Is there a great difference in quality between St Émilion and its satellite appellations? Well, I couldn’t really give you an exhaustive or even general answer, but telling from the two wines I had this evening, it certainly is. So is the money.
Both wines are from 2003, which is considered a good to excellent vintage but an irregular one; you generally can’t just pick a wine at random. There are great variations, even among the top châteaux. The vintage is warm, meaning that the wines are generous at their best and jammy at their worst.
2003 Vieux Château Palon is from Montagne-St.Émilion, one of the four so called satellite appellations located north of St Émilion. Montagne is one of two satellites which actually borders on the more esteemed St. Émilion appellation. I bought this and the next wine when on vacation in Bordeaux in August 2006 and the Palon only set me back a modest €13, which is extremely good value, in particular for Bordeaux. After all, these are arguably the finest wines in the world. The price parameter is certainly the upside for the satellite wines: they are generally a good bang for the buck. The 2003 Palon is a quite dense and rich wine, with notes of plum, coffee and tobacco. It actually is slightly smoky, but not in a negative South African manner. It has some attack and is well balanced. Not overly long and complex, though. 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. Again, amazing value for your money. 85p.
Unfortunately, the Swedish Systembolaget doesn’t have loads of these lesser Bordeauxs. But it’s really worth looking into their e-store (“Beställningssortimentet”) for gems. There’s lots of of them, and you’ll have your e-order sitting in your store of choice within a couple of days. Use the state monopoly to your advantage!
2003 Tour du Sème from St-Émilion is a completely different ball game, in particular when it comes to complexity. It certainly seems to be affected by Brettanomyces, the tiny yeast which is so helpful when it comes in small doses. The wine really reeks of stable. There’s also sensations of tobacco and leather. It is very balanced and elegant with a nearly perfect balance striked between fruits and tannins. It’s a masterpiece in its price range, I paid €20. It just comes to show that you should buy Bordeaux and have them cellared. There is so much to gain in the wines; I strongly doubt that this particular wine possessed this complexity as a baby. 91p.