Château Phélan Ségur 1990-2020

France, Bordeaux, Saint-Estèphe

Château Phélan Ségur 1990-2020

Phelan Ségur was formerly designated as a Cru Bourgeois, among the top-level Exceptionnels since 2003, until they resigned from this classification in 2010. With vines spread across the Saint-Estèphe appellation and intermingled with those of classified growth titans Montrose and Calon Ségur, you can understand why.

My Definition is This

It’s been five years since the Gardinier family sold Château Phélan Ségur to Belgian Philippe Van de Vyvere, CEO of the shipping company Sea-Invest. Since then, there has not been a lot of change among the management team. Véronique Dausse, who joined as technical director in 2010, remains, as does Luc Peyronnet, the vineyard manager, who has been here since 1993. Cellar master Fabrice Bacquey stepped into his role ten years ago, having shadowed the former cellar master Alain Coculet for years before this. Michel Rolland was hired as a consultant in 2006, and his team is still very much present at this estate, with partner Julien Viaud having taken the lead here since 2012.

“This is long-term,” Véronique told me during my visit to the Château in September this year. “Before we hire anyone new at Phélan, I tell them in the interview that this is not a job. It’s a commitment. We always have so many projects! And they are all long-term. Working here is more like an adventure.”

In recent years, Phelan Ségur is regularly a step above most Cru Bourgeois wines, but it wasn’t included in the 1855 Classification, and, well, that’s just tough because changes there aren’t likely anytime soon. It doesn’t help that the style of Phelan Ségur has always tended towards the more delicate side, often overlooked when tasted next to the showier wines of its neighbors. Now lacking any classification laurels to rest on, Phelan Ségur, more than ever, must rely on sheer quality and a signature to distinguish itself.

“There is a style of Phelan, but it is evolving,” Véronique Dausse conceded. “What we like is the clearer definition that is emerging—the quality of tannins and the perfume. Elegance and finesse are what we want. So, we have really been working on precision.”

As with all great wines, the core of what will define Phélan Segur must come from the vineyard.

"There is a style of Phelan, but it is evolving."

“The different styles emerging here say a lot about viticulture and harvest decisions,” said Véronique. “When you have maturity and freshness, it’s heaven. We are aiming to achieve this balance in the vineyards. In 2010, the former owners sold 20 hectares of our vines to Montrose. In those, we had the older Cabernet Franc vines. So, we had to replant the Cabernet Franc. We used this for the first time in 2017. Before, we never had any Petit Verdot. When I joined in 2010, I noticed that there was some great Petit Verdot at Tronquoy-Lalande, so in 2013 we planted a couple of small blocks of Petit Verdot. We are now experimenting with no shoot-trimming and tying the growth around the canopy instead. (Like Pontet-Canet.) We are working organically, but we are not strictly organic because organic is sometimes not enough. In 2021, in our organic plots, we had to send tractors out 21 times (to combat mildew). That’s not good! Sometimes you need to find your own way.”

The aims of elegance and finesse that are being sought in the vineyard are mirrored in the winemaking techniques.

“We are doing more and more infusion, working gently,” said Véronique. “And we are now isolating yeasts from our terroir and vintages and trialing fermenting these plots with yeasts from the actual grapes and the actual year. First, we send samples to a lab to see which strains are viable, to isolate only the best, strongest of our yeasts. And then we ferment. This is a much more singular selection. We’ve also been experimenting with glass barrels for fermenting, which seem to work better than stainless steel.”

During my visit, I tasted a vertical of 2000 to 2020 Phelan Ségur. From 2015 onwards, I found a notable increase in mid-palate intensity and length in the wines. And, compared to the wines of the early 2000s, there is a much better consistency of tannin ripeness, delivering beautifully fine-grained, approachable textures. The goal of elegance and finesse is maintained, but with greater vibrancy and more layers, particularly in the impressive newly bottled 2020.

“2020 was the first vintage ever we had all four grapes,” Véronique commented, referring to the inclusion of 2% Petit Verdot from the new 2013 plantings.

There can be no doubt that the style, signature, and quality of Phelan Ségur have been changing over the last twenty years, not least of all because of a major section of the vineyard being sold, new plantings coming on board, and most recently, the addition of a new variety. Yet the stability of the team has been an essential factor in its recent success. Since she came on board in 2010, Véronique Dausse has been very focused on dialing in the definition of the wine with greater and greater clarity. '

Phelan Ségur is now a Château set to give its fancy classified growth neighbors runs for their money.

Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photos by Johan Berglund