On 20 July I visited Château Teyssier to taste Jonathan Maltus’s 2009 portfolio.
Maltus, who made his money in engineering, purchased Teyssier in 1994. It is now his family home, business HQ and where his ten French wines are made.
Teyssier is a small estate of only 5 hectares, a typical size for the fragmented holdings of Saint-Émilion. Grapes for Château Teyssier’s wine are sourced from various parts of the appellation to a total of just over 24 ha, mainly from the sandy soils of southwest Saint-Émilion. Maltus owns 53 ha in total, typically producing 15,000 cases per annum of Tesyssier and 10,000 of the other labels.
Winemaking is modernist: green harvesting; destemming; cold maceration; warm fermentations; malolactic and ageing in new oak barrels. The wines are “handpicked and handcrafted”, according to Teyssier’s bumph, in which the “Vinification” blurb is identical for three wines and largely unchanged for the others.
Late picking undoubtedly masks much of what a vineyard might otherwise articulate. For their 2009 wines, Cheval Blanc was all done by 8 October and Ausone by 10 October. Le Dôme and Angélus did not finish until 14 October.
Despite this apparently intransigent winemaking, which seemingly leads to an uncompromising style across the portfolio of rich fruit and high alcohol, there are noticeable differences between them that can only be explained by the diversity of terroir in Saint-Émilion. Nonetheless, one wonders if the wines might be even more expressive with bespoke winemaking.
Marianne Nicolaisen, Teyssier’s charming sales manager, likes to point out that their 2009 prices are identical to those of 2005. Pezat is €5.50, with Le Dôme the most expensive at €95. The latter translates to a retail price of £1,150 ex-cellars. The 2005 Le Dôme is £2,000 in bond.
All the wines tasted were barrel samples of final blends of the 2009 vintage.
Pezat Bordeaux Supérieur
This is made in the same way as Teyssier but sells at half the price. Its vineyard is situated between Saint-Émilion and Branne, a small town to the south of Saint-Émilion on the Dordogne. Blended from 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, this is generous but oaky at the moment, with some liquorice aromas. Quite a mouthful for a humble Bordeaux Supérieur.
Château Teyssier Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. Like Pamela Anderson this is wearing rather too much makeup… There is a lot of oak on the nose and palate. But it has supple fruit and the tannins are not rebarbative. It should age well.
Château Laforge Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Laforge is sourced from vineyards that encapsulate Saint-Émilion’s three prevailing terroirs – gravel, sand, and clay over limestone. Blended mainly with Merlot and oak! Very concentrated, very oak-dry and very tannic. Try ageing to 2020? Only 1,200 cases per year.
Le Carré Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
This vineyard, formerly owned by Château Canon, was planted in 1956 after the devastating February frost of that year. It lies cheek by jowl with Clos Fourtet and only 100 yards from Les Astéries. Its terroir is thick clay over limestone, as opposed to the thinner clay over limestone of Les Astéries. 80% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc and only 300 cases made. Dark, brooding nose. Some oak apparent but less than with Laforge. Some elegance and a potent finish. Not bad.
Les Astéries Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
Because of the higher limestone content in this vineyard, which was formerly owned by Château Fonroque and is one of the few vineyards to have survived the ’56 frost, Astéries is more mineral than the previous wines. But it is over-seasoned with new oak on the palate. The burly, Philipic tannins are in part countered by the terpsichorean acidity – not something one finds much of in these 2009s. As with Le Carré, production levels are negligible, with only 300 or so cases made.
Vieux Château Mazerat Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
Sourced mainly from clay on limestone vineyards near Beau-Séjour Bécot and Beauséjour-Duffau-Lagarrosse, with a smaller portion from near Angélus and Le Dôme that lies on sand over crasse de fer, the clay that Pétrus sits on. This smaller vineyard is the half of the Le Dôme estate that Maltus was unable to purchase in 1996. 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc. Dark nose showing some liquorice and boot polish, all very goût Américain. Thick, rich fruit, finishing with some oak flavours and not unduly hard-boiled tannins.
Jonathan Maltus claims that this is “allegedly the biggest expression of Cabernet Franc of a wine from Bordeaux.” I do not know who has made these allegations but this claim must now be unquestioned. This 2009 is very concentrated, finishing sweet and crisp. The tannins are good, though closer to corduroy than velvet in texture. Big and generous, with fairly low acidity. To drink relatively young.