St-Emilion Grand Crus Classes 2002

2002 may have been a tough vintage, but many châteaux succeeded in producing some excellent wines. JAMES LAWTHER MW selects the best.

There’s no doubting this was a difficult vintage for producers in St-Emilion, and the Right Bank in general. A calamitous flowering, sullen summer and pressure of rot made it all but a disaster rescued in extremis by September sunshine. As usual those that had their vineyards correctly set benefited most from the reprieve and produced the better wines.

The season started with a dry, cold winter followed by a budburst that put the vineyards on schedule with previous years. The first difficulty appeared in the spring (May–June), when alternating conditions of heat, cold, rain and storms made for an irregular flowering. The earlier ripening Merlot was particularly badly hit, with coulure in the old vines estimated at 60–70%. The consequences were a severe drop in yields and the absence of a lot of old-vine fruit.

The summer months of July and August were characterised by a string of dull, cloudy days with occasional bouts of drizzle and rain. Temperatures remained about normal for the season but it was the absence of sunshine that thwarted maturity in the vines. Despite the natural reduction in grapes caused by coulure, producers that omitted a further crop thinning and deleafing were put under greater pressure from grey rot which began to take a hold.

Then with morale among producers at a severely low ebb, the weather suddenly turned for the better from 10 September and, barring a storm on 20 September, stayed fine and dry until 9 October when the harvest was practically complete. Cool evenings helped prevent further spread of rot. The Merlot gained in maturity (sugar and tannin levels were high at the harvest) but never quite made up for the lack of sunshine in July and August. The later ripening Cabernet Franc benefited more from the conditions, turning out the most successful variety, and adding sweetness, fruit and aroma to blends.

The Merlot that could not resist the threat of rot was harvested around 10–16 September with an absence of maturity. The bulk, though (particularly at grand cru classé level), was picked in sunny conditions from 23–30 September. Those that hung out for overripeness picked in early October at the same time as the Cabernet Franc was brought in.

Clearly this is not a great vintage in St-Emilion but it was considerably better than would have been predicted in August 2002. There’s an engaging fruitiness in a number of wines but the absence of mid-palate fat gives them a leanness which is highlighted by a marked acidity. Tannins can also be a little abrasive so over-extraction was not recommended. The top (five- and four-star) wines all have a greater density of fruit, more éclat and firm but balanced structure. The richer Cabernet Franc will have played an important role.

Despite impressive sugar and tannin counts these are not on the whole strongly made wines and hence will be mainly for early to mid-term drinking. The top wines should have a span of up to 15 years. The fruity nature and fresh acidity, however, will make them a good accompaniment with food.

Placing the 2001 vintage in terms of quality is difficult. It is clearly better than the early 1990s trio of 1991, 1992 and 1993 and to my mind, 1997 and 1999. It possibly sits in with the more angular 1994 and 1996. 2001 has more charm and fruit and recent top vintages (1995, 1998, 2000) greater depth, reserve and éclat.

Château Troplong Mondot

The most complete wine of the tasting and a stunning success for the vintage. Lively medium to full colour. Complex nose offers a compote of ripe, dark fruits, well-integrated toasted oak and minerally nuance. Good density and weight. Liquorice note. Smooth attack, firm but ripe tannins, acidity present but less pronounced. Attractive balance and length. Continues the trend in recent vintages for less extraction

and more finesse. 2007–2015.

£247 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Château Berliquet

Dark fruit aroma and flavour backed by well-integrated vanilla oak. Palate impressive for the vintage with a solid intensity and weight of fruit. Ripe aspect. Broad shouldered but with rounded tannins. Fresh acidity on the finish. Potential for mid-term ageing. 2006–2014. £175 (per case 12, in bond); Gdh

Château Canon-la-Gaffelière

Lovely, pure expression of fruit. Compote of dark-red fruits with notes of cherry and cassis. Soft, generous texture, ripe, medium- to full-bodied weight, tannins rounded. Loads of charm. 2006–2014. £325 (per case 12, in bond); N&P

Château Chauvin

An engaging wine with well-worked fruit. Spicy, lifted, ripe ‘Burgundian’ nose and palate. A certain density of fruit on the palate, acidity present, tannins perhaps a touch robust on the finish but stays with the fruit. 2005–2010. £156 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Château Pavie Macquin

Attractive, honest fruit expression. Clean and generous. Ripe but not overripe. A hint of minerally cassis. Suave attack, good density of fruit. Firm, fresh finish. Serious but well-worked fruit adds a lively edge. 2007–2015. £210 (per case 12, in bond); BWI

Clos Saint-Martin

Ripe, dark fruit with a touch of classy vanilla oak. A sweet ripeness on the palate, intense with a firm structure. Serious wine with ageing potential. 2007–2016. £228 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Château Balestard la Tonnelle

Soft red fruits on the nose with a touch of vanilla oak. Light to medium bodied, initial softness of fruit on attack, acidity on the finish. Lacks the mid-palate fruit but correct. 2006–2010.

£170 (per case 12, in bond); BWI

Château Bellevue

Dark, restrained fruit on the nose, the oak imparting a touch of liquorice and vanilla. Firm structured with balancing acidity and freshness on the finish. 2007–2014. £175 (per case 12, in bond); BWI

Château Bergat

Fragrant, raspberry-strawberry red

fruit aroma and flavour. Forward but harmonious. A little sweetness on attack, medium bodied, pleasant early drinking wine. 2005–2008.

