PULLING RANK IN BORDEAUX by Ben Giliberti, CW Director of Wine Education
Remember the movie Groundhog Day? Bordeaux reminds me of that, except that it is stuck perpetually in 1855. That was the year that Napoleon III ordered the official classification of the châteaux of the Médoc. In the ensuing 157 years, the still highly influential classification has been altered but once, in 1973, when Château Mouton Rothschild was elevated to First Growth (where it clearly deserved to be in the first place). As Hugh Johnson, the eminent British critic, eloquently opined: "Apart from the First Growths, the five classes of 1855 are now hopelessly jumbled in quality, with some Second Growths making wine of Fifth-Growth level and vice versa. They also overlap in quality with the top Crus Bourgeois."
Johnson's last sentence explains precisely why the 2009 Château Caronne-Ste.- Gemme, on sale this week for just $16.99 ($15.99 by the case) is a Bordeaux bargain hunter's dream come true. The vineyards, located just a stone's throw from classified growths Château Lagrange and Château Gruaud Larose, are clearly of classified growth quality, as is the wine. Yet, because the 1855 classification has never been updated, Caronne-Ste.-Gemme is still ranked as a humble cru bourgeois. As a result, it sells for roughly half as much a classified growth of the same high quality.
Robert Parker has declared 2009 as "unquestionably the greatest Bordeaux vintage I have ever tasted." If you are looking for a cellar-worthy classic from this historic vintage to lay down, this is one to buy by the case. Many of you had the opportunity to purchase the 2000 Caronne-Ste.-Gemme from a small cache we discovered a short while back. The wine was marvelous, and just reaching its peak more than 10 years later. The cloak of powerful tannins had melted away, revealing notes of violets, cedar, crème de cassis, Provençal herbs, and the unique "sweetness" of mature claret. I predict the same graceful evolution for the 2009. Not only was 2009 an even better vintage than the classic 2000, over the ensuing decade, owner François Nony has spared no effort to raise the quality of Caronne-Ste.-Gemme even higher. The 2009 is clearly the best wine produced by this estate in its entire history.
Read on to get the rest of the story behind the 2009 Caronne-Ste.-Gemme...
Glowing dark ruby color. Lovely, subtle nose, with lots of plummy, berry and cassis character. Ripe Cabernet dominated fruit with some warmth. Serious concentration here. Chewy tannins, and plenty of fruit on the finish. Drink now (with one hour decanting) through 2019, and beyond. -- Ben Giliberti
Reg. price $19.99
12+ bottles!$15.99 per bottle
Treasure Island Described by English writer Tom Stevenson as "a superb island of vines on a gravel plateau," the vineyards of Caronne-Ste.-Gemme are just a stone's throw from classified growths Château Lagrange and Château Gruaud Larose in St. Julien. Its immediate neighbors are the three classified growths of St. Laurent, Château La Tour Carnet, Château Camensac, and Château Belgrave. Why Caronne-Ste.-Gemme was not made a classified growth in 1855 remains a mystery to this day.
The vineyard is planted with a typical Medoc blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot, with a dash of Petit Verdot. Its deep mounds of superb günzien gravel (fine, round pebbles) lie on a subsoil of iron rich sandstone to the east and clay to the west. Although Caronne-Ste.-Gemme missed being made a classified growth in 1855, in the official 1978 classification of the Cru Bourgeois it was one of a handful of châteaux awarded the highest rank of Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.Among Bordeaux insiders, its quality has long been acknowledged.
The present owner, François Nony, is a descendant of Emile and Eugene Borie, who purchased what was then a largely derelict Caronne-Ste.-Gemme in 1900. In 1999, François left his highly successful marketing business to assume control of his family estate. Since then, the improvement has been dramatic. Not content to rest on past laurels, François recently completed construction of a brand-new winery. This allows him to utilize all or most of the methods employed by the classified growths. A green harvest is employed toward the end of the growing season to drop any fruit not worthy of the grand vin. Although highly labor-intensive, this extra pass through the vineyards helps ensure higher quality fruit, which means better wine.
We have been huge fans of this estate since we started carrying the 2000 vintage. When we were in Bordeaux in the spring of 2010 to taste the great 2009 vintage, we were simply blown away by the quality. We were especially impressed by how dense, vibrant, concentrated and expressive it was. We are extremely pleased that we can now offer it to you.
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