There are eleven classed-growth châteaux in St Julien. This is one of those widely known, immutable and ultimately probably rather useless wine facts that seems destined to stay lodged in my brain until I am in my grave. Perhaps less widely appreciated (or perhaps not) is the fact that these eleven cru classé châteaux account for the vast majority of this appellation’s vineyard, about 80% of it. Within the remaining 20% are a small handful of well-known cru bourgeois estates such as Château Gloria and Château du Glana. That doesn’t leave much for anyone else, but it would be wrong to think that means there are no other domaines waiting to be discovered in this commune.
Jean-François Fillastre is one of a number of vignerons working a small slice of that 20% at Domaine du Jaugaret. He has barely more than a hectare of vines (1.3, to be precise), dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon of course, with a few rows of Petit Verdot and that most under-rated of Bordeaux varieties, Malbec. The land has been in his family for centuries, reputedly since 1654. As you might imagine the vineyard is old, knocking on sixty-years of age on average, although some of the Malbec vines have already forgotten their one-hundredth birthdays.
The yields are low, and the approach to winemaking very non-interventionist, the wines still made today as they were many decades ago, with no chemical additions or manipulations. This is a philosophy which has of course led some corners of the wine trade to heap praise upon the domaine, its wines, and Jean-François Fillastre’s resilience in the face of pressure to conform in what is an increasingly slick, proud and wealthy wine region. It must require courage and perhaps a degree of obstinance to continue on in such an environment, especially when it seems as if the system conspires against you. The vintage I focus on here, the 2008, was refused the agrément for the St Julien appellation, and as illustrated above Jean-François Fillastre had to be content with releasing it as a Vin de France.
Although not officially declared, Holmesian skills are not required to deduce the vintage of the 2008 Jaugaret, given that the lot number printed on the label is L2008.1. It has an attractive dusty hue in the glass, and it feels initially tense and smoky on the nose, certainly highly strung and taut, and it quickly reveals some high-toned and warm characteristics that don’t immediately make me think of Bordeaux. The southern Rhône comes to mind instead, or even Rioja, although the sweet veins of blackcurrant coursing beneath it all should give a clue as to the predominant variety used here. The palate is surprisingly soft, supple and rounded given that initially suggestion of tension, the fruit here showing a lightly baked and macerated edge. This is wrapped around a very firm central spindle of acidity, and through the midpalate the profile of the wine sharpens up, turning more acid-bound and sinewy, leading into a long, punchy and rather tart finish.
This is certainly a unique style for the region, and I can see on tasting it why it might be refused the agrément. It also feels rather rustic, in its build and structure. It is far from impossible to drink though, it has to be said. I note in subsequent vintages Jean-François Fillastre returned to using the St Julien appellation, so the rather discrepant style found here may be an aberration in this one vintage, and I should perhaps look out for another bottle, younger or older, before forming a strong opinion on the wines of Jean-François Fillastre. 89/100 (30/7/18)
Read more in:
- My guide to Bordeaux Red Varieties
- My reports on the 2008 Bordeaux vintage
- My guide to the wines of St Julien