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Château Cos d’Estournel Dinner with Aymeric de Gironde
|Date:||18th June 2014|
|Venue:||The Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong|
DINNER REVIEW © Linden Wilkie
DINNER REVIEW © Linden Wilkie
Aymeric de Gironde, the fresh faced fresh face at Château Cos d’Estournel got a plane from Bordeaux to Paris, connected to Hong Kong, arrived at HKG an hour and a half before dinner, yet managed to join us on time, immaculate in a fine tailored suit and silk knit tie, and completely at ease. He was joined by other Fine Wine Experience guests who had flown in especially from Singapore and Mumbai, amongst other places.
It would be lovely to think it was our intense charisma or charm that was the draw, or the sight of the sunset glow over the IFC/ICC twin towers that framed Victoria harbor from our panoramic Grand Hyatt view, but I think the opening of three centuries of Cos over one dinner might also have been a factor. There was electricity in the room, and when the older wines were poured, the chit chat and buzzed turned to complete silence. What we found, in the end, was one of the strongest verticals I have yet experienced, to an extent that surprised me.
Almost a year in the planning, we had gathered some special bottles, and the château had kindly pledged others direct from their cellar, but we were still hopeful of something really quite special turning up. No sooner had we been discussing that point with the chateau in late 2013, than Sotheby’s announced a sale that included a bottle of the 1870 with ‘impeccable provenance’. Well, there you go. £3290 later and it was ours and we were ready.
Cos – lying at the southern end of St.-Estèphe, just north of Lafite – was created from an agglomeration of neighboring parcels in the early 19th by the flamboyant Louis Gaspard d’Estournel. In response to the strikingly individual ‘Oriental’ style of his chai, with its pagodas and elephant symbol, reinforced by his entertaining with bottles of Cos ‘returned from India’, he was known as the “Maharajah of Saint-Estèphe”. I like the sound of him. Those parties must have been a sensation in what must otherwise have been one of the sleepiest parts of France. His efforts – and the quality of the terroir – ensured that both Cos (alongside Montrose) stood at the top of the St.-Estèphe hierarchy two years after his death – ranking ‘2nd growth’ in the 1855 classification. To this day, while the classification has only been amended once (an elevation for Mouton in 1973) – Cos has sat at the top of the seconds – a “super second” along with the likes of the Pichons, Ducru, Léovilles, and so on.
The 54 hectare vineyard estate sits intact, as d’Estournel had completed it – a little hillock separating two gentle slopes. 60% is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon on deep gravelly soil. 40% - a high proportion for the Médoc – is planted to Merlot. Historically this may have been a hedge against the risk of not fully ripening the later developing Cabernet in so north a stretch of the Médoc, but the sheer fleshiness it gives Cos is surely too part of the signature of the estate. As Aymeric pointed out, it is very well suited to a line of clay in the vineyard.
It is with that fleshiness in mind that by about two thirds of the way through the event I began to wonder if I had seriously misunderstood Cos these past few years. I have, for as long as I can remember, not been too keen on young vintages of Cos. I have thought they were way too alcoholic, too fleshy, too oaky, and some just simply monstrous. In a horizontal line ups of primeurs barrel samples, or freshly bottled vintages, they would stand out in the same way Pavie does in St.-Emilion. Absolutely not my taste. I want fruit – and lots and lots of fruit is fine too – so long as there is poise and a bit of grace and charm to frame the package. The palate should flow. At Cos, in the past decade or so, I had felt it didn’t. Patience, and time in the cellar, sorts out these arguments in the end, because while we taste young vintages, we don’t drink them. We wait to see them open up.
We tasted the 2005 and 2003 at our leisure prior to sitting down to dinner. Most of the trepidation I had harbored about these Cos vintages evaporated immediately I tasted them. 2005 had been such a textbook vintage that only a fool would have made anything less than brilliant wine at a vineyard like Cos, and the 2005 Cos is superb. The test of the terroir (and the handling of the vintage) was not 2005, but 2003. No amount of careful canopy management, or anaerobic and cool temperature control handling in the winery could have compensated for the scorching heat of that vintage. As Ayermic pointed out – it wasn’t so much the hot days, but the hot nights that were the problem. Vines got no respite, and without water, many vines shut down. The 2003 Cos is decadent, for sure, but what impressed me was the level of freshness also in the wine, and the feeling of balance and harmony. In ’03, this could only be preserved if was found in the soil, it could not be manipulated.
