Refined and elegant, tasteful and rich, and world-famous to boot. If you think this sounds too good to be true, then think again. Because Saint-Estephe – the Brad Pitt of Bordeaux – is all those things. And many more.
Discover Saint Estèphe AOC
Saint-Estephe has been garnering a following for years. The 1,250 hectares region makes up for eight per cent of the vineyard area of the wider Médoc and is one of about 50 AOC wine regions in Bordeaux, a title it has held since 1936. Situated 55 kilometres (34 miles) north of Bordeaux on the banks of the Gironde Estuary. Saint-Estephe sits on the gravelly western shores of the Gironde estuary, and even though it is separated from its famous neighbour Pauillac by only a stream, the difference between the two regions is manifold. Whereas Saint-Estèphe produces characteristic wines that express their unique terroir, which is delicate, elegant, and refined, Paulliac’s offerings tend to be rich, full-bodied, and contain robust tannins.
Link to: French wine regions
But the focus of this article is Saint Estephe and more importantly, its red Bordeaux blends. Five of the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification wines come from the region – two Super Seconds (Château Cos d’Estournel and Château Montrose), third growth (Château Calon-Ségur), one fourth growth (Château Lafon-Rochet), and fifth growth Château Cos Labory. These five beautiful wines are the pride and joy of the region and do much to keep Saint Estephe in the spotlight.
The wines are beautiful. Deep in flavour and rich in colour, Saint-Estephes are known for their rich tannins and stupendous longevity. Because of Merlot the region’s reputation, many Saint-Estèphe winemakers have expanded their focus on Merlot over the past few decades. The grape performs superlatively on the clay-rich soils that define the region while helping to lighten the character of the wine (which, in the past has been considered too stringent and tightly wound when young).
The region has been producing wines since the Roman period when it was known as Saint-Estephe Calones. If the name seems familiar to you that’s because it probably is – one of the region’s star wines, Château Calon-Ségur takes its name from the ancient French dialect. A calon was a long, flat-bottomed boat that was used to transport timber along the River Gironde. Over time, the “calones” was dropped from the name, leaving us with the name that we all know and love today.
The region’s history is intrinsically linked to Bernard O’Phelan, an Irish wine merchant from Tipperary. O’Phelan left his hometown of Tipperary and set sail for Bordeaux at the end of the 18th century to try his luck in Bordeaux. The city was an important trading hub at the time and enjoyed a particularly fruitful relationship with the British Isles. The town at this time was an important trading hub with the British Isles. O’Phelan met, then married one of the daughters of Daniel Guestier, a well-known merchant in the Bordeaux wine market in Gironde. This happy marriage allowed him to go from brokering to winemaking and put down (literal) roots in the region. and try his hand at producing his own wines.
Saint-Estèphe grape varieties and wine aromas
The diverse range of subsoils that make up the Saint-Estèphe terroir is responsible for the wine’s distinctive tastes. Well-drained gravel rises, and clay-limestone soils are mixed throughout the seven-kilometre region, which also benefits from residues of echinoderms and other marine fossils. If you have left your geology degree at home, this translates as; it works great for removing water. Additionally, as Saint-Espephevis the Médoc region’s most varied terroir, wines from here offer a broad variety of subtleties and plenty of character – some say which evoke the winemakers themselves.
Of the region’s 1,250 hectares of vines, the only red grape varieties of Saint-Estèphe are Cabernet Sauvignon (49.35%), Merlot (43.20%), plus smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc (4%) and Petit Verdot (3.20%). A tiny percentage of Cot (0.2%) and Carmenere (0.05%) is also grown.
But it is of course Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that are the region’s star players. These grapes have been particularly successful in working with the diversity of the soil and climatic conditions and prove time after time to deliver wines that are refined and elegant, with notes of blackcurrant, violet, mocha, vanilla, spices, and liquorice.
As Saint Estephe is one of the bigger regions in Medoc, there is a great deal of variety in its wines. Its two-star chateaux, Chateau Cos d’Estournel and Château Montrose produce equally beautiful yet totally different wine. While Cos d’Estournel offers some of the ripest and most exotic of the appellation. Montrose is more structured, powerful, denser and perhaps enjoys longer ageing. However, what both estates have in common is that the wines are never harsh – a criticism is often given when talking about Saint Estephe. We think differently; it’s not that the wines are harsh, it’s that they’re young. When left to mature, Saint Estephe wines are capable of delivering beautifully rich, concentrated and complex wines that burst with fresh blackberry, tobacco, cigar box, stone, and Asian spice.
Saint Estèphe facts for investors
- Château Ormes de Pez is a Cru Bourgeois property with a vast reputation and investment potential.
- Château Montrose, the appellation’s other Second Growth, is owned by Martin and Olivier Bouygues, the owners of French construction powerhouse Bouygues.
- Château Cos d’Estournel enjoys a reputation for exceptional performance every vintage.
7 Best Saint Estèphe investable wines
The all-important information for investors boils down to this: what Saint Estephe wine should I add to my portfolio? Here’s our list of the top seven to add to your portfolio right now.
