Bordeaux Vintage Round up: The Buying Guide- ST. JULIEN 2009

The St. Julien spectrum

SEVERAL weeks ago i wrote a post (here) about the 2009 vintage of Bordeaux, which is being hailed as the vintage of the century (that, by the way, includes 1982– which in retrospect, was not that great since the wines are on their last legs) i agree with the critical praise, in spirit. The 2009’s were fabulous- but buyer beware! Not all of it was excellent. I will continue in various parts to share my impressions and tasting notes: we start with my personal favorite; St. Julien.

If Margaux is feminine and Paulliac is masculine with cigar and pencil shaving nuances then St. Julien is more of a rumbuctious young aristocrat somewhere between Eaton and a Manhattan bachelor pad who is aptly named Phineas or Cole and looks like Mika or the fashionista scion of the Ferrari family. Equal parts spicy, flirtatious and deep, St. Julien’s wines are the favorties of many novices to Bordeaux who, although love the tender flowriness (that putrid-rose perfume) that is Margaux’s calling card, want something with a little more punch. In truth, St. Julien’s are a different animal than Margaux and in the structure it can sometimes achieve a prowess not unlike its muscular northern cousin, Pauillac. But it’s in its differences to Pauillac and further north to St. Estephe which really makes St. Julien standout.

On the nose St. Juliens often smell of spice box with hefty doses of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg sometimes harkening me back to the spice-markets of Old Delhi. Alas the comparisons to India stop here (although with a Raan, a sort of marinated and tandoori-roasted leg of lamb which is so tender it can be cut up with a spoon, a garam-masala scented Ducru-Beaucaillou is just the perfect match). Unlike Margaux St. Julien (as is Pauillac and St. Estephe) is known for being very consistent year after year in terms of quality and overall profile, with nuances differing between one estate to another for various reasons we won’t get to here.

As I wrote in my notes: St. Julien makes me happy.

The following is a list of wines from the St. Julien region from the 2009 vintage. The wines were all tasted March 29th in a controlled temperature room out of Riedel wine glasses. The wines were not tasted blind. All wines were barrel samples. Any exception to the above are noted. Notes by Alejandro Ortiz.

Alejandro’s Ratings:

O/P: Ok/ Poor

G: Good

VG: Very Good

GR: Great

E: Excellent (an intermediary between Great but not Fantastic)

FA: Fantastic

AM: Amazing

The first sub rating a “+” or “-“ is given for original impression on the nose and palate followed by a subsequent sub-rating for it’s overall performance within its rating.

