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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Saint-Emilion Uncorked: A Visit to Chateau Coutet

"Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly." – Plato

So good to be back in the saddle again, that's in front of my trusty laptop typing up a new story. It's feels like I've been away forever, I've not spent this much time out of country since way back in the day. I've had the good pleasure of visiting a great wine region, one I've been eager to see up close and personal for the longest time. My wish was granted and on September 18th, when I boarded a plane that would first take me to Slovenia and then it was off to Bordeaux for an amazing two week odyssey.

Bordeaux is a beautiful and breath taking winemaking region. This region alone produces more wine than the entire U.S. Wine industry alone. It's a region which takes their wine seriously and for good reason. But it's not a cookie cutter wine region by any stretch of the imagination. 

While I spent two full weeks in the Bordeaux wine region, where I visited everything from Grand Cru vineyards to the more modest cooperatives where I found the Costco's inexpensive Bordeaux wines being bottled. I still feel like I barely scratched the surface. I guess hoping to get anymore than just a quick glimpse in two weeks was a lofty, but unfortunately unobtainable goal.

Why does Bordeaux take winemaking so seriously? Hmm, maybe because
they've a 2000 plus year old tradition of making wine there and a thriving business model which collectively drives a billion dollar industry. 

One of the places I visited really caught my attention and I believe they should catch yours as well. Why, because there's so much bang for the buck to be found in this modest and unassuming Chateau. Talk about modest, the sign [which you see above] announcing where to exit from the road is oddly located in a storage area near the production facilities. 

Château Coutet owner, Xavier David Beaulieu is so unassuming in fact that when he told his neighbors; the prestigious Premiere Grand Cru Classés Château Beauséjour and Château Angélus that he [his son did really] had discovered an ancient Roman well [documented] on his property. Mr. Beaulieu told us, that they surprised to hear about his winery and didn't realize it was there at all. 

Their property is actually quite large, but the main building is far off main road. This Chateau is located in the heart of Saint-Emilion, it's called Chateau Coutet, their vineyards were established on the first hill of Saint-Emilion, about half a kilometre away from the village [as the crow flies]. Which if you look down the row of vines in the picture below you can see a steeple from the village.

Château Coutet owner, Xavier David Beaulieu has been in the Beaulieu family for nearly 400 years. When asked about the age of the vines growing on the property, Mr. Beaulieu answered, “Our vines have an impressive average age of about 38 years, and some almost a century old.”

Probably the most asked question of the day [and everyday] came in the form of “are you organic?” Mr. Beaulieu, kind of smirked at the question, and said “while Chateau Coutet is currently in the process for being officially certified [paying fees] as 100% organic, they've been practicing organic viniculture for as long as they've been making wine.” It looks like a sustainable business model from my perspective. I for one loved his response to the question; it was somewhat akin to the overall French reaction I experienced when they heard about how Foie Gras is banned in California

As you can see from the Merlot grapes I'm holding above, the 2013 vintage is going to be a bit dicey [It's no 2010]. While some were spared, still others had issues like the grapes you see above. But that bunch [pictured above] was not the worst of them, having visited many other vineyards over a two week period I'd have to conclude choosing a 2013 to put in the cellar will have to be done with a bit more diligence. 

I think Chateau Coutet was lucky, this was the worse damage I encountered during my visit. But more rain, which you can see coming in the picture above is not desired during harvest. 

It was time to head to the centuries old barrel room to have a quick look around and you would not believe what Mr.Beaulieu [our gracious host] busted out from the cellar. Unfortunately it's the only one in existence, and while we didn't get to handle, uncork it or otherwise. It was amazing to see a bottle still full of wine from Thomas Jefferson's day. It's hard to see but it looked like it had a glass cork. 

After carefully [stepping very slowly] putting that treasure away, he says "okay who is up for a barrel sample?" All hands went up, but not to far or too quick or else you may inadvertently hit the very low hanging light fixtures. 

The barrel sample we tasted was from 2012, it was Merlot and I thought that it was going in a great direction. In fact I'd put my reputation on the line and say it's going to be a very good bottle you'll want to have your must have list. And despite what you may have heard in the "Wine Press" one bad vintage does not a shortage of wine make, so slow your roll. Because while things were not so stellar across the pond in 2013, back here in the good old USA, speaking west coast for many it was a bumper harvest. 

After leaving the cellar it was time to head off to the tasting room, Mr. Beaulieu asked us which vintage we'd like to sample and I blurted out 1995, which was met with an eye-roll [like really?]. Hell it doesn't hurt to ask, perhaps he was in a generous mood, sadly no. Now if one of the ladies had asked, then perhaps I'd be talking to you about a sweet '95 but sadly that's not the case. So instead we sampled 2008, and 2010 [sigh].

I was quite excited tasting both of these vintages, and ended up walking out of their with an 2008 in my hand. This wine was not an earth shaking masterpiece of perfection, but all his wines were some of the very best I tasted all week. In a few words, easy going, approachable now, good short term aging potential. 

The 2010, wow I thought was much bigger, more intense, great structure, massive fruit plumbed with vibrant acidity, this is a wine to purchase by the case to watch it mature and evolve. You could drink it now, but it will reward the patient. Sorry not a screw cap in sight, all corks!

So folks I hope I've enticed to you sample the wines of Chateau Coutet for yourself, if you followed my recommendations in the past, I guarantee this one will not disappoint. Until next folks remember life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!

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