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TERTRE ROTEBOEUF- ONE OF THE BEST BORDEAUX WINES - AND THIS PROPERTY ISN'T EVEN CLASSIFIED!

By Izak Litwar

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 kilometers 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-low (Gilard family), and this vintage was the first one, he made entirely by himself. Before that, he worked 2 years at the famous Château Figeac, and afterwards spent several years at Tertre Roteboeuf, in order 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.

 

TERTRE ROTEBOEUF

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 5 years older. The subsoil consists of four different kinds of clay, which are resting on the bed of lime-stones. 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 maximum advantage of the sun and reach perfect maturity very late.

In the really good vintages, you will often see in Tertre Roteboeuf's vineyard, that grapes are not really ripe in the skins (lacking phenolic ripeness). When skins are ripe, then grapes end containing sugar 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 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 labeled "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 "mariage". Fermentation at 35°C is bounded with a great risk of whole thing turning to acetic acid, but Francois Mitjavile says, that "his" yeast cells easily can cope with so high fermentation temperature. Another thing, which is also characteristic for his wine-making, is the low yield per ha – max. 36 hl.

He will very much have personality and character of soil-conditions in his wine, even if this costs him maybe some complexity, but don't want to keep 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 mid 90's, he was presented for a 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 really 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 to wine and intuition who drives him. In addition to it, he has a lot of courage and self-belief. Francois Mitjavile takes often risks, which other winemakers in Bordeaux do not dare. At the same time, he is incredibly self-confident and focused. This makes him a really 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 very obvious, 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 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 absolutely not the case in the end of 80's. 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 magnifique 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.

--- 

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History

Château Le Tertre Rôteboeuf, is a St. Emilion Grand Cru property that is in the very top echelon of St-Emilion producers. Le Tertre Rôteboeuf is owned by François Mitjavile who also owns Château Roc de Cambes in the Côtes de Bourg. François produces just over 2,000 cases a year from his tiny 5.7-hectare vineyard, which is situated on a steep slope on the edge of a limestone plateau.

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Vineyards

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 5 years older. The subsoil consists of four different kinds of clay, which are resting on the bed of lime-stones. 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 maximum advantage of the sun and reach perfect maturity very late.

In the really good vintages, you will often see in Tertre Roteboeuf's vineyard, that grapes are not really ripe in the skins (lacking phenolic ripeness). When skins are ripe, then grapes end containing sugar 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 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 labeled "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 "mariage". Fermentation at 35°C is bounded with a great risk of whole thing turning to acetic acid, but Francois Mitjavile says, that "his" yeast cells easily can cope with so high fermentation temperature. Another thing, which is also characteristic for his wine-making, is the low yield per ha – max. 36 hl.

 

He will very much have personality and character of soil-conditions in his wine, even if this costs him maybe some complexity, but don't want to keep 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 mid 90's, he was presented for a 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.

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Winemaking

The grapes (Merlot 80%, Cabernet Franc 20%) are harvested by hand and are fermented in temperature-controlled concrete tanks. Le Tertre Rôteboeuf is then aged in 100% new oak barrels for 18 months. Yields are kept very low and consequently this is one of the most concentrated wines to be found in Bordeaux.

Typically, Le Tertre Rôteboeuf is deeply coloured, richly aromatic on the nose and packed with blackcurrants, overripe cherries, liquorice, roasted caramel and vanilla notes on the palate. A hedonist's delight!

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Inside information

What's really 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 to wine and intuition who drives him. In addition to it, he has a lot of courage and self-belief. Francois Mitjavile takes often risks, which other winemakers in Bordeaux do not dare. At the same time, he is incredibly self-confident and focused. This makes him a really 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 very obvious, 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 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 absolutely not the case in the end of 80's. 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 magnifique 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.

Izak Litwar

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Wine Moments

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 Izak Litwar , Wine Writer (Denmark)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  50 wines 

BORDEAUX 2019 / Ch. Margaux 2019 - only 37% of the whole production into Grand Vin. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon + 7% Merlot + 2% Cabernet Franc + 1% Petit Verdot, 14.9% alcohol. Ch. Margaux' technical director, Philippe Bascaules, told me, that Merlot needed to be vinified gently due to its voluptuousness and high alcohol. He made a comparison between 2018 and 2019 Grand Vin - "when I taste 2018 Ch. Margaux, I taste 2018 vintage first, then Ch. Margaux. When I taste 2019 Ch. Margaux, it's Ch.  Margaux first, then 2019 vintage!"
It's a showcase of Cabernet Sauvignon with wonderful aromas of cigar box and tobacco leaves. Extremely elegant and multi-faceted, sophisticated and very stylish for the property. Exceptional complexity and purity. Liquid silk. True perfection here! 99-100p. 

2m 6d ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  51 wines 

1998 Château Cheval Blanc; Ruby, pink rim, floral, violets, mint, layered, again impossible to describe fully. Close to perfect balance, playfull and stil relaxed acidity. tannins soft, stunning texture, mouthwatering, just ads and ads with air, incredible length, never ending, I keep raising the score on this as it keeps unlocking more and more secrets. I wish I had cases of this one. 98


Served blind, I was sure it was Petrus, as was most of the table. Wine of the evening!

