Right at the top of the Médoc is the sometimes desolate beauty of St Estèphe. I love it. I love the drive, all the way up the D2, to the tip of classed-growth Bordeaux. As you pass Lafite on your left, Cos d’Estournel appears, looking down on Pauillac. Turn right just after Cos and take the level crossing as fast as you dare (it’s a rental car, after all) and Château Le Crock – quite a place to look at – appears on your right and then, unless you’re going to Montrose, you get lost. Just how do you get to Calon-Ségur again? And Lafon-Rochet? Look across the Gironde to the power station and, much as the water is as monkey brown as a pair of shoes, the sheer volume of water gets you thinking. It is a peaceful place.
As I get older I like the wines of St Estèphe more than I used to. I don’t know if that’s something to do with my palate, or something to do with better quality wines. Or maybe it’s this: St Estèphe has character, and there is a Cistercian austerity to that character. I like Cistercian; I like simplicity; I like purity; I like character.
The wines: Cos d’Estournel is now very much back in the groove of making classic St Estèphe, making a wine that tastes as people expect it to taste (this is not to denigrate Cos from 2005-2010 – it’s just the way I see it). Calon-Ségur was the highest scoring St Estèphe for my peers, who also rated Montrose higher than I did. My scores are a bit erratic for the appellation as a whole and looking back at my barrel notes I was equally confused back in April 2013.
If you ask me which 2012 St Estèphe I would buy, though, the answer would be, quicker than you can say “knife”: Capbern-Gasqueton, which I scored 16 and will set you back £125 per dozen in bond. It has character, purity and soul. Meyney also impressed. These two, plus Phélan-Ségur, are the bargains of the vintage.
2012 Cos d’Estournel (17)
Clean on the nose, which offers a hint that there is more to come. This is rich and plump in the mouth – there is a lot here. This is punchy, full and rich yet still classically claret-like on the mouth. A richesse to it, yet a touch of St Estèphe austerity. This is rather good. Cos?
2012 Calon-Ségur (16)
Some depth here on the nose. A little closed. In the mouth there is sweet, chunky fruit; some richesse. Sweet fruit again. Soft cushions. This is light on its feet, and rather good. Lifted.
2012 Phelan-Ségur (16.5)
Another rather classy, fragrant nose. In the mouth this is pure and lifted. Clean and fresh, with grainy tannins. This is clean, fresh, and rather good. Proper wine.
2012 Meyney (16)
Fresh and rather austere on the nose. And fresh, pure, fruit in the mouth. Clean, pure, proper, with a hint of punchy fruit at the end. Almost ready to go.
2012 Montrose (16)
Some chocca weight on the nose here. Creamy. And this follows in what seems a rather worked mouth. Extracted. The tannins are a little on the harsh side, and this isn’t much fun today but there is substance to this.