Merlot has seen a downturn in sales over the past few vintages. Some may thank the meteoric rise of Pinot Noir to the decline (or the movie Sideways). Merlot has long been a blending grape, not only in California, where its main role has always been to add supple fruit to astringent Cabernet, but also in Bordeaux, where it remains the most widely planted variety (playing second fiddle to Cabernet in the Medoc and as the star performer in both St. Émilion and Pomerol). So while over the past decade that Merlot has slowed to a crawl, the wines of St. Émilion and Pomerol have never been better!
I first met Dominique Decoster in 2001 while travelling through St. Émilion with famed imported/raconteur Jefferie Davies. Dominique and his wife Florence had recently purchased the Ch. Fleur Cardinale, a few miles from St. Émilion on the limestone plateau. Their fortune was made in porcelain, more precisely Limoges porcelain and their company, Haviland. They poured their hearts and souls (and a gob of cash) into the Chateau and vineyards, and the Grand Vin, Ch. Fleur Cardinale had immediately become not only a Robert Parker perennial high scorer, but also a staple wine at ABC.
In 2013, during the 2012 en primeur campaign, Jeff offered a new wine from the Decosters, a little 1.2 HA vineyard east of St. Émilion planted in rich clay over limestone. I passed, he persisted! Glad he did. The secret was out, and I am happy to say it is in stores now, but it’s not gonna last. The wine is ‘Secret de Cardinale’ 2012 and it is worth stopping in and trying a bottle. It’s $37.00, and production was I miniscule 125 cases. I bought 50. Jeff maintains the wine is 100% Merlot, hand-harvested in small lugs, sorted 3 times, gravity fed into stainless for fermentation, then spends 13-15 months in 100% new barrel.
Its review is as follows: “This is a tiny gem of an estate, just three acres sitting on rich clay and limestone soils and planted with 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. Owned by the Decoster family (justifiably famous for their fabulous wine Fleur Cardinale), this 2012 is a super-concentrated, layered, opulent wine with luxurious fruit largely concealing some serious tannin. This blockbuster displays plenty of mocha, black cherry and cassis fruit. It has an incredibly dense, opaque purple color and a full-bodied mouthfeel. This is a stunner but very limited in availability. Anticipated maturity: 2019-2035+. Wine Advocate 93+”
Get it while you can!
Shayne Hebert, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Wine & Spirits Supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineShayne