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Archive for the ‘France: Bordeaux’ Category

"Pour de France" graphic by David Ryan

“Pour de France” graphic by David Ryan

I was recently sent this interesting infographic from its author David Ryan of the Headwater holiday adventures (including interesting wine and food themed trips). It is packed with some interesting facts, so I have decided to share it here with my readers at winebeing.com.

Radka

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How one gets there (new winery above) from here (piece of untamed land below)?

The land before the winery comes in.

Philippe and Cherie Melka have perhaps the most challenging work in their entire career in the wine business ahead of them. Building a winery from scratch is more complex than building a house. One has to consider a number of factors such as visitors room, storage, cellar, cooling system, special permits in protected areas (which often wine regions are) and above all the location itself as it is more advantageous to have the winery as close to all vineyards as possible to avoid unnecessary manipulation with the picked grapes.

The success of the construction will influence the future success of the wines produced under the Melka name here in Napa.

Their wines are a huge asset for them already, but they have been made so far at other wineries where Philippe Melka has been consulting.

Philippe lived during his childhood and teenage years in Bordeaux, France, where he earned a geology degree from the University of Bordeaux. In the last year of his studies he took a wine course out of curiosity and that has changed his life completely leading him to work at the legendary Chateau Haut Brion as well as Chateau Petrus between others.

Philippe and Cherie Melka.
SOURCE: melkawines.com

Melka’s philosophy

Soil and its influence on quality of grapes and later wines became his primary quest and he travelled the world to learn more about this intriguing relationship. Melka was so fascinated by the potential and diversity of soils in Napa Valley that he decided to stay there to consult for a number of wineries. After a couple of years he and his wife Cherie (a well-known microbiologist in Napa) gave birth to their own brand the Melka Wines. Recently he was recognised by Robert Parker as one of the top wine consultants in the world and that was a huge game changer for him as well as for his brand.

I wish their new winery in Napa will be built soon and serve them well to create such magnificent terroir-driven wines as he has been making so far.

Melka Wines

Their main high-end line is called Métisse, which is a French word meaning “a blend of cultures”. Philippe is French (with Moroccan roots) and his wife American so their winemaking represents “a blend of cultures”. Recently its label got a modern colourful revamp.

Old vs new: Old label of Melka wine replaced by this modern one today.

There are three wines under the Métisse label, each coming from a different vineyard:
  • The Jumping Goat Vineyard – is a small vineyard owned by Jim and Stephanie Gamble and located in the heart of St. Helena in Napa Valley.
I have tasted the 2009 vintage which is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. Only 400 cases of this wine have been produced for a retail price US$155.00. It was balanced, elegant, with tones of cassis and dark cherry, complemented by a smoky touch of cigar box. With such an intense and lingering finish you will not forget this wine soon.
  • La Mekkera Vineyard – is located in Knights Valley. Only 200 cases are made for US$125.00 retail price.

In 2008 vintage a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Franc has enchanted my palate the most from all the Melka wines I have tasted now in 2012. Smelling it in the glass was just a teasing start. It revealed the aromas of black tea, dark chocolate, plums, dried flowers and a scent of kirsch. The volcanic soil in the winery influenced the smoky black tea character (Pur-eh) on the palate, enhanced with exotic flavours of dried flowers, this was a very soft and balanced pleasure for my taste buds.

Moving from Napa to Bordeaux, Philippe makes wine in St. Emilion under his Métisse label as well.
  • LE CHÂTELET VINEYARD is a ST. EMILION GRAND CRU blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc.

It is the smallest production for Melka with 120 cases made in 2009. Licorice and fennel vegetal character is underlined by a rocky strength and richness of cherry marmalade. The tannins were still too young so I would drink this wine in a couple of years from now. It has a life span of more than 25 years so no worries it would die any time soon.

Melka CJ Bordeaux blend

  • CJ is an acronym for Philippe’s and Cherrie’s two children, Chloe and Jeremy.

It is a wine meant to be enjoyed young. It is a good value for money (US$52.00) compared to the more expensive Métisse line. It is a Napa Valley blend that changes every year depending on the wine makers decision.
The 2010 vintage was intensely fruity with sweet cassis, cherry, and refreshing spices on the palate. Too lush and rich for me though.

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Michel Rolland: Le gourou du vin

Michel Rolland: Le gourou du vin

Michel Rolland is perhaps the most famous wine consultant on the world. Serious wine drinkers know him for his creations in Bordeaux, Spain, South Africa, South America and I can go on and on until I cover most of the world. A native of France (Bordeaux), he embraced globalisation, packed his suitcase and went to discover the world of wine across the globe many decades ago. I wrote about his involvement in a unique wine project in Argentina’s Uco Valley at Clos de los Siete as well as a more boutique Yacochuya near Cafayate in the North. For many he is a controversial personality (Jonathan Nossiter’s movie Mondovino, which will be screened during the London’s real Wine Fair in its full version, hurt Mr Rolland’s reputation painfully) for other he is a wine genius knowing exactly what wine drinkers want and bringing it to them.

