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Premiers Grands Crus Classés de St-Emilion 2004 – Decanter Fine Wine Encounter masterclass 2008

Great wines from the grand tastingChâteau Cos d'Estournel It was no surprise this masterclass was oversubscribed. With Serena Sutcliffe MW, the head of Sotheby’s wine department chairing a panel including Eric d’Aramon, owner of Ch Figeac and head of the St-Emilion Grand Crus Classés, Stéphanie de Boüard of Angélus, Denis Duffau-Lagarrosse of Beauséjour, Stéphanie Libreau of Troplong Mondot and Sarah Wright of Pavie Maquin, it was a star-studded line up – and that’s before tasting the 13 Premiers Grands Crus Classés (Chateau Ausone, which, along with Cheval Blanc, is classified as Premier Grand Cru Classé A, chose not to supply wine for this masterclass).

Sutcliffe opened proceedings by telling the 100 attendees that claret lovers ‘can get to grips with St-Emilion’ at a much younger age than with wines from the Médoc, thanks to their dominance in Merlot and Cabernet Franc over Cabernet Sauvignon:

‘This gives a gentle underlying richness and lingering scent,’ she noted, while adding that wines at this top level are also tremendously long lived. ‘Fresh acidity, good colour and a classic structure are the hallmarks of 2004, and they are relatively good value.’

De Boüard, whose father Hubert de Boüard de Laforest celebrated his 10th vintage at the estate with the 2004, said the vintage was a late one, saved by an Indian summer in September and October.

‘We waited till the last possible moment to pick our Cabernet Franc,’ she said. ‘I remember being in the vineyard wondering whether it was time to pick and our dog, Pétrus, started eating the grapes. My father said, “If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me”. A week later we picked and it’s been one of our best wines, comparable to 1995, with an unusually high percentage of Cabernet Franc. (50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)’

Before Sutcliffe led guests through the first wine, she explained that it was traditional to taste the St-Emilion Grands Crus Classés in alphabetical order, with Cheval Blanc last because of its dominance of Cabernet Franc. D’Aramon, tasking a cheeky smile at his neighbour De Boüard, added: ‘Yes, and that’s why Angelus dropped the l’ in front of its name so it would always be first!’

Tasting notes

Château Angélus, 2004

Vanilla and cedar new oak nose, spice and liquorice. Ripe, black fruits, firm, fine tannins, opulent. Fresh, sumptuous Cabernet Franc. Needs time.

Château Beauséjour, 2004

Attractive, savoury leather, plum fruit and Marmite nose. Seductive, soft, silky palate of leather, plum and chocolate with grippy tannins.

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, 2004

Young, shy, violet, cherry and vanilla perfume. Vanilla and cedar spice, bright blue and black fruit, fine, soft tannins knitting well. Fresh.

Château Bélair, 2004

Lifted but angular violet, mineral, lead and tar nose. Dusty, inky, tarry black fruit palate with mineral nuance. Lean and firm.

Château Canon, 2004

Ripe, solid, big red and black fruits and vanilla, very primary nose. Fleshy yet structured palate. Inky, tarry fresh and crisp black fruits. Spiced finish.

Château Figeac, 2004

Fresh blackcurrant, mineral and tomato leaf perfume with cedar oak. Inky, dense black berry fruits – very fruit intense – with soft, silky cedar tannins.

Clos Fourtet, 2004

Dense, complex approachable nose: round plum fruit and savoury leather. Soft juicy, integrated palate – pretty and attractive plumy Merlot fruit.

Château La Gaffelière, 2004

Plummy Merlot fruit, iodine and rich chocolate nose. Structured, tarry, inky, angular palate with grippy tannins. Good food wine.

Château Magdelaine, 2004

Pretty primary fruit, violet and vanilla nose. Attractive violet and sweet spice palate: juicy Merlot fruit and grainy tannins. Feminine and fresh.

Château Pavie Macquin, 2004

Mineral, minty, fresh black cherry perfume. Extracted tar and vanilla palate. Chewy tannins, modern, round, supple black berry fruit.

Château Troplong Mondot, 2004

Generous red and black fruit nose with anise and tar hints. Deep, dense liquorice palate. Tasty dark berry weight and fresh finish.

Château Trottevielle, 2004

Pretty, bright, floral plum perfume. Approachable, easy palate of juicy ripe Merlot. Chocolatey tannins and soft round finish.

Château Cheval Blanc, 2004

Mineral, lead pencil Cabernet Franc nose, boysenberry fruit, new oak. Fresh, pure, purple fruit flavours. Inky tannins, silky finish. Ageworthy.

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