Château Lassègue 2006
I have been trying to get to grips with St Emilion recently. That probably doesn’t sound all that exciting. After all, it’s Merlot, it’s clay, what more is there to discover? It is hardly Savennières or Sancerre, made so complex by their myriad coulées and slopes, and their infinite variety of schists, limestones and flints. Well, I am here to speak up in defence of the appellation, for there is certainly some complexity here, hardly surprising when we consider that, at 5,500 hectares, St Emilion is one of the largest ‘big name’ appellations in the region. Only Graves, at about 3,900 hectares, comes close. In such a huge expanse of vineyard there is room for a number of different terroirs, including sand of various origins, gravel, limestone and clay (and, of course, blends thereof). And there is more here than Merlot, with some châteaux increasingly featuring Cabernet Franc, although to be straight the vast majority do, I admit, stick with the traditional Merlot-dominated assemblage.
The most striking complexity within the appellation, however, comes from the approach of the winemaker; the point at which the grapes picked, and the philosophy when it comes to vinification. Wines made with a focus on extreme ripeness, perhaps with longer or more aggressive extraction, give us St Emilion in the modern style; dark, showing fuzziness of flavour when taken to an extreme, sometimes with more tannin or alcohol than we expected. Wines with a greater focus on picking the fruit when it is à point give us greater purity and balance, wines of confident elegance which can challenge even the greatest names of Pessac-Léognan and Margaux. Understanding this is perhaps key to truly knowing the appellation. And while I feel I know in which box I would put the likes of Château Ausone or Château Angélus, wines with which I am familiar, there are hundreds of other estates out there with which I am decidedly less familiar.
When I first heard of Château Lassègue my interest was piqued, not least because I learnt the wines were made by Pierre Seillan. That name seemed disconcertingly familiar, but I just couldn’t place it. And then (after a little research) it came to me; Pierre had started out at Château de Targé, a leading estate in Saumur-Champigny. It was Pierre that first made the estate’s Quintessence, one of the most remarkable cuvées in the entire appellation. Since then he has gone on to work in Bordeaux at a variety of châteaux, before then heading off to Sonoma in California to work there with the late Jess Jackson. Today he and the Jackson family work hand in hand, looking after a number of different estates both in California and Bordeaux. Château Lassègue, in St Emilion, is a joint project between the Seillan and Jackson families.
The estate is located east of the town of St Emilion in the commune of St Hippolyte, and it sits at the foot of the slope of the St Christophe plateau. The property dates to the 17th century, and was bought by the Jackson and Seillan families in 2003. There are 60 hectares of vineyards, planted with 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2006 vintage, already knocking on nine years old, follows the composition of the vineyard rather closely, with just a little less Merlot (55%) and a little more Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (37% and 8% respectively). In the glass the 2006 Château Lassègue is dark, pure and wears a glossy sheen. Initially it kicks off with a blast of coffee and very primary blackcurrant fruit, but this soon fades to reveal some more cerebral, reserved notes; there is a little slickness to the fruit character, with a slightly roasted, dried-fruit edge, with a touch of pepper too, but overall this wine feels rather closed down and inexpressive. It is at that age where, to be honest, I am not surprised to find this to be the case. The palate is full and composed, quite richly textured, velvety with a little of that dried fruit character coming through, but otherwise it feels as reticent as the nose. It is the structure that allows us to gauge the wine’s potential; it has a very firm grip to it, with solid tannins, not drying but certainly the most notable feature in the mouth, ahead of any issues concerning flavour. This shows more towards the end, the wine showing a glossy and grippy finish. This is not any easy-going St Emilion for drinking young, but one that needs yet more time in the cellar for my palate. In style it leans towards the more modern end of the spectrum, but this isn’t a byword for being overdone. It has a ripe concentration, and perhaps reflects Pierre’s many years spent working in California, but it certainly isn’t pushed too far. Alcohol 13.5%. 15.5/20 (2/3/15)