My, how we Wineaux love our classifications. Well, maybe it's a love-hate kind of thing, because they certainly confuse many consumers. (And sometimes classifications are even self-regulated, hm.) But they are everywhere, so the first part of my task today is to zero in on the Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion.
It's not that difficult if we telescope a bit: France > Bordeaux > Saint-Emilion (located on the "Right Bank," of Bordeaux, where Merlot is king,) > Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. (Which is a classification, divvied into Grand Cru Classé and Premier Grand Cru Classé.) Every 10 years the classification is reviewed, most recently in 2012.
In 1982, a group of classed growers formed the Association de Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion to work together to promote their region, their wines, and to continuously strive to elevate quality.
A recent tasting sponsored by the Association shined a spotlight on two recent vintages: the acclaimed 2010 and the erratic 2012. 2010 is known as one of the standout Bordeaux vintages, and may very well be a benchmark year for the Right Bank. 2012 was beset by very turbulent weather, but if growers picked early, they were on track for a great wine.
Alas, I did not have time to sample the full Saint-Emilion bounty available due to time constraints, but found a few stunners from both vintages.
2012 Clos Saint Martin: notes of chalky lavender and cassis. With grippy tannins, this was dense and packed, but shimmied into a nice fruit-touched finish laced with cocoa powder. ~$60.
2010 Clos Saint Martin: smoky berry/cherry nose, with a heady floral perfume. This one is sexy — red fruit, good, strong structure, a boffo wine. ~$100.
2010 Clos Des Jacobins: florals and soft red berries on the nose. With a somewhat light personality, it was still elegant with red, redddd, reddddddd fruits. ~$60.
2012 Château La Commanderie: pyrazine-y green pepper, black cherry, spice. Quite smooth and velvety. ~$30.
2010 Château La Commaderie: dark fruits and graphite on the nose. Tangy personality, cherry cola, strong but integrated tannins. ~$35.
2012 Château Faurie de Souchard: smoky, spicy, licorice, black and blue fruits. Tightly wound with dusty tannins. ~$30.
2010 Château Faurie de Souchard: liquid cassis and purple flowers on the sexy nose. "Wowzers. SEXY wine," I wrote, with a "Purple Velvet Elvis" kind of feel. ~$35.
I preferred the 2012 Château Dassault, to the 2010, with its heady blueberry, plum, cherry nose I couldn't get enough of. Not overly tannic, with good acidity, pleasant and rich enough but approachable now, ~$45. The 2010 Château Dassault seemed very earthy, dusty, herby — more Cabernet Sauvignon-like, although there was only 5% in the blend — but I'd love to see it when it opens up. ~$50.
2012 Château Fonplegade: cassis, cedar, and rose petals on the nose, with a nice tang and brightness, fairly approachable. ~$40
2010 Château Fonplegade: "wow" nose! Smarties candy, cranberry, underripe red cassis. Glorious festival of cheeky red fruits, nice florals, bit of licorice, good acidic tang, amazing. ~$50
Both the 2012 and 2010 Château Grand Pontet had a relatively high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, and it showed. The 2012 was earthy, "merde"y, and woodsy with good structure, ~$35, and the 2010 had strong cigar leaf and herbs with a little more black fruit expression and sneaky tannins; very nice for the style. ~$55
2012 Château La Dominique: great nose — floral, red berries, cassis. Approachable, smooth, LOVELY. Like your new best friend/crush. WOW! ~$42
2010 Château La Dominique: intoxicating cassis and lavender nose. Mocha, dried potpourri, wonderful structure, very purple-y finish. ~$60
In years like 2010 and 2012, especially when coaxed by the right hands, Right Bank Bordeaux lets the Merlot shine, and these tend to be more approachable than the Left Bank Cab-heavy offerings, even in great vintages. (Especially in great vintages, acutally, due to Cab Sauv's intense structure.) It's also a fantastic bang for the price point buck, considering two of my favorites above retail under ~$45. Some of these producers don't have the widest distribution here in the U.S., but keep your eyes peeled for 2012 and 2010 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classes (it will say that on the label,) and snap up a few bottles when you can, you'll be glad you did. And don't forget to let me know what you find!