Saint-Emilion Uncorked: A Visit to Chateau Coutet

“[I]t is the wine that leads me on, the wild wine that sets the wisest man to sing at the top of his lungs, laugh like a fool – it drives the man to dancing... it even tempts him to blurt out stories better never told.” Homer, The Odyssey

This story like all great tales, need to be retold, time to time. That time is now, my visit to Bordeaux still fully ensconced in my memories. The story went something like this; while it's good to be back in the saddle again, that's in front of my trusty laptop typing up a new story I do miss the thrill of the uncharted adventures far from home. It feels like I've been away forever, I've not spent this much time out of the country since way back in the day. I've had the good pleasure of visiting a vast wine region, one I've been eager to see up close and personal for the longest time. That wish, goal, and dream if you will, was granted on September 18th, 2013, when I boarded a plane that would first take me to explore the wine regions of Slovenia and then it was off to Bordeaux for a fantastic two-week odyssey.

Bordeaux is a beautiful and breathtaking 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 have 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 grab 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 Premier Grand Cru Classés Château Beauséjour and Château Angélus that he [actually it was his son did] 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

Owner David Beaulieu explains, "The density of plantation is about 6,000 vines/ha. The vine population is made up of 60% Merlot, 30% Bouchet (cabernet franc), 5% cabernet sauvignon and, as a touch of originality, 5% Pressac (local Malbec)."

Their property is actually quite large, but the main building is far off the 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 kilometer 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 explained, "Our vines are pruned in winter according to the double Guyot system, leaving two long canes, and additional work is done just after the flowering in order to regulate and choose the grape and foliage load of each vine. The lifting and the leaf thinning contribute to keep the vines and the harvest in good health. The grapes are obviously harvested by hand, in small crates, and the different varietals are picked at different dates, depending on their ripeness."

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.”

"Its vines have always been grown with the higher respect of the terroir and nature, as a result of which it obtained the organic certification in 2013. A walk among Coutet’s vines helps understand why the Saint-Émilion landscape is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site."

Probably the most asked question of the day [and every day] 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 as 100% organic, they've been practicing organic viniculture for as long as they've been making wine.” Update: Chateau Coutet is now officially 'Organic' Certified. Then the question, okay, but is your business model sustainable? Looking at their 400 plus years of winemaking history, from my perspective it's a safe bet this is a sustainable business model. 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 had been previously banned in California until that decision was overturned in the courts. 

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 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 was soon to arrive picture above is as most you reading this understand 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 know, 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 too 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 an excellent bottle you'll want to have on your must-have list. Despite what you may have heard in the "Wine Press" about the Bordeaux's 2013 harvest, one lousy 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, maybe then 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].

"Chateau Coutet vineyard is established on the first hill of Saint-Émilion, half a kilometer away from the village. Coutet’s closest neighbors are all prestigious châteaux."

I was quite excited tasting both of these vintages and ended up walking out of their with a bottle of their 2008 in my hand to take home. This wine was not an earth-shaking masterpiece of perfection, but all Chateau Coutet wines were some of the very best I tasted all week. In a few words, easy going, approachable now, good short-term aging potential. 2010, wow I thought was much more significant, more intense, wonderfully structured, massive fruit plumbed with vibrant acidity, this is a bottle of 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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