In comparing the major Bordeaux wine appellations, it would be difficult to find more consistency than in Saint-Julien. Perhaps this is due to having over 90% of its vineyards owned by classified growth châteaux, but it is more likely due to the high quality of the producers found here. Located just south of the Pauillac appellation, Saint-Julien is the home to some of the most historic wine producers in Bordeaux, from Léoville Barton to Talbot and Ducru-Beaucaillou. The Saint-Julien châteaux consistently produce some of the best wines in Bordeaux in the stronger vintages, but some of the best wines of the Médoc are typically found here even in lesser vintages. And while there may not be a Latour or Lafite found here, the consistent excellence in Saint-Julien is unparalleled and is found nowhere else in the region.
We recently participated in a dinner that included vertical tastings of two excellent Saint-Julien properties, Château Beychevelle and Château Saint-Pierre. Both the wine styles and history of these properties are quite different, though both can claim significant improvements in their wines over the past decade. Situated at the southern end of Saint-Julien, Beychevelle is a large property that boasts both a classic old château and a new state-of-the-art winery. Classified as a fourth growth in the 1855 Médoc Classification, much of the improvements in their wines can be attributed to more strict selection of grapes to be included in their grand vin. Saint-Pierre is another fourth growth, but is situated on a much smaller property. Like Beychevelle, the wines have shown recent improvements and their facilities upgraded. While there are stylistic differences between the two estates, both wines exhibit a balance of power and elegance that is characteristic of Saint-Julien.
The dinner involved a vertical tasting of most of the important vintages from 2003 to 2010. A 2005 wine of another Saint-Julien producer, Château Branaire-Ducru, also found its way into the tasting. And finally, a number of dry and sweet Bordeaux white wines served as openers and closers to the evening. All in all, the wines showed well, but this tasting confirmed that these wines require a lot of aging. In fact, it could take well over a decade for most of these wines to reach their peak drinking potential. The tasting notes are all below.
2003 Beychevelle – As the oldest Beychevelle in the tasting, it was not surprising that this was the most generous and enjoyable. Didn’t show any of the heat of the vintage. A very balanced wine. The aromas were fresh black currant, pencil lead, tobacco, violets, earth, and some barnyard seasoning. Soft and silky on the palate, with refined tannins. This is entering a good spot, and while it hasn’t peaked yet, you can definitely open this now. Needs at least an hour of aeration to show its stuff. – 94/100
2005 Beychevelle – Started out very shy and reticent, but the aromas amplified after a couple of hours. The nose showed black currant, green pepper, espresso, herbs, cedar, and dark chocolate. Showing very young right now, as it’s pretty tight and tannic. This is a pretty powerful vintage of Beychevelle. Needs more time to unwind. – 92/100
2007 Beychevelle – Yes, these 2007s are early drinkers, but this was clearly a step below the stronger vintages. The aromatics were fine, and kept things interesting. But this lacked the concentration and depth of the other wines. I would drink this sooner rather than later, as it will eventually dry out as the fruit fades. – 88/100
2009 Beychevelle – One of my favorite wines of the night. With two hours of air, this just blossomed. Very fruit-forward, but has already started to develop its interesting tertiary elements. Packed with concentrated fruit and a serious backbone. It’s amazing how much more open and accessible the 2009 is than the 2010. This is already starting to enter its early drinking window, but this still won’t peak for a very long time. If your preference is for more mature Bordeaux, however, I would still give this ten more years. – 93/100
2010 Beychevelle – Unlike the 2009 Beychevelle, this was very tight and not ready for drinking. It’s clearly not showing much right now. This needs a long time to unwind, and will need well over a decade to enter its prime drinking window. – 93/100
2003 St. Pierre Lighter than the 2003 Beychevelle, with a medium ruby color. The nose was very Burgundian, almost reminiscent of a Gevrey-Chambertin. It was all red cherry, spice, paper, and cigar tobacco. Fruit showed good purity. Had a nice elegant weight on the palate, but lacked some concentration. A straightforward finish with fresh acidity. A low sweetness factor. Very accessible, and likely getting close to its peak, but I’m a bit curious to see where this goes. – 91/100
2003 St. Pierre – Very dark color. The nose was mostly dark fruits and oaky elements. I liked this, but it just never kicked it into high gear. Needs a lot more time to shed its oak. Should develop nicely, but I would give this at least five years in the cellar. – 92/100
2007 St. Pierre – Similar to the 2007 Beychevelle, this wasn’t as deep and complex as the stronger vintages at the tasting. It’s enjoyable nonetheless, but this is an early drinker. These should probably be opened within the next decade. – 89/100
2009 St. Pierre Like the 2009 Beychevelle, this was also surprisingly very accessible. Dark fruits, vanilla, spice, and cigar tobacco on the nose. Deep concentration and very layered. Fruit-forward and sweet on the palate. Nicely structured with soft, round tannins. Needs more time to enter its prime drinking window (though it is accessible now), but this was an impressive wine. – 94/100
2010 St. Pierre – This is nowhere near ready for business. It has the stuffing to blossom into a really nice wine. Good complexity overall. The aromas are very dark and layered, with black currant, blackberry, cigar box, dark chocolate, spice, and vanilla. Tough and tannic on the palate. – 94/100
2005 Branaire-Ducru – A really nice showing for a consistent wine. This is always so approachable. The fruit is a very pure black currant and blackberry. The others aromas were very classic left bank, with pencil lead, cedar, and tobacco. A focused wine. Very fresh and finessed on the palate. Really nice balance. Excellent length on the finish with no heat and beautifully balanced acidity. – 94/100