Now that the dust has settled a bit, we’re ready to take a look at the recent (incredibly controversial) Saint-Émilion classification. Merely keeping track of which châteaux were in and which were out became almost as complicated as the 70-year old system itself!
A quick recap: Way back in 2012, during the last reclassification, four estates were named Grand Cru Classé “A” — Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angélus and Pavie. When criteria for the new classification were announced, Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc immediately dropped out, citing a “profound change in the philosophy of the classification especially regarding new criteria, including social media and wine tourism infrastructure, that emphasize marketing over wine quality and terroir.”
A few months later, Angélus dropped out as well. The back story here involves Angélus proprietor, Hubert de Bôuard, being cited for having undue influence in the 2012 classification. In announcing their withdrawal, Angélus stated: “The Saint-Émilion classification has become a vehicle for antagonism and instability. While regretting this deleterious context, Angélus takes note of it and exits the 2022 classification.”
That left Pavie alone among the original four, and endless speculation about who and how many estates might be promoted. A few weeks ago, the Saint-Émilion Wine Council gave their verdict — only Château Figeac was listed as Grand Cru Classé “A” along with Pavie.
Château Figeac has been owned by the Manoncourt family since 1892. Thierry Manoncourt, who passed away in 2010, had longed to see Figeac “in the right place.” With the Saint-Émilion Wine Council’s recent announcement, his dream has finally been fulfilled.
During the last Saint-Émilion reclassification in 2012, Figeac had lobbied heavily to be promoted to Grand Cru Classé “A” status. When that didn’t occur, Thierry Manoncourt’s wife, Marie-France, hired Frederic Faye as director with the goal to upgrade and modernize the property.
Under Faye’s leadership, the results have been dazzling! By 2018, cellars were rebuilt to allow for a complete plot-by-plot vinification and installation of a new gravity-flow system. Available space has increased from 1,600 square meters (17,000 feet) previously to 5,000 square meters (54,000 feet). A separate vat room is dedicated exclusively for research and development.
Also significant, was Faye’s decision to replant older Merlot vines with Cabernet Sauvignon. Currently, the vineyards are equally planted with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This distribution makes Figeac one of the most unique properties in Bordeaux.
Moreover, according to Liv-ex, Figeac’s average market price has risen 47% in the past three years — further validation of the estate’s quality-driven initiatives.
MAYBE NEXT TIME?
Prior to the recent classification announcement, Bordeaux enthusiasts had expected Châteaux Troplong-Mondot, Canon or Bélair-Monange to be included in the Grand Cru Classé “A” group. The trio have invested heavily to upgrade their respective estates over the past few years and are arguably producing some of the best wines in the region. Perhaps in another 10 years…..
Château Troplong-Mondot – It’s almost impossible to imagine a better location — Troplong-Mondot sits at the top of the Saint-Émilion plateau, with sweeping views of the village and surrounding vineyards below. In July 2017, French Insurance Company SCOR bought the estate for the then record-setting price of $8 million per hectare. An additional 10.5 hectares were acquired from nearby properties.
After the purchase, all amenities were shut down and the entire property was revamped from top to bottom. Aymeric de Gironde, then director of Château Cos d’Estournel, was hired to manage the estate. Under Gironde, Troplong-Mondot has become different stylistically as well. Harvesting is earlier and the amount of new oak has been reduced. Neal Martin described the 2018 vintage as “one of the finest Troplongs in recent years” while Roger Voss says the 100-point 2019 vintage is proof “the estate is now on top form.”
Château Canon – Purchased in 1996 by luxury goods manufacturer Chanel, Canon was almost entirely replanted and the winemaking facilities, vat rooms and cellars were completely replaced and modernized as well. In 2014, winemaker Nicolas Audebert took over management of Canon. And, as the Chanel winery group has expanded, Audebert also oversee Châteaux Rauzan-Ségla, Berliquet and Domaine de l’Ile on the island of Porquerolles in Provence.
Canon has produced a number of great vintages recently, but undoubtedly 2015 is considered by many to be the “Wine of the Vintage” while 2018, 2019 and 2020 are exceptional as well.
Château Bélair-Monange – Famed Pétrus winemaker, Christian Moueix and his son Edouard, purchased Château Bélair in 2008. The estate, adjacent to Ausone, was then expanded with the purchase of neighboring Château Magdelaine in 2012 and renamed Bélair-Monange, a tribute to Christian Moueix’s grandmother, Anne-Adèle Monange.
