Château Fleur Cardinale Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2004
At $26 this Saint-Émilion provides a nice peek into the right bank of Bordeaux; if you want
a typical representation of the region, the wine provides it. A product of an 18 hectare (about
45 acres) vineyard in Saint-Étienne-de-Lisse in the eastern part of the Saint-Émilion
appelation, the purplish-ruby wine presents a good deal of fruit, but in an entirely elegant
way, with pleasant notes of plum, sour cherry, cassis, and blackberry. The lengthy finish,
guided by soft and supple tannins, gives a pleasantly bitter tinge of mint and thyme with
some smoky licorice. The Fleur Cardinale is 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10%
Cabernet Sauvignon (a mainstream type of blend for the region).
The wine goes through malolactic fermentation and aging of about 18 months in new French oak, a process done with obvious artistry, as the oak does its work beneath the threshold of aromatic perception. All the aromatic elements, in fact, play second fiddle to the feel of the wine, its softness and elegance, and in fact the splendid integration of all its elements. Surely if you don't speak French when you approach this wine, you will at least essay a few words by the time you reach those final drops.
The use of the phrase Grand Cru in Saint-Émilion requires some footnoting.
Saint-Émilion only began classifying its Châteaux in 1958, with reclassifications every ten
years. The key word to look for, which our wine lacks, is Classé. The appellation's
top two wines, Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc, alone fill the Premier Grand Cru
Classé Class A list. The remaining 70 or so Châteaux are either Premier Grand Cru
Classé Class B or just Grand Cru Classé. The simple Grand Cru held by
the Château Fleur Cardinale indicates only a slightly lower yield and higher alcohol
percentage than the general appellation requires. That said, the Château Fleur Cardinale is an
excellent wine, and since these classifications are reviewed every ten years, you never know
what distinction might suddenly take up residence in your cellar.
Saint-Émilion is at once tradition and timelessness and at the same time the cutting edge, a major appellation with a great deal to offer.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman