% alcohol. 91-93
Château Destieux – A welcome turnaround is happening here. Known for too much hard oak tannin, influenced from the 100% new oak aging, the 2020 is clearly better than last year’s version, and miles better than the 2018 as tasted from bottle last year. There is red and black ripe fruit and while the oak extraction is still too discernible, not as blatant as last year, with the ripe fruit taking prominence. They could dial back even more. 90-92
Château Faugeres – I am rather impressed by this blend of 70% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon: all about juicy, black fruit. OK, it gets a bit extracted on the finish, and not as balanced overall as illustrious neighbor Château de Pressac, tasted just before along with scores of other Grands Crus Classés. But there is quite a bit of depth actually to this wine and once you get some aging, it may merit a higher score. Located 80 meters high on the plateau at St-Etienne-de-Lisse, near Castillon, with the famous “Cathedral of Wine” cellar, that cannot be missed. 90-93
Château Faurie Souchard – Under the same ownership as Château Dassault, this blend of 78% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon is rather polished and you can sense impressive density. Very good! 91-93
Château de Ferrand – For a while, this wine was no longer featured en primeur but it is back and reflects fine limestone and clay soils. It takes time to get past an initial “edginess” to the tannins but the mid palate is juicy and the finish has lift. It blends 74% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. 90-92
Château Fleur Cardinale* – Blending 77% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and cropped at a very healthy 43 hectoliters per hectare, 2020 was ideal for the cooler terroirs here at St-Etienne-de-Lisse: the barrel sample exudes lovely floral aspects with bright red and dark fruit. Excellent tannic grip but also smooth. Earlier harvests and cooler fermentation temperatures are helping. The estate is undergoing an overhaul to be more oriented towards wine tourism after having already constructed a new vat room in 2019 and first year barrel cellar this year. 93-95
Château Fombrauge – Coming from the second largest classified estate in Saint Emilion at nearly 60 hectares, this blends 96% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc, cropped at 21.5 hectoliters per hectare (rather low). There this both density and power and the wine has gotten a lot better than it used to be (classic case of trend towards more refinement). Yes, a touch hard on the finish, but overall, an excellent barrel sample. 91-93.
Magrez Fombrauge – This is the “modern” styled cuvée of Château Fombrauge, which I like less. Here we have the “modernist” image still enduring, with tannins that dry out too much on the finish. Tasted once at the Grand Cercle.
Château Fonplégade* – Blending 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, this estate is both biodynamic and organic for the first time in 2020. It reflects the limestone plateau (40% of the vineyard) and the clay-limestone slopes, with the barrel sample exuding vivid wet stone nose freshness, bright fruit, fine acidity, elegance and refinement… and a gorgeously long finish. I cannot recommend enough purchasing this wine, which resembles more a “Premier Grand Cru” category level in terms of quality. A no-brainer: Buy it! 95-96+
Château Fonroque* – The best Fonroque in nearly 20 years of barrel tasting, this blends 87% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Franc. Lovely floral aromas, with a palate smooth and bright. One appreciates the fine balance and juicy mid palate leading to a long finish marked by fresh herbs like dill. It was cropped at a healthy yield of 40 hectoliters per hectare, so mildew was not likely to have been a factor. Organic and biodynamic, I love the finesse of the tannins. Buy this. 94-96
Château Grand Corbin – This blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon has a lovely nose, and is “chipper” on the palate, a bit tight on the finish but smooth enough. I suspect that the tannins will melt accordingly over the next few years and this will turn out very well, as the density is there. 91-93
Château Grand Corbin d’Espagne* – Tasted at the Grand Cercle and at Château Dassault, both excellent samples. This blend of 75% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon is both juicy and delicious. Deep ripe dark fruit aromas enchant you. And the palate seduces with density and sap. A bit foreboding on the finish, but the juice is there. And this tannic sense is good for longer term aging. 93-95
Château Grand Pontet – Located on the western plateau, the 12 hectares under vine yield a sometimes overlooked wine. Don’t make this mistake in 2020. This blend of 77% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec exudes bright fruit and is rather tasty. Smooth and ripe and fresh. A wine that can be described as scrumptous, and not expensive. 92-94
Château Grandes Murailles* – Tasted on two occasions: once at Château Clos Fourtet with owner Matthieu Cuvelier and once at Château Dassault with some 50 Grands Crus Classés. What a lovely floral nose of violets! The palate exudes depth and focus, and a sense of refined elegance that will benefit from the oak aging. More “high toned” at the group tasting, with somewhat bracing aspects but even here, I liked the freshness and lift. Only 6,500 bottles. 93-95
