Ch. AMPELIA Castillon
The PERSON: François Despagne
The PLACE: the St. Philippe d’Aiguilhe plateau in Castillon
At January 2014 “2011 Mostly Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting” at the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice in Houston, a lowly unclassified Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux was a surprise star of the show. I have drunk many vintages of Ch. Ampelia and always quite liked them but I don’t remember the wine showing this well in such august company. This makes me particularly happy because owner winemakerFrançois Despagne is such a good guy. Despagne is better known as the owner/vigneron/winemaker of highly regarded St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé Ch. Grand Corbin Despagne. He spends several days every year in Texas tasting and talking about his wines.
My introduction to Ch. Ampelia came through Chris Lano who used to own and run Stacole Fine Wines because it was he who first took me (in 1997) to visit the Bordeaux negoçiant firm of Nathaniel Johnston. I soon began buying the value-priced Ch. Ampelia from the then up-and-coming but still lesser known appellation of Cotes de Castillon (if memory serves, 2000 was the first vintage we bought). As time passed, Chris left the business and we began working more directly with bothers Archie and Ivanhoe Johnston. Through Chris and the Johnstons, I met Ampelia owner François Despagne (of Ch. Grand Corbin Despagne St. Emlion Grand Cru Classé fame) and have become quite a fan of his irrepressible enthusiasm and great knowledge. Owned since 1999 by Despagne and his wife Murielle, Ch. Ampelia is named after the study of the vine – ampelology. Once you get to know owner/vigneron/winemaker François Despagne, this makes perfect sense.
The 4.75 hectare property is well located next door to Castillon flagship Ch. d’Aiguilhe on the St. Philippe d’Aiguilhe plateau (never forget the value of proximity) with the vines growing in a limestone based clay over limestone rock (a terroir very similar to much of St. Emilion. The vineyard is planted to 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc (now averaging over 25 years old) and that is also the final cepage on the wines. Up until 2010, the farming was lute raisonnée but beginning in 2011, Despagne has switched over to organic agriculture. Technique both in the vineyard and in the winery is the same as at his St. Emilion estate.
Harvested grapes are sorted in the vineyard and again in the winery before crushing and de-stemming and fermentation in small temperature controlled tanks (three concrete and four stainless-steel). The fermented juice is run off into all French oak barrels (on-third new) where it undergoes malo-lactic fermentation and ages 12 or more months before final blending and bottling.
Ch. AMPELIA, Cotes de Castillon, 2011 ($17.99)
An organically grown, 13% alcohol blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc fermented half in stainless and half in concrete tanks using pump-over and aged 12 months in all French oak barrels (33% new) The grapes were hand-picked and sorted both in the vineyard and on the sorting table at the chateau. Deep purple-red in color with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Dark juicy-dusty red fruit with spice and a hint of basil/mint over dusty earth and supple oak. Very well integrated and complete. Alive in the mouth. A pleasure to drink now but will improve with some time in the bottle. BearScore: 91.
Ch. AMPELIA, Cotes de Castillon, 2008 ($18.99)
A blend of 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc grown in sand, clay-sand and soft tertiary sandstone with bands of iron oxide, fermented using pump-over and aged 16 months in French oak barrels (40% new). Sensory Analysis: purple in color and bright with well-formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with balanced acidity and medium plus phenolics. Juicy dark dense ripe red and black fruit with clay-limestone-gravel terroir; dusty with accents of cocoa, sweet spice, black pepper, and cedar. Very long finish. Very Tasty. BearScore: 90.