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Château Cos d'Estournel: Tasting & Drinking

Whatever your opinion of Cos d'Estournel, red or white, there is no denying the estate's recent successes and its relevance to modern Bordeaux. The wines are highly today regarded by many, and they are said to sit comfortably alongside those of other second growth estates. Returning to Clive Coates writing in Grands Vins (University of California Press, 1995), the wines are described as having both "power and finesse" and are clearly in his opinion superior to many wines of the St Estèphe appellation which he describes as being "occasionally a little too tough for their own good". This turn of phrase has led some to misquote Coates as describing Cos d'Estournel as tough, but this is not the case. In his words, they have "both the power and the finesse, both the body and the delicacy, both the backbone and the fruit". His words are ones of unmitigated praise.

Cos d'EstournelLooking at the state of Cos d'Estournel today, I have mixed feelings towards it. There is no doubt that the château is magnificent, and if heading for the Médoc I rarely miss an opportunity to take the route north out of Pauillac so that I can take in views of first of Lafite-Rothschild on the left, and then Cos d'Estournel on the right as the road makes its turn inland. But what matters to consumers is the wine, not the château, and here I have much stronger reservations. The quality is undoubtedly there; the wines reek of effort, of low yields, of careful winemaking, and thus they are popular. I have no argument with anyone over the importance of the estate and its wines. But it is the style that bothers me more, the extraction pushed to the limit, in some cases pushed too far I think, the tannins dominating the palate and the expense of elegance, balanced, poise and overall composition. Great wines? Yes, with certainty. Do I buy and drink them? No, not the recent vintages, a question of price as well as style of course. That about says it all, I think. (15/10/08, updated 16/9/09, 28/10/12)

Contact details:
Address: 33180 St Estèphe
Telephone: +33 (0) 5 56 73 15 50
Fax: +33 (0) 5 56 59 72 59
Internet: www.cosestournel.com
GPS: 45.230853, -0.775909

Château Cos d'Estournel: Tasting Notes

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Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2011: Cabernet Sauvignon 65%, Merlot 30%, Cabernet Franc 5%. The acidity is 3.6 g/l, alcohol 13.5% and IPT an impressive 92. The grand vin accounts for just 30% of the harvest. In the glass this barrel sample of Cos d'Estournel has a dark, super-saturated appearance, with a red-black core fading out to an intense, rich and concentrated crimson hue at the rime, this colour coating the inside of the glass as it is swirled. Remarkably the first glass reeked of dishwasher or some other detergent, so I moved onto my neighbour's glass instead (as needs must!) which was much improved. The fruit here displayed a beautifully fresh, pure and plummy character, with a dark, introverted, charcoal streak. This feels rather more restrained than I found the 2009 and 2010 for sure. In the mouth the wine displays plenty of substance though, with something of a softer texture than is usual, albeit it cut through by the firm acids which mark this vintage in many communes. As for the tannins, the key to the vintage, here they are rich and creamed, certainly less aggressive than the Pagodes, and they sit nicely buried within a deep layer of fruit over it all. Taking this wine in the context of the vintage it is very impressive, and although there is plenty here the style is certainly reined in compared to other recent vintages. Overall I'm pleased to find the structure all hangs together for my palate. An impressive and attractive wine, long in the finish, with finessed and velvety tannins. From my Bordeaux 2011 primeurs assessment. 16.5-17.5/20 (April 2012)

Les Pagodes de Cos (St Estèphe) 2011: The second wine of Cos d'Estournel. Cabernet Sauvignon 65%, Merlot 33%, Petit Verdot 2%. The acidity is 3.4 g/l, alcohol 13.3% and IPT 71. Accounts for 70% of the harvest. There is some good and open spice to the nose here, and some ripe fruit showing a dark, plum-skin character swirled with a little vanilla. The style on the palate is firm, full, showing some residual fermentation characteristics, and some oak elements too. The texture through the middle is rich, full and broad though, carrying a dark and firm tannic character, and although superficially the wine seems to handle it quite well beware, as the vintage certainly shows through here. A second taste soon reveals the tannins for the massive creatures they are. Overall a very firm and powerful wine, showy but lacking charm and balance. From my Bordeaux 2011 primeurs assessment. 14-15/20 (April 2012)

