Before his passing in 2019, the indefatigable Jean Gautreau oversaw no fewer than 50 vintages of true vins de garde at Château Sociando-Mallet. Through the ‘70s and ‘80s, Gautreau developed a reputation for producing some of the most overachieving reds in the Médoc, wines that would chart out at or near the top of a left bank ‘pound for pound’ ranking. Gautreau’s style was established early and has never wavered: his are uncompromising, deeply-colored and richly structured wines intended for long snoozes in cool cellars. And if you’ve had even one mature experience with ‘Soc,’ you know how beautifully they come out on the other side.
In 1995, Gautreau decided to produce a special cuvée intended to capture the quintessence of his beautifully sited terroir located just north of St.-Estephe and a stone’s throw from the Gironde. The guiding principle for the cuvée was a tasting of all the barrels of a particular vintage with the end goal of choosing certain of these - never more than 25% of total production - that felt particularly evocative of the place and its essential character. ‘Cuvée Jean Gautreau’ was born.
The blend has always been roughly 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc. It has never been an egoistic ‘luxury cuvee,’ but rather a loving tome to place, and it represents a prioritization of particularity rather than brute force or 'power.' In many vintages, it can be singled out as perhaps the greatest unclassed wine in the whole of the Médoc.
A few notes on the vintages offered. The 1995 is the most singular of the lineup, with a well-controlled nip of volatility that gives the wine uncommon aromatic range for the vintage. There is a good bit of red fruit and some lovely earthy stuff moving to the fore at this stage. I love the 1996, which has a more developed and sumptuous middle than all but a few of its peers; the sometimes piquant ‘96 acidity is here a supporting vein that contributes both freshness and clarity. The 2004 is a lovely, mid-weight 'Gautreau' with finesse and charm. There are wonderful and abundant suggestions of flowers and liquid minerals, along with a developing whiff of leather. It’s a delightful wine in a fully secondary phase, with a long life ahead.