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St-Estèphe


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Cos d'Estournel

A beautiful photo of the stately Château Cos d'Estournel. Photo by Thomas Pusch. License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

Saint-Estèphe, usually abbreviated as St-Estèphe or St-Estephe in some countries, is the northernmost and largest of the four major wine-producing villages of the Médoc. At 9.09 square miles, it is slightly larger than neighboring Pauillac. Its population of 1,800 is also the highest of the four villages.

Although less popular and expensive than Pauillac, which is slightly to the south, St-Estèphe has nearly as good a pedigree in fine winemaking. The wines from St-Estèphe, although they can vary greatly, are typically very full-bodied, sometimes even more so than Pauillac. Long aging is often necessary to bring out the more gentle flavors of the Cabernet grape.

Chateau Montrose label

A label of Château Montrose.
This photo is in the public domain.

History

Nothing in St-Estèphe's early history gives it a major difference from the other three villages of the Haut-Médoc, or indeed of the Médoc in general. A few historical details, however, are worth noting. Since the village is further north, wine there was less obscure in the Middle Ages than in the other appellations. Indeed, there are records of some early wine production, a period of obscurity, and then a rejuvenation in popularity before the 1700s general draining of the Médoc marshes. Apparently small areas were open to vinification in St-Estèphe even before the draining.

Of course, when the Médoc was generally developed, St-Estèphe was soon noted as one of a handful of truly great winemaking villages in the world. St-Estèphe was one of the original AOCs in 1936, like the other 3 Médoc villages. Its desirability, derived from demand by both collectors and wealthy folk alike, shows no signs of slowing down. The buyer should be forewarned, however, that years of cellaring are more often than not a prerequisite to getting your money's worth from the wine.

Climate and Viticulture

St-Estèphe's gravel banks are much closer to the surface and much more prevalent than the ones in Margaux and St-Julien. In fact, they rival Pauillac for their concentration, depth, and their location nearly everywhere in the appellation. As a result, the wines are deep, rich, and almost black in color at first. Only after years of aging do they open up and show their true potential. There are, however, certain examples of more modern producers that create more approachable wines.

Although it is slightly further north than the other appellations, there are no significant differences between St-Estèphe's climate and those of the other villages. St-Estèphe's one drawback may be its size, but vineyards there are nonetheless consistently well-maintained and promising.

Grape Varieties

Petit Verdot is very obscure in St-Estèphe; although it is planted at some châteaux, it does not usually make it into the final blend. Malbec and Carménère are also rare, so only three grapes are truly prominent in St-Estèphe.

Major Producers

There are no first growths from St-Estèphe, although both their second growths have been compared to 1ers crus in quality. For those wine buyers less obsessed with rankings, a number of excellent nonclassified wines exist; they are listed after the classed growths.

Two of the 14 2ers crus hail from St-Estèphe, both of them typifying the St-Estèphe model of high tannin levels with a mineral note.

There is one 3er cru from the appellation.

There is also one 4er cru in St-Estèphe.

The more modern 5er cru is the only one in St-Estèphe.

A few of the nonclassified châteaux are worthy of brief mention.

Subregions

St-Estèphe has no subregions that are even historically significant.

Cos d'Estournel

Another great shot of the Château Cos d'Estournel. Photo by Thomas Pusch. License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.