Château Jean Faure – This estate needs time to understand, the 65% Cabernet Franc dominates the blend, along with 30% Merlot and 5% Malbec. Smooth and chipper, but a bit austere, which is typical. Olivier Decelle is a serious winemaker and commits to high quality, but the wine needs some time, so let us see how it tastes from bottle. 91-93
Château La Fleur Morange – A rather small vineyard of just over three hectares, with clay rich soils along with some plots with both clay and limestone. The blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc conveys a rich style with a scrumptious, yummy aspect. I suspect that the 2019 will turn out better, as the sandier soils had a harder time in 2020. But this is a success. 91-93
Château La Marzelle – Tasted twice with somewhat consistent results, this blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Hard to resist the floral and refined aromas, with a palate that is deceptively soft as one encounters density and substance. Not quite as positive a sample at the Dassault tasting, where I sensed more reduction, but still very good. 91-94
Château La Serre* – Blending 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, yet another gorgeous expression of Merlot and limestone terroir, as most vines here are on the plateau. And what smooth tannin with wet stone delight! While it may not reach the heights of either Fonroque or Fonplegade, this wine illustrates yet again how yummy Saint Emilion can be in 2020. 93-94
Château Le Prieuré* – Blending 83% Merlot and 17% Cabernet Franc, the wine shines in its expression of limestone freshness, yet includes opulence in its 14.3% alcohol. A wine that is juicy, bright and chalky that gets better in glass. The vineyard is superb, split into 19 sections including vine plots close to Trottevieille, Troplong Mondot and Pavie-Macquin (not bad real estate!), with this first wine made from grapes grown on the limestone plateau. 93-94
Château Laniote Saint Emilion – 74M and 17CF and 9 CS at 40. A bit clamped down, and the oak upsets things here. 90-91 Heavy handed aspect… More the old style.
Château Larmande – A fine showing from an estate with vines on sandier soils, more challenging for the vintage. There is mid palate juiciness and a fine finish from this blend of 77% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon with 13.8% alcohol. The harvest was low at only 19 hectolitres per hectare. 90-92+
Château Laroque – Almost a pure 100% Merlot save for 1% Cabernet Franc, this is a wine known for being a bit austere when young, and that is the impression I get from barrel. I was expecting a bit more juiciness from this splendid vintage, but I respect the wet stone aspects and freshness. Perhaps it was a sample issue? Looking forward to trying from bottle. This is the largest classified Saint Emilion estate at 61 hectares with most vines on the limestone plateau of Saint Christophe des Bardes, to the East of the prime center of the appellation. 90-92
Château Laroze – Tasted at Château Dassault and at the Grand Cercle, with consistent notes, this wine is worth seeking out. Never the most ostentatious among the Saint Emilions, it wins with texture and juiciness and 2020 is a very good example. Blending 68% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and cropped at a (very) healthy 50 hectoliters per hectare, the barrel sample has a juicy ripe fruit profile, with fine tannic grain and intensity, stressing more finesse over power, although just a touch hard on the finish, but chalk that up to a need for 2-3 years cellaring. Nice work! 92-93+
Château Monbousquet – Like other estates belonging to Gerard Perse, a welcome turn towards freshness, although still retaining an oak style. Honestly, his clients are used to this style, so it should take a bit longer to go all the way in the correct direction. So no “oak stave” aspects this year and a fresher nose. And I like the juiciness. But ends slightly hard with some bitterness and drying on the finish. The wine blends 70% Merlot and 15% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, aging in 50% new oak, at 14.69% alcohol, with 3.75 pH. The over 30 hectares under vine include deep gravel to the south and sandy-clay soils to the north. 90-91
Château Moulin du Cadet – This 100% Merlot comes across a bit closed, but with pleasing mid palate sap. A small vineyard of just under three hectares, it lacks the exciting sumptuousness of the top wines in its class. Clay over limestone terroir. 91-92+
Château Petite Faure Soutard – Blending 77% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is juicy enough on the mid palate, with a medium finish, albeit – like the above – somewhat less than exciting… 90-92
Château de Pressac – Tasted twice with similar results, the wine has engaging aromatics of dark ripe fruit that precede similarly dark ripe fruit juiciness with density on the palate, ending with slight chocolate overtones on the finish. A rich wine that also communicates tension. Very tasty. 93-94
Château Ripeau – I was having trouble judging this wine as it was far too reductive, and my time with it was too short. It blends 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Note reserved.
