Tasting at Château Montrose last year was one of the great moments of my trip to Bordeaux, mainly because I'd been curious about the second-growth property since my initial foray into Bordeaux began. Years ago, as a budding wine professional, I decided to breakdown my understanding of the Médoc using the original 1855 classification that still remains in use today, despite the many changes that have occurred at the various châteaux over the last 160 years. In that original decree, Montrose was given the lofty status of a "second growth," along side stalwarts like Cos d'Estournel, Pichon-Baron, Pichon-Lalande, and Ducru-Beaucaillou—wines that have proven vintage after vintage that they belong among the very best. Whether I should have used such an archaic system of rank for my foundational learning is debatable, but what's not up for debate is how powerful that classification remains today in determining pricing for the region's wines. Since starting at K&L back in 2007, I've been lucky enough to taste the top wines from each subsequent vintage and—I have to admit—the majority of the time the first and second growths lead the way in terms of quality. Back in the mid-2000s, however, Montrose was a bit of an outlier at K&L. It seemed to slightly underperform in comparison to its peers, not only in terms of flavor and complexity, but also value. The 2005 vintage—the first I tasted from the property—was a fine specimen, but it wasn't a superstar; it wasn't being lauded as one of the top wines in all of Bordeaux as it was in 2014 and again in 2016. What had changed between then and now? Again, I was curious.
Montrose's road back to super-second status began in 2006 when it was purchased by Martin Bouygues, a construction mogul in France who put a serious amount of reinvestment in the vineyards. I sat down to talk about these changes with Montrose's sales manager Lorraine Watrin (pictured above) in January of last year, hoping to show some of our customers how a regime change can completely reinvigorate and resurrect a heralded property to greatness. In Lorraine's opinion, 2014 was the first harvest that truly showcased the hard work put in by its new owners because it was a truly great wine from a relatively average vintage. "We had good vintages in 2009 and 10, but they were good vintages for all of Bordeaux, not just us. 2014, however, should show the results of all the investment because we were able to produce a very good wine from a less-heralded vintage, which is more impressive," she told me. The critics concurred. Antonio Galloni and Neil Martin both considered it as one of the best wines from that year. While the top wine will always be the crowning achievement of any great château, I personally like to see how far that quality trickles down. Since most major producers make second and third wines at this point, I want to know: does that same level of care and attention find its way into all of the releases across the board? In the case of Montrose, the answer is yes and it's on full display in the château's 2014 Le St. Estephe de Montrose, a sub-$30 bottle that brings serious bang for the buck and continues to showcase all that top level fruit even past the standard second wine, the 2014 La Dame de Montrose.
Since the "Dame" is the official second label of Montrose, I guess that makes "Le St. Estephe" the the third wine, but pound for pound I think it's right there with the great lady. Considering most properties generally use their youngest vines for their second and third label expressions, you can really see just how much effort Montrose put into revitalizing their vineyards with this release. The "Le St. Estephe" is a gorgeous and precise claret, one that seamlessly weaves delicate fruit, dry earth, and soft tannins into a medium-bodied, old school style. Far from a fruit bomb, the wine never lacks ripeness or roundness, but it's beautifully integrated into the other elements here. Lorraine was certainly right in her assessment. 2014 is not only a great vintage for Montrose, it's a great vintage to demonstrate just how deep the quality runs at Montrose today.