The Making of a 100-Point Wine: Drama and Greatness in Bordeaux's Saint-Julien | Wine Enthusiast
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The Making of a 100-Point Wine: Drama and Greatness in Bordeaux’s Saint-Julien

A wine from Château Ducru-Beaucaillou demands attention. Even in a lineup of the reliably delicious, impressive wines of Saint-Julien, this one says, “Look at me. I’m over here. You can’t miss me.”

Yet, in a 2018 vintage beset by mildew and rain in the first half of the year and perfect weather in the second, there was something extra. On top of the luscious, bold Ducru-Beaucaillou flavors year-over-year, there was a structure and a depth of flavor that was different.

What I found as I tasted was a gravitas sometimes missing in the showstopping richness of Ducru-Beaucaillou.

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou
The door to Château Ducru Beaucaillou / Photo courtesy Château Ducru Beaucaillou

The vineyard’s setting and its château are drama personified. One of the closest estates to the Gironde estuary, the grand Directorate-era château, with two of the largest possible French national flags that fly from the towers, faces the water. The vineyard drops gently from the plateau and faces the same direction. It’s the perfect setting to make great wine.

A visit to the château continues the drama. Enter a small door, and you walk into the old cellar right under the château. The only light is from tall lamp holders attached to the ends of each row of barrels. They guide visitors to the tasting room through modern art panels and sculpted doors. It’s equal parts wine and theater.

Afterward, the doors slide open and you step on to the lawn in front of the château. You can see the tidal Gironde a half-mile away.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2018 Saint-Julien; $200, 100 points.
Vintage 2018 was generous to the style of Ducru-Beaucaillou. The rich character of wines from this estate is enhanced by the ripeness and concentration of this wine. At the same time it keeps an amazing freshness that comes out of the acidity. This wine will go down in the annals of this historic estate. It is not likely to approach drinkability before 2028. Cellar Selection.

As I blind-tasted the 2018 Saint-Juliens at home, I was impressed by the consistency of the appellation. Not one wine could be described as less than impressive in this excellent, perhaps legendary, vintage. So, it must take a special bottling to stand out as perfect.

What this sample of Ducru-Beaucaillou had was the richness that’s part of the vintage. Then there was a structure that immediately determined great aging potential—tannins both velvety and overwhelmingly solid and dense. Finally, there was acidity. Among the ripe fruit and structure, there was a pure line of intense freshness that can come from the finest Cabernet Sauvignon fruits.

That covers the objective elements of the wine. There was no doubt this was a great wine among great wines.

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou barrels
Barrels at Château Ducru Beaucaillou / Photo courtesy of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou

Yet, there was more, the subjective element, or what I call the wine’s “aura.” You could feel and taste the wine’s presence, the commanding completeness that was so special. There was drama, yes, but the drama came not from the theater, but from the heart of an appellation and a vintage. This wine needs nothing else.

Resident-owner Bruno-Eugène Borie, from a family that’s one of Bordeaux’s merchant princes, has never veered from his quest for refinement in the vineyard, winery and château. He often calls upon his ancestry for a bon mot to characterize a wine. After my tasting, he told me this vintage was “truly dramatic.”

So it was, seated at my tasting room bench on a cold January day, when I removed the blind covers, I could remember the vineyard, the château, the vintage and the result in my glass. A true 100-point wine.