Château Rochebelle* – Tasted at a vertical at the estate (2006-2020), and at Château Dassault, with consistent notes. Harvested by 28 September, reflecting the precocity of the vintage. Raspberry and violet floral aspects, velvety tannins and impressive density with fine balance. All reflecting the estate’s three hectares of vines grown on the Astéries limestone plateau close to Troplong Mondot. This wine deserves your attention, as it reflects a true notion of “wet stone” from the terroir. The blend is 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, rather typical. Cropped at 41 hectoliters per hectare, it had a finish of subtle finesse. 94-96
Château Saint Georges Côte Pavie – It is a pity that this estate, with 5.5 hectares of vines near grown on clay and limestone, seems to regularly under-perform. Blending 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, it comes across somewhat clumsy in expression, with tannins not all that smooth or refined, suffering in comparison to the Château Rochebelle, as tasted just before at the Château Dassault tasting. Still, this is better than last year. As Jane Anson has written in her superb book Inside Bordeaux, this estate has been flying “extremely low under the radar”… Could things be changing next year? I hope so. 89-91
Château Sansonnet – Slightly different results from two different tastings. At Château Dassault, the sample showed better. Blending 95% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc and aging in 30% new oak, it was juicy with a wet stone like aspect reflecting the fine limestone soils. Impressive density, too. At the Grand Cercle, a bit more drying! But there is no denying the power and depth. I’ll go for a cautious red and bold, because of the tasting discrepancy… 92-94+
Château Soutard* – A most gorgeous estate with a rich history dating back to the 16th century, I always enjoy visiting it. With just over 21 hectares under vine, the 2020 barrel sample exudes both juiciness and bright fruit, and blends 76% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec. Alcohol is 14.5%. Tasted at the UGCB. 93-94+
Château Villemaurine* – Coming from superb terroir including vine plots on the limestone slope near the main town of Saint Emilion, this wine continues to improve in expression in recent years. This vintage blends 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, clocking in at 14.3% alcohol. Judicious extraction leads to a delectable, juicy and engaging barrel sample with bright, ripe tannin and fruit: a wine to seek for a fine price/quality ratio, fully reflecting its Grand Cru Classé status. Bravo! (UGCB) 93-95+
Château Yon Figeac – Tasted at the Grand Cercle and at Château Dassault with similar positive results. Grassy, herbal aspect on the nose, along with bright red fruit from this blend of 88% Merlot and 6% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The palate is smooth, with a juicy and fruit driven mid palate. The finish does include some prominent oak aspects, with just a touch of drying, but not annoying (Château La Marzelle, tasted after this one at the Grand Cercle, was better). Still, this wine is miles better than most of the non classified Grands Crus that I had tasted in a flight just before at the Grand Cercle tasting. 91-93
Here we get to the cream of the crop, and because the 100 point scale has become in effect a 10 point scale, or even a 7 point scale, where a minimum of 93 is required for an expensive wine to sell, you can see that all wines below pass that threshold, indicating that 2020 shines bright on Saint Emilion. I do note stylistic differences and mention personal preference, as well… The underlined and especially starred wines are the most highly recommended, either because they have such a great price-quality ratio, relatively speaking, or because I really loved them.
Château Angélus – At 14.5% alcohol and blending 53% Merlot and 47% Cabernet Franc, I am very much enjoying the trend towards greater freshness from this estate, as the Cabernet Franc is now being aged increasingly in large format oak vats, not renewed each year, so that the new oak component is being reduced. Add to that cooler fermentation temperatures since the last few years, and you get a new and improved Angélus. I am not sure that I like the 2020 more than the 2019, which seemed to have greater “airy elegance”, but this vintage exudes distinct violet floral aromas with ripe dark and red fruit, all leading to a full-bodied palate that is opulent and the finish long, with echoes of toasted oak. While it does not excite me as much as Canon in Saint Emilion or Lafleur or Petrus in Pomerol, it certainly reaches a high rating. Looking forward to tasting from bottle. 96-97
Château Ausone – Here another case where the wine is more about density rather than charm. Unlike Cheval Blanc, the nose needs coaxing from this blend of 50-50 Cabernet Franc and Merlot. As much as it can open in glass at this very early stage, the wine reveals incredible density via a layered palate of refined tannin, displaying the distinctly appealing wet stone aspect typical of the great limestone terroir here. On the finish, fine dark chocolate reveals itself. Still, this is a more intellectual star of the vintage rather than sensual. It clocks in at 14.71% alcohol, with a pH of 3.58, aging in 100% new oak. What convinces me is the impressive density, but a wine that demands 15-20 years before opening. 97-99