6m 6d ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  4 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  28 wines 

2000 Bouchard Pere et Fils La Romanée / Bright ruby, garnet rim. Fruity nose, red berries, vanilla, some sous bois and leather, elegant nose, evolving. Fresh acidity, ripe tannins, slightly leaner palate, refreshing, could be more nuanced, long. 93

10m 2d ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  2 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  23 wines 

1990 Château Montrose: 100 points / Ruby, garnet tim. Tight, slightly herbal, scented, nuanced, intense, refreshing, stunning nose, floral notes, gorgeous, nuanced and layered. Layers upon layers. Fresh acidity, ripe tannins, elegant, nuanced and refreshing, intense, mouthwatering, amazing, ads and ads and everything is so fresh. This was served blind and I spotted it on the nose, perfect, my best bottle of this so far. 100

1y 1m ago

 Jeannie Cho Lee MW, Wine Writer (South Korea)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  43 wines 

Château Mouton-Rothschild 2014 / Intense Mouton with velvety tannins, dark cassis notes and savory herbs. This is a restrained Mouton that has power and good density. The long hang time and growing period in this vintage means everything was concentrated - tannins, flavor and acidity. The alcohol is just over 13%. This is a wine to lay down

1y 2m ago

 Izak Litwar , Wine Writer (Denmark)  tasted  2 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  29 wines 

Petrus 2018 - oh la la! Enormous intensity, enormous complexity, everything velvety and silky, incredible complexity, sophisticated touch, refinement, richness and breathtaking length. A true legend in making. My wine of the vintage together with some few chosen ones! 100 points

1y 2m ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  80 wines 

OK, the first five Champagne's was Friday evening, the rest of these wines was Saturday, from morning until night. This was a day and a weekend I will remember for the rest of my life! Nearly all were served blind.

1y 3m ago

 Izak Litwar , Wine Writer (Denmark)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  44 wines 

I’ll refer to what Guillaume Poithier, manager of Les Carmes Haut Brion told me during my visit in the end of March 2019 – “2018 started like a nightmare and finished like a dream. It was vintage of belief – you could choose what you wanted to do with wine”.


It was a year of two extremes - a lot of rain in the spring causing quite many outbreaks of mildew, which particulary attacked Merlot and a glorious summer durings months of July, August and September. All these three months were particulary dry and created a fundament for great quality.


Water from the spring showers was well stored in limestone/clay based soils, allowing vine roots to "drink" it when they needed to. Mildew cut production at some chateaux by app. 50% and up to 90% at biodynamicly run oroperties. Grapes from vines on gravelly soils looked pretty small and thick skinned to me. Warm days and cool nights did once again preserve aromas and freshness.


With long term forecasts promising perfect weather during harvest, there was no need to rush it, but wine growers could risk high alcohol levels if they waited too long. Harvest of grapes in two colors started at normal time in Bordeaux, white finished by mid September and red finished more or less on Right Bank by 5th October, while late ripening soils (f.i. around St.Etienne de Lise) have more or less finished by mid-October. Haut Medoc finished harvest by mid-October. 


When I did my annual check of the harvest in October 2018, I noticed that the colour of the mousse (foam) was pink to medium-red, which promised huge fatness and big concentration in wines. It was duly confirmed when I tasted them for two weeks during primeur tastings in March/April 2019.

1y 4m ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  37 wines 

More than 180 wines was tasted from Saint-Emilion during late March and early April this year. With a margin my biggest report to date from here. Saint-Emilion is always heterogeneous as the soils and microclimates are quite varied. Some are on flatter lands, others on the plateau with gently rolling hills in almost all aspects and yet others again are on the quite steep côte, or hill. These make for very different expressions, but also different problems may occur during a year’s growing cycle. The limestone vineyards seem to have done very well. And as for Pomerol where Olivier Berrouet of Petrus said, “The effort this year was to resist the temptation”. Those that did exactly that made some astonishing and refined Saint-Emilions. The temptation being taking too much out of the must. For me, Angelus, Ausone and Valandraud made exquisite wines at the very top of what they have ever done. The first two are graceful, elegant, nuanced and refined, Angelus a bit richer than Ausone. Valandraud shows that as well as a treasure throw of complexity. 2018 as well as 2017 are the two greatest Valandraud’s I’ve tasted to date. If this continues, are we looking at Premier Grand Cru Classé A soon?  At Pavie the fruit was probably the most refined and elegant to date, but the wood was just so incredibly hard, I just hope it will handle it. If it does, it will be a spectacular Pavie.

1y 4m ago

 Andrew Caillard MW, Wine Writer (Australia)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  32 wines 

Château Palmer 2018 / 100 points / Deep colour intense dark cherry, black currant fruits with mocha espresso notes. Amazingly powerful and expressive wine with deep set blackcurrant pastille fruits, richly concentrated graphite tennins. Incredible balance and mineral length. Superb density and complexity. The wine of the vintage?

1y 5m ago

 Hannu Kytölä, Wine Collector (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Tertre Roteboeuf . In a tasting of  19 wines 

Italy vs. France -tasting with Mouton, Lafleur, Masseto, Redigaffi, Petrus etc.

1y 6m ago

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