Tertre Roteboeuf's subsoil - five different types of clay - white, yellow, brown, green and blue
My very first meeting with Francois Mitjavile and Château Tertre Roteboeuf took place in May 1987, after I read wine-guru Robert Parker's superlatives about this small property in his "The Wine Advocate". Meeting with the articulate and eloquent Francois Mitjavile and his wine surpassed all my expectations. The things he explained about soil, grapes varieties and vinification, were so captivating to listen to, that four hours flew away at rocket speed. His wine was so eminent that I fell in love with it at first sip!
This Grand Cru property, situated in commune St.Laurent-des-Combes, few kilometres south-east of the picturesque town Saint-Émilion, is a small vigneron house build in the 18th century. The name of this property can sound a little strange – it refers to the time many centuries ago, when vineyard and vines have not existed yet here. The hillside was used to feed the cattle then, and the name "Roteboeuf" originates from that.
Francois Mitjavile took over Tertre Roteboeuf in 1978 from his father-in-law (Gilard family), and this vintage was the first one, he made entirely by himself. Before that, he worked two years at the famous Château Figeac, and afterwards spent several years at Tertre Roteboeuf, to learn as much as possible about wine.
His breakthrough on the wine scene was 1985-vintage. A new cult-wine was born, and since then the quality has improved all the time, so now Tertre Roteboeuf can easily compete with Premiers Grand Cru Classés in Saint-Émilion and the best 2. Crus Classés in Haut-Medoc, and even challenge First Growths.
There are 5.7 ha of vines planted with 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. Merlot-vines are on average 45 years old, while Cabernet Franc ones are five years older. The subsoil consists of four different kinds of clay, which are resting on the bed of limestones. This combination of subsoil which is typical for the majority of vineyard in Saint-Émilion "Côtes" (slopes), is described as "cold soil", because clay needs a long time to be warmed up, and lime-stones are always humid and cold. It means that grapes get the opportunity to get the maximum advantage of the sun and reach perfect maturity very late.
When skins are ripe, then grapes reach sugar level that corresponds to 14-15% alcohol, and "everybody" is happy. This cold soil is just like created for Merlot, but not for Cabernet Sauvignon, which rather prefers the so-called "hot soil" (gravel and quartz pebbles, which reflect sun-heat at vines), who is present in Haut-Medoc and Graves.
Francois Mitjavile waits until very late with the harvest – the grapes must be perfectly ripe, resulting in raisin-like lusciousness (Tertre Roteboeuf's trademark). He risks thereby, that his grapes will be destroyed, if the bad weather comes. Until now, the Gods of weather have been quite nice to him – several of Francois Mitjavile's vintages could easily have been labelled "vendange tardive".
This very late harvest combined with long alcoholic fermentation and extraction at 35°C, should result in powerful, sappy and well-structured wine with much fruit-sweetness and meatiness, where fruit and tannin make an extremely harmonious "marriage". Fermentation at 35°C is connected with a great risk of the whole thing turning to acetic acid. Still, Francois Mitjavile says, that "his" yeast cells easily can cope with so high fermentation temperature. Another thing, which is also characteristic for his winemaking, is the low yield per ha – max. 36 hl.
He will very much have the personality and character of soil-conditions in his wine, even if this costs him maybe some complexity, but don't want to keep the same style every vintage at any price. "Let us see what soil and weather have cooked together this year, and get the best possible out of it. The miracle comes first of all from Mother Nature", he says.
In the mid-'90s, he was presented for the following statement from a taster: "Monsieur Mitjavile, in 1988 you made an elegant wine and in 1989 an opulent wine". The answer came immediately, "I am not responsible!" Francois Mitjavile stands rock solid by his views. An oenologist's advice to filter the super-concentrated 1989, because it would leave a lot of deposit (so what?), was turned down immediately.