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot* – Tasted at the estate, this wine is initially tannic, recalling what consultant Thomas Duclos dubbed the vintage’s “wild nature”. You need to nurse it to get past that edge and appreciate blackberry fruit with limestone freshness. It blends 85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, leading to an appealing tobacco like finish. Aging in 65% new oak, the balance is there: 14.5% alcohol and a pH of 3.5. One gets a “combination of 2019 and 2018,” says general director Julien Barthe, echoing others in Saint Emilion. I am leaning more towards preferring the 2019 vintage, but look forward to seeing how 2020 pans out in bottle. The price should be more than right. 95-97
Château Belair Monange – While more structured than, say, Château Canon, the tannins display impeccable finesse. The wine shows impressive density. However, not as much “sheer excitement” as I had experienced from the 2019 from barrel. The 2020 wins in terms of density, however, and time in glass brings out aromatics and mid palate sap from this blend of 98% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Tasted at the Moueix offices in Libourne along with some superb Pomerols. Édouard Moueix says it’s ”far too early” to apply for an A rating, as it’s “only been 13 years” since it was taken over as a Moueix property. But this estate with vines on both the limestone plateau and on blue clay and limestone is magnificent, bordering Ausone. The progress over the last decade has been superb. 96-98
Château Canon – Here a wine that rivals and at least equals the splendid 2019 vintage. Indeed, a Saint Emilion that got us oohing and ahhing as tasted with director Nicolas Audebert, and again doing so well in a group tasting at Château Belgrave. Why? Such “effortless grace”, tasted on two separate occasions with similar results: freshness reflecting limestone terroir with peerless refinement on the palate, such airy elegance as well as subtle density and subtle power. Floral yet brisk, with fabulous balance leading to a sea breeze, saline finish along with more floral aromas. A blend of 68% Merlot and 32% Cabernet Franc, clocking in at 14.5% alcohol with a pH of 3.53, to age 18 months in 50% new oak, this is a wine to purchase. 97-98+
Croix Canon* – As a postscript, the second wine of Château Canon displays crisp yet ripe fruit. Croquant, as the French say. Blending 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc, clocking in at 14.5% alcohol, I love its vif d’esprit aspect, and you do not notice the alcohol with a low pH of 3.53. Since 2015, only Croix Canon vines in Croix Canon, coming from sandy and limestone erosion soils that had been purchased in 2011. 93-94
Château Canon La Gaffelière – A more modern style than most others among the Premiers but with a delectably juicy mid palate. Tasted briedly at the UGCB tasting, I did not have as much time with this as I would have liked. Very positive impression but does not reach the heights of finesse of some other Premiers. 94-95
Château Clos Fourtet* – The French word envoûtant comes to mind. That is to say: beguiling. I cannot recall a more positive tasting experience from barrel from Clos Fourtet and rate it very highly in this vintage. Mainly because of its superb density, yet subtle focus and linearity. It takes time however. At first, a bit closed on the nose, but then gets beguiling chalky with wet stone notes. One appreciates impressive density, succulent fruit, finesse and length from this blend of 90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc. The alcohol is 14.5% but with a balancing pH of 3.6 from cool limestone and clay soils. You get juicy richness, precision and focus. Cooler northwestern facing vines pay dividends in hot, dry summers. Aging in 50% new oak. A wine to buy. 96-98
Château Cheval Blanc – As technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet remarked, like many others I met with in Bordeaux during late April: “This is a vintage that favours Merlot”. And he agrees with the idea that it resembles 1998. In a modern sense. At Cheval Blanc in 2020, the Merlots give structure, while Cabernet Franc lends freshness. I am not as beguiled as I was in 2018, but this is very successful wine, requiring time in your cellar to “come around” while the Petit Cheval is already singing. Aromatically, simply gorgeous with black pepper, violets, tobacco, blackberry fruit: very inviting. But the palate at this stage comes across more taut: “This is a vintage where the palate is more academic while aromas more expressive” Clouet said. Indeed, The palate is “direct” and “frank”. The blend is 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, with alcohol at 14.2% and a 3.72 pH. 97-98+
Petit Cheval* – For the price, the second wine of Cheval Blanc is more immediately appealing and simply succulent, with floral aromas and very sweet mint, crushed mint, showing off the nearly 60% Cabernet Franc (41% Merlot). All the lots used to make the second wine in 2020 were used for Cheval Blanc in 2019! This has to be one of the deepest expressions I’ve ever had from Petit Cheval, and I put a star on this one to go out and buy. The alcohol is 14.3% 95-97
