A couple of years ago now, I was in a bit of a quandary; I had been hired to conduct a wine tasting here in Houston and the wine I had ordered for the event was delayed in transit, doubtful to show up in time. Since I had “sold” the event as an examination of the effects of time on wine and was going to pour several vintages of a few wines, I could not just go to my local wine store and buy replacements.
In what I like to describe as an “all-out panic” I contacted a few of the friends I had made in the wine industry to see if there was any way they could help. And boy did they.
As I mentioned in the first write-up of these events, the late Jim Caudill sent me several wines, including two bottles each of three vintages of Chateau St. Jean’s Cinq Cépages.
Cinq Cépages (which means “five varieties” a reference to the five main varieties used in Bordeaux) is the flagship wine of Chateau St. Jean, founded in 1973 (and is thus celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) in Kenwood, California, a few miles east of Santa Rosa in Sonoma Valley.
The winery has changed hands a few times over the years and was owned by Treasury Wine Estates when Jim sent me the wines. Foley Family Wines purchased Chateau St. Jean in late 2021.
Well, it turned out that the wines I had originally purchased for the tasting showed up in the nick of time and I held onto these “emergency replacements” since then, trying to figure out a way to use them.
That happened last month as I decided to host two dinners for others in my community and raise funds for two causes that are important to both my wife and me: the Palliative Care Program at Texas Children’s Hospital, and the East Spring Branch Food Pantry. (Full disclosure: my wife is the director of the Palliative Care Program at TCH).
By all accounts (at least those who spoke to me afterward), the evening was successful and informative. Here are my notes on the Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages–the dinners took place about three weeks apart and it was surprising how different the wines were from the first to the second tasting.
2005 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Cinq Cépages, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $80. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot. There is a bit of a long story behind how I acquired these three vintages of Cinq Cépages, which I will spare you since I stole them at gunpoint (not really), but I decided to do a mini-vertical of three wines and donate all of the money to our two favorite charities (I charged $100/person which was too cheap). Regardless. This wine is quite dark in both color and aromas with the dark berry fruit (cassis, blackberry) a bit stewed on the nose. There are also decent doses of leather, tobacco leaf, and earth–quite compelling in a brooding kind of way. The palate is surprisingly fruity, nearly two decades out, and without that stewed component that was on the nose. All that fruit is balanced with a vibrant tartness, an earthy element, and a lengthy finish. This is not at the end of its life, but that movie is about to start up rather soon, I would suspect. Still, this is really fantastic now. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2010 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $80. 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec. This 2010 was the second of the mini-vertical (’05, ’10, ’15), the ’05 was stellar and this wine is simply fantastic. Dark and brooding in the glass, but rather shy on the nose, even after some time open. The palate, however, is quite expressive, with tart, rich fruit, an abundance of spice, and a considerable tannic grip on the finish. While I think I prefer the ’05, it is only slightly. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2015 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $80. 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. The third of my mini-three bottle vertical, and the most expressive, at least on the nose, of the three. Red and dark berry fruit, loads of plum, black pepper. Yowza. The nose is fabulous. The palate is loaded with fruit: rich, layered, and tart, it’s incredible. Plenty of depth and intrigue here, this wine, while almost a decade old already, is youthful and incredible now. Those chalky tannins on the finish, though, suggest plenty of life ahead. Whoa. Outstanding. 95 Points.
2005 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $80. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot. When I last tasted this wine, a mere three weeks ago, it was great, outstanding even. When I immediately noticed that the cork of this latest bottle was soft (and I should have switched to an Ah-so, but didn’t), I was worried. When the cork then broke I was even more so (and cursed myself for not switching to the Ah-so). There is a hint of “corked” on the nose, but barely perceptible. Dark fruit, mostly cassis and black plum with black pepper and spice. Yowza. The palate is fruity, a bit muted, but nicely balanced. This is not the biggest Cinq Cépages I have popped, but it is a solid effort. Excellent. 91 Points.
2010 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $80. 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec. Three weeks ago, this was the second wine of a mini-verticle and it finds itself in the precisely same position tonight. Dark, on the verge of quite dark in the glass with a rather tart nose of blackberry, plum, and cassis. There is also some spice and a decided herbal aspect (dill and basil) that lends an austere aspect. The palate is as close to the complete opposite as I have experienced. Rich, fruity, layered, tart, intense. It is balanced and harmonious, yowza. With the tannins mostly integrated, now is the time to drink! Outstanding. 95 Points.
2015 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages, Sonoma County, CA: Retail $80. 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. The last bottle of my double mini-vertical tasting of three wines and the last time out, this was fantastic, maybe the best of all the nine wines. This time? Medium color in the glass with fruit, yes, but also a tartness that verges on off-putting. The palate, though, is anything but. Rich fruit (blackberry), wonderful spice, and a near-impeccable balance. While the nose this go-around had me nervous, there was no need for concern. Gangbusters. Outstanding. 96 Points.