Château Calon-Ségur is a favourite among French wine buffs. Despite “only” being a third growth in the 1855 classification, Calon-Ségur is considered one of the best in Bordeaux wines, with many believing one of the best in the world. The wine ages extremely well, and from an investment point of view, offer steady returns to the French wine collector. Great
scores: 96/100 from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, 95/100 from James Suckling, 93-96 from Wine Spectator, 18/20 from Jancis Robinson and 92/100 from Vinous.
2013 Cos d’Estournel
If there was ever a French wine that could be described by personality alone, Chateau Cos d’Estournel would be it. Purchased by Louis Gaspard d’Estournel in 1811, he chose to eschew 19th-century traditionalism by building a chateau that was the image of an Indian palace (complete with cultivated, English-style gardens). He also sold to clients direct (mostly in India) and was the first French wine to become popular in the east, thus earning him the nickname “the Maharajah of St. Estephe”. This 2013 is ripe right now: very, very impressive for the vintage with dark fruits and impressive spice and mineral undertones. Full body, chewy tannins and a long, long finish.
2016 Cos Labory
If good things come in small packages, then fine wine investors need to have Château Cos Labory on their radar. Because this intense, well-structured red wine ticks all the right boxes. A fifth growth appellation of just 18 hectares, Cos Labory has located within the hIn a nutshell, this Bordeaux bijou is the stuff of legends. In case you didn’t know, Cos Labory produces two wines: Château Cos Labory, and the second wine Le Charme de Cos Labory. Older (rarer) vintages of the latter can fetch similar prices to the château’s flagship wine when and where available.
Vindome is delighted to say that their Beginner Collection III is made up of 6 bottles of 2016 Château Cos Labory. This vintage was given the lofty score of 92/100 by Jane Anson of Decanter as well as an incredible drinking window up to 2040. This suggests excellent mid-long-term returns for those who like a slow and steady burner.
It is said that Chateau Haut Marbuzet owner Henri Duboscq defined his fine wines after women he (may or may not have) bedded. So one year would be “opulent and rich”, another might be “voluptuous and hedonistic”, while another, “silky and seductive”. “Show me a great man”, he is famously quoted as saying, “and I will show you the women who have made him”. Whether he was referring to himself or indeed his father Hervé, founder of the estate, we are unsure. This 2021 is still in its en primeur stage, so inventors should be quick if they want to get on this wine’s bandwagon. A great, juicy, ripe red berry-fruited wine that shows persistence and potential for great development over the next ten years.
2020 Marquis de Calon
Calon’s second wine, Marquis de Calon is every bit as good as its first. Described by Jed Dunnuk as “tasting more like a grand vin than a second”, Marquis manages to portray the very essence of the gravelly-clay soil that has made Calon one of the world’s favourite wines but has a different interpretation of the Calon terroir. This means that the Bordeaux red blend is predominantly Merlot (up to 75% in some vintages), very different from the 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot blend that makes up the first wine. This is mainly due to Calon’s superstar oenologist Éric Boissenot. Under his steerage, he has allowed Calon Ségur, and by extension Le Marquis de Calon, to better express the secrets of its unique terroir. Investors should be on the lookout for Marquis. With its reasonable price tag, famous sibling, easy drinkability, good ageing and excellent scores (a respectable 90+ for the past five years), we suspect demand will soon outstrip supply.
Let’s get one thing straight. Château Meyney is a good, if not great, wine. Part of the CA Grand Crus stable since 2004 and consulted by Hubert de Bouärd (of Château Angelus fame) since 2013, Meyney is turning into one of St. Estèphe’s most increasingly impressive wines. Its history dates back to the 17th century but it was only really after Credit Agricole’s (CA) purchase that the 51 hectare estate turned into something worth watching. Today, Meyney is one of the crown jewels of CA’s portfolio. The terroir is blessed by a layer of blue clay under the gravel and sand topsoil (similar to Petrus) which gives Meyney’s wines exceptional richness. 2020s vintage is already looking good – hugely concentrated, with a powerful grip, this is a great quality wine and should be long-lived, both in the cellar as well as in your investment portfolio.
Château Montrose is a relative baby in St. Estèphe. Production only began in 1815, yet the wine was already so good by 1855 that it was given a Second Growth status in the famous classification. Together with the “elite cores” (a geological term for the complex layering of Montrose’s terroir) of the soil, plus the estate’s faultless history, Château Montrose is worth considering. Add the careful management of owners Martin and Olivier Bouygues to this mix and you have a recipe for excellence. After the purchase of the estate in 2006, the Bouygues brothers invested a massive 55 million in renovation, hiring key personnel (including the directors of Mouton Rothschild and Haut Brion) and made environmentally conscious upgrades. Evidence of the renovation can be seen in the perfect 100 point 2009, a vintage which was named by auction house Christie’s as one of the “Five best Bordeaux vintages to own and collect”. The vineyard has been producing exceptional wine ever since, although it has yet to equal the heights of 2009. We expect great things from 2021.