Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

2004 Clarets Part III – Saint Julien

October 2005

 

Henri Martin of Saint Julien acquired his first vines in 1939. His name was world-famous when I first became involved in wine some 30 years later, despite the fact that all he owned was a Cru Bourgeois. But that Cru Bourgeois was called Château Gloria. And because of Martin’s devotion it had become a hallowed name.

I never met M. Martin himself but in the 1980s I used to drop in routinely to taste the latest vintage. The quality was always excellent. But M. Martin always longed to own a “proper” Classed Growth and in 1982 he finally acquired the 4th Growth Château Saint Pierre. His rueful comment at the time: “It’s taken me 60 years to cover the 100 metres that separates Gloria from Saint Pierre!”

 

I haven’t been back to Gloria for many a year and when I drop in now am staggered at the enormous changes that have been wrought – among them a gleaming new state of the art winery. The wines, too, have come on considerably. The ’04s are really exceptional. No effort was spared to make wines of a quality that would make even the First Growths doff their caps. There was a great deal of cutting back and leaf removal in August and during the fermentation some of the newly pressed juice was run off before it could take on colour, leaving the remaining, much smaller volume of juice to extract more pigment, fruit, and tannins from the must. These measures, together with the fact that the estate’s vines are old (and old vines give less, but more concentrated, juice) resulted in impressive degrees of concentration.

 

Even the maître de chai M. Galley seems a little awed. “It was an abundant harvest and you simply had to eliminate some elements. But we never expected to bring this off.” He nods towards the samples with a look of wonder.

 

2004 CHATEAU GLORIA ***(*)

Coloured like black fruits, Gloria smells like them too, with a dash of raspberry for good measure. One is struck by the immaculate purity of the aromas eddying from the glass. The flavour is exceptionally round and unctuous – a bit like melting jam – and delectably fruity. The fine tannins give a long, structured finish to this phenomenally rich, savoury wine. It will be a treat to drink while young but so much more rewarding when fully mature, around 2010-25/30.

 

2004 CHATEAU SAINT PIERRE ****

Darker still, this has a hugely concentrated, very round aroma of black and red fruits, truffle, red rose, and peony. Splendid as Gloria is, this is denser and more complex.


The flavour is a deluge of utterly ripe, pure fruit, despite a brief catch of dry woodiness on mid-palate. This is instantly overwhelmed by the fruit, which quickly evolves a very Saint Julien kind of sumptuousness to which a hint of tobacco-like spice acts as foil. Despite its great volume, the wine shows classic Saint Julien elegance and restraint. When you examine the finish in detail you find it as precisely defined, and as facetted, as a cut diamond. 8-10 years to open then 15-20 of development.


Both wines show beautifully in ’03 as well, with good concentration, length, and overall balance. I note a flick of orange peel on the finish of the smooth, glyceriny Gloria; pomegranate and (again) tobacco on the Saint Pierre.
This is not just a property to watch; it is a property to study with meticulous care and attention.

 

Château Lagrange, under the stewardship of Marcel Ducasse, has made huge progress since Suntory acquired the property in 1984 (see my notes on a vertical tasting of Lagrange in OenoFile earlier this year). The 2004 is the latest in a whole series of excellent vintages.

 

2004 LES FIEFS DE LAGRANGE **(*)

Well-coloured, this consistently delicious second wine has a full, intense aroma of autumn berries and a well-balanced, very fruity flavour with true Saint Julien elegance. A wine to drink over the next 5-6 years.

 

2004 CHATEAU LAGRANGE ***(*)

This dark wine emits a lovely composite scent of black cherry with stone, carnation, kirsch, and truffle. One is simultaneously struck by its opulence and classic restraint.


There’s lots of substance on the palate, which is pure, concentrated, and harmonious. The aftertaste is rich and sustained with a very good tannic structure. It gains so much in contact with the air that I take a fresh sniff at the nose, registering its ever growing complexity. A wine to hold back for about 8 years and drink over the 15 or so that follow.


When I observe that the ’04s have filled out since my last visit only a few weeks ago Marcel Ducasse comments: “This is not a wine puffed up by lots of new oak and such things. It will take on body as it ages, in a natural way.”

 

Château Ducru Beaucaillou has always been a Super-Second for me, long before the notion of Super-Secondhood was ever bruited. One might call it the Château Palmer of Saint Julien – sweet, mellow, full of charm, yet also structured and sometimes very weighty, with a ripe-grape sweetness and a lot of length. The name means “beautiful pebbles”. The handsome, bulky Château has a unique configuration — I’ve never seen another building quite like it – that makes it quite a landmark hereabouts. It has an unimpeded view over the estuary, which exercises a major influence on the estate’s microclimate. Four tides daily cause huge volumes of water to move past the vineyard, acting as a kind of air-conditioner.This provides heat in winter and cools things down in summer. The 55-hectare estate is planted with 70% Cabernet-Sauvignon and 30% Merlot.

 

Today the estate runs three properties: Château Ducluzeau, a small Cru Bourgeois in Listrac; Château Lalande Borie, a Saint Julien that was created in 1970; and Ducru Beaucaillou itself.

 

2004 CHATEAU DUCLUZEAU * (98% M. 2% mixed : C.-F.. P.-V.. C-S)

This trim wine smells of cherry and cherry-stone and has a fresh, balanced flavour of cherry and raspberry, with a touch of cinnamon on the finish. A charming wine to enjoy young – 2007-11.

 

2004 CHATEAU LALANDE BORIE *** (59% C.-S.. 11% C.-F., 30% M)

This has a seriously deep colour and a full, faintly meaty aroma of black fruits, morel mushroom, and chocolate. This leads into a balanced, smooth flavour of black fruit jams and liquorice. The aftertaste is fullish, persistent, with depth. The three varieties meld seamlessly. Drink 2010-20

 

© Frank Ward

Continued : 2004 Clarets Part IV

2004 Clarets Part V

Back to : 2004 Clarets Part II : The Médoc

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