After a lovely morning at Chateau Lascombes and lunch at a brasserie on the quay in Pauillac, we continued with our wine adventures with a stop at the Second Growth Chateau Cos d’Estournel. And I will be perfectly honest to say this was by far my favorite visit of the day.
An architectural oddity in Bordeaux, Chateau Cos d’Estournel is modeled after the amazing pagodas and architectural feats of India and the Far East. This rich estate in the village of Cos was owned and defined by the eccentric Louis Estournel. Already in his 60’s, he inherited several properties in Bordeaux, but recognizing the potential of the terroir in Cos he used his fortune to accumulate lands and invest in the estate’s facilities. In old French, Cos means hill of pebbles and the estate’s 4 meter deep gravel hill is ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards.
But the distinctive facade was actually a product of his adventures and stubborn, entrepreneurial nature. As early as 1820, Louis Estournel refused to work the Bordeaux negociants, or brokers. At that time wines were sold in bulk and bottled by the brokers after shipment. Instead, Estournel created the first estate label and took responsibility for bottling his wines on his property. Now faced with the monumental task of selling his wines without the support of the established merchant system, he looked to the English Empire, as England was the period’s largest market for Bordeaux clairet. Daringly the aged businessman packed up his wines and boarded a ship for India, where he not only found a receptive market for his wine but also found inspiration. Upon his return to France he handed his sketch book to his architect and eventually Bordeaux’ most distinctive facade was created. And Louis Estournel earned the nickname “The Maharaja of Saint Estephe.”
Fast forward about 160 years and the estate has changed hands several times. It is currently owned by a luxury hotel and wine group. But more importantly, in addition to its unique architecture the estate is home to a stunning gravity-fed cellar completed in 2008. This cellar takes plot by plot vinification to the extreme with 72 conical tanks (originally designed by the milk) of various size, one for each vineyard plot, that aid with the extraction process. Thanks to the utterly unique ‘tank-elevators’ the estate is able to complete the entire winemaking process without the use of pumps, which agitate the wine and adds additional risk of oxidation. Typical gravity-fed systems are limited to the early stages of the winemaking process. But although the barrel cellar lies below the tanks, using the elevators the winemaking team can move the wine between levels without pumps.
Our tour began with an abbreviated, thanks to the typical Bordeaux rainy weather, viewing of the famous facade. We then made our way inside, to what was once the original cellar and is now a receiving room, beautifully decorated with a nod to the far eastern history that inspired the architecture. After a bit more history, we made our way into the beautifully crafted cellars, that were ripe with a wonderful vinous aroma (hard to classify, but a rich smell of fine wine and good oak). And then we made a stop at my favorite room, the wine library. Subtly lit, decorated with the emblematic elephants and protected by glass, this library contains bottles dating back to 1865.
Then of course there was the tasting. While we were unusually asked to pay for our tasting, it was on 7.50 euro and included three wines.
Goulée 2011: From another property owned by the group, these vineyards are located on the far side of the Medoc. This wine is an equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, producing a wine that is smooth and balanced. Good structure and mellowing tannins are highlighted by a slight bitterness on the velvety finish. The slightly medicinal bouquet delivers mint, fruit, tobacco and spice.
Les Pagodes de Cos 2011: A great value for the quality (but still a bit of a splurge, particularly if you are outside of France), I liked this wine so much I tracked down two bottles once I returned to Bordeaux. I would have bought them directly from the estate but we ran out of time. A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, this wine is very elegant with a good body. The beautiful purple color, more reminiscent of a rich California Petit Sirah, delivers a nose of crisp fruit, forest floor, roasted vanilla and a touch of smoke. I can’t wait to try it with a rich American-style chocolate cake.
Cos d’Estournel 2008: More reminiscent of a Pauillac than a Saint Estephe, this blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc had an amazingly long finish. The nose reminded me of slightly smoky charcuterie with notes of cedar, cocoa and bright black currant. The hint of bitterness on the back of the palate adds a touch of interest and will soften as the wine continues to age. In my notes I classified it as: complex elegance.
Of course the day didn’t end there, but I won’t spoil the surprise. Stay tuned for more to come. And as always there are photos to explore in the meantime.