The ageing process is one of the key stages in winemaking. It begins just after the fermentation and helps refine the wine’s tannins and enables the aromas to become more distinct and stable. This is a crucial process for great wines, such as Angelus, which have the capacity to age in bottle over decades. In Saint-Émilion, the ageing traditionally takes place in 225-litre barrels, the origin and char of which are carefully chosen to avoid oaky flavours dominating the terroir expression in the wine.
In 2018, for the first time at Angelus, two 30-hectolitre foudres were incorporated into the first-year ageing cellar. “The Angelus vineyard is made up of a high proportion of Bouchet (the name frequently used for Cabernet Franc on Bordeaux’s Right Bank), a demanding variety which brings pure, fresh aromas to the wine”, explains Hubert de Boüard. “Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal wanted to look at how these particular qualities could be brought to the fore in her quest for elegance in the wines of Angelus. It was decided to modify the ratio of wood to wine through the introduction of two foudres. We first trialled them, one with Merlot and the other with grapes from our oldest Bouchet vines. We quickly noted that while the results for the Merlot were not particularly striking, they were quite spectacular for the Cabernet Franc, which showed exceptional aromatic purity and tension”.
A third and then a fourth were added to the cellar, so that half of all the Bouchet is now aged in them. In this way, oxidation is carefully controlled -the ageing of the wine in foudres is done reductively, since the wine has less contact with oxygen. The tasting of the 2020 vintage has confirmed that this new strategy is a successful one. Never before has the wine of Angelus displayed such vibrancy at such a young age. “It’s really striking, on both the nose and the palate”, confirms Benjamin Laforêt, the estate’s wine production manager. “Micro-oxygenation is lesser in foudres than in barrels. The tannic structure is immediately perceptible. The smoothness of the wine’s texture in mouth comes through progressively. With its multi-dimensional facets the wine needs a bit more time to settle into place, but it reveals amazing and impressive tension and energy. Too much oak can mask the distinct, subtle aromas of Bouchet, in some vintage. We are thus able to preserve the chiselled tannins of this very special, unique grape variety, which is refined, delicate and spicy but often tricky to grow.
The tasting of the 2020 vintage has confirmed that this new strategy is a successful one. Never before has the wine of Angelus displayed such vibrancy at such a young age.
Foudres alone do not bring that characteristic definition in the wine that is so much sought-after. But with half of the Bouchet aged in foudres, the gain is clear to see”. A vindication then of Angelus’s young President’s decision, and a change of strategy that echoes a past chapter in the history of this family estate.