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The Chloé Grandpierre Column no4

Château Cos d'Estournel

When the Orient comes to Bordeaux

There are some Châteaux that make you feel like you are dreaming: the building alone entices you, the ambiance is brimming with the scent of adventure and exoticism. This is exactly how I feel about the Château Cos d'Estournel.

The property appears as you turn a corner. You know that this is a mythical land, as you’ve just driven past the famous Château Lafite-Rothschild.

On top of a small hill, the estate comes into view. It is as though you have crossed over the border into an exotic land. An enticing invitation hovers in the air. All it needs is a spark of imagination to hop onto a magic carpet to discover a truly exceptional property: you will marvel at the wine cellars adorned with pagodas brought over from a palace belonging to a Sultan of Zanzibar, you will listen to the bells chiming in the Médoc wind, admire the magnificent gardens, and lose yourself in a mystical land reminiscent of a story from One Thousand and One Nights.

You might even expect to see young women in saris come out to welcome you. Moreover you wouldn’t blink an eye to discover an elephant bathing in the pond. But reality soon sets in again, because the Château is not a mirage, it really is here. Château Cos d'Estournel has a reputation to live up to: a Second Grand Cru Classé since 1855, it is widely regarded as the best that Saint Estèphe has to offer.

“Wine always tastes of its terroir”

Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel was born in 1762, when Louis XV was on the throne. This incredible man had just one passion his whole life: Cos.

His is a story of passion, of the synergy between flesh, stone and vines. Hopelessly in love with his estate, he did everything he could to share it with the world.

When he realised in 1811 that it was a real gem, he started to buy up land until eventually he owned the whole hill. This man did everything he could to make sure others could enjoy his wine.

The first wines produced by Cos were sold to India. Maharajahs and Nawabs graced their tables with this powerful, spicy wine. To celebrate his business achievements, the Marquis d'Estournel, nicknamed the Maharaja of Saint-Estèphe, organised unbelievable banquets and parties on his estate. He also presented the English Court and the Tsar of all the Russias with Cos bottles bearing the label “Retour des Indes”. He was the inspiration for the Larrivet Haut-Brion experiment and underwater wine ageing.

The ultimate accolade was bestowed when Emperor Napoleon III became a loyal fan of Cos. He ordered thousands of bottles to be sent to the Tuileries. Cos d'Estournel had become synonymous with openness, travelling and talent. Stendhal, Jules Verne and Karl Marx were just some of its famous admirers.

But sometimes love makes us blind, love makes us mad, and love makes us lose our grip on reason and reality. Louis-Gaspard lived beyond his means, extravagantly decorating and extending his Château. He was forced to relinquish his treasure in 1852 to a banker from London, Martyns, to pay off his debts.

Touched by Louis-Gaspard’s passion, Martyns allowed him to carry on living there, where he died the next year in 1853 at the incredible age of 91. He would never know about the ultimate accolade bestowed on his first and only love: in 1855, Cos d'Estournel became a Second Grand Cru Classé, ahead of all the Saint-Estèphe wines in the imperial ranking.
Cos d'Estournel went on to have a number of owners, all of whom were charmed by the incredibly special character of the estate. Nobody wanted to change anything there. In 1917, Fernand Ginestet became the owner. The Château remained in the family, legendary in the Bordeaux wine trade, for a number of years: his grandsons, Jean-Marie, Yves and Bruno Prats inherited it. In 1978, Ginestet became a subsidiary of the Taillan Group (Chasse-Spleen, Gruaud-Larose, etc).

Since 2000, the Château Cos d'Estournel has belonged to a remarkable man who has been committed to continue Louis-Gaspard’s work: Michel Reybier. A man with wine running through his veins, he has owned prestigious brands including Aoste, Justin Bridou and Cochonou (not the same type of terroir, but nevertheless very successful). He renovated the property in 2006, using two architects whose collaboration produced stunning results.

Jean-Michel Wilmotte (Musée d'Orsay, Musée du Louvre, Chaumet Japan, Cartier Japan and many more) was the architect responsible for the wine cellars. Using steel and glass, he created a fantastically unusual space unlike anything else in the world: a wine cellar operated entirely by gravity.

So the grape travels across three floors in electric carts to be turned into wine in 72 stainless steel isothermal fermentation tanks (in 2004, after a survey, the 225 acres of the estate were divided into 72 plots), then via 4 tank-lifts before ageing in casks for 18 months. The wine is of course bottled on the estate, with between 200,000 and 380,000 bottles being produced a year.

Jacques Garcia (Fouquet's, Hôtel Majestic, Hôtel Costes and Hôtel Le Régent in Bordeaux), is the architect behind the pagoda buildings and the vaults: he followed Louis-Gaspard’s vision to the letter. He even added a touch of India with pink paving stones for enchanted visitors to step over.

There was a fine mist accompanying our visit to the Château, but the stone elephants were out in force to greet us.

Delicately-shaped doors opened before us and we stepped into a whole new world; the dream became a reality. We were in Ali Baba’s cave. I really wasn’t expecting the majestic entrance hall, the fabulous design, the warm welcome and the fascinating visit.

The underground cellar was extremely impressive, with an illuminated glass and steel footbridge. It was like travelling through space and time, with the hushed atmosphere and the delightful odours.

The footbridge led to the Château’s private cellar, hosting vintage wines from the 19th century to the present day. Many of the Château’s older wines are stored at Château Lafite-Rothschild and Cos sometimes serves vintage wines (post-1950) at its grand dinners.


Tasting took place in the grand entrance hall. The spittoons were amusingly similar to troughs! A nice touch was the pen and paper provided for the tasting, along with a little booklet about the Château. There were two wines on the programme: Les Pagodes de Cos, the Château’s second wine, and the grand cru, Château Cos d'Estournel.

Les Pagodes de Cos, Saint Estèphe 2008
(65% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot)
A beautiful, really intense, glossy raspberry red colour. The first nose is fresh and delicate, with woody and sumptuous plum notes. The second nose reveals subtle notes of Tolu balsam, confirming the sumptuousness. Strawberry, raspberry jam, aromatic black grape: it’s a whole festival of fruit, with hints of leather and sweet spices. In the mouth it is fresh and intense. Still fruity, there are strawberries, raspberries, cherries and blackberries. Robust with lots of tannin, this wine is captivating. It is lively, but smooth too. The finish is redolent of warm plum and pleasantly lingering. A complex, yet clear, precise wine. Commendable.

Château Cos d'Estournel, 2ème Grand Cru since 1855, Saint Estèphe 2008
(85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc)
This wine has an intense deep ruby red colour. Bright and clear, this wine sparkles. The first nose is discrete and rich. Cocoa, vanilla, raisin cake and a touch of roasted coffee… it’s powerful, clean and impressive. The second nose is still very aromatic (although it is only a 2008 wine, so very young!) with a slightly exotic woody note and some roasted hints. Plum and fresh blackberry are combined with sweet spices (cinnamon, liquorice and pepper).

In the mouth this wine is fresh and sweet. It’s straightforward. It fills the mouth with a real aromatic power and complexity combined with great delicacy. It’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. Liquorice aromas unite with blackberry and blackcurrant, a perfect union sealed with cocoa. Supple and elastic in the mouth, the blackberry and liquorice finish is satisfyingly long.

Without a doubt one of the most extraordinary wines I’ve ever tasted, making the wine and the estate one of my favourites. Even though 2008 is not a particularly outstanding year (2009 is exceptional, and costs 300 euro from the estate), it is by no means a bad one.

Chloé Grandpierre
Professionnel du Vin

Click on this link for a short video clip on Château Cos d'Estournel: video