What's the secret behind Tertre Roteboeuf's and Roc de Cambes' success? All the work Francois Mitjavile does, is extremely well thought out, it is his love for wine and intuition which drives him. In addition to it, he has a lot of courage and self-belief. Francois Mitjavile often takes risks, which other winemakers in Bordeaux do not dare. At the same time, he is incredibly self-confident and focused. This makes him a complex winemaker, whose skills are close to genius-like. Francois Mitjavile does actually walk in the vineyard during the night, with his hands on his back and talking lovingly to the vines.
It is undeniable, that Tertre Roteboeuf and Roc de Cambes have Francois Mitjavile's personal "signature", because the style of both wines is different, compared to many wines in Bordeaux. This different style (raisin-like lusciousness and lots of perfectly ripe fruit) acts like an ultra-strong magnet on many wine-lovers, resulting in enormous demand.
Since 1994 vintage, he removed word "Château" from the label at both wines. He thought maybe that this famous word sounded too pretentiously and did not fit in his way of working.
Today, he is acknowledged and respected by the majority of château-owners in Bordeaux (the big "guns" included), but this was not the case at the end of '80s. At that time, he was considered as an odd person with strange ideas. More winemakers of his kind and Bordeaux has absolutely nothing to fear.
I've visited Tertre Roteboeuf in 1987, 1988, 1990, 1993 and then every year since 1995. Every visit has been not only a great experience but also a learning one. Not only because of his magnificent wines, but also by the fact that Francois Mitjavile is very cultivated person and knows immensely much about other things than wine, like for example culture and politics.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2019 (barrel sample) 97-100p
Tasted in June 2020. 80% Merlot + 20% Cabernet Franc. A thick nose full of flower fragrances and blackberry aroma. Violets, wild cherries, cocoa powder and chocolate. Creamy all the way. It's a magical wine with great flair, sophisticated touch, fatness, seamless structure and silkiness. Again an exceptional wine from Francois Mitjavile which hits to roof! Wow!
Tertre Roteboeuf 2018 (barrel sample) 99-100p
Tasted twice - last time in October 2019. Consistent notes. Francois Mitjavile keeps on making unforgettable wine year after year. This wine magician seems to know exactly how to produce mind-boggling wines. It's so seamless, so precise, so focused, so aromatic, so perfectly made, that you can't believe it. I lack words to describe further.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2017 96p
Tasted three times - last time in October 2019. Consistent notes. This is just magical wine from the hands of a real magician winemaker in Bordeaux. Fantastic nose of black fruit with immense delicacy and charisma. Subtle, creamy with fantastic complexity and depth. Wine of the vintage for me and if you don't believe me, it will for sure be at least among the top ten wines of the vintage! A bit lighter and closed after bottling at the end of September 2019.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2016 99p
Tasted four times - last time in October 2019. Consistent notes. This wine was purely magical and extravagant, fabulously scented nose and richness on the palate. You drink silk here! A bit more distinguished than 2015 it is.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2015 99p
Tasted four times - last time in October 2018. Consistent notes. It's maybe a long-standing cliché, but yet again Francois Mitjavile produced one of the best wines of the 2015 vintage. Stunning appearance, so complete and refined, excellent structure, incredible personality.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2014 (barrel sample) 95+p
Tasted in March 2015. Fabulous aroma of cherries and chocolate, remarkable structure, acidity and complexity. Yet another wonderful wine from St.Emilion's magician winemaker!
Tertre Roteboeuf 2013 (barrel sample) 93p
Tasted twice - last time in March 2015. Consistent notes. This wine was gracious and aromatic, sublime, dense, very ripe fruit and somewhat fresh. Impeccable winemaking.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2012 95+p
Tasted six times - last time in October 2017. Consistent notes. This wine had a fabulous nose of black cherries and blueberries, great freshness, beautiful balance, velvety fruit and tannin. Fabulously constructed wine which shows incredible class and style. Among the best wines of the vintage.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2011 96p
Tasted six times - last time in March 2014. Consistent notes. Black cherries covered by Valrhona chocolate all over the place, cocoa flavour. Excellent depth, length and finish. Mid-palate is incredibly intense. Exceptional effort and yet another bull's eye from the magician winemaker, Francois Mitjavile. Immense quality without any doubt.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2010 100p
Tasted six times - last time in October 2017. Consistent notes. This wine is no less than phenomenal now after bottling. It's the fifth time I tasted it, and ageing in oak seems to have kicked this wine even higher up in quality. What an intensity, opulence, richness, length, depth, velvety fruit and tannin, silkiness all over. Wow!!