Château Figeac – What can I say but to applaud this wine’s sense of refinement, finesse, elegance and density. This could easily have been placed in the second category, but it has much appeal emotionally as my first tasting from barrel of the 2020 vintage. A superb wine blending blends 37% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Franc and 31% Cabernet Sauvignon. It may well equal the 2019, which I adored. Director Frederic Faye calls 2020 a “winemaker’s vintage” as it “depends on the estate and not so much the appellation”. He showed off the estate’s impressive new cellar space, including barrels being stored many meters underground to ensure properly cool and humid aging. This will be the subject of a future feature I will pen in Club Oenologique later this year. The success of the Merlots could explain why this grape has more than its typical one-third percentage in the blend. Harvesting from 4 September to 1 October, with some rain towards the end serving here to freshen especially the Cabernet Sauvignons. Clocking in at 13.8% alcohol, I believe that the 2020 is better than the 2018 and could possibly equal the 2019, but it will be interesting to see how this vintage tastes once in bottle. Gorgeous overall. 96-98
Château La Gaffèliere – A blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc, which I tasted twice, this is another grand success among the Premiers in 2020, as the wine exudes gorgeous aromatics, spicy and cool, although the palate has just a bit of tannic edginess that makes it seem “less than effortless” (Canon, that is the one). The palate has however a mysterious “contained power” with a finish marked by a cool, almost Pauillac like graphite. 95-96
Château Larcis Ducasse* – Like the 2018, this vintage impresses with exemplary density. Tasted 3 times. I know that fellow taster Jane Anson finds it very special in 2020, and you get such appealing wet limestone purity from the blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Director Nicolas Thienpont says the 2018 is just as dense – a wine I purchased – but lacks the same energy as the 2020, which could explain why many tasters rave about it. Again, 2020 proves superb for Merlot picked from vines grown on deep clays and limestone, where the nearly 10 hectares of vines grow here. A very high score, and the price should be competitive. I will buy this… 96-98
Château Pavie – The best Pavie I recall tasting en primeur. A far cry from the 2003, as tasted in 2004, for example. You get graphite on the nose, with plenty of ripe fruit that precedes a palate of foreboding tannin, no doubt from the 16% of Cabernet Sauvignon (there is 50% Merlot and 34% Cabernet Franc). Taking time with this wine and the density is very impressive. While Pavie Decesse has more charm – here we have a bit of a tannic wall on the finish – time spent with this barrel sample displays greater breadth and depth. And less over extracted oak, although I think Mr. Perse can do even better with regard to that extraction: aging in 75% new oak and clocks in at 14.8% alcohol, with a nice balancing pH of 3.61 pH. Over time, the terroir will shine: Buy with confidence. 95-96+
Château Pavie Macquin – The notes of cherry and aniseed engage you, leading to a palate of limestone terroir derived freshness and density from the deep clay. Another impressive showing from this estate, blending 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc in 2020, clocking in at 14.5% alcohol. Tasted on three occasions, I think that it is better than the 2018 but perhaps lacks the elegance of the 2019. But it needs time to open up, and winds up delicious, with great depth and a long finish. I give the edge this year to Larcis Ducasse, under the same ownership. 96-97
Château Troplong Mondot* – Lovely grip and freshness, racy opulence and juicy on the palate, with a long finish marked by orange zest. This blend of 85% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet France underwent gentle extractions because tannins were high. As with other estates, director Aymeric de Gironde said that 2020 was the “earliest harvest we ever had”, starting on 4 September, finished on 30 September, depending on vine plots. I wonder if Château Figeac, certainly a different terroir and perhaps just a bit more refined overall, may lose out in terms of power, but there is subtlety to this Troplong too, and I love the chalky finish. The pH is very low at 3.53, fine balance for the 14.5% alcohol, aging in 60% new oak. A top Troplong but look out for the second wine, the 100% Merlot “Mondot”: a superb wine for what should be smaller change. 97-98
Mondot* – As with Cheval Blanc, Troplong Mondot has crafted a superb second wine in 2020 with smoothly textured wine, brownie cake decadence, and juicy freshness. 14.5% 3.53 pH same as first wine. 30% aging in one-year-old barrels, the rest in tank. 93-95
Château Trotte Vieille* – As ever, a blend that includes much Cabernet Franc at 50% Cabernet Franc, 49% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite a success in 2020, with impressive breadth and density, clocking in at 15% alcohol but well balanced. It may surpass the excellent 2019. The finish is long, marked by somewhat firm, tannin grip, but that is expected from such a baby here, as the Cabernet Franc can be a bit firm at this stage, but we have ripe tannin and rich fruit expression. 100% new oak, but well integrated. 95-96
Château Valandraud – Blending 90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine comes across quite spicy with dark fruit (damsons and blackberry). The attack is quite fresh and brisk, which is a plus. Still, I get just a touch too much oak derived tannic extraction on the finish. Clocks in at nearly 15.5% alcohol. 93-95