Decanter Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter Masterclasses - 1: The Elegance of St-Julien.
Patrick Maroteaux (Ch Branaire-Ducru)
Philippe Blanc (Ch Beychevelle)
Bruno Eynard (Ch Lagrange)
David Launay (Ch Gruaud-Larose)
This fine collection of houses clustered together in the south of the St-Julien district was the perfect illustration both of the area’s signature style – and its diversity.
An air of friendly competition permeated the discussion, with each of the châteaux keen to show how past investments in vineyard and winemaking facilities have paid off in the bottle.
From Branaire-Ducru’s gravity-fed winery, to Beychevelle’s yield reduction; from the wholesale replanting at Lagrange, to organic and homeopathic treatments at Gruaud-Larose – these houses have refused to stand still in their ceaseless quest for greater and greater quality.
At Branaire-Ducru, Patrick Maroteaux told of his pursuit of a fruitier, fresher, more elegant style, arguing the case for relatively under-estimated vintages such as 2007, of which he said: ‘The biggest problem was that it came after 2005 and 2006.’
It was an assessment supported by Philippe Blanc at Beychevelle. ‘When people don’t enjoy their time on the beach, they think the wines won’t be very good… The results far exceed what people expect.’
For Bruno Eynard at Chateau Lagrange, years of investment that have had an impact on more recent vintages – but so too has climate change. ‘It’s often very difficult to get good ripeness with Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, every year we can obtain this ripeness.’
And in response to an enquiry from the audience, David Launay had some good news for fans of Gruaud-Larose’s second wine, Sarget: ‘By doing more severe selection on the first wine, there is more second wine at the end… Sarget is now the leading wine of the estate.’
Best audience question: Do you feel as houses that you are driven sometimes by the points system and by Robert Parker, driven by what they think is a good wine?
Answer (from Philippe Blanc) : It’s like when you’re at school – when you have got good marks, you can only feel happy about that. But in 2004 we got no marks, and we feel that we have done good work. The most important people are our customers. We don’t work for journalists, we work for our customers.
Best panel comment: Bruno Eynard of Ch Lagrange on Petit Verdot: ‘It’s a kind of joker. Of course we need Cabernet Sauvignon and, with global warming, we use more and more Cabernet Sauvignon and less and less Merlot, because the alcohol level is so high. Petit Verdot gives us a lot of tannins, a lot of colour and also something which is more and more difficult to keep, and that’s acidity.’
Hot topic: Appropriately enough, the heatwave of 2003. The wines on show were forward and approachable, but showed little sign of flabbiness. Patrick Maroteaux of Ch Branaire-Ducru described himself as ‘a great fan’ of the vintage, but still thinks the wines will be long-lived.
Meanwhile, Philippe Blanc of Ch Beychevelle says: ‘For us, it was the discovery of southern or New World conditions. It taught us a lot and we learned to cope with the conditions of 2005 and 2009.’