  • Chateau Gloria
    • G++-
      • Black muddled fruit- the most serious Gloria I’ve ever had, wow.
    • Ch. Talbot
      • O / G
        • A bit weak in the middle and melancholic- something happened here (or didn’t).
        • SECOND LABLE: Constable de Talbot: G—
      • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: G+– / VG—
        • Totally different wine that what I remembered tasting before; this had bright brambly red fruit jam spread on a fermented tobacco leaf (this, at least to me, sounds delicious) with hints of mint and a leafy greenness which screams “picked too early” however.
    • Ch. Lagrange
      • VG++-
        • Supple folds of liquid mahogany with nuances of cherry and a velveteen mouth feel. If a Sweedish designer conceived a sex-chair for Betty Page using Versailles as an inspiration it would be similar to this.
        • SECOND LABEL: Les Fiefs de Lagrane: VG—
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: G++- / VG —
      • Elegant but not showing as well- the sample’s a bit shy.
    • Ch. Beychevelle
      • G++- / VG—
        • Meaty and chewy—where are my braised short-ribs? Can a wine be described as guttural?
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: VG—
      • See above.
    • Ch. Branaire-Ducru
      • G+++
        • Brown baking spices sprinkled on red fruit… put in a bowl, let it macerate in the spring sun for several hours. Smell. Get it? Very nice.
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: VG—
      • See above. This is one of the great values of St. Julien.
    • Ch. Gruaud-Larose
      • G+++
        • Typical: slightly feral and funky. Always… some people love this don’t get me wrong but I have never gotten this Chateau’s wines. There’s a core of red fruit with a sprinkling of black pepper but I need to put my glass down…
    • Ch. St. Pierre
      • VG–+
        • Interestingly flowery with spicy nuances- great value.
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: VG+–
    • Ch. Leoville-Poyferre
      • GR+–
        • Powerful red/black fruit compote, but nuanced.
    • Second Tasting @ UGG Tasting: GR++-
      • See above.
    • Ch. Leoville-Barton
      • VG+++
        • Good God! (my notes). The old man (Monsieur Barton) must be getting old… Like when grandpa turns the volume on the TV waaaay up so he can hear, this wine slams you in the face just in case Mr. Barton may not be able to taste it. And Taste it you do. Need a break…
    • Second Tasting @ Chateau Leoville-Barton: VG+++
      • Huge; this time I was ready for it otherwise you can pass out. The tannins are massive, dry, full of stuff Winston Churchill loves: Cohiba cigars, scotch, French whore and god knows what else. There is a sprinkling of Thai cinnamon and sun-dried cherries somewhere in there but it’s hard to find. This is definitely a “nuclear holocaust” type of wine. Buy it up! You’ll be drinking it at Rapture…
    • Ch. Langoa-Barton  (tasted at Chateau Leoville-Barton)
      • VG+–
        • Fabulous- in the same vein as Barton- huge, blown, and chock-full of brown mulling spices. Will last forever.
    • Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou (tasted at the Chateau)
      • FA+++
        • The chateau was decorated like a sort of carnival hall-of-mirrors motif and yet no mirrors. At the entrance two statuesque blondes in small black dresses welcomes guests: I liked the wine already. Once inside the tasting started with a new wine the chateau is producing which was surprisingly in its… how can I describe it: “Californianess…” Which is not a bad thing, but if I want a California wine with a French accent there’s a slew of wines to choose from (i.e. made by French wine makers or owned by French companies). The second label La Croix de Ducru-Beaucaillou was marvelous and in line with a truism in this vintage: the second labels of the top estates are amazing and at time better than the top wine on less fortunate vintages. When I think French garam-masala (Quare Epices) I think Ducru—this is a telltale feature of the wine and one that is hard to forget. Ducru and in this case the “Croix” is difficult to let go: juicy, flirtatious, bright red fruit with a solid dose of the above-mentioned spice mix… its beautiful. Of course, the prize has to go to the big brother which tempts you to jump into the glass and swim in it. The depth of the wine is near-infinite with waves of tobacco, spices, earth, and red fruit all enveloping in it in a pretty solid jacket of soft but present tannins; this is Bordeaux after all and this wine is not pretending to be anything it’s not. And what it is, is fabulous!

        The Favorite underdog...

    Overall Impression of the St. Julien 2009

    • VG-GR

    Overall the St. Julien appellation produced very solid wines across the board. Here again though the gulf between the premier estates, and everyone else was quite noticeable although not as dramatic as in Margaux, for example. St. Juliens are great because upon release they drink well for about a year or two until shutting down for about a decade. All Bordeaux do this: try them at release and then try them two years later: two different animals. These St. Julien’s will keep and keep and keep they’ve got a lot of guts and will deliver pleasure for decades (and decades) to come.

    2009 St. Julien Top 3:

    1. Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou
    2. La Croix de Ducru-Beaucaillou
    3. Chateau Leoville-Poyferre

    2009 St. Julien Underdogs (buy to surprise)

    1. Chateau Branaire-Ducru
    2. Chateau Dufort-Vivens (not reviewed)
    3. Chateau Gloria

    2 thoughts on “Bordeaux Vintage Round up: The Buying Guide- ST. JULIEN 2009

    1. Pingback: Bordeaux Vintage Round up: The Buying Guide- PAUILLAC 2009 « The Young Gentleman's Guide

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