St Emilion Now and Zen: reflections on a 2000 horizontal and a vertical of the premiers in 2005

Another blast from the past! I am listening to Since I’ve Been Loving You from the BBC album of Led Zeppelin. Could it be that some older vintages of Bordeaux do reveal a certain zen like quality? Perhaps not. In any case, notes below from two interesting tastings in June 2005 of all the premiers grands crus from St Emilion save Ausone. The first was a 2000 horizontal, held in Strasbourg;  the second a vertical of the same estates.

Click here for my original tasting notes from 2005…

Comparing top Saint Emilion classed growths from the much-ballyhooed 2000 vintage with the same wines from older vintages, one could understand why such wines are officially recognized as premier grand cru classés from the famous Right Bank Bordeaux appellation.

Two tastings in June 2005 show that despite the espoused formula today of lower yields, ripe (some would say ultra-ripe) fruit, almost systematic leaf clearing in the vineyard, higher albeit much more controlled tannin extraction in the vat room, and the extensive use of new oak, a very pleasurable experience of tasting older vintages of these classic non garage wines – when they were never that rich when young – revealed the high and long lasting quality coming from the established terroir of these top wines, whose higher relative acidity of yesteryear gives them a freshness lacking in some of today’s blockbusters known as garage wines.

The vertical came from a grand dinner and tasting of the Groupement de Premiers Grands Crus Classes de Saint Emilon on June 21 2005 at Chateau La Gaffeliere.

The Groupement des premiers grands crus of Saint Emilion really knows how to throw a prestige dinner. During Vinexpo this year, Chateau La Gaffeliere hosted a feast for journalists featuring classic vintages from the top classed growths of Saint Emilion. It was the second dinner in a row at Chateau La Gaffeliere – where a similar dinner planned during the 2003 Vinexpo was sadly washed out by a hailstorm that destroyed the elegant outdoor table settings and resulted in one of the most lavish wine and cheese tastings ever. in the underground cellar of the chateau! Vintages such as 1961 Figeac, 1964 Belair and 1989 Angelus provided great pleasure indeed. But everything worked according to plan for the black-tie donning journalists and other guests this year, who enjoyed a feast of millefeuille of foie gras with summer truffles, Bordeaux lamprey, faux filet of beef and fine cheeses such as Saint-Nectaire, comté and old gouda before savoring refreshing raspberries with marscarpone and other treats.

Official blind tasting of the same wines from the 2000 vintage at a private home in Strasbourg with an international jury of tasters on June 5.

Groupement spokeswoman Karine Devilder generously sent me bottles of these wines from the 2000 vintage, sampled by 12 international tasters, including Emile Jung of the Michelin-rated restaurant “Au Crocodile”, Laurence Faller, the well-known winemaker at Domain Weinbach in Alsace, Charles Johnson, judge at the Atlanta International Wine Tasting, and Francois Mauss, president of the European Grand Jury – as well as Europe-based members of the Mark Squires Wine Bulletin Board, based on Robert Parker’s website.

The tasting of the 2000s was conducted double blind in that participants did not know that the wines came from the Groupement but did know the theme: high-end Right Bank Bordeaux. At the end of the tasting, before the identity of the bottles was revealed, tasters were asked to raise their hands for each wine that would fall into their “top three” category, with some surprising results. Wines listed in the order of the tasting, with rankings identified at the end of each of my tasting notes. Because I knew the identity of the wines, I did not vote. The notes below are paired with the older vintages enjoyed at the Bordeaux dinner.

Wines in bold I liked, in red and bold even more and when underlined, I adored.

PAVIE 1998 – Saint-Emilion

A somewhat hot nose with strong toast notes indicating a dominance of oak-derived aromas preceded a very powerful and full-bodied palate with what seemed to be overly extracted tannins. A wine that seemed to lack enough fruit to match the tannin, with a somewhat dry finish. Perhaps simply too young?  

PAVIE 2000 – Saint-Emilion

More oak than fruit but very pure and ripe red cherry precedes a full bodied texture and somewhat jammy richness. Finish is intense and long, but I get the feeling of it being a bit too much for my taste… Though two people liked this wine, including Emile Jung, some found it “hard and austere” while others “lacking in acidity”.

” 2 votes out of 12″ for the 2000 in Strasbourg

BEAU-SEJOUR BECOT 1990 – Saint-Emilion

A nose that exuded an almost citrus freshness, even ripe red apple intermixed with dark berry fruit and hints of leather and spice. The finish was just a bit warm, suggesting slight imbalance, with the alcohol making itself present. Otherwise, a refreshing wine with a smooth texture and a long finish.  

BEAU-SEJOUR BECOT 2000 – Saint-Emilion

I sympathized with the verdict during this tasting: the nose was milk chocolate, plum and some spice and the palate was ever so smooth, rich and structured with more plum notes and some blueberry. I thought it had a very nice finish if a tad heavy. Some participants noted flower aromas and good underlying acidity. Most picked this as the top wine of the blind tasting! “9 votes out of 12”

ANGELUS 1993 – Saint-Emilion

A dark color and a wine tasting rather young for its 12 years. Very blackberry marmalade on the nose, with a rich and ultra-ripe fruity texture, though sadly just slightly corked. Still, a very fine effort from a difficult vintage.  

ANGELUS 2000 – Saint-Emilion

Rather dark color with intense dark cherry and toasted aromas and flavors similar to Pavie. Full bodied, almost New World but a bit alcoholic. Finish was impressive however. I really liked this wine. One participant noted a “very tannic wine that one can chew. ” 3 votes out of 12″ (my subsequent tastings of this vintage reveal that it may not turn out as good as the 1998, which to me seems more balanced)

CLOS FOURTET 1988 – Saint-Emilion

Pure cherry aromas, pleasingly sour, preceded a very pronounced red cherry flavor in the mouth, though the texture was not as full as one would have liked, perhaps a sign of the vintage. A crisp and elegant wine.  