N/A UK; +33 5 56 00 00 70

Château Corbin

Restrained dark-red fruit aroma. Touch of sweetness on attack, acidity present on the finish. Compact wine if missing some éclat. 2005–2010.

N/A UK; +33 5 57 74 62 41

Château Fonplégade

Soft red fruits with an edge of mocha coffee on the nose. Fruit evident on the palate but robust style with marked acidity. Oak again present on the finish. 2006–2010. £125 (per case 12, in bond); BWI

Château Grand Mayne

Plenty of dark fruit on the nose but the (high toast) oak dominates at present.

Sweet, almost jammy confit fruit on the palate. Robust, tannic wine with a firm finish. 2007–2014.

£239 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Château Grand Pontet

Intriguing nose of dark fruits, well-judged finely grained oak and a twist of mint. Well-constituted, robust palate with a decent volume of fruit and present structure. 2005–2010.

£167 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Château L’Arrosée

Dark blackcurrant and blackberry fruit on the nose with a lift of chocolate and spice from the (classy) oak. Attractive volume of fruit on the palate, good middle weight and length. Oak a little too invasive and drying on the finish. 2006–2012.

N/A UK +33 472 41 66 40

Château La Clotte

Medium hue. Nose a compote of red fruits. Soft, round attack, juicy fruit on the middle palate, touch of alcohol on the finish. Attractive, honest. Enjoy the fruit. 2005–2010. £26; HWS

Château La Couspaude

Nose marked by spicy, toasted oak. Smooth textured, confit fruit, toasted oak again but integrated, lively acidity

and freshness on the finish. Modern style. Tannins perhaps a touch edgy. 2006–2012. £268 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Château La Dominique

Fragrant, floral aroma and flavour. Palate a little lean and angular but attractive red fruit with a fresh, minerally finish. 2006–2010.

£200 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Château La Marzelle

Fragrant, forward, red fruit aroma. Attractive fruit on the palate. Light to medium weight, fresh, early drinking. 2005–2008. £140 (per case 12, in bond); BWI

Château Laniote

Leafy, Cabernet-cassis nose. Medium bodied, tight, slightly austere. Acidity on the finish. Will need food as an accompaniment. 2006–2010. N/A UK; +33 5 57 24 70 81

Château Larcis Ducasse

Pure cassis berry fruit on the nose with a fresh, minerally note. Medium bodied, balanced, limestone terroir shows. Lacks a little breadth and complexity. 2006–2012. £165 (per case 12, in bond); BWI

Chateau Laroze

Harmonious wine. Cassis notes on the nose. Good medium-bodied weight and extract. A little sweetness to balance the acidity. 2005–2010 £139 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Château Les Grandes Murailles

Oak rather dominates palate and nose but there’s a good intensity of fruit behind and balance on the finish. Quite full and concentrated in a modern style. 2006–2012. £270 (per case 12, in bond); C&B

Château La Serre

Dark, plummy fruit on the nose and palate. Soft and round. Quite fleshy. Minerally acidity on the finish. An attractive, harmonious wine. 2005–2010. N/A UK; +33 5 57 24 71 38

Château La Tour Figeac

Light in weight and structure but a generally balanced wine. Dark-red fruits on the nose with a pinch of vanilla oak. Soft, round on the palate, plays on the fruit. 2005–2008. N/A UK; +33 5 57 51 77 62

Château Matras

Fine floral aroma with notes of violet and an undercurrent of mint. Palate lean but firm with a little balancing sweetness. Plenty of freshness on the finish. Slightly austere. 2006–2010. N/A UK; +33 5 57 51 52 39

Château Yon-Figeac

Floral, spicy ‘Burgundian’ nose and palate. Fruit driven, aromatic, almost pomaded. Lively, fresh finish. Tannins a little rustic. More for early drinking. 2005–2008.

N/A UK; +33 5 57 74 14 16

Clos de l’Oratoire

Appealing, forward nose of summer fruits with a floral hint. Certain rounded charm on the palate, fluid, light tannic structure. Definitely for early drinking. 2005–2008. £183 (per case 12, in bond); F&R

Couvent des Jacobins

Light, simple, easy style for drinking early on the fruit. Strawberry, summer fruit nose, soft fruity palate, a touch of dryness on the finish. 2004–2007.

N/A UK; +33 5 57 24 70 66

Also tasted

Château Cadet Bon; n Château Cadet Piola; n Château Cap de Mourlin; Château Dassault;

Château Faurie de Souchard;

Château Fonroque; n Château Franc-Mayne; n Château Guadet Saint-Julien; Château Haut Corbin; Château Haut Sarpe; Château La Tour du Pin Figeac; Château Larmande;

Château Le Prieuré; Château Laroque; Château Moulin du Cadet; Château Petit Faurie de Soutard; Château Ripeau; Château Saint-Georges-Côte-Pavie; Château Villemaurine; Clos des Jacobins

James Lawther MW Is a Bordeaux expert and contributing editor to Decanter.

Written by James Lawther MW