Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013: Chateau St Jean Cinque Cepage Vertical

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Sonoma is often characterized as the ‘good value’ little brother to Napa. Wine drinkers’ focus on Napa has led to a perception that silky, sweet wines are the sine qua non of California. Sonoma, of course, is ill-described as a brother to Napa since it is both much larger and much more diverse, ranging from very cool sites heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean to dry, hot inland sites that produce even riper fruit than Napa. Chateau St. Jean is one of the big players in Sonoma and makes wines with fruit from all over the valley.

Style vs. Vintage

Associate Winemaker Bob Coleman led this vertical tasting of St. Jean’s flagship wine, a Bordeaux blend comprised of the five major Bordeaux grapes (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec). Unlike their entry level wines, this is a serious offering meant to age and built with structure. Coleman admitted that the goal is to produce a certain house ‘style’ rather than vary from year to year, with a dominant goal being to produce “chocolatey” wines.

However, as we learned, vintage variation plays an important part in the blend, which will often drop grapes that don’t do well in a particular year and increase the percentage of grapes that have an excellent year. This tended to change the character of the wine, though the stylistic consistency from year to year was notable.

Cinque Cepage

Cinque Cepage is made using fruit from the major valleys within Sonoma County (including Alexander, Knights Valley, Dry Creek, and Sonoma), and is vinified and aged in American and French oak. The original goal of Chateau St. Jean was to make a modern, approachable wine. This was one of the first wineries to kick start this modernist movement against what was the traditional grain in the 70’s and 80’s to make more austere, age-worthy wines that needed cellaring before drinking.

As such, the Cinque Cepage is a fruit forward wine that is rich, voluptuous and approachable in its youth. It represents the modern style of Sonoma wine making done well. I personally thought the wines were consistently well made, though perhaps somewhat heavier on the palate than I tend to like. There is remarkable consistency in the flavour profile even amongst the most distinct vintages. The best vintages are elegant and finessed along with the ripeness. The oak is rarely obtrusive and seems to integrate with time. My top wines were the 2002 and 2006, with 2003 close behind.

My personal preference is not for wines like this, but I can confidently recommend the Cinque Cepage as a consistent, modern Sonoma Bordeaux blend. The wines retail in the U.S. for about $80 a bottle, so I imagine they are well over $100 here.

Tasting Notes

2000: round and very ripe – cedar chocolate – rich and modern and showing well but can develop a bit more. Still very fruity. It’s great up front, but falls flat a little on the finish. Very nice aromatics (leafy and earthy) – palate is a little blowsy and hot though. Cooler vintage. Very Good+

2002: better balanced than 2000 – ripe but elegant and long finish. Aromatics are not as “green” cabernet as the 2000. This is one of the more balanced vintages, but its true achievement is elegance and length. Very Good+ to Excellent

2003: Punchy. Again quite rich and ripe. The fruit is still sweet but the wine also has some nice minerality on the back end. Still finessed for such a ripe wine. Very Good+

2005: Much more oak evident than the older wines, with blacker fruit. Still tangy and tannic. Needs age. Very Good+

2006: less brutish than the 2005. Fresh. Bright fruit. Mouth watering quality to back palate. Good length. Very Good+

2007: Cab franc nose – brambles and funky game. Ripe but very very smooth. Could easily drink this now. THe acid is a little lower than the best balanced wines (2002 and 2006). Nonetheless, many will like this wine a lot because of its roundness and smoothness that persists despite youthful tannins. Very Good+

2008: Tons of toasty oak on nose. Palate is extremely chocolatey and plummy. Hedonistic but needs time to integrate oak.Very Good

2009: Purple fruited. The nose is more shut down right now. Ripe, modern, huge sweet fruit in the Napa fruit bomb style. Powerful and enormous mouthfeel. Very Good to Very Good+

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