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Château Cos d'Estournel: Wines

Once in the chai the fruit is fermented in short stainless steel vats which were installed during the most recent refurbishment, with temperature controlled to below 32ºC. There is malolactic fermentation in oak, with new barrels accounting for between 60% and 100% of the wood, depending on the vintage. It sounds quite conventional, but under Reybier and Prats there has been no slow down in development or investment, as evinced by the extensive restoration of the cellars in recent years. A tour of these new cellars, which I undertook in early 2009 shortly after their completion, revealed the extent of this rebuilding and refurbishment. Architecturally the restoration work is admirable, but it is the sheer scale of the project which will take your breath away.

Inside the vat room is spread out over two floors, the upper floor running across the top of the vats allowing access here, the lower floor allowing side access. These vats (shown below) are all stainless steel with laser-welded seams and unusually they are all sourced from a milk-vat manufacturer. Perhaps most impressive of all, though, are two gigantic elevator vats positioned on either side of the vat room. These allow for vat-to-vat drainage without the use of a pump; any vat on the floor can be drained into an elevator vat by gravity within just 10 minutes, and to achieve the reverse the elevator vat - essentially a vat within a huge, glass-lined lift shaft - is raised to the top and the wine flows back. Achieving wine transfer by gravity rather than pump is seen as important in improving tannin profile and texture, but this is an incredibly expensive way of achieving it.

Château Cos d'Estournel

As if that weren't enough, there are also new barrel stores planned, and also a warm-room to encourage malolactic fermentation. It is clearly an exhaustive and costly project. When quizzed on the total expense proprietor Jean-Guillaume Prats always remained tight-lipped, but he did let slip that the finance came from a 25-year bank loan; the true cost remains undisclosed, but the figure must be huge. When I asked Prats in 2009 how this financial millstone would be paid off, his first response was that the improved facilities allowed for production of greater volumes of wine, more specifically a greater portion of the harvest was coming out of the vinification process with quality sufficient for the grand vin, so we might expect the Cos:Pagodes ratio to increase a little in future vintages. The unspoken answer, of course, was that Cos prices will remain high (and climb higher), and this has certainly been borne out in subsequent vintages.

Returning to the wines and their vinification, at the end of the work in the chai there is a selection by tasting for the grand vin Château Cos d'Estournel and the second wine Les Pagodes de Cos d'Estournel, with a total production nearing 32000 cases, again obviously depending on the vintage; in some years there may be considerably less. Today, however, there is another wine worth noting, a white produced under the Cos d'Estournel label, starting with the 2005 vintage (released in 2007). This was yet another controversial development by Prats and Reybier; the vineyards utilised in the production of this white wine, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon dominated by the former, are not contiguous with those providing the red fruit for the true grand vin, which has led some to question why it should bear the name at all. After all, surely Cos d'Estournel's success is tied to its terroir, rather than being a brand? And I suspect its production quantity and release price (just 250 cases, £100 per bottle) clearly conveyed a 'cult intention', and thus also contributed to the distaste expressed in some quarters. (15/10/08, updated 16/9/09, 28/10/12)