Blind Tasting the St. Emilion Superstars

Some wine lovers view blind tasting as a serious and intriguing pastime, while others dismiss it as a parlor game for geeks. Either way, the exercise can be more than a platform for demonstrating how bright and clever a taster really is. Beyond the triumph of correct identification is the insight gained from penetrating into the nature of a wine, without knowing the pedigree, without realizing how much it cost and how impressed we’re supposed to be. It can be a humbling experience as well, particularly when your conclusion is wrong.

Even so, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in a recent blind tasting with Pierre and Monique Seillan of Chateau Lassegue. Five of the top wines of St. Emilion from the outstanding 2009 vintage were going to be featured. I had met Monique about three years earlier, and I welcomed the opportunity to get to know Pierre.

Pierre Seillan is a renaissance man in the wine world, with nearly five decades under his belt. In 1998 he and Monique partnered with Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke to create Verité in Sonoma. This was followed by Anakota, the Jackson project in Knights Valley, which produces two single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. He once again joined with the Jacksons in 2003 when they purchased Chateau Lassegue in St. Emilion, an estate which had been owned by one family for the previous two centuries. He also makes wine in Tuscany under the Arcanum label—and if all that is not enough, the Seillans are currently restoring their family winery in Gascony.

The wines were Pavie ($400), Ausone ($1450), Lassegue ($80), Canon-la-Gaffeliere ($120) and La Mondotte ($460): not a shabby lineup by any measure. How close did I come to identifying them? I knew that two were specifically either La Mondotte or Pavie, because both were made in a distinct New World style. I was correct, but I didn’t know which was which. Beyond that, I was clueless.

The sumptuous nose of Chateau Lassegue 2009 gave off whiffs of anise, mocha, black plum and fresh herbs. It was clean and well-balanced on entry, with a core of tart black fruits in the mid palate couple with good acidity. Notes of graphite, damp earth and chocolate rise and mingle with the tart fruit, continuing on the long finish. Given that the tasting was organized by Lassegue, and that the point was to prove that their wine could compete with St. Emilion superstars, the exercise was completely justified.

Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to

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