With the threat of 100% tariffs on European wines looming, there are a lot of nervous people in the wine business right now. Count us among them: As our subscribers know, wines like today’s exceptionally well-priced Bordeaux are our bread and butter. In the case of Clos du Roy’s 2008 Fronsac, a SommSelect direct import at a beautiful stage in its evolution—its color and structure are still youthful, while its aromas and flavors have begun to take on serious complexity—I’d argue that it would still be a good buy at twice the price.
But that’s not the point! There isn’t a comparable wine to replace it with at either price point, especially not at $25: Clos du Roy is not some generic, bulk-scale producer but a relatively small, family-run château in Fronsac whose 50,000-bottle production is a drop in the bucket by Bordeaux standards. This ’08 doesn’t merely over-deliver on a price-to-quality basis, it is authentically and inimitably ‘Bordelais’ in character—a true wine of terroir I would hate to lose access to because of an ill-conceived trade war. I’m glad we went deep on Bordeaux purchases over the last few years (especially on wines from the vastly undervalued ’08 vintage); we’ve got a healthy stockpile to weather the (potential) storm to come!
A few years ago, when Jancis Robinson re-tasted an assortment of Bordeaux reds from 2008, she titled her article “Bordeaux 2008—the last affordable vintage revisited.” It was a tricky vintage, but a long way from a bad one, with moderate alcohol levels and a more restrained elegance that kept them from getting the kinds of scores that inflate prices. Then, right behind it, came two vastly more-hyped vintages in 2009 and ’10, and the dye was cast: It was up to savvy buyers like Robinson to remind us not to sleep on the ’08s. Well, we listened, and I’m glad we did—we’ve offered a slew of superlative ’08s, each one better than the last, and still this Clos du Roy is a standout!
The estate is one of two neighboring châteaux owned by Vignobles Hermouet, which has been run by Philippe Hermouet since 1987. The property had been in his family previously, but Hermouet oversaw the restoration (and subsequent expansion) of both Clos du Roy, which is in the village of Saillans and falls within the Fronsac AOC, and Château Roc Meynard, a few kilometers away in Villegouge and producing wines with a Bordeaux Supérieur designation. The original Clos du Roy vineyard was a single plot totaling just over four hectares, but the château’s production has since been augmented by more recently acquired (and re-planted) vineyards in Saillans. Hermouet is a member of the Vignerons Independants trade organization, and both his estates are farmed according to ‘lutte raisonnée’ principles, with an emphasis on eliminating chemical inputs entirely. Their sustainability efforts, in fact, have earned them the Haute Valeur Environnementale, or HVE, certification, which is not as stringent as Organic (Biologique) but recognizes a grower’s efforts to promote biodiversity and reduce/eliminate chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
The Fronsac AOC, meanwhile, may be one of the most underrated terroirs in all of Bordeaux. Located just west of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, in beautiful rolling hills north of the Dordogne River, Fronsac sits at a slightly higher elevation and has even more limestone in its soil than Saint-Émilion’s famed plateau (along with a good percentage of clay, which favors the Merlot grape over Cabernet Sauvignon). As in so many of Bordeaux’s lesser-known regions, Fronsac has been a hotbed of investment and renewal, with Clos du Roy being a prime example: This is a property on top of its game, and it shows in the wines.
Considering this wine’s age, I wasn’t expecting something this robust and youthful—but was very glad to get it! Comprised of 90% Merlot with 5% each Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, this is structured more like a Saint-Émilion than a Pomerol, with wonderful mineral savor complementing the plummy, aromatic fruit. In the glass, it has retained a deep garnet hue and has yet to show much in the way of ‘bricking’ at the rim. The aromas are a vibrant and complex mix of red currant, black cherry, dried red and black plum, bay leaf, cedar, tobacco, dried mushroom, graphite, and subtle oak spice. Medium-plus in body, it still has a deep core of fruit but has welcomed an array of savory secondary notes to the party. It is just starting to climb into its peak drinking window but should continue to evolve beautifully over the next 10 years, which is really saying something at this price point! Decant a bottle (watching for sediment) about 30 minutes before service in Bordeaux stems and you’ll see what I mean—it is lively and classically structured, well-suited to a classic preparation like steak au poivre or tenderloin topped with Périgueux sauce. I’d say try the latter: You can use the money you saved on the wine to buy the black truffles! Enjoy!
Bordeaux / Right Bank
Merlot 90%, Cabernets Sauvignon & Franc 10%
Limestone & Clay