Updating cellars for Bélair-Monange has been labor-intensive, requiring extensive work in the estate’s underground limestone caves and quarries. 2008 was officially the first vintage for the newly-branded Château. Stylistically, the wine is much richer with an intense range of aromatics. Wine critic Jane Anson calls the 2019 vintage “a lesson in limestone terroir with its precision, knife-spliced and restrained fruits.”
The 2022 classification also included a few promotions within the Grand Cru Classé group:
Château Tour Saint-Christophe – Peter Kwok’s Vignobles K Group – who own a total of 7 Right Bank estates – purchased Tour Saint-Christophe in 2012 and then tripled the size of the property from 6.5 to 20 hectares. The 18th century stone terraces — a significant Saint-Émilion landmark — were painstakingly restored and winemaking facilities completely modernized. All the vineyard management work is done using only organic, biodynamically sustainable vineyard farming techniques. Ratings for Tour Saint-Christophe have increased, reflecting the care and investment. Prices, however have remained much the same, making for one of the best buys in Bordeaux.
Château La Confession – Located near Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, La Confession is well placed with clay, chalk and siliceous soils. Owner Jean-Philippe Janoueix is known for his innovative techniques, including the use of a combination of different shaped barrels to age the wine.
Château Rol Valentin – Purchased by Alexandra & Nicolas Robin in 2009, the 7.3 hectare estate is situated between Châteaux Fleur Cardinale and Mangot a few miles east of the village of Saint-Émilion.
Château Barde-Haut – Already ranked as Grand Cru Classé, Barde-Haut is knocking at the door for Grand Cru Classé B. With scores that range consistently from 95 to 96, and lavish praise from wine critics, all would seem to indicate that they have already arrived — in everything but name.
Finally, we’ll crawl out on a limb and say that even with all the discord surrounding the 2022 Saint-Émilion classification, we still view it as a constructive process. On the Left Bank, where the classification will never change, there are any number of properties that undoubtedly deserve to be upgraded — Châteaux Cos d’Estournel, Montrose, Pontet-Canet, Lynch-Bages, Pichon-Baron, Pichon-Lalande, Palmer, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville-Las Cases and many others. So, flawed as it may be, at least the Right Bank allows for competition and a chance for revision and change. Definitely drama seems to be part of the equation but, afterall, Les Français sont les maîtres du théâtre.
A select collection of our Right Bank wines are listed below. Linked items can be ordered directly online. Please write mthibaultwine@gmailcom or call 850-687-1370 for assistance with all other products.
2022 Grand Cru Classé “A”
2009. DC-97. $269.99
2010. JS-98. $269.99
2018. WE-100. $274.99
2018 in Magnum. WE-100. $529.99
2005 in Magnum. JD-100 JS-100 RP-100. $1,049.99
2010. RP-100. $449.99
2012. JS-96. $359.99
2016. JS-100 RP-100. $399.99
2018. JD-100. $389.99
2012 Grand Cru Classé “A”
2015. JS-99. $384.99
2016. WE-100. $389.99
2018. JD-100. $448.99
2018. DC-100 RP-100. $848.99
Château Cheval Blanc
2009. DC-100 JD-100 WA-100. $999.99
2010. JD-100 JS-100 WA-100 WE-100. $1,059.99
2010 in Magnum. JD-100 JS-100 WA-100 WE-100. $2,169.99
2011. JD-96. $499.99
2012. WE-95. $499.99
2014. WS-97. $499.99
2015 in Magnum. WA-100 WE-100
2019 Le Petit Cheval Bordeaux Blanc. JS-98. $128.99
2022 Grand Cru Classé “B”
2011. JS-93. $139.99
2016. JS-99. $213.99
2009. JD-99. $189.99
2010. RP-96+ $179.99
2016. WA-98+ $159.99
2018. AG-98. $169.99
2009. JD-100. $199.99
2010. RP-99. $199.99
2014. JD-96. $99.99
2015. JD-99. $129.99
2016. JD-97. $139.99
2017. AG-98+ $109.99
2018. JS-98. $114.99
2022 Grand Cru Classé
2005. JD-95. $58.99
2010. JD-96. $56.99
2015. JD-95. $39.99
2016. AG-96. $39.99
Château La Confession
Château Rol Valentin
Château Tour Saint-Christophe
2017. JD-95. $34.99
2018. JS-97. $39.99