Tertre Roteboeuf 2009 96p
Tasted five times - last time in October 2012. Consistent notes. This wine displayed fabulous aromas of wild cherries and cocoa powder, seamless texture, stunning balance, great complexity and sophisticated touch. Long, long finish underlined the beauty of this wine.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2008 94+p
Tasted three times - last time in November 2013. Consistent notes. Quite intense, mineral, muscular without being overdone, splendid fruit sweetness, sappiness and well-balanced. Shows fine level of complexity, depth and nuances. It's classic stuff from Tertre Roteboeuf which needs to age.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2007 89p
Tasted six times - last time in November 2013. Not consistent notes. Aromatic, round wine, quite fleshy, showing silky fruit and silky tannins and finishing soft and tasty. Very seductive wine with delightful balance. Not at all like that in November 2013 - tasted twice in the space of two days. Pleasantly fruity on the nose, clearly not from vintage with much sun, a bit "wet dog" smell, slightly aggressive on the palate, light and a little four-squared. I tasted this wine three years ago, and it was much better – it seems that downhill ride has just started.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2006 95p
Tasted five times - last time in November 2013. Consistent notes. Very aromatic, deep and intense nose of black fruit, complex and rich, excellently showing on the palate with richness and depth, great finesse and elegance, great complexity, silky tannin, long, long finish. Incredible wine if you consider the problems of the vintage. Another magic stuff from Francois Mitjavile!
Tertre Roteboeuf 2005 99-100p
Tasted eleven times - last time in May 2015. Consistent notes. Black red, strong aroma of dark cherries and blueberries, stunningly luscious, silky tannins, refined and sophisticated everywhere in this wine. Enormously rich and multidimensional. Phenomenal on the nose and palate! The depth, richness and length of this wine is simply mind-boggling! A dream wine for a wine lover! A legend already and one the best vintages ever produced here. This wine has already been eternal from its birth.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2004 94p
Tasted seven times - last time in April 2019. Consistent notes. Once again Francois Mitjavile delivered incredibly sensual and sophisticated wine with perfectly ripe black fruit, impeccably balanced and with a delightful aftertaste. Great wine. In October 2012 it was charming and elegant, subtle, with splendid balance and length and had very fruity and caressing finish. It was closed and tight in April 2019.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2003 90p
Tasted four times - last time in November 2013. Not consistent notes. Quite special wine reflecting the scorching weather conditions during summer. Very liquorice, figs, heated fruit everywhere but not overripe. Plummy flavours. Well balanced wine with fine length. Not my cup of tea and I honestly mean this wine isn't typical of Tertre Roteboeuf.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2002 90p
Tasted three times - last time in April 2007. Consistent notes. Very aromatic with lovely aroma of red fruit. Captivating and charming wine, light and ready to drink. 2008-2014.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2001 93p
Tasted four times - last time in November 2013. Not consistent notes. Some wine-journalists believe that this vintage excels 2000 one at several properties in Right Bank. In my honest opinion, it's certainly not the case here, as this wine doesn't reach the heights of 2000. Sweet fruit and tannin - yes, rich and sophisticated- yes, complex – yes, splendid balance – yes, great intensity, concentration and length – no.
Tertre Roteboeuf 2000 99p
Tasted five times - last time in December 2016. Consistent notes. A mastodont of a wine, master class and a fantastic effort. It's style is like 1998 but with a greater level of richness, depth, complexity, intensity and concentration. Incredibly sophisticated and refined. Mega long aftertaste, which lasts more than one minute. Heaven!
