Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: St-Estéphe, trade wars and Visigothic mayhemBY JIM BEAUREGARD July 17. 2018 9:07PM
Bordeaux is a world-class wine region close to the heart of virtually all wine lovers.
Today we will take a peek at one of Gordon’s northernmost regions. Bordeaux is the capital city, and the region produces more high-quality wine than just about anywhere else.
You’ve probably heard the term Claret, the name given to Bordeaux wine by the British when being transported across the Channel — that is, when the English and French weren’t busy lobbing cannonballs of each other.
Part of the reason the quality of Bordeaux is so consistently good is that they have had centuries to perfect the craft.
There is evidence dating to the fourth century — from the Latin poet Ausonius, if you want to know — of wine growing in the region. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths moved until they were defeated by Clovis in the year 507.
Then Charlemagne kept things pretty stable through a good chunk of the Middle Ages.
Winemaking continued there throughout the Middle Ages, where, my Oxford Companion to Wine tells me, English and French history began to interact around the wine.
This takes us into the terrain of one of my all-time favorite movies, “The Lion in Winter,” in which Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn as Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine star in one of the greatest portrayals of a dysfunctional family ever delivered on film.
Henry married Eleanor in the year 1152. After Henry came his son Richard the Lionheart, and then King John who granted lots of favors to the citizens of Bordeaux to curry favor.
The biggest of these was an exemption from export taxes on wines that were leaving Bordeaux. Of course, where there is protectionism, trade wars often follow.
And trade wars eventually came to England and France, who fought it out in part by imposing duties on French wines. British wine drinkers sensibly dealt with the issue through widespread smuggling.
The St-Estéphe wine region is right on the Gironde River, not too far from its mouth, and it marks one of the northernmost points in Bordeaux. It is technically part of the Haut-Médoc region of Bordeaux, and one of France’s great winemaking regions.
There are a number of things that make St-Estéphe unique, not least of which is that its soil is loaded with gravel, which often covers a clay base that can retain water, a definite plus in years of low rainfall.
The end result of this combination is that the soil tends to be a bit cooler than it is further up the river. It takes grapes a little bit longer to ripen so they continue to build up acidity longer than some of their neighbors.
Not all of the grapes go into the most expensive wines either. Should you ever come across a bottle that says Marquis de St-Estéphe, that’s where the grapes are from and they have been vinified in the village co-ops. Good grapes for less money.
St-Estéphe wines have a reputation of being quite austere when they are young, loaded with tannin. The weak of heart sometimes describe this as “undrinkable;” you of course know better.
St-Estéphe is a number of classed growths, part of the 1855 Bordeaux classification, most famous being the second growths, Château Montrose and Cos d’Estournal.
There are also a number of third growths, one which is available right here in New Hampshire, Château Calon-Segur — I’ve seen it fairly frequently at the state liquor store.
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Chateau Meyney 2013 Grand Vin, St.-Estéphe, Bordeaux, France, $24.99, 350 mL bottle. 13% alcohol by volume. This is a fairly big red. It is in a half-bottle, and that means the wine will age slower than in the standard 750 mL bottle. It is a bit younger than the full-sized bottle of the same line. It is a deep purple color, the black core and has a nose loaded with fruit. On the palate is dry, with high acidity and medium — plus tannin, certainly mouth and tooth coating, which can be a bit off-putting for those not used to it. It has medium-level alcohol — teeny bit hard on opening, but this modulates with some air. It is a medium — plus bodied wine with pronounced flavor intensities of black fruit including black currant, blackberry and black plum, as well as some hints of hardwood and vanilla drawn from the oak barrels. It’s pretty tight on opening, so I would recommend pouring it into a decanter a good two to three hours before serving, giving it a swish to get some more air into it every now and again. It’s worth the effort.
Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org.