St Emilion 2014: Jonathan Maltus
An overview of the 2014 harvest with tasting notes and scores by The Wine Doctor Chris Kassack
"Would you like some cheese?" hollered Jonathan Maltus from the front step of Château Teyssier, alerting me to his presence. I had just begun my hunt for him, having found a "Come to the house" notice on the door to the tasting room. Having just eaten, I declined, although I don't mind admitting my mouth was watering at the prospect. I suppose I could have partaken, but my timetable was tight; it was already early afternoon, and this was my final right-bank appointment of the day. And once finished here I was scheduled to drive over to the left bank for a Sauternes tasting that I didn't want to miss. Oh, well. No cheese for me, then.
Although Château Teyssier is located in Vignonet, on the sandy plain that runs down to the Dordogne, proprietor Jonathan Maltus has a broad portfolio of wines, the majority of which originate from vines planted up on the more desirable limestone and clay soils of the plateau. Many of these wines are microcuvées, from tiny parcels of vines often in key locations (next to Angélus...., next to Clos Fourtet...., and so on). As a result Jonathan has some very interesting wines here; some are very limited production releases, and the range as a whole reflects a wide variety of terroirs. It is useful, when trying to grasp an understanding of a vintage, to compare wines all of which are made by the same hand which feature not only both the major right-bank varieties but which also feature a variety of terroirs here including sand, clay and limestone, or indeed in one cuvée a combination of all three. It's also always refreshing to hear about the vintage first-hand from Jonathan, as he has always been very open about his winemaking. If he used reverse osmosis, he would say so (he hasn't). If he used micro-bullage, he would say so (he hasn't). The same for chaptalisation (he hasn't). Jonathan (pictured below) painted an informative picture of the vintage, one that was clearly more favourable than 2013. The fruit was in better condition towards the end, "the skins were quite tough" says Jonathan, and he sprayed less Serenade®, a biological antifungicide, than last year (one spraying versus three in 2013). All the same, the more challenging ripening conditions in St Emilion, a consequence of that particularly wet summer weather, were seen here just as they were everywhere of course. As I have already described in my reports on Château Figeac, Château Ausone, Château Beauséjour, Château Pavie-Macquin and others the search for optimal ripeness led to a later picking of the Merlots, facilitated by the fine autumn weather, the harvest perhaps a week (or even more) behind the picking of the left bank Merlots.
"It was back to the garage times for us", said Jonathan as he explained that although a few Merlots were picked on October 2nd, harvest only really kicked off on October 7th (i.e. really late for Merlot, as you would do with a typical garagiste style wine). The harvest of the Merlots was all done by October 14th (the last parcel being Les Astéries) while the Cabernet Francs were picked from October 13th to the 15th (dates for each individual cuvée are included in my tasting notes). The fruit, whether it was destined for Château Teyssier, Le Dôme or something in between, first saw a cold soak for between six and eight days depending on the cuvée. Then there followed a softer approach to fermentation, Jonathan and his winemaker eschewing délestage (the draining and refilling of entire vats to mix the solids and juice) replacing it instead with a 'turbo' pigeage, which sounds more aggressive but which is in fact simply moving the juice and soils around in the vat without draining and refilling it. The vatting time was longer, 40 days compared to the norm which is 30-33 days, and this "washing" of the skins, as Jonathan put it, was said to have benefited the tannic structure of the wines. It sounds like a very particular style of vintage, perhaps not a vintage that made itself, but surely better than 2013. The fact that Jonathan revealed he would blend 8% (the maximum permitted) of the 2014 Château Teyssier into the 2013, a vintage which also benefited from the inclusion of some declassified plateau fruit, says as much. The only way to tell for sure though is to taste the wines, starting with the aforementioned Château Teyssier. While the lifestyle bloggers who are really only here for the parties will only want to talk about Le Dôme, it is perhaps this entry-level wine that deserves the most attention. First, it is at a production level of approximately 15,000 cases per annum, which according to Jonathan makes it the biggest production label in the St. Emilion appellation (and with another recently purchased plot the production continues to grow), so it is a wine we are all likely to come across at some point. Second, being sourced from the sandy terroirs, it lays the character of the vintage bare, and is therefore a very useful benchmark. Thirdly, the price is very affordable for the appellation, so any comments on it are applicable to anyone. As for the wine itself, the effort that goes into it is tangible, with fresh but dark forest fruit aromas, and I feel these owe quite a lot to the 30% Cabernet Franc in the blend. The palate shows a soft and rather plump texture, perhaps without the finessed definition of a really great vintage, but for its origins it is impressive, and in this vintage where Merlot has not performed well I found a good number of limestone cuvées that didn't match up to the quality here.
