My heart is at Calon

The news is that Ch. Calon-Segur in St Estephe has been sold.  The new owners are an insurance company called Suravenir.  This might sound unromantic but Pichon-Baron, Quinta do Noval and Domaine de l’Arlot (and more) all seem to do quite well under the ownership of Axa so one hopes that the property has a good future ahead of it.  Rumours of the sale started a few weeks back, and made perfect sense following the death of Denise Capbern-Gasqueton, the occasionally frightening but genuinely charming owner of the property, in September 2011.  That she died as the 2011 harvest began is a sad chime of the clock; that 2011 Calon-Segur is one of the few successes in a mediocre vintage is fitting.

I have a soft spot for Calon-Segur.  The 2000 was the first wine I ever tasted from cask and I can still remember the wine leaping from the glass.  I had a lucky start with the vintage though this bouncing freshness remained a key factor in what I love about the wine itself every year.  I still have a few magnums left of the brilliant 2003, which again was bouncing from the glass despite the odd year, and the 2009 was idiosyncratic for the year in that it is one of a few 2009s that doesn’t taste fat.

The chateau and its environs are reflective of the wine: there is no bling in St Estephe once you’re north of Cos d’Estournel.  There is a Cistercian peace and simplicity in the surroundings and, whilst “Cistercian” is the word that came to me in trying to describe 2011 Ch. Latour, it does seem more fitting here.  Think simple beauty.  No make up.

To make wine in a style that suits you rather than somebody else can be a brave decision, particularly if you are making classed growth Bordeaux.  I speculate that this is what Madame Capbern-Gasqueton and her team did.  Whilst Calon-Segur more often than not scores 90+ from Mister Parker, it never tastes like it was crafted with even the possibility of the existence of his palate in mind.  In 2009, a vintage that Mr Parker will “own” in the same way that he “owns” 1982, nearly all of the Merlot was ditched from the blend (in most years Calon-Segur is just under a third Merlot, the 2009 is just 7%).  The reasoning: the Merlot in 2009 was “impressive but not very interesting”.  At Calon-Segur they chose not to make a big, ripe, fruit-bomb blockbuster; they chose to make Calon-Segur instead.  The wine scores 94+ with Big Bob and sells for £600 a case; I wonder if it would have been 97 and £1,000 if they’d kept the Merlot.  This is pure speculation on my part but that the decision was a brave one is clear as far as I’m concerned.

My note on the 2009:

“I love the simplicity here.  The purity of the wine reflected in the surroundings or vice-versa.  Not the best glass (by which I mean the tool itself) but clean, pure and Calon on the nose.  Lovely sweet ripe fruit in the mouth with a typical Calon freshness and minerality underneath.  Totally unforced and quite, quite, lovely.  Fresh.  Balance.  Nothing out of place.  Long and lovely.  I want to drink this.  Perfect.”

And the 2011:

“78CS, 20M, 2PV.  Vincent Millet on crutches.  This is clean and fresh and there is clearly some quality here.  And again in the mouth.  This is rather good, as you would expect.  Weight.  Freshness and fruit.  Maybe a tiny bit of pinch in the middle but the fruit overcomes it and it finishes well.  Good wine.”