In January I received a link to an interesting article about the Médoc winemaker Adrien Tramier and his Château Saint-Saturnin, written by Jancis Robinson. The sender of this link had originally read the article about Tramier in Financial Times in the autumn and then later found it on Jancis’ website. In summary, Jancis dubs him “The Médoc Outsider”, and writes that he deviates from the Médoc norm by harvesting late (i.e., when the grapes are unusually ripe), by not using oak at all, and by often selling his wines after they have spent a long time on large tanks. He also sells them cheap, but doesn’t seem to sell very regularly, but mostly when he needs some cash. The vintages tasted in the article were scored 16-17 points out of 20 by Jancis, which is very high for any wine from the appellation Médoc (as opposed to Haut-Médoc or the six commune appellations of Haut-Médoc where the crus classés are located), and extremely high for a cheap Bordeaux. Admittedly, three out of four vintages scored were top Bordeaux vintages, but this still doesn’t change the picture.
The reason the link was sent to me was that using Jancis’ article, the sender had located vintage 2001 of the wine for sale online at Auchan in France for a mere € 7,99 per bottle. He intended to order a suitable quantity for himself and possibly some other curious, to be picked up in Strasbourg in connection with one of his regular travels between Brussels and there.
I asked for a 6-pack, and some weeks ago the bottles arrived here in Brussels. This is what I thought about the wine:
Château Saint-Saturnin 2001
Médoc, € 7,99 at Auchan
Grape varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Usually around 60% Merlot (mainly small-berried from old vines), 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, but I have no exact data for this specific vintage. No barrel aging, probably bottled after a number of years in large tanks.
Medium red colour, brick edge. Looks a little older than it is. In the nose barnyard aromas, obvious herbal notes, sweet tobacco and a hint of tar, dark berries (rather plums than blackcurrants) with some red berries, a sweetish nose that hints at wild strawberries or a red berry liqueur, and a flowery-perfumed note. Medium bodied on the palate, rather sweet fruit in the attack, dark and red berries, obvious spice, slightly alcoholic and some bitterness mid-palate, tannins are very well integrated. In the long and pleasant aftertaste the tannins are felt more, together with good acidity. 89-90 p.
The wine feels fully mature and ready to drink, but in a style that is sure to be able to take many more years of cellaring. Rather typical aromas for a mature Bordeaux, but considering the colour and the mild tannins I had guessed it was older, at least 15 and perhaps 20 years old. In concentration, quality and elegance it feels equivalent to the lower echelons of Cru Classé from Haut-Médoc, or possibly Margaux/Moulis/Listrac (elegant nose, not so obvious tannins). Although I don’t detect any notes of new oak, I had probably never guessed that it is unoaked, since it shows good concentration and classical Bordeaux aromas. Perhaps it is the absence of oak that makes me think the wine is older than it actually is? Either because it is more “naked” in its aromas, or because several of the 20+ year old Bordeaux wines I’ve tried are produced using a lower proportion of new barrels than what started to be the norm in the 1990s. That the wine come from unusually ripe grapes is possible to detect if you’re actually looking for hints. Nose and palate both show a sweetness not commonly found in wines from the left bank of Bordeaux. It is therefore possible that I had wanted to place the wine on the right bank, if it was served blind to me. On the other hand, there is an aromatic component to the nose that probably comes from Cabernet Sauvignon. Bordeaux and definitely good, but different!
Talking about different, it was fascinating to read that the appellation organisation of Médoc was worried over this wine. In my opinion, they should worry over those who produce substandard wines, or cheat by using production methods (such as oak chips) that are not allowed, but not over those who make a different choice when it comes to wine style. And as far as I know there is not a single appellation committé in France which has shown that it is able to actually keep the quality up by consistently fail those who are not up to standard, and thus refuse them the right to sell their produce as AOC wines?
Fellow Brussels based wine drinker “Bisty” was quicker than I to sample the wine, and tried a bottle already a number of weeks ago and reported on Cellartracker. It looks like we had approximately the same opinion about the wine (89 p in his case), although some of the aromas found by him were sightly different than those in my nose.
I have to return to the price: at the Auchan price of € 7,99 this wine is a complete bargain! I would still have considered it a good value if it had been sold for € 20. When I have checked Auchan’s site after I received my bottles, the wine first seemed to be sold out, but is now available again when I check here. However, the stock level is one dot out of four possible, so there probably isn’t much left. This is the only source I can find in all of Europe when checking Wine-Searcher, other than stray bottles of vintage 1990 and earlier at rare wine dealers.
It is fascinating that Tramier also has a prestige wine, his petit chou chou, called Château Lafitte-Tramier (also in the picture above). The only source for that wine in Europe seems to be Vinmonopolet in Norway (??!!), the governmental alcohol monopoly of this estimable high-alcohol tax country. They sell the top vintages 2000 and 2005 (although you don’t seem to be able to choose which one you get) for 166,50 Norwegian crowns, which works out as around € 21. I can’t help but wonder how good that wine is in a “five star” Bordeaux vintage when Saint-Saturnin was this good in a “four star” vintage…
In an era when the Asiatic interest has propelled the prices of Château Lafite-Rothschild’s second wine (Carruades de Lafite) to the insane level of over 200 euro (per bottle, not per case… and it looked ridiculously overpriced long before it passed 100…) in the auction market, it is fun to see that there are still bargains to be made in Bordeaux! It is always nice when you have the chance to buy good and mature Bordeaux directly from stores at a good price, without having to take the risk with the shady auction market. (Although auctions do have their charm…) Previously, I considered me best buy in this category to be a case of Château Coufran 2000, bought in the autumn 2008 at Colruyt’s wine sales (foire aux vins) at € 12,95 per bottle. But now, this wine clearly takes over that distinction.
A big thanks to P. for the information, purchase and transport!
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.