Cos d'Estournel Blanc (Bordeaux) 2011: This is the first time this wine has been shown alongside the reds en primeur, purportedly because the volumes have been too small until now for the wines to be commercialised. Sauvignon Blanc 67% at 30 hl/ha, Semillon 33% at 43 hl/ha, acidity 4.4 g/l, alcohol 13.3%. Very vibrant and polished, this has a stunning, open and expressive nose, full of very primary pear and apple fruit. Some cool fermentation iso-amyl notes here. Another beautifully crafted palate, broad, fruit-rich, very primary but perfumed, floral and pretty with orchard fruits including white peach. Full and rich, really very stylish, deep, pithy and substantial. Lovely wine. From my Bordeaux 2011 primeurs assessment. 16.5-17.5/20 (April 2012)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2010: There is 55% of production in the grand vin, the assemblage 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot (down from 33% in 2009), 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The alcohol is 14.5%, the pH 3.5 and the IPT 91. A very dark concentration here, opaque, purple-black at the core, with a bright crimson rim. It has a very smoky nose, showing toasty oak elements which usher in notes of coffee and also a little mocha-chocolate element. This does all hide the fruit somewhat, but with subsequent return to the nose it does show some fruit-based aromas, black cherries and other black fruits, with a sooty element no doubt coming from the tannins. On the palate it has a very solid composition at the start, again the structure shows here, but there is a much more obvious layer of fruit to flesh out the wine. There is still a wealth of tannin though, dense and powerful, tannins with a creamy-velvety feel to them, but that is not to deny that they are also broad and domineering in the mouth. This is a very muscular style, not at all relaxed or reposed, more of a heavyweight with sooty extraction. The finish sees a wall of gripping tannin coming in. This is certainly not as extreme as the 2009, being less anabolic, more balanced, but for my palate it lacks the fruit and substance for the towering edifice of structure that it possesses. Others, though, will love it, and I am sure it will receive broader praise than the controversial 2009. From my Bordeaux 2010 primeurs assessment. 16-17?/20 (April 2011)

Les Pagodes de Cos (St Estèphe) 2010: The second wine of Cos d'Estournel. The assemblage is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Merlot, the alcohol is 14.1%, the pH 3.5 and the IPT 73. A glossy and vibrant hue here. Rather darkly grained fruit on the nose. As far as the palate goes, it starts off rather stony and hollow, with the structure dominating the fruit at the very start of the wine, and this continues through the middle, where it shows a very big and rather chewy wall of tannin. These tannins have a velvety side to them but they really clamp down within the centre of the wine, control-freak tannins which dominate and dry out the finish. For my palate, this is overdone. From my Bordeaux 2010 primeurs assessment. 15-16/20 (April 2011)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2009: Accounting for 56% of the Cos harvest, this is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. IPT 99 (i.e. high). Naturally deeper, richer, creamier look to it than with Les Pagodes. Bright and crunchy-edged fruit, very tightly compacted, with rather a stony-steely feel. Pure, very well defined, with crunchy tar-like elements to it. Powerful attack on the palate, the alcohol is immediately apparent here, determining the texture of the wine to a large extent. Alongside there are reticent forest fruits and acids which take a backseat. Hard composition, tannins becoming very dominant. This is not a wine that will appeal to all. As it shows at present it certainly doesn't appeal to me. From my 2009 Bordeaux primeur assessment. 16-17+?/20 (March 2010)

Les Pagodes de Cos (St Estèphe) 2009: The second wine of Cos d'Estournel accounts for 44% of the harvest and is 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. IPT 77. Very creamy and vibrant appearance in the glass. A dark and sweet, forest fruits and plum character, with a fresh and crisp edge to it. Dark, clean, concentrated. Very firm character, very reserved, lots of powerful tannin coming to the fore very quickly. There is a seam of firm alcohol running through the core of it as well and this does influence the mouthfeel somewhat. Rather sweet feel from this element of the palate, although the fruit itself is rather stolid in comparison. The acidity takes a back seat to all the other elements here. Most obvious though is the wall of hard, mouth-puckering tannin which dominates the midpalate and finish. This is going to need a lot of time. From my 2009 Bordeaux primeur assessment. 15-16+/20 (March 2010)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2008: Some intense roasted fruit on the nose here, over the prerequisite seam of smoky, buttery oak. It is dark, inky, concentrated, and full of baked fruit character. The palate is the same, showing lots of the same dark and roasted fruit and underneath this a huge seam of tannin, with a broad, velvety, slightly brawny and chewy character. There is acidity too, but it does take a back seat somewhat. A very bold wine, built to impress, with a very long, drying finish. It is a wine that says much more about Cos d'Estournel than it does of St Estèphe. From a 2008 Bordeaux tasting at four years of age. 17/20 (November 2012)

Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2008: This is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc, and comprises 78% of the estate's production. Harvest ran from September 29th to October 13th, average yield just 27 hl/ha. Good firm fruit on the nose, fresh but moving towards dark fruit in style. Showing less oak than Pagodes, or Goulée. Tightly formed on the palate, although it is at least expressive. A nice, ripe grip in the background, a little silky but with texture and some weight. Nicely coated, elegant but with a little creaminess. Dense finish. Lots of potential here. From my 2008 Bordeaux primeur assessment. 17-18+/20 (April 2009)