Tertre Roteboeuf 1998 98p
Tasted three times - last time in November 2013. Consistent notes. Tasted during early summer in 2000, this wine's complexity, richness and raisiny lusciousness was simply overwhelming. Fabulous aroma of superbly concentrated berries with rarely seen degree of depth and finesse. Extremely dense on the palate and with the aftertaste, which lasts for several minutes. It was like driving in an expensive sports-car (Porsche or Lamborghini), purchased at half of the normal price! Thirteen years later, in November 2013, it was aristocratic on the nose with excellent intensity of sweet cherries, rich and intense, great sweetness, great complexity, sensual and silky, luscious, tannin is covered in fruit and perfectly integrated with it. Incredibly long fruity finish. Magic stuff from Francois Mitjavile!
Tertre Roteboeuf 1997 87p
Tasted in November 2013. Round, charming, light and soft. Very flavorful, tasty and well-balanced. Perfectly drinkable now at it won't get any better.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1994 86p
Tasted three times - last time in April 2007. Not consistent notes. Even magician touch of Francois Mitjavile couldn't help this vintage that much. The awful weather conditions and rain made wine diluted, a bit edgy and light. Drink it soon.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1993 86p
Tasted three times - last time in April 2007. Not consistent notes. Same impression as 1994.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1991 88p
Tasted in April 2002. Quite a big surprise considering how difficult this vintage was to make due to spring frost and rain during harvest. Full of life, surprisingly well-concentrated, harmonious and with pleasant and tasty fruit. Should absolutely be consumed before the end of 2007.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1990 94p
Tasted four times - last time in November 2011. Not consistent notes. Still youthful with big and sparkling nose of black fruit (blackberries), a perfectly ripe one. Chewy and meaty on the palate with striking freshness, balance and caressing aftertaste. Striking depth and structure with plenty of perfectly ripe blackberries/blueberries on the palate. Awesome wine and a sure bet for keeping 20 years more! This was in November 2011. In December 2016, it didn't turn out impressive and was light and somewhat mute. 92p.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1989 95p
Tasted five times - last time in December 2006. Consistent notes. Still not fully developed. Sun-ripe fruit and fat tannin complementing each other perfectly, deep structure, sophisticated on the palate and with a long aftertaste, although with bitter sensation in the end. Strikingly fine wine. Can be consumed now but will be on top in the next 3-5 years.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1988 93p
Tasted twice - last time in March 2000. Consistent notes. An incredibly entertaining wine with beautiful balance, perfectly ripe raspberry and cherry fruit with raisiny scent and great intensity. Lovely structure and impressive length on the palate. Just delicious - can easily hold on for additional 3-5 years.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1987 89p
Tasted in October 2007. Really nice wine, elegant, raisiny, still very much alive. Fine winemaking. Perfect to drink now.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1985 90p
Tasted three times - last time in November 1998. Consistent notes. Deep red. Solid, lots of spicy raspberries, raisiny sweetness, well-composed and refined, long on the palate. Fabulous wine, which is on its peak now (November 1998). It was the first vintage, when Tertre Roteboeuf "enjoyed" new oak (50% new oak, not 100% as Robert Parker mentions in his book about Bordeaux). Francois Mitjavile's importer in England did convince him, that use of new oak would give the wine unseen possibilities, and it was also this Englishman, who sponsored the purchase of new barriques.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1982 88p
Tasted in November 1998. Not consistent notes. Dark-red, raspberry-marmalade, delicious and tasty, fine length on the palate. Splendid and ready to drink wine, which will not gain from further keeping. I can't stop thinking, how much better this wine could have been, if it had been "treated" with new oak. Francois Mitjavile thinks, that 1982 was the first vintage, where his ideas how a wine should be made, really came true.
It's really funny to find out how a fine wine ages. Last time I tasted this wine was 21 years ago and I wrote at that time that it won't benefit from further cellaring and rated it 88p. Actually, when I retasted it in April 2019, it was much better than 21 years ago (!) and with very significant soil character of the property. Terrific wine! 93p. It also rubbishes with aplomb several claims in wine media, that Tertre Roteboueuf can't age for longer than 20-25 years.
