Château Charmail is located in the parish of Saint-Seurin-de-Cadourne, perhaps best known for another deservedly reputed wine Château Sociando-Mallet, whose vineyards are immediately adjacent to those of Charmail. Saint-Seurin-de-Cadourne itself borders the well-known Haut-Médoc appellation of Saint Estèphe with whom its wines share many characteristics, notably those of deep color, ripe fruit and sturdy, tannic backbone.
Like Sociando-Mallet, Château Charmail's vineyards are planted along the rolling hills which overlook the Gironde River in profoundly gravelly soils. The sub-soil, deep beneath the gravel, is chalky. This combination of soil and sub-soil provides for ideal, natural drainage conditions and maximum retention of the sun's warming rays. Merlot is the predominant varietal cultivated at Charmail and represents 50% of the planted acreage. Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Cabernet Franc (20%) constitute the balance of this 21-year old vineyard. The density of plantation is high, oscillating between 6,700 and 8,500 vines per hectare - an incontrovertible quality factor.
Winemaking is performed by the owner, Olivier Sèze, a trained agronomist, well-versed in the latest enological methods. Indeed, in tandem with the Pauillac-based enologist, Michel Couasnon, Sèze has be-come a veritable pioneer ("maverick" might be the more accurate term) in the Médoc. Since 1991, his successful development of the technique called, "pre-fermentation, cold maceration" has roused interest through-out the Médoc, in Saint Emilion, and even at the Institute of Enology in Bordeaux. The technique is similar to that widely employed by the Burgundian enologist, Guy Accad, although much less sulfur dioxide is used at Charmail. It results in deeply colored, "fatter" wines with softer tannins than might otherwise be the case using traditional fermentation techniques. This is particularly true in colder, wetter vintages. After two weeks at sub-zero temperatures, fermentation is subsequently conducted at warm temperatures (high 80's, low 90's) and the cuvaison rarely lasts less than three to four weeks. Aging takes place in Alliers oak barrels, a third of which are renewed with each vintage. Selection, a prerequisite to producing a top flight grand vin, is severe: a second label, Château Saint-Seurin, is reserved for wines not deemed worthy of the Charmail label.
The resulting wines are surprisingly deep in color, even after several years in bottle and even in supposedly mediocre vintages. Aromas tend to be of ripe, black fruits with more oaky notes than one would expect from a wine which has seen less than a third new oak. Most notably, the wines are plumper, with softer tannins than one normally associates with wines from this part of the Médoc.