St. Julien VS St. Estephe Tasting Comparison (1959 to 2000)

08-14-2015 St. Julien VS St. Estephe Tasting at Wine Watch, Ft. Lauderdale.

One of the great things about the wines of Bordeaux is their many diverse styles, even among close neighbors. Much of this diversity is not just due to differences in winemaking styles, but also the variations in terroir. It is pretty amazing to think that soil differences, slope elevation, or the relative proximity to the Gironde estuary can really create subtle differences among the wines. For this reason, we were intrigued to participate in a tasting that compared selected wines from two appellations of the Haut-Médoc, St. Julien and St. Estèphe. Within both appellations are some of the great wines of Bordeaux, many of which were showcased in the tasting, held at the Wine Watch Boutique in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And just to make it more fun and interesting, we decided to turn the tasting into a battle of sorts, with each appellation pitted against the other.


IMG_97631959 Château Montrose vs. Ducru-Beaucaillou…St. Julien vs. St. Estephe round 1. Starting with the Ducru, some thought there might be some TCA taint, but I didn’t detect any at all. Instead there was some brett (but not powerful) and lots of dusty aromas. Funky, medicinal, dried herbs, dusty old library books, but dark fruits struggling to stay alive. Amber-brown with still good concentration. Completely resolved tannins. We both liked it, but if even a hint of brett turns you off, don’t attempt this ’59 Ducru. The ’59 Montrose was still powerful and not at all austere (as some like to pigeonhole St. Estèphe). Nice garnet color and fragrant aromatics, with cassis, soy, leather, soil, and spice. Drinking quite well for a ’59, with a smoothness and beautifully balancing acidity. Impressive concentration and length on the finish. There is still lots of life left here. So the winner goes to St. Estèphe in round 1.


IMG_53441966 Château Talbot vs. 1975 Château Montrose…St. Julien vs. St. Estèphe round 2. It was interesting trying the ’66 Talbot a week after trying the ’64. The ’66 beats it in complexity and current drinkability. Dark and red fruits, truffled toast, leather, and old library book. Has a bright acidity, but the flaw in this wine is that it was a bit tart on the finish. Still an enjoyable mature claret that is probably on its final descent. The ’75 Montrose, on the other hand, did not impress much and lagged big-time behind the ’59. Cassis, leather, and green pepper. Still fairly tannic with high acidity. An austere wine that is not particularly anything to write home about. Round 2 goes to St. Julien.


IMG_53451982 Château Cos d’Estournel vs. Château Gruaud Larose…St. Julien vs. St. Estèphe round 3. The biggest smack-down of the evening. The room was divided on which was the ‘better’ wine. Starting with the Cos, this is more evolved aromatically than the Gruaud. Dark and red fruits, roasted meat, leather, brown spices, clove, damp soil, and green pepper. The aromatic complexity was matched on the palate. Impressive length on the finish with very silky tannins. Something tells me this won’t improve, but it’s currently at the top of its game. The Gruaud Larose (our WOTN) was simply awesome. Dark, concentrated and appearing young at times. Cassis, leathery, licorice, and spice. Mouth-filling, with silky but fairly prominent tannins. Impeccable balance. A stunner. St. Julien wins by a nose in round 3.


IMG_53461985 Château Gruaud Larose vs. 1989 Château Léoville Barton…both St. Julien, but round 4. ’85 Gruaud Larose had a great nose, one of the best of the flight (as long as a little brett doesn’t bother you). Cassis, hint of brett, olive, black tea, tobacco, anise, and green pepper. Not quite as impressive on the palate but a nice mature claret. In its drinking window. The ’89 Léoville Barton, while not as powerful as many other vintages of Barton, had a nose probably the equal of the Gruaud Larose (but younger with fewer tertiary elements). Dark fruits, blackberry, strong licorice, truffle, and mocha. Smooth drinking, and probably not yet at its peak. How much can it improve? We’ll see. The Léoville Barton probably wins by a nose.


IMG_53472000 Château Léoville Barton vs. Château Calon Ségur…St. Julien vs. St Estèphe round 5. Can two wines be any different? First of all, the Calon Segur was a 375ml, so it’s hard to really compare these two from an evolution standpoint. The 2000 Léoville Barton was similar to other recently tasted bottled…very young, lots of power and concentration, tannic, serious structure. The Calon Ségur was also very dark, with impressive concentration. Dark/red fruits, tobacco, sweet background oak (think butterscotch), and cocoa. Lush and well-balanced. Hard to call a winner here…but probably Barton due to its potential.


In the end, both appellations fared well and were pretty evenly matched. But this was all in good fun, and wine isn’t really about competitions; it’s about enjoyment and savoring every last sip. We would be happy to have any of these wines in our cellar…especially that 1982 Gruaud Larose.

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