CLOS FOURTET 2000 – Saint-Emilion

This was among my top wines of the tasting. Lovely nose, with sharp flavors of bitter chocolate and red cherry also on the palate. Not as rich as Pavie or Angelus but seemed to show more balance at this stage. A pleasingly long finish! “5 votes out of 12”


A subtle nose of plum and some spice, but not very expressive. The mouth was richer and more giving than the nose, indeed very full bodied with pleasant dark fruit flavors and chocolate. Full-bodied and long.  


Nose more muted, palate with thicker fruit of plum and cherry. This wine showed greater extraction than the Belair and one participant noted a “broad aromatic palate.” I found greater power in style, though just slightly hard on the palate with a relatively short finish. Still, it was among the most popular wines of the tasting – and did show better the next day. “5 votes out of 12”

CANON 1975 – Saint-Emilion

Mineral-like with hints of licorice and dry fruit on the nose, preceding a linear and focused palate, again tasting of fresh earth and minerals and a smooth texture. Sneaky persistence and very pleasurable!  

CANON 2000 – Saint-Emilion

This wine was unfortunately corked but tasted at the chateau in April during the en primeur season, the 2000 was rather muted and subtle in its pure cherry aromas and very smooth on the palate, with a long finish but far from open at this stage.

MAGDELEINE 1989 – Saint-Emilion

A very fresh nose of violets and cinnamon, but also iodé, or iodized, on the palate, making it a perfect match for the lamproie a la bordelaise. A well-balanced wine, juggling fruit and floral flavors and aromas with both freshness and weight. A long finish.  

MAGDELEINE 2000 – Saint-Emilion

Hints of blackberry and earth on the nose, but it was a bit hard on the palate. Nice structure but needed time to open. Though one participant thought is lacked acidity, I found that some wine leftover the next morning showed much better, with fuller fruit flavors in the mouth and a hint of dark chocolate. No votes.

FIGEAC 1959 – Saint-Emilion (magnum)

What an impressive almost Medoc-like cigar box nose! Coming from a magnum, this wine tasted relatively young, with a rich palate of mint, leather and spice, and a very full-bodied texture, showing its aged Cabernet component very well. A long finish with a pronounced mentholated accent, and, for me, the wine of the night. Owner Manoncourt later said that at Figeac, malolactic fermentation was mastered as early as 1950, so that the chateau was able to limit volatile acidity even in the pre-1961 era. He did not need to convince anyone of the aging ability of his wine!  

FIGEAC 2000 – Saint-Emilion

A lovely red color with a caramel, toast and strawberry nose preceding a fresh mouth of licorice and bitter cherry. Body is tight but slowly giving, with more cherry and especially on the palate, licorice notes. As one participant noted, “the Cab component is rather clear.” 1 vote out of 12″

BELAIR 1983 – Saint-Emilion

Coming from a double magnum, a spicy nose at first of clove but then menthol and white flowers, with a very refreshing and fruity palate with hints of black chocolate and a round and smooth texture. Tannins are very well integrated and later smells of tobacco. A good match for the rich faux filet de boeuf charolais!  

BELAIR 2000 – Saint-Emilion

A very big difference in style… I liked the nose, which I found very complex, mixing gingerbread and ripe raspberry and blackberry fruits. For some, it seemed rather too light on its feet on the palate in comparison to the other wines, but this wine is known to need time before being fully ready. “1 vote out of 12”

LA GAFFELIERE 1961 – Saint-Emilion

Also served with the meat, this wine showed a very dark color for its age – served from just a normal sized bottle (!) – with a somewhat wet earth nose. Time in the glass opened it up to some leather and truffle notes. The mouth was a complex mix of fig, truffle and some spice, though marked by volatile acidity on the finish.  

LA GAFFELIERE 2000 – Saint-Emilion

Not so dark a color and indeed another style from the above. More subtle and very nicely structured with, again, cherry notes and again toast, but not nearly as rich. An Indian Tonic flavor on the finish, but a bit hot on the back end. No votes.

TROTTEVIEILLE 1990 – Saint-Emilion

A pronounced animal and mushroom nose that was not very agreeable to me at least – though some enjoyed this wine. I preferred the palate, which had body and texture – even a good edge to it – though the finish was short.  

TROTTEVIEILLE 2000 – Saint-Emilion

A coconut nose (oak?) with some blueberry and blackberry fruit aromas as well as on the palate – which is, I wrote, “edgy” with acidity. Time in glass (about 15 minutes) allowed this wine to fill out a bit leaving an impression of balance. Good finish, though some found it rather simple! No votes.

CHEVAL BLANC 1982 – Saint-Emilion

Having tasted this for the second time in two years – also at Chateau La Gaffeliere, in 2003, when it was thoroughly closed – I am convinced that it is (still) a sleeping beauty. Just not ready for drinking yet, in my opinion! A complex nose of cherry and smooth tobacco preceded a slightly closed and discrete palate with the same flavors, though the fruit was more pronounced. A cigar box finish but again not overly expressive.  

CHEVAL BLANC 2000 – Saint-Emilion

This wine, somewhat like the Figeac, was closed in comparison to the others, and this is no doubt due to its superior Cabernet component. Still, I found a minty freshness in the mouth with some oak notes that were pleasing – just not as exuberant as many of the other wines. Time in the glass however revealed a silky complexity that made this wine truly lovely, with a very long finish. One participant also exuberantly noted “an espresso nose. and what an espresso! ” 6 out of 12 votes”

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