St Emilion Grand Cru Classe ’07 vs ’08

I went to a trade tasting last week for the wines of St. Emilion featuring their Grand Cru Classes. St. Emilion unlike the Left Bank of Bordeaux, which has only ever classified their wines once, back in 1855, re-classifies their wines every 10 years. This in and of itself is quite interesting because there can be no resting on your laurels here. The winemakers can’t afford to be lackadaisical in their approach as they might lose their classification. The next classification of the Right Bank is in 2012. I’ll be watching with interest.

The Right Bank, where St. Emilion is located, make wines that are more heavily made up of merlot, some are even 100% merlot although those seem to be in the minority, most having cabernet sauvignon and/or cabernet franc as well as petite verdot in the blend. I find the wines from the Right Bank to be softer in general then the Medoc or Left Bank. The tasting I attended was sponsored by the Association of Grands Crus Classes of St. Emilion and encompassed only the estates that are included in the Grand Cru Classe and Premier Cru Classe. St. Emilion has two appellations, St. Emilion and Saint Emilion Grand Cru, the wines we were the wines we were tasting today, we from St. Emilion Grand Cru and not the wines from St. Emilion. Confusing, eh?  The most important thing you need to remember is that the Grand Cru wines are generally the best of St. Emilion.

On hand, we were comparing the 2007 vintage to the 2008. 2007 was a difficult year, lots of rain early in the vintage which encouraged harmful diseases, uneven ripening because of the bad weather and loss of crops were all problems in ’07. The autumn turned out to be nice and sunny and the wines have turned out ripe and balanced. Even though they are young, they’re drinking quite well. One of the gems of the tasting was the Ch. Tour Figeac 07, beautiful, aromatic nose, full of ripe, sweet red fruits and red licorice, a soft and supple wine, very lush, a delight to drink. Everyone gathered around this stand was oohing and ahhing round that one. Many of the other ’07’s exhibited that same soft and supple quality and were drinking excellently now. I don’t think there’s any need to wait the ’07’s, you can drink them now.

2008 on the other hand, a completely different story. A bad spring with frost caused many to lose large parts of their crops, mildew was again a problem and June was very wet. Due to all these issues, the crops were greatly reduced but by nature only so there was still much hope for the 2008 harvest. The rest of the summer was nice and warm however and in the end, a mild autumn allowed the grapes to ripen over a very long harvesting season, one of the longest and latest in living memory.

The result, wines with structure, depth and intensity. The berries that survived have beautiful acidity and tannic structure and these wines are only beginning, they have great aging potential. The ’07’s may be ready to drink now but the ’08’s are just starting out, very savoury and still quite closed. These wines should be very good in a few more years. Ch. Bellevue a definite favourite, spicy nose, sweet and good fruit coming through with nice meaty qualities on the palate. A good example of the ’08 vintage. So there you have it, drink 2007 St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe now but hold off on the 2008’s.

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