As a guest of Wine and Business Club of Monte-Carlo I was invited to a very interesting gastronomic evening with food prepared by the Hotel de Paris’ executive chef Franck Cerutti and wines “cooked” by the legend of French wine making Michel Rolland.

Wine and Business Club is a members’ club spanning into four French-speaking European countries (France, Belgium, Switzerland – Geneva and Monaco). Since 1991, the Club organises wine dinners at various locations, mostly at gastronomic restaurants such as at Hotel Le Bristol and Shangri-La in Paris. The evenings are not just about wine and food though, There are various guest speakers talking about business-related topics from wine to environment. Today, the club boosts with 2.500 members so it is a great opportunity to discuss various topics with like-minded people.

Chef Franck Cerutti

The special guest at the event held in the cellar at Hotel de Paris hotel in Monte-Carlo I have attended recently, was Michel Rolland himself. The famous wine consultant came to present his new book “Le Gourou du vin”, The Wine Guru, whose English translation we might see this summer. I have got the book in French and currently I am working on it. With my basic knowledge of French it is a tough nut, yet it is motivating to learn about Mr Rolland’s thoughts about most of the wine-producing countries around the world, his personal journey and encounter with other wine gurus such as Robert Parker as well as less pleasant experiences such as being according to him misrepresented by the already mentioned film director Jonathan Nossiter in his movie Mondovino. For me it is an ideal first book in French to read since it is easier to read about the subject of my passion – wine.

Although, I did not understand much of the talking (in French), I know I will catch up once I read the book. Important was that the food was excellent, the wine very interesting and the location was extraordinary. The success of the food has to be granted to the Chef Franck Cerutti, the guardian of the Three – Michelin star restaurant Luis XV at Hotel de Paris, the wine journey around the world to Michel Rolland and his “Rolland Collection” and location right next to the cellar of Hotel de Paris was just perfect for an evening dedicated to wine and food.

The cellar dining room

Food & wine

The first course Royale d’asperges vertes, primeurs à cru truffés was accompanied by an intensely floral Sauvignon Blanc, Mariflor, 2011 from Argentina’s Mendoza region. The delicate, creamy asparagus cream with vegetables and truffle touch was interesting with such an intense Sauvignon Blanc. Named after Michel Rolland’s daughter and its flowery aroma – Mariflor, had hints of white peach petals, elderflower and high acidity on the palate cutting through the creamy nature of the velloutè. If you like it intense, you will love this wine. Rolland pointed out: “I am a ‘terroirist’ (not a terrorist)”, hinting at  the Argentina’s unique terroir for Sauvignon Blanc giving it its typical intensity.

Bonne Nouvelle, Stellenbosch 2004

Bonne Nouvelle, Stellenbosch 2004

Second wine poured was my favorite from all. The Bonne Nouvelle from South African Stellenbosh, 2004 vintage struck me at first as a Bordeaux. I thought, that it was the Chateau Fontenil from Fronsac served next to it, yet it was the other way round. The Fronsac red was flat, a bit stewed and with just fine acidity. On the other hand the South African blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and locally typical Pinotage aged for 12-15 months in French barriques (50% new) was concentrated playful wine where spices, dark fruits and poppy-seed vibrantly jogged over the palate (acidity). They were long runners, indeed, as the prolonged finish was still quite intense, making the race even more interesting.

These two wines were followed by a Risotto aux petits pois et lard paysan. A delicious meal with lard adding a bit fatness to a delicate sweat pea risotto, needed for the big-bodied wines.

Asparagus cream with truffles

Moving to Spain and France with wines, the next course Magret de canard en “dolce forte”, primeurs et pommes de terre nouvelles, Duck with young potatoes, artichokes, carrots, mangetout and leeks in “dolce forte” sauce, was masterfully paired with the wines.

The wines served with our third course were Campo Eliseo, 2005, from Spanish Toro region, which Rolland called suitably ‘extrovert’ and one of the children of his home region Pomerol – Château Le Bon Pasteur, whose vintage (2000) we were supposed to guess in order to win something in a following raffle.

The Spanish wine was 100% Tinta de Toro (local name for Tempranillo). Juicy, bursting with fruit from black currant, blackberry through cassis and dark cherry, this was an exemplary wine for a duck dish, and my second favorite after the Stellenbosch darling.

Château Bon Pasteur is the property of Michel Rolland’s family from his grand farther’s times. A vibrant wine, indeed. Red fruits mingle with black forest fruits and acidity with concentration at the same time add to this swirl of flavors. Again the vehemence of the wine added even more juice to the duck. On its own though, it is not my type of wine – a glass maybe, but two or three would be too much.