This sat in the back of my mind as we tasted back and forth through the decades. Cos sat at ease with the jumble I made of its narrative – bracketing vintages into flights that had more to ask about vintage styles than chronology. What, I had wondered, might we see in the leafier side of Cos by tasting ’00, ’96, and ’85 together, and what of its grand classicism by grouping ’61, ’49 and ’70 together? (1870!) How about the firm, more highly structured years, like ’95, ’86, ’55 or ’28?
For so many fine wines, leaping back and forth through the decades like that would be jarring. With Cos last night it wasn’t. While the 2005 was still – as to be expected – fairly closed and primary, everything from 2003 back to 1928 was still vibrantly fruity, showing freshness and suppleness, yet the stamp of each vintage was also there to see. It was something of a Cos epiphany. I had not clicked to this before, including the last time I hosted a vertical in London, back to the ’28. Perhaps it is something in that combination of aristocratic, intense and sinewy northern Médoc Cabernet, and the plush and softening effect of that much Merlot in the blend, that gives Cos this exceptionally long drinking window? There was no doubting the through line of expression that covered all those decades represented at our table – sometimes a little more on the leafy side (’96, ’85, ‘53), sometimes more on the spicy side (’03, ’90, ’82), but always (at least in our ‘highlights tour’ of top years) generously fruity.
It’s left me wondering if I might be proved wrong – in time – about some of the super-scaled wines of the last decade. I hope so. I’m already confident about the trajectory the ’03 and ’05 are showing. If Aymeric and his team turn the dial back from 11 to, say, 9, I think they might find (to my taste anyway) their sweet spot. The vineyard clearly gives it without too much pushing. In any case, after this showing of 15 vintages spanning three centuries, there is no doubting the quality of this estate.
We began the evening with a glass of Michel Reybier’s Champagne, which is citrusy and intense, emphasizing roundness and fullness of fruit. It’s good. The tiny production (10,000 bottles initially, but set to rise to 100,000 – which is still boutique by Champagne standards), and a focus on quality, will ensure this will be a fairly expensive bottle on the market.
Then on to Cos – the ’03 and ’05 before the first course, and then the other 13 vintages divided into flights with modern European style courses to match. The one piece of homework for participants was to vote at the end. 16 participants were asked to cast two unranked votes for their top two wines of the night. The 32 votes are detailed under each wine voted for below.
2003 Château Cos d’Estournel
Fairly transparent, a deep velvet garnet and with bricking at the rim, a healthy colour; sweet and fragrant with singed/confit dark fruit, very Médoc, very ripe, but there is an impressive freshness here too, dried roses and a hint of musk – it is an inviting aroma, now quite open; a fruit-laden palate, plush and mouth-coating, it is fleshy and ample in style, but there is good, natural feeling acidity too, impressive length of flavor and finish. There’s good depth of tannin and fruit, and the balance feels right. Delicious already but I predict this will age very well – which puts it in that top minority of ‘03s. 95+
2005 Château Cos d’Estournel
