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A Visit to Vignobles Gonet-Médeville

From Margaux to Sauternes, a young couple produces a string of off-the-radar wines
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 18, 2012 2:15pm ET

During my two-week run through Bordeaux to taste the newly released 2011 Bordeaux barrel samples, I had the opportunity to stop in at Vignobles Gonet-Médeville, the multi-property winery owned and run by the husband-and-wife team of Xavier Gonet, 39, and Julie Gonet-Médeville, 37. The couple started working with Julie's parents in 1997 and were on their own by 2005.

Their small office and cellars, located just next to the church in Preignac, are where all the couple's wines are vinified and bottled, save for their Margaux, which is produced within the boundaries of that appellation. All told, Vignobles Gonet-Médeville produces almost 17,000 cases annually.

Known primarily for their Sauternes bottling from Château Gilette, the couple have added vineyards in recent years, purchasing both Château des Eyrins in Margaux and vineyards for their Cru Monplaisir bottling in 2008.

"We were afraid with the Merlot, because in just a day you can lose the freshness," said Gonet-Médeville of the tricky 2011 growing season, which featured early hot and dry conditions. "The drought was severe and some parcels were very fragile. The wines are tender and fruity, but clearly not the structure of '09 and '10. That's why we chose to do less extraction and use less new oak."

"But as worried as we were about the Merlot, we were confident with the Cabernet Sauvignon" she continued. "The concentration was superb. And don't forget, from the south of Graves and further south there was no rain from Aug. 1 through the start of harvest. For example, the Merlot from Grignoles was 14 [degrees alcohol], while the Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaux AOC was just 12, the biggest difference we've ever seen."

The Julie Gonet-Médeville Bordeaux Supérieur Cru Monplaisir 2011 is a blend of 75 percent Merlot with the rest Cabernet Sauvgnon and a drop of Cabernet Franc. The fruit is sourced from vineyards in the Margaux AOC and further south near Grignoles. It shows nice juicy-edged plum and raspberry fruit and a good twinge of spice on the lively finish. [Note: All the wines were tasted non-blind; formal reviews have been published in our comprehensive 2011 Bordeaux barrels coverage.] The Julie Gonet-Médeville Bordeaux Supérieur Cru Monplaisir 2010 is very sleek, with lovely red cherry, bitter plum and currant notes and a mouthwatering spice hint on the finish. It has really nice cut without being too austere.

The Domaines des Justices Bordeaux Supérieur 2011 is sourced from a vineyard in Preignac. The 60/40 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend is hand harvested, atypical for the basic Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations. The wine sees no oak at all as it is fermented and held in stainless steel tank before bottling. It delivers pure, unadorned cherry and plum here, with a flash of iron on the breezy finish.

"I like small vintages. Then you see who did a good job," said Gonet-Médeville. "In easy vintages, everyone does well."

The Château Respide-Médeville Graves 2011 is also a 60/40 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, sourced from 37 acres of vineyards in Toulene owned by Gonet-Médeville's parents since the 1970s. It's very nicely rounded for the vintage, with an almost velvety feel to the plum, blackberry and anise notes. The gentle, floral finish has a nice lingering dusty edge.

The Château Respide-Médeville Graves 2010 is open and inviting, with mouthwatering cassis and violet, a light dusty edge that asserts itself more and more on the finish as it airs, with a good underlying iron hint.

The Château des Eyrins Margaux 2011 is sourced from a small 7.2-acre parcel. The blend of 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest Merlot and a drop of Petit Verdot is soft, gentle for the vintage, with a dusty edge and good lingering plum, violet and iron notes, while a pebbly feel emerges more as it airs. In contrast, the Château des Eyrins Margaux 2010 shows more density but stays deliciously pure, with mouthwatering iron and violet notes leading the way, backed by slightly understated plum and black currant fruit on the very elegant, mineral-framed finish.

"I thought at first it would be a white wine vintage," said Xavier, referring to the 2011. But the reds have gained fruit as they aged and caught up to the whites."

The Domaines des Justices Bordeaux White 2011 is made from equal parts Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, vinified all in stainless steel and bottled quickly in January. It's brisk, with white asparagus, lime and verbena and a crackling finish. The Château Respide-Médeville Graves White 2011 (50/48/2 Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle) sees just 10 percent new oak, with the rest in stainless steel. It had just been bottled, but was showing well, with rounded, inviting green plum, honeysuckle and lime notes backed by a fresh, pure finish.

