Wednesday Wines – Episode 20

Episode 20 – 12th August 2020

I am breaking my own rules today and bring you a rather long essay on only one wine as opposed to my usual two notes.  This ground-breaking wine is launched today and this is the very first article concerning its taste, so it rightly gets the stage to itself.  Well not quite.  It is also my Ma’s birthday, so this is another reason to celebrate!

2019 Elégance du Clos Cantenac, Bordeaux Rosé, France (£42.00, reduced to £37.50 for early orders, and a limited number of magnums are available for £75.00, Private Cellar tel. 01353 721999, www.privatecellar.co.uk).

I greatly admire people with vision and also determination and I am delighted to say that a good few pioneers in the wine business possess these enviable traits.  I am perhaps guilty of using the term ‘trail-blazer’ a little too often in my wine commentary, but I am confident trail-blazing vision and determination, as well as great taste and patience, have brought winemaker Lolly (Charlotte) Krajewski and her father, the experienced, globe-trotting, vinous magnate Martin Krajewski, to a truly remarkable destination in their combined vinous history.

You may be familiar with the micro-production, top-end rosé, made by the Krajewski Saint-Emilion property Clos Cantenac, called l’exuberance.  If not, then you are missing out because this is one of the top rosé wines in the world.  It has already taken the Bordeaux rosé category to new and unexpected heights and my recent review of the 2019 release (published on 29th April 2020 in the Wednesday Wines feature on my website) reported the following – If you are looking for a top-flight rosé to drink alongside the ultra-fine Château d’Esclans cuvées, Rock Angel, Les Clans and Garrus, there is one candidate, from a very different part of the country, which I believe is sensational and it is made from the most unlikely rosé grape imaginable – Merlot.   Weighing in at only 12.5% alcohol and with 30% barrel fermented in new, second and third fill oak and then aged for five months before release, this is a highly sophisticated creation.  With a lighter framework than most Provençal rosés and a faint smokiness which comes from its brief sojourn in oak, this is both an elegant aperitif wine and also a gastronomic treat.

For the last three years, Lolly has been working on a secret and even more ambitious project than their superb Saint-Emilion (Clos Cantenac) and Pomerol (Séraphine) red wines.   She imagined a very specific style of wine in her brain – the aroma, the shape, the texture and the finish – and it has taken an extraordinary amount of skill and persistence to bring it to life, but this is what has happened.  She rightly realised that there is no point in duplicating the flavour template of the already ravishing L’exuberance du Clos Cantenac Rosé.  Instead, this wine had to be completely different in every single respect apart from one – it would be made from their beloved Merlot grape.

The ultimate combination of a special site, sensitive viticulture, precise picking dates, gentle handling and inspired vinification could, with a bit of luck, all add up to Lolly’s mental image of her dream rosé wine.  I am thrilled to report that this planning, practice, intuition and execution has all paid dividends because the inaugural vintage of 2019 Elégance du Clos Cantenac is sensational.

The main stopping points on this pioneering journey were as follows.  The finest possible source of Merlot grapes, from a tiny (less than 0.6ha) plot of old, low-yielding vines on the famous limestone plateau neat Saint-Quentin-de-Baron.  The grapes were picked, in early September, at the ripeness moment when the ‘green’ or herbal notes (pyrazines) had melted away but much earlier that one would do for traditional red winemaking.  This meant that there were perfect levels of keen acidity, freshness, minerality and energy in these grapes – all perfect for making elite rosé.

Next came the moment of inspiration.  The Krajewskis bought a 7hl (700 litres) concrete egg and whole bunches of perfect Merlot were fermented in this amazing vessel.  Concrete allows less oxygen ingress than oak and so the freshness and minerality were maintained, making this a tight, nervy, keen style of wine with none of the luxurious patisserie/oak notes found in their L’exuberance label.  The wine was racked and then it spent a total of five months on its gross less and this built the mid-palate of the rosé bringing a lush, silky-smooth-lustre which perfectly counterbalances the awesome minerality.  It is unlike any other rosé I have ever tasted.

The difference in personality between L’exuberance and Elégance is both stark and fascinating.  It is hard to think of how to improve on something which is already so complete, so Lolly took a different route to achieve a brand new rosé expression for the Merlot grape variety and I think that this is the finest rosé wine that the Krajewskis have ever made.

Weighing in at only 13% alcohol, there is a finesse and elegance here that Provençal rosé, made from the swarthy Grenache grape, can only dream of.  The perfume is unique, too, with ginger lily, white pepper and faint grassy notes which caress the senses.  While the aromatics are sensational, the main action is on the mid-palate which is akin to a super-fine emery board of flavour.  There is imperceptible traction on the tongue of every molecule in this wine and it appears to hang onto your taste buds for a second or two longer than you think possible.  This is both an airy, delicate wine but it also contains a mineral core which sends shivers down your spine.  The finish is prodigious with tart rhubarb and red cherry skin moments which never let your taste buds rest.

While this is the inaugural release of this wine it is immediately obvious to me that this is a total and utter classic.  I understand that it will go on sale in August 2020 and with only 600 bottles and 100 magnums for the world, there will no doubt be a scrum to secure stock.  I imagine that this wine will age nicely for a year or two, but my samples tasted in early June, looked insanely scrumptious already, so don’t hold back.

The pressure will be on the Krajewskis to follow the successes of 2019 L’exuberance and Elégance in the 2020 vintage.  I wouldn’t bet against them finessing these two wines, as well as the rest of their portfolio, even further and that is incredibly exciting indeed.