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A guide to St-Estèphe

Our Bordeaux offers often make reference to the 'classic' styles of wines from the terroirs of Margaux, Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estephe, Pomerol, and St-Emilion. Not everyone is familiar with these, so, in advance of the Bordeaux 2022 En Primeur campaign, here are some handy guides to the classic terroirs in the region and how they express themselves in the finished wines, continuing here with St-Estèphe.

St-Estèphe is the most northerly of the four communes, as we are reminded each year when we visit and schedule our first appointment of the day there at 8am!  A little over an hour’s drive from Bordeaux, the Gironde estuary opens out here and the ‘marine’ influences on the climate are very noticeable.  Despite having 1236 hectares under vine, there were only five classed growths in the 1855 classification (Cos d’Estournel, Montrose, Calon-Ségur, Lafon-Rochet and Cos Labory).  Notably, Château Tronquoy-Lalande refused to be included in the Classification, but is generally seen as being of Cru Classé-quality.  For many years St-Estèphe was a poor relation to Pauillac, but quality has been increasing since the 1980s.

In the Gallo-Roman period, the area was known as ‘Callones’, after the small river skiffs or ‘Calons’ which were used to ferry timber across the river.  This name was later adopted by the Ségur family, who in turn leant their name to one of the communes most famous châteaux, Calon-Ségur.

Château Cos d'Estournel

St-Estèphe produces some of the most robust and structured wines in Bordeaux, thanks to its distinct terroir, which is the most varied in the Médoc.  While the other Haut-Médoc communes share common elements, what sets St-Estèphe apart is its wide variety of subsoils. The slopes and plateaux of St-Estèphe combine well-drained gravel with clay-limestone soils, in varying proportions depending on their location.  The limestone here is unique, Quaternary period "Saint-Estèphe" marine limestone, composed of echinoderms and other marine fossils, as well as characteristic local mollusc specimens.

Château Cos Labory, just across the road from Cos d'Estournel and now under the same ownership

Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape variet, just like in the other Haut-Médoc communes. However, St-Estèphe has a smaller proportion of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.  St-Estèphes are often described as having a muscular style, similar to Pauillac, with a firm structure and strong backbone of tannins.  What sets them apart is their distinctive minerality.  Tasting the new 2022 vintage from barrel in Bordeaux last week, we found one St-Estèphe after another that had mineral aromas and notes of crushed rock on the finish.  More than any other trait, this is what would have pointed to the origin of the wines in a blind tasting.

Crus Classés (5)

Château Cos d’Estournel | Château Montrose | Château Calon-Ségur | Château Lafon-Rochet | Château Cos Labory

Notable Cru Bourgeois

Château Le Boscq | Château Le Crock | Château Lilian Ladouys

Producer Profile

Tim Wood

Tim Wood has worked in the wine trade since 1995, with stints at well-known trade names including Corney & Barrow, Enotria and Mentzendorff.  After completing his WSET Diploma in 1999, he qualified as a WSET Educator in 2007 and completed the Stage I of the MW in 2018.  Tim joined Richard Kihl Ltd in 2018 and specializes in Burgundy.

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