By Linden Wilkie, 20 May 2021
Couvent-des-Jacobins is a magical place. Perched high on the plateau, indeed in the medieval township of St.-Émilion itself, its contents are secreted away behind an imposing entrance. Through the door and to the back you are in a very charming sheltered ‘garden of prayers’, the cloisters of the couvent surrounding it. This spot is surprising and very special. Below this lie an extensive series of cellars – St.-Émilion literally having been hewn from below ground, and its warm-tone buildings built from the limestone removed to make the cellars… or is it vice versa? A double-benefit, certainly.
For centuries the wines of this estate were made by the Dominican order of friars – the Frères Prêcheurs Jacobins, and with close ties to England, the wine was served at royal weddings. For the past 116 years the Couvent-des-Jacobins has been owned by the Joinaud-Borde and Jean families, today represented by Xavier Jean.
I met Xavier during the 2016 vintage en primeurs in April 2017. I was impressed by the classic not-over-the-top style of Couvent des Jacobins. This Grand Cru Classé wine comes from 10.7ha of vineyards on the limestone plateau itself, and soils varying on clay / limestone / and sand composition, 80% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot on average. About 2,250 cases are made each year of the grand vin, and an additional 600 cases or so of the second wine, Menut des Jacobins. In 2018, The Fine Wine Experience hosted a vertical tasting dinner in Hong Kong, back to 1978, and on a visit to the château in 2019 we tasted back further still. The wines age beautifully, elegantly and with the aromatic and mineral complexity the best sites in St.-Émilion are capable of delivering. I mean, look at the price of the 2018 on our list. How often do you see value like that for a fine wine? The critics are beginning to catch up too – the 2017 was just rated 94/100 at Vinous, and this 2018 is rated 93-95 in the Wine Advocate.
CALICEM is made in a special labour-intensive way, using whole-berry fermentation (‘vinification intégrale’) in 600-litre demi-muid barrels. The 1ha 100% Merlot plot they purchased in 2015, gives naturally low yields, of 30hl/ha or less. Only around 250 cases are made each year. I say ‘each year’, but the quality is so closely guarded that in 2017 Xavier decided to declassify the wine altogether. It’s a very special wine that will repay cellaring, but the fruit and aroma are so delicious, and the texture so velvety, that I would encourage you to buy a bottle to try.