"2011 is a nice vintage for Sauternes," said Gonet-Médeville, her bright eyes lighting up even more as she poured her range of sweet wines.

The Château Les Justices Sauternes 2011 (95/5 Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc) is made in all stainless steel, an anomoly for the appellation. "With botrytis, we don't need help from oak and we keep the freshness," said Gonet-Médeville. The wine shows lump pineapple, quince and roasted apricot notes, with a juicy, open-knit finish. It delivers a textbook introduction to Sauternes.

From there it was a trip back in time, as we tasted several vintages of Gonet-Médeville's top bottling, the Château Gilette Crème de Tête. This is old-school Sauternes, made in a throwback manner and only released many years after the vintage. Sourced from a 11-acre clos located near the cemetery in Preignac, "it's very calm," said Gonet-Médeville wryly, the wine averages only 333 cases annually. The typical blend is 96 percent Sémillon with the rest Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, vinified in stainless steel and then aged in concrete vat. The 1989 vintage is the current release.

It will be followed by the 1990 before a long gap until '96. For those making long-term plans, a Château Gilette will also be bottled from the '97, '99, '01, '02, '03, '05, '06, '07, '09, '10 and '11 vintages.

"We sell a vintage out in about two years," said Xavier. "When we need to bottle the next one, we do. We don't want to open the vats too often to avoid oxidation. So it's a feeling. We don't taste the vats every year."

"The wine is both aromatically complex but also very young at the same time, because we don't have the micro-oxygenation you would get from aging in barrel," said Julie. "In Preignac, we are closer to Barsac than Sauternes, so we are really in the middle of the two styles. We have some of the richness of Sauternes but the freshness of Barsac."

The couple feels the wine does change after bottling, but Xavier noted that it takes seven or eight years to show additional evolution. "The evolution is very gentle, but by year 40, you realize how much it has changed," he said. "We prefer the younger vintages as aperitif and older vintages with the simplest of fruit desserts."

The Château Gilette Sauternes Crème de Tête 1983 is saturated with quince, glazed peach and dried apricot notes along with toasted pineapple and brioche on the finish. It shows a crème brûlée edge but stays light and floral at the same time (96 points, non-blind).

The Château Gilette Sauternes Crème de Tête 1982 is more roasted in profile, with maple, date and green tea notes and lots of crème brûlée, but it's still light and well-defined through the finish, with a hint of dried orange peel adding lift (95, non-blind).

The Château Gilette Sauternes Crème de Tête 1979 displays stunning range and length, with loads of burnt orange, matchstick, honey-roasted almond, clove and tangerine notes that are all melded with an unctuous, marzipan-filled finish that sails on and on (98, non-blind).

The Château Gilette Sauternes Crème de Tête 1975 delivers lots of dried apricot, bitter orange, musky incense, quince and persimmon notes. It shows loads of spicy character, with more angles versus the creamier, more opulent 1979 (95, non-blind).

The Château Gilette Sauternes Crème de Tête 1967 combines the bitter orange- and matchstick-tinged aspects of the '75 with the opulent dried mango, papaya and fig of the '79. Then there's extra glazed pear, date, green tea and Grand Marnier notes chiming in on the gloriously sweet and supple finish. It's as stunning as the 1945 Doisy-Daëne I tasted last December with Denis Dubourdieu (99, non-blind).

We finished with the Château Gilette Sauternes Crème de Tête 1949, which shows a deep amber color with dense date, caramel, toasted almond and glazed apricot notes up front, followed by increasingly intense singed orange peel, clove and brown sugar notes. It stays creamy though, with a long, gorgeous finish that just echoes on and on (98, non-blind).

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1.

Scott Estes
USA —  April 18, 2012 3:32pm ET
James - Your score of the 09 Malescot-St-Exupery in today's Insider is a pretty significant downgrade of the barrel sample scoring range. Care to comment? Is this common with the 09 vintage?
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  April 18, 2012 3:50pm ET
Scott: I wouldn't call it a downgrade technically, since the '08 barrels were reviewed by my former colleague, James Suckling.

In addition, that score places it third in the Margaux AOC for '09 behind only chateaus Margaux and Palmer, so nothing to sneeze at.

And lastly, I tend to be a fairly tough scorer. I happen to think 94 points is a terrific rating...

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