For me archetypal St Emilion is a fresh fruity wine with good structure but not too full on. Rounded but at the same time not over the top. Elegant. Knows who it is. Fresh, pure.
We have seen in the past a more full-blown style take the centre stage in St Emilion. I suppose we could say that the trend started with the garage movement with its micro-cuvées of super-concentrated wine based predominantly on very ripe Merlot.
These wines made the most of the bigger hotter years in the 80s, 90s and 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 to showcase their concentration and big shoulders.
I have noticed throughout Bordeaux that the pair of more recent excellent vintages (2015 and 2016) the techniques used to bolster up a wine have been controlled. For example later harvesting which created plush high alcohol wines but without the edge of acidity that created the ‘tension’ in the wine (as a wine and a more restrained, elegant style has become the norm again – something we have not seen before the 80s. Another way is by extracting everything possible from the skins to give these heavy wines the body-builded structure. Add further sweetness and intoxicating spices by upping the degree of new oak and there you have it muscles and sinew in the glass. Is this really St Emilion?
What is different today is that with the heightened attention to detail in the vineyard and cellar with more ‘precise’ viticulture and vinification we have wines that are fresh elegant fruit, fine structure, finesse – balance. ‘Plot by plot’ vinification is on everyone’s lips and it seems to already to have made a difference in the glass. 2015s and 2016 are in my opinion some of the best wines made in Bordeaux.
One could never say that Beausejour Bécot was ever not elegant but recently there has been a slight change of direction to pick earlier and favour lower alcohol levels and purity of fruit. Whole cluster fermentation in 600 litre barrels makes up some of the wine each year. 100% new oak is being replaced with some older oak.
The property are located on the prestigious limestone plateau so ‘early’ is never very early as this colder terroir means that they are amongst the last to pick as their grapes ripen later (can be two weeks later for example than the gravel soils near to Pomerol). It is a family owned property and several generations of the Bécot family can be found working side-by-side during harvest or bottling. They are not the style to be seen in the office but are very ‘hands on’. My first expereince of the Bécots was as a young guide hosting a television filming crew. The lunch was simple but the welcome was such a warm one (with sets of slippers for us all to wear) that I remember it fondly some 30 years later.
The property is an amalgam of three vineyard properties (caused some classification problems at the time in 1986). This bold move was spearheaded by the charismatic ‘grandpère’ Michel who is said to have saved money from his work repairing Solex moterized bicyles in order to be able to afford to buy the neighbouring properties to his own family’s five hectare ‘La Carte’ when the now super prestigious limestone plateau was less revered. Today this Premier Grand Cru Classé property tallies up to 18 hectares of prime St Emilion terroir with neighbours such as Canon, Clos Fourtet and Angelus (at the bottom of the hill!). Its range of breathtaking limestone tunnels full of bottles aging in perfect conditions is breathtaking.