Tertre Roteboeuf 1981 89p
Tasted twice - last time in October 2007. Consistent notes. The yield was only 11 hl/ha! Red-brown in colour, still fresh, round and in fine balance. Subtle, raisiny, elegant, spicy raspberry fruit. Fine quality. Perfect to drink now too.
I did also taste during several visits at TR between 1987-2013, following vintages of Tertre Roteboeuf - 1976, 1979, 1983, 1984 and 1986, which all merited rating between 87-89p.
Francois Mitjavile (left) and me - this picture was taken during Commanderie de Bordeaux dinner in Copenhagen, November 2013
In November 2013, Francois Mitjavile came to Copenhagen, Denmark, to conduct two tastings, one for Commanderie de Bordeaux, Copenhagen chapter and second for the Danish wine journalists.
During two days, I tasted following vintages of Tertre Roteboeuf: 2012, 2011, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1998 and 1997 and also several vintages of Roc de Cambes: 2012, 2011, 2006, 2005, 2000 and 1998.
CHÂTEAU ROC DE CAMBES
At the beginning of 1987, Francois Mitjavile received a telephone call from a close friend. "Francois, there is a very interesting property for sale in Côtes de Bourg". He took to Roc de Cambes next day, looked at the site in the pouring rain, put his finger in the soil and analyzed the "sample". After ultra-short thinking, he said: "I am buying this".
The district of Côtes de Bourg is situated about 30 km south-west of Saint-Émilion, at the right bank of Dordogne-river. Most of the wines here rustic and simple, but you also find a handful of well-made, concentrated and complex wines at reasonable prices.
Roc de Cambes' vineyard is situated at slopes creating almost an oval circle, down to the valley. The vineyard is separated from Dordogne's right bank by Domaine de Cambes (a part of original Roc de Cambes – this wine is sold separately), who's vineyard stretches from the slope and almost down the water.
There are 12 has of vines, planted with 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. The soil here is a blend of chalk and clay, vines are on average 50 years old. The vineyard is lying close to the river, which ensures a stable micro-climate, and prevents either winter-frost or summer-frost from attacking vines here.
When Francois Mitjavile bought Roc de Cambes, it was in quite a bad shape. He put renovation and modernizing in full swing immediately. Experiences gained from work at Tertre Roteboeuf were the main reason, that in just two years, it succeeded for him to make Roc de Cambes an unrivalled top-wine of the district.
Roc de Cambes 2019 (barrel sample) 93-94p
Tasted in June 2020. 85% Merlot + 15% Cabernet Franc. Big, fully packed nose of black fruit, very intense, complex with creamy berries on the palate, splendid acidity and length, fine complexity, velvety texture and persistent finish. Fabulous effort!
Roc de Cambes 2018 (barrel sample) 94p
Tasted twice - last time in October 2019. Consistent notes. Strong and powerful, packed with big quantities of black cherries and fat tannin, great complexity and length. Probably the best RdC ever!
Roc de Cambes 2017 92p
Tasted three times - last time in October 2019. Consistent notes. Potent, creamy, long and complex. Entertaining wine of splendid quality!
Roc de Cambes 2016 94p
Tasted four times - last time in October 2019. Consistent notes. This wine was very impressive on the nose with great aromatic intensity, concentrated on the palate with great complexity, depth and fat fruity aftertaste. This is rivetting effort.
Roc de Cambes 2015 93p
Tasted four times - last time in October 2018. Consistent notes. As usual, filled with dark fruit on the nose and palate, potent and with strong backbone, earthy flavours on the palate, long aftertaste.
Roc de Cambes 2014 (barrel sample) 92p
Tasted in March 2015. This wine was very powerful, strong, very intense on the nose with blueberries and black cherries, with splendid balance and firm aftertaste containing ripe flavours. Terrific effort. Reminds me a lot of 2008 vintage's style.
Roc de Cambes 2013 (barrel sample) 88p
Tasted twice - last time in March 2015. Not consistent notes. It had very ripe fruit, different style than usual, soft and with mellow structure. Lighter structure. In March 2015 it displayed jammy scent and dry tannin.
