Château Cos d’Estournel: The singular gem of St. Estèphe

Ahead of next week’s 2018 En Primeur release, we explore what makes St. Estèphe’s Cos d’Estournel such an extraordinary estate…

The last three vintages of Cos d’Estournel (2018, 2017, 2016) have shot the lights out in terms of critics’ scores. A hat-trick of potentially perfect wines, as judged by the Wine Advocate, is a rare accolade – even more so when the challenging 2017 vintage is included. Cos is certainly the only estate in St Estèphe to have achieved this in these vintages; in fact, the only other estate in all of Bordeaux rated at this level by the Wine Advocate is Château Lafleur.

Without a doubt, terroir is a crucial factor. Cos’ 104 hectares of vineyards, some dating back as far as the early 20th century, are located directly opposite Lafite – a stone’s through away to the south, adjacent but separated by the Jalle du Breuil canal. The majority of the vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, with ideal, well-drained, deep gravel soils. On its east facing, clay and limestone slopes, which receive cool winds from the Gironde Estuary, Merlot performs wonderfully and makes up approximately 20-30% of the blend, depending on the vintage.

Investment in the cellar has been another key factor in the Chateau’s success. St. Estèphe can be known to produce wines with somewhat severe tannins. Cos d’Estournel, being in the most northerly appellation for grand cru classé wines and with hillside slopes exposed to cooling influences from both the Atlantic ocean to the west and the Gironde Estuary in the east, makes wines with fantastic brightness of fruit and mouthwatering acidity. For a lesser estate, this could come at the expense of tannin ripeness, but Cos d’Estournel has long been credited with excellent tannin management. State-of-the-art gravity cellars and temperature-controlled fermentation tanks, whose shape allows the grape skins to be submerged in the wine without any use of pumping over or punching down, are the secret to success here.

The sublime 2018 vintage, which blessed Bordeaux fruit with particularly strong, polished tannins, will have been a joy to vinify at Cos d’Estournel given the tools at its disposal. Cos had particularly small berried Cabernet fruit in 2018, with yields about 30% lower than average. This resulted in a high skin-to-pulp ratio, requiring particularly sensitive management in the winery. The team responded by fermenting at cooler temperatures than normal and reducing maceration time as well as the percentage of new oak down to 50%. Certainly, the estate is pleased with the result: “an extraordinary vintage with immense cellaring potential that will surely count among the most legendary vintages of the estate”.

In anticipation of next week’s 2018 release, contact your dedicated F+R Account Manager to express your interest in securing a case.