|Christophe Reboul Salze is making his mark in the little-known Côtes de Blaye region.|
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Score: 91 | Price: $25
For years, Bordeaux négociant Christophe Reboul Salze bought and sold wines -- other people's wines -- but finally, the desire to produce his own wine grew too strong.
So five years ago, Reboul Salze became a vinegrower on a shoestring. With a partner, he bought Château Les Maréchaux in the inexpensive and little-known Premières Côtes de Blaye in January 1997. They hired consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, who helped produce a very good 2000 Les Grands Maréchaux Premières Côtes de Blaye (88, $15).
Winemaking remained a side business, but in 1998, Reboul Salze and partners hatched a plan to buy another estate in the Right Bank appellation. They approached friends and family, promising them five cases for the next five years if they lent them the money to buy Château Gigault, a 35-acre estate of mostly Merlot vines that average about 30 years in age. Today, Reboul Salze owns a majority of the estate.
The place is rustic; plastic covers shield parts of the cellar from the cold. But a warm heart goes into the making of Château Gigault's first wine, which may help explain the outstanding quality of its 2000 Cuvée Viva Premières Côtes de Blaye (91, $25). The wine is named after Christophe and Marie Reboul Salze's daughter, who was killed while crossing a road on Dec. 18, 1998.
"It was an obvious choice," says the father, as he talks of 14-year-old Viva's death with a strong voice but sad eyes. "She didn't suffer; we take solace in that. I can talk about it easier now because we have almost finished mourning."
Sandy-haired and blue-eyed, athletic and broad-shouldered, the 46-year-old Reboul Salze pours a glass of the dark, full-bodied and ripe 1998 Cuvée Viva. This vintage was aged entirely in new barrels bought shortly after taking over the property, and the wine tastes quite woody.
The 2000 is more refined (only one-third of the oak was new), and reflects Derenoncourt's evolution away from overly extracted wines. "He goes more for the fruit. He makes silkier wines now," says Reboul Salze of the 39-year-old consultant, who made his reputation with cult garage wines such as Château La Mondotte in St.-Emilion.
In 2000, Château Gigault harvested a reasonable 35 to 38 hectoliters per hectare (about 2 tons per acre), then selected the best half of the production to make 2,250 cases of Cuvée Viva.
The wine is a blend of 95 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and was aged on the lees. This technique can make a wine taste richer and more flavorful. But it brings the risk of producing earthy, or "reduced," aromas, especially in Cabernet Sauvignon when it's racked only once in 18 months. To lower the chance of foul flavors, oxygen was dripped into the wine according to a technique perfected by Derenoncourt.
As Christophe and Marie speak, their wine feels like an extension of Viva's life. The back label offers a tribute to their daughter in the form of a poem.