Roc de Cambes 2012 92p
Tasted five times - last time in October 2017. Consistent notes. Black cherries, chocolate, very tasty, attractive, sappy and fresh, splendid acidity and velvety finish. Really splendid for the vintage.
Roc de Cambes 2011 92p
Tasted seven times - last time in March 2014. Consistent notes. Extremely aromatic, black cherries everywhere, grilled flavours, perfect balance, mineral, sappy, persistent and meaty aftertaste. Impressive effort.
Roc de Cambes 2010 94p
Tasted seven times - in last time in October 2017. Consistent notes. It was a very powerful and strong wine, very intense on the nose with chocolate and black cherries, with a lot of big, fat and ripe tannin. Everything was in great balance. A fantastic wine with incredible aromatic touch and complexity. Surely the best Rdc I've ever experienced here.
Roc de Cambes 2009 92p
Tasted five times - last time in October 2012. Consistent notes. This wine was very powerful, strong, very intense on the nose with blueberries and black cherries, with splendid balance and firm aftertaste containing ripe flavours. Stupendous effort in the same class as 2005.
Roc de Cambes 2008 91p
Tasted three times - last time in October 2010. Consistent notes. This wine was very powerful, strong, very intense on the nose with blueberries and black cherries, with splendid balance and firm aftertaste containing ripe flavours. Terrific effort.
Roc des Cambes 2007 88p
Tasted four times - last time in October 2010. Consistent notes. It had nice aromas of black cherries and blackcurrants, nice structure and was pretty well-balanced. Very seductive and charming wine.
Roc des Cambes 2006 90p
Tasted five times - last time in November 2013. Consistent notes. Attractive cherry nose with splendid purity, very sappy on the palate, perfectly ripe fruit, splendid balance, striking complexity and persistent finish. Splendid for the vintage.
Roc des Cambes 2005 93p
Tasted nine times - last time in November 2013. Consistent notes. Thick aroma, thick intensity, hobs of black fruit mixed with chocolate, fat fruit and tannic with a perfect level of ripeness, velvety texture, excellent balance, incredible sweetness, long, long fruity finish. Simply stunning wine and my all-time favourite Roc de Cambes together with 2010 vintage of the same wine.
Roc des Cambes 2004 90p
Tasted five times - last time in October 2012. Consistent notes. Strong and spicy wine, full-bodied, black cherries everywhere. Fine length and fine aftertaste.
Roc des Cambes 2003 89p
Tasted twice - last time in April 2007. Consistent notes. An intense, spicy and aromatic wine with no sign of excessive dryness and overheated fruit. Francois Mitjavile can be proud of this one.
Roc de Cambes 2001 88p
Tasted in April 2009. Strong and spicy wine, full-bodied, black cherries everywhere. Fine length and fine aftertaste.
Roc de Cambes 2000 93p
Tasted twice - last time in March 2014. Consistent notes. Very potent and very intense seems very young so evolution is slow, mineral, very rich and long. Many good years of further development ahead. Impressive stuff.
Roc de Cambes 1998 89p
Tasted in November 2013. Mineral, sappy, well-defined, fine balance and soft fruity finish. On the verge of being fully matured.
Roc de Cambes 1995 90p
Tasted twice - last time in April 2007. Consistent notes. Still young - opened first after 10 minutes in the glass. Aromatic berry fruit, well-structured with plenty of fine quality ingredients to build on. Long and powerful aftertaste.
Roc de Cambes 1991 87p
Tasted in September 2013. From the year of "gelée noir" (black frost). This wine was still going well on its "legs", well-preserved but a bit jammy, nicely balanced and charming.
Roc de Cambes 1990 92p
Tasted twice - last time in April 2007. Consistent notes. This was the third vintage from this property under Francois Mitjavile's reign and a beautiful one. An incredibly delightful, aromatic, perfectly balanced wine with truffles and cherry compote. Utterly seductive and tasty. Fabulous stuff!