A lovely bright clear ruby/garnet, still a fresh colour though the opacity has dropped a little – now semi-clear; sweet cassis and plummy nose, very fresh and perfectly ripe, initially there was quite a strong whiff of toasty oak which sat out as a little cloying in the otherwise quite pure aromas, but after two hours in the glass this had settled in, and did not jar the senses going back to it after tasting many older vintages; fleshy, concentrated, and still very youthful, composed decadence, a layered feeling, florals on the finish. There is great material here. The oak chokes things up a little and will possibly always feature, but there is terrific quality of fruit and there is sufficient flow to the wine on the palate. Potentially outstanding. Not yet ready to start broaching the case. 95+
2000 Château Cos d’Estournel
Still a deep glossy ruby, semi-transparent; sweet fruit on the nose, some exotic and enticing notes, a touch of olive tapenade, toasty oak notes, sweet, fresh and youthful still, but beginning to open up aromatically, pleasantly expressive; sweet dark fruit on the palate, in contrast to the decadent ’03 and the statuesque ’05, I really admired the relative prettiness of the ’00, it showed some subtlety. Long finish. This is really lovely now – just coming into its drinking window. 95
1996 Château Cos d’Estournel
Fine clear garnet, semi-clear with a graduated bricky rim; sweet nose, bright, lifted aromatics with a distinctly herbal tone, which is cool and vegetal in a sweet pea sort of way, touch of coffee bean; good concentration on the palate, though it is a step back on the throttle after the ’00, ’03 and ’05, quite classic, very distinctively leafy in expression, but there is very good fruit in support and the overall effect is quite food-demanding and morish. Great with the duck and root vegetable course served with it. 93
1985 Château Cos d’Estournel
A noticeable step back in time, and shift in style, but the Cos expression is identifiably there. Fine garnet colour with bricky rim, an open and ready appearance; sweet, quite aromatic nose, just-ripe, cool, with a leafy, mulchy element that is more subdued than the ’96 but perhaps greener still; really lovely on the palate, open and fragrant with a nice line as well as mid-palate softness and fruitiness. Leafy and currant. Supremely satisfying and easy to drink, I noted that its that classic sort of claret you could polish off a magnum of over lunch and not realize you done it. Fully mature, but very healthy, no rush. 92
1961 Château Cos d’Estournel
Lovely bright clear garnet; fragrant nose, medicinal – sweet and spicy, dried roses and earth, there is a gentle but persistent intensity on the nose, which opened up over an hour or so in the glass. By the time I finished it I noted cigar tobacco – this has a really attractive ’61 nose; sweet attack, initially I thought this might be creaking a little, with a slightly rusty iodine edge to the tannins, but it really cleared up nicely with a bit more air in the glass. The ’61 concentation is there – not to a Latour ’61 extent, but there is very good intensity, and a singed biscuity sweetness and ripeness to it. Velvety Cos. No rush, drinking superbly well. 95
5 votes. 4th place.
1949 Château Cos d’Estournel
Fine, clear, bright appearance, so limpid and healthy, bricked right through, fully transparent; initially some VA lift and awkwardness, along with a whiff of porcini, and I worried a little that it might be heading over. The palate too had a touch of porcini. But after 15 minutes or so in the glass, the fruit and the perfume were asserting themselves. This was the most ethereally perfumed Cos of the night – supreme fruit, concentration, combined with elegance and flow. Totally seamless, with a beguiling floral edge. I closed my eyes and tried to find a parallel wine experience – what came to mind were fine grand cru Burgundies of a similar age. This ’49 is now all fragrance and silkiness. A very great bottle of Cos. 98
7 votes. 1st place. (One of my two votes included).
1870 Château Cos d’Estournel
Original, beautiful, hand-blown bottle, recorked at the chateau in 1988.
