It may have a more famous sibling on the left bank, but Saint-Emilion’s Chateau Quintus deserves some limelight, writes Peter Ranscombe.
“I NEVER worry about showing Quintus after Haut-Brion,” shrugged Guillaume-Alexandre Marx, Domaine Clarence Dillon’s sales manager, over lunch at wine-focused private members’ club 67 Pall Mall in London.
There’s a perceptible raising of eyebrows from the wine writers merrily clinking their glasses around the table.
Château Haut-Brion is one of the five top-ranked premier cru vineyards in the Medoc on the left banks of the Garonne river and Gironde estuary in Bordeaux, while Château Quintus is its relatively-new sibling at Saint-Emilion on the right bank.
American banker Clarence Dillon bought Haut-Brion in 1935, with his descendants adding Chateau Tertre Daugay in Saint-Emilion in 2011 and renaming it Château Quintus – Jacob Rees-Mogg would approve – and buying the neighbouring Château L’Arrosée in 2013.
The domaine’s previous four “children” are the red and white wines from Haut-Brion and the rouge and blanc from its Château La Mission Haut-Brion stablemate.
While many owners would want to show their most-famous wine last, Marx said he is comfortable to pour Quintus after Haut-Brion when he’s hosting tastings because of the way in which estate manager Francois Capdemourlin and his team make the wines, which are designed to be approachable early-on in their lives.
“Young Haut-Brion can be tough,” he admitted, before adding how he will often also serve Quintus with dessert.
Third wine is far from third rate
Quintus’s early-drinking style was certainly on show over lunch today at 67 Pall Mall across all three of its incarnations: Saint-Emilion de Quintus, which comes from the valley floor; Le Dragon de Quintus, hailing from the clay and sand at the foot of the slopes; and Château Quintus itself, made from grapes grown on at the top of the hillside on the blend of clay and limestone soils for which the village of Saint-Emilion is renowned.
Capdemourlin not only wants to express the differences between the three terrains in his wines, but also to capture the variation between vintages.
While all the wines follow the right-bank focus on merlot, the blend of the grapes in each wine varies from year to year, with the 2015 Saint-Emilion de Quintus featuring a mix of 45% merlot, 32% cabernet franc and 23% cabernet sauvignon and the 2016 Saint-Emilion de Quintus switching to 61% merlot, 28% cabernet franc and 11% cabernet sauvignon.
The 2015 spent 10 months in oak barrels, 15% of which were new oak made by the company’s coopers at Haut-Brion, but Capdemourlin insisted he went easy on the oak, preferring to show-off the fruit flavours.
The delicious dark chocolate aromas and flavours – which are accompanied by bramble and black plum – instead come from the ripeness of the merlot.
In contrast, the 2016 tasted much fresher, with more acidity, but still that classic dark chocolate flavour, mingling with blackcurrant jam.
A dragon that won’t play second fiddle
Heading to the vineyard’s slopes produces a blend of 77% merlot and 23% cabernet franc for the 2015 Le Dragon de Quintus, rising to 90% merlot and 10% cabernet franc for the 2016 Le Dragon de Quintus (Equivalent to £35, Millesima).
The 30% new oak in the 2015 brought with it cedar and warm woodsmoke aromas, with plenty of fresh acidity on the palate and those classic Bordeaux cassis and metallic notes, giving way to more vanilla and dark chocolate on the finish.
The 2016’s more assertive tannins came into their own with food, but were still a little out of kilter when the wine sat on its own.
Yet there was a delicious mix of red and black fruit in the 2016, ranging from redcurrant and raspberry through to blackberry, with more of that delicious dark chocolate note coming through on the finish.
At around the £35-mark, this is cracking value for a second wine from a top chateau.
Indeed, one of the factors considered when awarding ranks to the producers in Saint-Emilion is the prestige of the brand, and so Château Quintus has had to work its way back up through the classifications to grand cru status after being renamed and expanded.
Top of the slope, top of the tree
Rising to the top of the hill, Château Quintus’s eponymous top wine awaits.
The 2015 Château Quintus (Equivalent to £103.69, Nickolls & Perks) – a blend of 73% merlot and 23% cabernet franc – had finely-grained tannins and plenty of dark chocolate, vanilla, blackcurrant jam and cassis flavours, which gave way to redder cranberry and redcurrant on the finish.
Its younger sibling, the 2016 Château Quintus (Equivalent to £133.33, Millesima), headed in the opposite direction, opening on raspberry and cranberry flavours before cantering into blackcurrant, cassis and dark chocolate.
The nose on the 2016 was really attractive, offering raspberry jam among the cedar, vanilla and caramel, but it’s still a baby and its tannins need longer to soften and integrate – or a good swirl in a decanter or glass for half-an-hour.
Over a lunch that featured lamb chops, the 2011 Château Quintus (£110, Corney & Barrow) put in an appearance – I struggled with its acidity, which felt out of balance and emphasised the metallic notes in the wine, but the evolution on the nose was fantastic, with coffee and spun sugar joining the bramble, dark chocolate and woodsmoke aromas.
With wines of this quality, it’s easy to see why Marx thinks Quintus doesn’t have to hide in Haut-Brion’s shadow.