As for the rest of the Maltus portfolio, these wines showed a reliable progression, and my preference in the middle of the range was for Les Astéries from Calcaire à Astéries over the wines from the more ordinary limestone of Le Carré. At the top end, however, there was a striking difference between the two top wines, Vieux Château Mazerat where the focus is Merlot (65% in the vineyard) and Le Dôme where Cabernet Franc (80% in the vineyard) rules. Whereas the former shows the pretty, floral, rather delicate Merlot character of the vintage, Le Dôme has a much more resounding confidence, filled with pure black fruits and laced with coffee grounds, vibrant and yet underpinned by a seam of velvet tannins. It is, based on this barrel sample, a potentially excellent year for Le Dôme. Sometimes I wish I was one of those lifestyle bloggers. Can I have some more of this please? Oh, and can you open the 2005 while you are at it?
St Emilion 2014: Tasting Notes & Scores
Le Dôme 2014: Score 17-18/20
The blend here is 80% Cabernet Franc and 20% Merlot. Alcohol 13%, acidity 3.33 g/l. Harvest was 13th October for the Merlot, 17th October for the Cabernet Franc. Yield 30 hl/ha. A dark and substantial nose, much more confident than Vieux Château Mazerat, with some very concentrated black fruits, laced with coffee grounds Dark and impressive. On the palate this is really textured and composed, with genuine concentration and substance here. Very impressive and exciting fruit vibrancy, with ripe and velvety tannins. A beautifully balanced composition, showing great perfume with the usual Maltus confidence and texture, and a fresh, acid defined character as well. A real step up from Vieux Château Mazerat. This year.
Vieux Château Mazerat 2014: Score 16-17/20
The blend here is 65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, from old vines. Alcohol 13%, acidity 3.25 g/l. Harvest was 11th October for the Merlot, 15th October for the Cabernet Franc. A very expressive nose here, quite dense and savoury with spiced fruits, all dark and reserved. It has a perfumed palate, filled with rose petals and peonies too, supple and quite polished, textured and quite grippy. It is broad, with quite a firm shell on the outside, and wrapped around this some floral fruit, with a spicy tannic backbone, and fresh acids giving balance. This is firm but very primary, with a great tannic grip in the finish.
Les Astéries 2014: Score: 16-17/20
The blend here is 83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.35%, acidity 3.52 g/l. Harvest was 14th October for the Merlot, 15th October for the Cabernet Franc. A much tauter nose than Le Carré, pure, composed, smoky, with great fruit expression, pure dark cherries, damsons too. A very soft, supple start on the entry, with a cool, polished, confident texture, plenty of ripe tannins wrapped around it all, with a fresh, pointed acidity. Some real tannic grip on the finish, cool and appropriate though, with the minerally freshness of the terroir. An appealing fruit-skin polish, linear, pure and smoky, but in a firm and upright frame.
Château Laforge 2014: Score 14.5-15.5/20
The blend here is 92% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.4%, acidity 3.68 g/l. Harvest was 7th to the 10th October for the Merlot, 15th October for the Cabernet Franc. This is the blended Maltus wine, from gravel, sand and limestone. Dark and perfumed black fruits here, smoky and concentrated. The palate is soft and supple, with a silky feel to the structure, showing good depth of blackcurrant and damson fruit under a chalky perfume. Some great grip showing in the finish. Perfumed, precise, textured, with some impressive substance enhanced by that fresh acid backbone. Long and bright in the finish.
Le Carré 2014: Score 15-16/20
The blend here is 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13%, acidity 3.25 g/l. Harvest was 2nd October for the Merlot, 15th October for the Cabernet Franc. This has some beautifully perfumed fruit on the nose, all wild damsons and plush blackcurrants, with a touch of smoky white pepper too. The palate is fresh, pure, and quite substantial, with grippy tannins, quite a dry and savoury character, with a grippy, tannic finish. There is a fine, long tannic structure underneath this, with a deeply fruited Merlot-on-clay substance to it. An appealing wine.
Château Teyssier 2014: Score 14-15/20
The blend here is 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 13.25%, acidity 3.48 g/l. Harvest was 2nd to the 14th October for the Merlot, 13th October for the Cabernet Franc. This sample represents 85% of the finished wine. This is the large-volume cuvée from the sandy side of St Emilion. A dark, ripe-fruit character here, savoury with scented forest fruits, fresh and characterful. It has a soft and perfumed palate, pretty, with wild fruits and a plump texture. It is impressive for what it is. A pretty wine that will see 15-20% new oak but mostly two-year old oak, for 12 months only.