At the Society of Wine Educators Conference last week, I took a class called, An In-Depth Look at St. Émilion taught by Paul Wagner. We tasted through eight Grand Cru wines from two different vintages, four from 2009 and four from 2010. In St. Émilion, the chateaux are re-ranked every ten years. The most recent ranking was done in 2012. The chateaux are ranked as Premier Grand Cru; there are currently only four in this category. In Grand Cru there are 64 and Growers which number 700. The difference in the vintages that we were tasting was that 2009 was a very warm year that produced riper wines. One would expect more fruit aromas and bigger body in these wines. 2010 was drier weather with greater diurnal swings. This vintage produced a more classic right bank Bordeaux.
The Chateau Grand Pantet 2009 is 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had aromas of dark cherry, violets, soft, satin tannins with a good acidity on the finish.
The Chateau Fonplégade, 2009 is 92% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was bright and crisp with a high alcohol content, though not out of balance. The aromas were sweet black cherries, purple flowers and oak with silky tannins.
The Chateau Fonroque, 2009 is 85% Merlot and 15%Cabernet Franc. It was earthy with dark, brambly fruits and tea. It had a rich texture and smooth tannins.
From the 2010 vintage we had a Chateau Grand Corbin that is 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had a floral, mineral aroma with notes of licorice and a lush creamy finish.
The Clos des Jacobins, 2010 is 80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. It presented blackberry, plum and wood aromas with intense tannins.
The Chateau Laroze, 2010 is 68% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was tangy cranberries, coffee and vanilla with a soft, long finish.
Chateau Faugeres is 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had floral and dark cherry aromas with a chocolate finish.
But the big surprise came with the first wine we tasted. It was a Chateau Villemaurine, 2009, 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Upfront the aromas that hit my nose were wet coffee grounds and tobacco, a nice, earthy wine with bright acidity, dark fruit, drying tannins, deep, rich aromas and a chocolate finish. I really liked it, especially the bold earthiness of it. After we finished tasting and talking about it, Paul Wagner asked how many of us liked it. My hand shot right up, along with many others, seasoned professionals and certified all. This wine, to me, had a very satisfying flavor profile. Then he dropped the bomb; this wine has Brett.
Brettomyces is a natural yeast that grows on grape skins. Like the natural bacteria that show up in wine, Brettomyces can spoil the wine. In enough quantity, it gives the wine aromas of a stinky Band-Aid or a horse’s rear end. Along with adding an unpleasant smell to the wine, it will also, mask the fruit aromas. It cannot be reversed. In enough quantity, it will ruin the wine. However, in small quantity, it adds a dimension of earthiness to the wine in the form of coffee, leather or smoke that works in concert with the fruit and oak aromas. It takes a skilled wine maker to use this wine ‘fault’ to its advantage. Up until last week I didn’t know it, but I like a little Brett with my wine.