Les Pagodes de Cos (St Estèphe) 2008: The second wine of Cos d'Estournel is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 53% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, and comprises 22% of the estate's production. Harvest ran from September 29th to October 13th, average yield just 27 hl/ha. Flattering, with toasty oak, with dark cherry character. Expressive. Fresh but textured, fairly generous, firmly structured though. Nicely composed, good substance, ripe tannins, some firm oak as well. Slightly chewy finish, well structured, with a more appealing character than that other famous second wine of St Estèphe, La Dame de Montrose. From my 2008 Bordeaux primeur assessment. 15-16+/20 (April 2009)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2007: The nose here is certainly distinctive, showing a firm, meaty, feral character, with a lack of freshness in terms of fruit aroma. It certainly suggests density and concentration, but will this be at the expense of other characteristics? The palate happily seems to have a good polish to it, coming across as rounded and seamless, with more elegance and lift than I was expecting. It seems quite seductive, in that the bright and forceful acidity seen in so many wines isn't anywhere near as firm here. I find it rather attractive, in an admittedly 'made' or 'forced' manner, with its well controlled tannins and slightly chewy finish. It does at least have some length to it. From a 2007 Bordeaux tasting at four years of age. 16/20 (November 2011)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2006: A great spicy, expressive character on the nose here; the fruit has a fabulously dark and yet fresh character, the nuances running alongside very reminiscent of crackling embers, iron filings, perhaps just a little dark and challenging bonfire toffee too. A very supple start on the palate, very balanced, with a good presence of structure, the tannins bright and chalky, and the fruit following a similarly well-defined pattern with good freshness. A great wine which will need 10-15 years. From a 2006 Bordeaux tasting at four years of age. 18+/20 (November 2010)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2005: This is a real contrast to Calon, with a pure, ethereal and complex perfume of fruit and flowers on the nose, overlaid with grainy, honeyed oak, and just a few elements of charcoal. The palate is very polished at first, but then reveals a slightly coarser element with a huge core of tannins. Lovely flavour of fruit though. Lots of structure, lovely fresh acidity, and no doubt great potential for the future. An excellent result but it needs 10-15 years. From a 2005 Bordeaux tasting at four years of age. 18-18.5+/20 (November 2009)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 2004: There is a lot of oak evident on the nose here, dense and toasty, but with good fruit too, with a sweet and gritty depth. Good weight on the palate, a touch brawny, with moderate texture and a solid, polished wood background. Firmly structured, grippy, with a firm core of fruit and a long, dense finish with tangible extract. Very good indeed. From a 2004 Bordeaux tasting at four years of age. 17.5+/20 (November 2008)


Les Pagodes de Cos (St Estèphe) 1998: The second wine of Château Cos d'Estournel. A really dark, dense purple wine. Fairly simple on the nose at the moment, but the palate is dense, muscular and firm. Powerful tannins and acidity sit with a touch of fatness. This wine certainly needs time. From a Majestic press tasting. 15.5/20 (November 2001)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 1994: This has a moderately dense hue, showing some maturity. The nose is remarkably perfumed, with a glorious roasted St Estèphe character, lightly gamey although this lies behind a complex and quite forceful melange of aromas, nuances of gravel and stones, clay too, and a rich, organic aroma suggestive of dark tea leaves, green olives and juniper berries, or perhaps a mix of them all. It has a firm and serious, very savoury character, dense with nothing sweet or soft or fruity about it. This is classic old-school Bordeaux, and gives plenty of olfactory joy. It has a really good presence on entry, and although it doesn't have the grand and flattering flesh of warmer and more favourable vintages there is without doubt a great substance here. There is a really grippy and savoury character which pervades on the palate, and the structure is very fine, with lovely and ripe if rather gritty tannin, and fresh acidity. And in the finish, a long and dry, stern and savoury character, with nuances of dry bitterness reminiscent of coffee-ground astringency. Really lovely, transcending the low-level reputation of the vintage. I'm sorry this is my last bottle! From a tasting of 1994 Bordeaux. 18/20 (August 2011)

Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 1994: Little sediment. Decanted and drank over the course of the evening. An appealing, dark hue. A glorious nose though, so typical of Cos. At first it gives just a little claretty blackcurrant, laced with nuances of green peppercorn and liquorice, before opening out to give a full blast of gravelly and violet-infused perfume, with the spicy complexity of cumin, backed by lifted fruit freshness. This is lovely, and simply dripping with style. Beautifully fresh from the outset, with a very complete, balanced composition that glides effortlessly across the palate, with only the bumping around of some ripe but unresolved tannins to prevent absolute maximal pleasure right now. But on the positive side these are ripe and sweet, and give a fine bite to it. Lovely rounded, wholesome finish. This is just delicious. I am so sorry that I have only one more bottle of this. From a 1994 Bordeaux tasting. 18.5+/20 (April 2007)


Château Cos d'Estournel (St Estèphe) 1961: English bottled. A good density here, a mature claretty hue out to the rim, and an interesting nose, of wet stones, cool minerals, mushrooms and just a little vegetal note in the background. It takes a little while to open up, but as it does so it becomes apparent that this is very classically styled. Full, a nice weight, good fruit and firm acidity. This has a good presence, with a light, elegant, rather detached texture. Slightly hot on the finish, starting to show its failings here. Will be going downhill soon I think. Drink up now. From a 1961 Bordeaux tasting. 17/20 (June 2007)