Clear, but still deep, and still holding very good colour at the core, a few flakes of sediment, despite decanting, a lighter rim with a distinctly olive-green tint suggesting a little oxidation, or madeirisation (and, I suppose to be fair, just sheer age!), but the appearance is promisingly clear and limpid – there is no haze, bloom, or cloudiness marring it; the nose is sweet in a positive sort of way, no acetification, notes of toffee and overripe banana / banana cake denote some oxidation or madeirisation, but they have not knocked it over. Notes too of earth and dark chocolate – there is complexity; sweet on the palate, there is fruit here still, though notes of toffee and molasses compete for it, texture of concentration, good acidity, and fine, classic, still slightly grippy ripe tannins mark out the shape of what would certainly have been a formidable Cos in its youth. Not a Peter Pan bottle in the way some clarets of this age I have tasted have been, but no excuses required either – still a positive drinking experience, and a rare privilege to partake, paid for or not. 90
1995 Château Cos d’Estournel
Deep garnet, semi-opaque still; toasty oak notes on a sweet, fruity nose, lovely freshness, notes of leather, touch of earth; lovely fruit, flesh and fragrance, ample richness and concentration, there is some inertia here in the mid-palate, coffee grounds, toasty oak notes, good fruit, a touch of leafiness denoting some fragrance beginning to come through, but this is still quite sleepy. Good acidity. The parts are all there. A little four square. Well stuffed though. Miles behind the ’96 now in evolution. Leave this one in the cellar still. 92+
1986 Château Cos d’Estournel
The first bottle was a bit oxidized, so we opened another. That was popped, decanted and poured immediately, so it was a little stunned and took time to pen up in the glass. But it was immediately fresh in expression, and quite attractive. Clear garnet, still a good depth of colour. Floral and quite spicy on the nose – more Cabernet in expression than is typical for Cos. Great vitality bursting from the glass. Attractively savoury – it got stuck right into the wagyu beef sirloin, the intensity and the fine acid cut dealt with the fattiness of the beef very well. 93
1955 Château Cos d’Estournel
Fine clear garnet with a broad bricky rim; a sweet nose, a touch of onion jam and toasted sesame; sweet fruit on the palate, good concentration, really quite especially fresh in expression, gently leafy – turning to sweet, attractive spearmint with more air, gentle grip still from the tannins on the finish. Seems right on the cusp of beginning to dry out and go threadbare, but it hasn’t yet. Classic, and delicious. Somehwere between the ’85 and the ’86 in style. 93
1928 Château Cos d’Estournel
No less deep than the ’55, but more garnet in the centre and more tawny at the rim; this started out gently, but impressively fruity, and then after another 30 minutes or so in the glass, the aromas really began to soar. Despite decanting it ahead of time, this still needed air – and it got plenty in the relatively flat-bottomed Zalto Bordeaux glass. Really intense fruit, and one of the most exotic and exuberant of the Cos vintages tonight. Super healthy still. Compact in texture, with layers revealed within the tannins that hold the finish, this is aromatic and fantastic wine by any measure. Real intensity. Superb. One of my two wines of the night, along with the ’49. 97
6 votes. 2nd= place. (One of my two votes included).
1990 Château Cos d’Estournel
A full ruby-garnet core – deeper and freshner in colour than a number of ‘90s are now showing – bricked rim; sweet nose, sweet herbsm fragrant, spicy and gingery nose; lush, quite soft, relatively low acid Cos, with glycerin driving the texture, red and dark currants, ‘hot tiles’, a touch of cocoa on the finish. The most exotic of the Cos vintages. Delicious. 94
1982 Château Cos d’Estournel
Quite a full garnet colour, bricked rim; sweet dark fruit on the nose, brooding and spicy, notes of dates and toffee; lush on the palate, with a creamy texture and a candied edge to the fruit – dark berry compote with a smoke and caramel twist, and notes of ginger adding complexity on the finish. Decadent Cos. More substantial than some ‘82s. 95
1953 Château Cos d’Estournel
Clear bricked garnet; cedary and leafy nose, gentle and fragrant, a sweet, fine, positive nose; lovely sweet and savoury balance on the palate, gently leafy and fragrant, this has a wonderful elegance to it. Touch of malt denoting both sunshine at harvest and bottle age. Lovely old Cos. One of the most elegant. 94
6 votes. 2nd= place.
We had sourced very carefully for this event – including quite a number of bottles coming directly from the château – and the line up solidly represented top level vintages – but even so, this showing of Château Cos d’Estournel exceeded my expectations, and left me much more enamored. I would be curious to taste a line up of young vintages, with “CV” of the past decades in the back of my mind. I do hope that the rein in the style just a bit at least, but I can see now that it is not entirely a modern-day invention – so many of the old school vintages show a bold, fleshy, spicy family resemblance too. Power and elegance - that’s what Aymeric de Gironde says he is looking for at Cos. I’ll drink to that.
Chateau Cos d’Estournel 1870, 1928, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1961, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2005.