Saturday, June 27, 2009

Chateau Cos d’Estournel, 2nd Growth, St. Estephe

Another sunny day and beautiful breakfast at Chateau Beausejour, and then we checked out because we were relocating to downtown Bordeaux that evening. It turned out to be an extremely hot day – in the mid 80’s, which I’m sure broke some temperature records for the region. When I called home to Sonoma, we discovered it has been raining there since we left—while Bordeaux had been sunny and warm. Rather ironic that California was much cooler than France, but then Sonoma/Napa really needed the rain.

Chateau Cos d’Estournel, 2nd Growth, St. Estephe – we were greeted by the Marketing Director, Geraldine, at Cos d’Estournel, which is still undergoing renovation. Despite this, it is nevertheless an amazing architectural feat with its sandstone walls and Oriental pagoda towers, as well as the elephant motif. We had read the history of the chateau and enjoyed the colorful stories about the wine being shipped to India and back in the1800’s because Louis Gaspard believed they tasted better after the journey. They have a museum in the visitor center which documents some of these tales and more, and they also sell logo wear including polo shirts and the famous silk scarves.

Geraldine started our tour in the vineyard and we had to dodge bull-dozers and walk on boards to reach it. The first thing we noticed was the grass growing between the rows – something that is quite rare in Bordeaux, as most estates like to show off their gravel. Geraldine said they have 91 hectares with south facing slopes, of which 70% are cab; 28% merlot; and 2% CF. They are primarily clay and limestone with less gravel than Pauillac. They use GPS in the vineyard; prune to 8 buds per vine, and harvest 30-35 hectoliters per hectare (27 in 2008).

I must admit though, that the vineyards are eclipsed by the amazing newly renovated cellar. The amount of money that went into building this must be staggering, and I would imagine may take years to achieve a decent ROI. It is a 3 level gravity flow operation beginning with triage; a cold tunnel; and destem/crush on the top level after which the grapes are gently rolled to the tank openings in small stainless boxes on wheels. I asked if that slowed down the process a bit, and she admitted that they had a bit of back-up with the 2008 vintage (the first to be processed in the cellar), and were trying to work out the kinks.

The second level holds the most impressive display of cone-shaped stainless tanks I have ever seen. The cellar looks like a work of art with 72 bronze colored tanks which range in size from 19 to 115 hectoliters in order to accommodate different sized parcels. Probably the most amazing aspect is that they have installed 4 elevators so that the wine never has to be pumped -- but is instead gently lifted to perform delestage (pulling juice from the bottom of the tank to cascade over the cap which follows the cone shape so that the juice re-integrates and extracts differently each time.) The only time they pump is to clean the tanks with water. Fermentation takes place with natural yeast, and ML is performed partially in tank and completed in barrel. Only 7% of pressed juice, using a vertical basket press, is combined with the free run for the gran vin.

Obviously the bottom floor (3rd level) is the barrel room, and they have broken tradition to combine 1st and 2nd year barrel rooms into one very large one. The gran vin receives 80% new oak (40% on the second label); medium toast from 8 coopers; 18 months. Racking, topping, and fining with pasteurized egg whites is the same process used at other estates. There is a gentle filtration before bottling. 80% of wine is exported with the USA, UK, and Japan being the largest markets. Production ranges from 200,000 to 350,000 bottles per year.

Geraldine treated us to a vertical tasting of the 2003, 2004, and 2005, which was a sheer delight since I am so enamored of St. Estephe. The difference in the vintages shown through quite clearly: 2003 Cos – opaque ruby with slight garnet edge; ripe fruit, spice and cassis on the nose/palate; soft velvety tannins; plush. 2004 Cos – opaque red-black; beets and earth on the nose; closed with minerality and coffee on the palate; sharp tannins and acid. 2005 Cos – opaque red-black; elegant cassis nose; dark fruit, tea, spice, and minerals on the palate with a perfect balance of med++ acid; tannins; allspice oak. Excellent complexity and well concentrated with a surprising red fruit finish.

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