St Emilion 2011: Figeac and The Fonz
As I indicated in my introduction, St Emilion is a confused melting pot of styles and flavours. And if you add into that mix a host of wine critics, each with their individual preferences (and we are allowed to have different opinions, aren't we?), then we have not only another layer of complexity but also a ripe potential for controversy. Remember the Pavie spat of yesteryear? It was no coincidence that the wine at the centre of that disagreement hailed from St Emilion.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the sniping based around a love or distaste for the different styles that come out of this broad and multi-faceted appellation is a thing of the past, old hatchets long-buried, but you would be wrong. We only have to look back a week or so to a tasting note published by Robert Parker on his bulletin board on April 12th 2012, after his return from Bordeaux, on 2009 Figeac: "the proprietors won't let me taste and the reasons are obvious - a very rare diluted and vegetal 2009 - tasted twice in the last month, this is a low 80 point wine and one of the major disappointments of this great, great vintage...but don't take my word for it...our friends in Britain loved it."
The style of wine made at Figeac is distinctive, and with its gravelly soils and high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon that's hardly surprising. I hope that Count Eric d'Aramon of Château Figeac maintains this distinctive style in the years ahead, as I would much rather have diversity like that which we have in St Emilion today - with its myriad forms and styles - than some sort of homogenised expression of fermented grapes which, unctuously textured and as black as the night, resembles motor-oil more than wine. Because we do not all possess the same palate; one man's hedonistic 100-point blockbuster is another man's idea of an alcoholic, prune-laden nightmare, while another wine, stained with green peppercorn and other nuances of Cabernet Franc, might be fresh manna to one and - as is made clear by the quote above - "vegetal" to another.
The differences between our palates are, in all honesty, what makes wine so endlessly fascinating. It is not so much the diversity of wine, but the diversity of our appreciation. If wine came in an infinite variety of styles (as indeed it does), but every wine drinker in the world shunned this diversity in favour of turbo-charged Merlot vinified in 200% new oak, wine appreciation would as a result be a very dull pastime. It is the fact that most wine drinkers enjoy diversity that gives all these individual styles validity; there are, thank heavens, people out there who enjoy wines richer in acidity, or in oxidised flavours, or greener flavours, natural wines and orange wines, as well as unknown wines from unsung regions and long-forgotten grape varieties. I praise diversity of appreciation and opinion. I will criticise wines that I do not like (and there are a few of those in St Emilion). But I shan't lower myself to snipe at others for their preferences. I shan't be that insecure or small-minded.
I liked 2011 Figeac, by the way. Although not as much as I liked the 2009.
As I seem to be dealing with controversies in this instalment of my guide to 2011 St Emilion, I might as well get around to Pavie and the rest of the Perse portfolio. As far as St Emilion goes this includes Pavie-Decesse and Monbousquet, but there is also a Castillon named Clos Les Lunelles. I will deal with the latter of this quartet on another day, but this is clearly the time to be talking about the three wines from St Emilion.
Coming back to my introduction, the most famous wine from the portfolio of Gérard Perse (pictured above - is it just me, or is Perse looking a little Winkler-esque in this picture?) is Pavie, of course, and whilst I did not have any surges of orgasmic pleasure from tasting Pavie 2011, I can certainly recognise the good qualities within it. It is very typical of Perse's vision of wine, deeply coloured, with a vibrant and saturated crimson rim, the fruit characteristics on the cusp between freshness and a more dried, desiccated character, and with plenty of extracted power on the palate. It is a big wine, big in colour, big in texture, in tannins, in flavour and in fruit, so much so that as a whole it seems to work. In no way is it a match for Cheval Blanc or Ausone in this vintage, but if you poured me a glass I certainly wouldn't reject it.
On the other hand we also have here Pavie-Decesse, Bellevue-Mondotte and Monbousquet. Of these wines I can not find such a positive tone of voice as that used to talk of Pavie. Following on from the Clos des Lunelles already mentioned, I found them to be more caricature than wine. They have a port-like intensity to them, are stuffed with extracted tannins, and the fruit characteristics leave any thought of freshness behind, with raisined notes dominating in one, prunes in another, and a dead, brown-fruit character coming to the fore in the third. None suited my palate. If others like them, that's perfect! That is part of the diversity I have already spoken up for. My palate tells me one thing, while someone else's palate tells them something different. It is not that uncommon an occurrence; look back to my 2011 Margaux report for a moment. It was clear to my palate that Palmer absolutely wiped the floor with Margaux in this vintage, and yet I see from other reports that some critics have placed Margaux clearly in front. They found something different in these two wines to the sensations and flavours that I discovered. Such differences are worth debating, almost certainly, but that's quite different from the snarky comments some prefer.