Bordeaux – 6 April 2013. It’s the Saturday before the crazy week known around here as en primeurs. The global wine press and trade have descended upon the region, and we’ll all be braving the soggy roads tasting barrel samples from the 2012 vintage. Some of the more famous writers/appraisers have already come and gone, preferring to avoid next week’s mob scene. I’ve already tasted several 2012 samples, although too few to formulate any kind of general opinion of the vintage as a whole. In many cases the harvest occurred much later than usual, and the samples are not as far along in their development as in vintages past. This has added fuel to the fire of those buzzing around Bordeaux calling 2012 a hit or miss vintage. I’ve certainly tasted some outstanding samples, but also a few that didn’t show quite that well. But I’m here. It’s nice to see familiar faces and good friends, and I look forward to new experiences and meeting new friends. It was during a lunch last year when the invitation was extended to me. And it was this afternoon when I had a most wonderful visit with Florence and Dominique Decoster at Château Fleur Cardinale.
It was with ridiculous short notice that I sent an email to the Decosters inquiring as to their availability either this afternoon or next Friday, two dates where I would be in the St. Emilion area with a car and a little free time. The response was immediate: “Please come visit us on Saturday.” Very cool. It’s great when things work out so well. I arrived right on time and Dominique came pulling up just after I got out of my car. “Have you been waiting long?” The answer was no. Florence was already inside and she opened the door, greeted me, and let us in. We all exchanged pleasantries, and then Florence showed me a map of the appellation. Of the various soil and terroir types around St. Emilion, Fleur Cardinale sits upon a vein of the exact same clay and limestone terroir that the prestigious vineyards of the plateau that surrounds the village enjoy.  She then escorted me into the tank room. 24 stainless steel vats all marked with words of affirmation … of what it takes to make great wine. No pumping is used in the facility, it is all about gravity. At the end of the tank room are the large doors, and through one of them we were able to observe the vineyards. They surround their home which is perched on a rise southwest of their facility. More vines surround the winery itself, all growing upon rolling hills. Adjacent to the vines around their house are those of Château Valandraud. Jean-Luc Thunevin is friend, neighbor, and consultant to the Decosters. Florence pointed out to me that they continue to improve their methods in the vineyard, using the least amount of chemicals that is possible. She also pointed out that growing between the vines is not only grass and such, but herbs as well. It’s been cold in Bordeaux, so we quickly headed back inside (as if a winery is a warm place) and continued to the barrel room. The Decosters use 100% French oak sourced from 6 different coopers and believe in separating their various plots into separate barrels. Of course, all fruit is hand harvested. 
Back to the hospitality area, we rejoined Dominique and resumed our conversation. As Florence and Dominique took turns speaking about their wines, I was once again struck by their collective passion for the wines they make. Their ability to speak English should not be overlooked either. Here I’ve been working on my French for months, and no one knows it. The time came to taste. Dominique had sample half bottles of both the 2012 Croix de Cardinale and 2012 Fleur Cardinale. Croix de Cardinale is a seperate property the Decosters acquired in April of 2011. It was comprised of 8 hectares that surrounded the finest parcels of the Fleur Cardinale vineyard. The finest 4 of those (with the usual red tape required) have now been incorporated into the Fleur Cardinale vineyard. The 2012 Croix de Cardinale has every reason to show stylistically similar to its neighbor, and it does. The 2012 Fleur Cardinale was a great example of a high quality St. Emilion barrel sample. Opulent fruit, texture, expression, and structure.  In harmony.


This got us ’round to talking of the 2010. I remarked of how the vintage was originally presented after we tasted the primeurs in April of 2011. We knew the wines would be great someday, but it seemed at the time that they would need a long time in the cellar. Fast forward to this past January when the bottled wines made their US debut. Still showing sturdy structure, they have begun to develop some charm as well, which suggests perhaps they don’t need as much time in the cellar as previously thought. I explained to them that we sold out of our 2010 Fleur Cardinale futures, but considering the quality, we went back to the marketplace and bought more. It cost a bit more, but it is soooo worth it. This is great wine from a great terroir made by great people! Oh yeah, this talk prompted Dominique to break out a sample half bottle of the 2010. What a treat. At different times, both Florence and Dominique told me that 2010 was their favorite. After tasting it again myself, I must agree. It’s probably going to be at its best from 2018 on, but it will be a great wine for a long time.

Sorry, brevity is not my strong suit, thanks for hanging with me this far. As I type away at 1:25 Sunday morning in my hotel room, I was happy to relive my visit with the Decosters today. They exemplify what wine is all about; and for me, what Bordeaux is all about: passion. You’ve either got it or you don’t, it’s that easy. So, easing into what is a full schedule of tastings and visits (with rain beginning Monday and lasting throughout the week), at the end of the day, the interactions I have with the passionate personalities around this diverse region is equally important as the juice they produce. That wasn’t supposed to rhyme. Look for more reports on the 2012 en primeur campaign soon. – Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about 2012 Bordeaux, passion about wine, Fleur Cardinale, or how I am enjoying the rain: