A 'Cos' for Celebration

by Chuck Hayward

A 'Cos' for Celebration

Post by Cory Gowan | March 30th, 2012

It’s no secret that Cos d’Estournel has been on a qualitative roll, but when Robert Parker awarded 100 points to the 2009 vintage, Cos squarely placed itself among the Left Bank elite. Delivering what its winemakers deem as First Growth quality wines from St. Estephe, Cos has worked hard to place its name on every Bordeaux lover’s wishlist.

One of several Asian elephant statues at Cos d'Estournel

With that in mind, you can imagine the anticipation was high for my third visit to Cos d’Estournel to taste the 2011s. With a private, first-look tasting of the new vintage and a special dinner invitation from director Jean Guillaume-Prats, we motored our rental Puegeot up the D-2 highway eager to spend our first night in Bordeaux delving into the 2011s.

Visiting Cos d’Estournel is always a grand affair. After parking in the gravel driveway under our honorary American flag, we found ourselves in a brand new tasting salon (finished in 2008), more reminiscent of a hip Manhattan nightspot than an historic winery (the name Cos d’Estournel dates back to 1810). After a quick trip around the nippy barrel room where we viewed the 2011s in barrel (the 2010 vintage had already been moved for blending), we popped back upstairs to taste.

Cos purposely keeps its barrel room colder than most at 14 degrees Celsius.

We had only been off the plane a few hours when I picked up my first 2011 Bordeaux – a glass of 2011 Goulée, a wine that is eminently familiar to many of our Bordeaux lovers for its price-value relationship, and produced by Cos.  A blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon with the balance merlot, Goulee has made a name for itself as a terrific Left Bank value - with all of the care that goes into a Grand Vin for a fraction of the price. While tasting the 2011 Pagodes de Cos (Cos d’Esotournel’s second wine), Jean Guillaume-Prats told us about the vintage. In his words, 2011 for Cos had higher yields than 2008 and 2009 with very early ripening. With really no spring season (winter went straight into summer), Cos experienced its earliest harvest since 1893.

Cos Tasting Room

There will be a good amount of 2011 Pagodes for the Bordeaux consumer to enjoy. A blend of 65% cabernet sauvignon, 33% merlot, with 2% petite verdot thrown in for good measure, Guillaume-Prats and his team declassified a large number of blocks of the Grand Vin that will now make their way into Pagodes. While that means that the Grand Vin will be the smallest level of production since 1991, all of that top juice that graced previous vintages now goes into the Pagodes.

After tasting the opaque purplish/ruby grand vin we got a special treat - a small pour of the 2011 Cos d’Estournel blanc, a 833 case cuvee that Cos has produced since 2005. A blend of 67% sauvignon blanc with the balance semillon, it’s a rich white that’s harvested early (August) and is 100% barrel fermented. In Guillaume-Prats’ words, 2011 is an “extraordinary vintage for whites” and he recommends that they be enjoyed on the younger side.

JJ Buckley's Chuck Hayward sampling the 2011 vintage

After our tasting we adjourned for Champagne (2004 Cristal), light snacks, and lively conversation before heading to dinner. Once we were seated, we enjoyed an extraordinary dinner of simple melon and prosciutto, a main course of simple roasted cod and vegetables, and then the obligatory round of fine cheeses before dessert. Complementing our meal were selections from the Cos cellar—2008 Cos d’Estournel blanc, 2007 blanc , 2005 rouge, and then a special bottle of the 1985 rouge, straight from Cos’ cellars. Dessert was just as special, with a gateau a la noise de coco (coconut cake), accompanied by a selection of 2001 Domaine Imperiale de Hetszolo Tokaji and followed with the ultra-rare Tesseron Extreme cognac. What a way to kick-off en primeurs in 2012!

Cos Dinner Menu

Almost as enjoyable as the food and wine was the visit with Guillaume-Prats himself. A tireless worker promoting Cos worldwide (in less than six days, he flew from Bordeaux to Northern California, then to Dallas, then back to Southern California before heading to Hong Kong and then back to Bordeaux), he takes a great deal of pride in Cos. When asked his thoughts on the 100 point rating from Robert Parker for the 2009 vintage and how it affected him and his involvement in Cos, he quickly answered that for him personally it made no difference. But he was quick to point out that such an honor meant a great deal to his winemaking team, that for them it was just reward for years of hard work and great decision making.

2005 Cos d'Estournel

Looking towards the future, Guillaume-Prats would like to see a new classification system encompassing all of Bordeaux (including St. Emilion and Pomerol). He was quick to bestow praise on his neighboring estates for helping to raise the overall quality and image of Bordeaux wine to  such astronomical levels. But he fielded a tough question when asked what he thought of the so called “Super Second” label given to a small number wineries generally thought to produce wines above the level of their 1855 classification:

“I hate the label,” he says. “It means that we are still second!”

As we wrapped up a wonderful meal and strolled through the grounds, a soft, warm breeze blew, and it felt great to be back in Bordeaux. If every tasting and every dinner is as a lovely as our experience at Cos d’Estournel, we’re in for a wonderful week.

On location at Cos d'Estournel - Q&A with Jean-Guillaume Prats