Part of the Vancouver International Wine Festival are seminars; Seminars to make you more informed about wine. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages Vertical tasting seminar. And now, you can share in some of my knowledge.
What is Cinq Cepages?
Cinq Cepages is a blend of five Bordeaux red varietals and is the flagship wine of Chateau St. Jean, located in Sonoma County, California. Cinq Cepages is French for “Five Grape Varieties”. The five varieties being used for Cinq Cepages are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The first vintage of this top tier wine was in 1990 by their first wine maker Dick Arrowood, with grapes originally from their estate vineyards in Kenwood. Now the grapes come from nearly every growing region within Sonoma County, to give you a taste of the entire appellation. Chateau St. Jean has about 200 acres in Kenwood. The winery was founded in 1973 by Robert and Edward Merzoian and Kenneth Sheffield, and named after Jean Sheffield Merzoian. In 1999, Chateau St. Jean was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the prestigious “Wine of the Year” award from Wine Spectator Magazine for its 1996 Cinq Cépages.
When you think of Cabernet Sauvignon or red wine, most people think of Napa Valley, instead of the larger, neighbouring Sonoma Valley. Napa being more inland has a hotter climate and can produce bigger, more extracted red wines. Somona Valley too has sub-regions that can also produce the big red wines, but as it is closer to the ocean, also has many cooler regions, which can produce lighter bodied, and more subtle, elegant wines in my opinion.
Each grape variety is fermented separately for Cinq Cepages and is aged separately in French and American oak for 2 years before blending. Our speaker for this tasting is the current Associate Winemaker, Bob Coleman. Bob has worked his way up the ranks in Chateau St Jean starting in the barrel room, to being an Assistant Winemaker, to now being the Associate Winemaker. An Associate Winemaker has the same level of “power” as the Principal Winemaker, and could be thought of the 2nd in command of a vessel. The talk was interesting in part because Bob helped in the selection of barrels of wine, and percentages of different grape varieties that went into the blend for recent years’ vintages.
What is a Vertical Tasting?
It is not a tasting where you are standing and trying wines. There are events like that, and those are called grazing, or walk-about tastings, are usually accompanied with food, and are very unstructured. A Vertical Tasting is a tasting of a single wine produced from different years, done in a formal sit down format. You taste each vintage of the particular wine, making notes, discussing each vintage, and getting an idea of how the younger vintages will age and taste, using the current older vintages as a guide. It is a very educational and fun experience.
Our Vertical tasting comprised on the 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 vintages of Cinq Cepages. There were a few gaps in the years, but it is still quite something to sample 8 vintages of one top tier wine in one sitting. I started tasting the wines from the most youthful to the oldest vintage, as the younger vintages, in general, are more full of fruit flavour, while older vintages lose some of their fruit and secondary flavour characteristics and subtleties become more prominent. I enjoy tasting this way so I can see the progression of the wine.
My Cinq Cepages Review
- Cinq Cepages 2009 – opaque purple core with bright reddish purple rim. Syrupy nose, with lots of vanilla, and ripe dark fruit, and some cedar coming in from behind. After a while, I noted some nutmeg aroma. This wine was medium bodied, dry, with supple tannins and silky smooth mouth feel. Dark plum, ripe dark fruit and chocolate with a slightly puckering finish. Medium plus length.
- Cinq Cepages 2008 – Dark purple core, with dull garnet rim. Earthy, brooding nose, with saddle, vanilla, dark fruit and a hint of cedar again. Full body, medium acidity, dry and silky in the mouth. Red cherries, nutmeg and vanilla on the palate. While 09 has youthful vigor, 08 is showing a more elegant side.
- Cinq Cepages 2007 – Deep garnet in colour with a dark, dull garnet rim. It started with a pronounced cedar/capsicum aroma, but that dissipated after some time in the glass. Primarily aromas of vanilla and dark fruits. Full body, silky soft, with bitter dark chocolate, cherries, plums, blueberries and vanilla flavours. I also noted some minerality on the mid-palate (think saltiness) that excited my palate. Light mouthfeel and some spice on the finish.
- Cinq Cepages 2006 – Dark garnet core to the rim. Coffee, vanilla, dark fruit and dark chocolate aromas in the glass. Full body, dry, firm fine tannins, and higher acidity. Chocolate, ripe plums, cherries and vanilla flavours. Astringent finish.
- Cinq Cepages 2005 – Dark garnet core with a dark dull coloured rim. Dark fruit nose, with lesser amounts of vanilla, coffee and cedar notes. Dry, full body, silky mouthfeel, with vanilla, black cherries, plums, some floweriness and blackberry leaf flavour. Medium plus tannins, and medium length.
- Cinq Cepages 2003 – Dark core and dull garnet rim. The nose was also a bit dull, but showed black cherries and vanilla. Medium plus body. Ripe dark fruit, some mintiness, chocolate, and blackberry leaf flavour. Higher acidity and firm tannins. An interesting wine.
- Cinq Cepages 2002 – Dark core with dull darker garnet rim. Nice nose showing red cherries and vanilla and a hint of cedar/capsicum. Full body, with lots of ripe cherries, dark fuit, and some of the minitiness that I also tasted in the 2003 vintage. Medium plus tannins with chocolate on the finish. Wonderful wine.
- Cinq Cepages 2000 – Dark core with slight bricking on the rim. Subdued nose, with dark fruit and some saddle aromas. Full body, soft mouthfeel with cocoa, dark fruit, saddle, vanilla and minerality. Firm tannins pick up mod to end of the palate. Drink now according to Bob.
My Thoughts on the Wines
Overall I really like the Cinq Cepages wines. They are all top quality and I think can stand to age. Bob did note that the wines are drinkable young, but if you cellar them for a while, they will show some other interesting characteristics. With the vertical we tasted, the 2000 is 13 years old and is now at it’s prime for drinking. I think these other vintages can also last at least 10-15 years. My favorite vintages were 2007, 2006, and 2002. They had flavours and complexity I enjoyed.
I did detect some minerality on the 2007 and 2000 vintages. I am not sure if it is due to aging, or a particular vineyard used in those years, but I would be curious to watch and see if any of the other wines have a streak of minerality over time. Similarly with the mintiness I detected in the 2003 and 2002 vintages. Will this flavour characteristic show up in the 2004 and younger vintages?
It is always fun to speculate on how a wine will age. I hope Chateau St Jean will come back to the Vancouver International Wine Festival, so I can compare these notes, with my new notes on Cinq Cepages.
For more information on Chateau St. Jean and their wines, you can visit their website at this link. Enjoy!