Duck with new potatoes

Magret de canard en “dolce forte”, primeurs et pommes de terre nouvelles

The biggest surprise of the evening was the following food and wine pairing – Malbec, Val de Flores, 2005 from Argentina with a creamy dessert Fraisier, crème légère à la vanille and sorbet fraise. Full-bodied, woody and slightly peppery, yet balanced, Malbec with Vanilla scented cream and strawberry sorbet went surprisingly well together. But, who would expect such a match? I love surprises, especially the positive ones and ending a gourmet evening in this fashion was the best I could wish.

Although, the petits fours – small sweets served with coffee at the ultimate finish of the dinner – were so good that they almost overshadowed the previous dessert. These are though better with tea or coffee and not with wine as they are too sugary to overwhelm the palate so any wine would taste like water with them and that would be a shame when one gets to drink such an interesting range of wines as the Rolland Collection.

Mignardises el chocolats de l’hotel de Paris

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Primum Familiae Vini is an association of eleven leading families from the most distinguished wine-growing regions on the world.

These families and the brands they created are:

  • Marchesi ANTINORI (Italy – Tuscany, etc.)the old Tuscan Antinori family
  • CHATEAU MOUTON ROTHSCHILD (France – Bordeaux, etc.) – of the world-known Rothschild banking family
  • Joseph DROUHIN (France – Burgundy) – Mr. Drouhin is one of the biggest producers of quality wines from Burgundy
  • Egon MÜLLER-SCHARZHOF (Germany) – the leading wine making family in the Saar region of Germany
  • HUGEL & FILS (Alsace) – the family behind the unmistakable yellow-labeled wines in the tall & lean ‘Alsatian’ bottle  
  • POL ROGER (Champagne) – the de Billy family taking care of the most preferred champagne of Sir Winston Churchill – what’s intriguing is that, the first bottle of P.R. was sold in the UK
  • Perrin et Fils – owners of the Château de Beaucastel (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) – the most distinct family in the French Rhone Valley
  • Symington Family Estates – Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Warre’s, Dow’s, Quinta do Vesuvio, Altano, Quinta de Roriz, Chryseia, Blandy’s Madeira (Portugal) – there aren’t many families owning                  as many wine-related brands as the Symingtons in Portugal
  • TENUTA SAN GUIDO – producer of SASSICAIA (Italy) – the Incisa della Rocchetta family were the pioneers of the gripping Bordeaux-style wines or the “Super Tuscans” in Italy
  • Miguel TORRES – Mas La Plana (Spain, etc.) – in Robert Symington’s words “he’s managed what nobody else managed in the wine industry”; I think he meant: keeping top-quality while producing quantity in many parts of the world
  • VEGA SICILIA (Spain) – the Alvarez family known for creating the iconic Spanish wine in Ribera del Duero

The members strive to achieve honorable goals:

  • To promote and defend the moral values that are the backbone of family businesses .
  • To exchange viticultural/oenological information and promote traditional methods that underline the quality of the wine and respect for “terroir”.
  • To promote the moderate consumption of wine, which is considered to be a cultural tradition of conviviality and of “savoir-vivre”.
  • To exchange useful information on all aspects of their businesses.

[Source: Pfv.org]

Annual gathering

Once a year, they organise a charity-themed dinner on which a collection of their wines is being auctioned. I’ve attended the recent one at the restaurant Galvin at Windows in London’s Hilton hotel. Not only the food was paired tremendously, all the wines we were drinking were just great! As Serena Sutclife, M.W. and International Wine Specialist at Sotheby’s said during the auction: “Great wines are always made by great personalities.” Well, I must agree with her. All the family members who attended and spoke during the dinner did not lack a sense for humour, friendly attitude as well as open-mindedness.

Outstanding people

Baroness Philippine de Rothschild was the queen of the event, with her outgoing speech, which I would call a Tony-award deserving theatrical performance, made a big impression on everyone present on the dinner. The only person who did not show a wicked smile on his face was her son Philippe SEREYS. Standing next to her, he probably knew her talent to entertain, therefore he kept the serious facade. They were an amusingly charming duo, indeed.

Rotating leadership

Each year, one of the families takes the chairmanship and leads the tasting. This year (2012) it is the Drouhins, so the dinner started with his talk about the values of PFV members. He said: “Families make the business more ethical and valuable.”  Again, I cannot disagree with him, also this point is one of the main reasons why I intend to make a documentary film about this feature in the wine industry. This event is the prove as it is organized in the name of charity and the families indeed care a lot about the products that bear their names.

The wines served at 2012 dinner

They were all great, as I mentioned above. To everyone’s palette though there were some outstanding sips at our tables. Most of ladies were ravished by a sweet Riesling Goldkapsel Auslese 1995 from Egon Muller Scharzhofberger. The Goldkapsel is not produced every year, only outstanding vintages of top-selected grapes go into the bottle. The result is a sweet affair with crisp acidity. Almost like a chateau D’Yquem, yet different. Paired perfectly with a home cured & slow cooked Loch Duart salmon, Dorset crab avocado purée and dashi, it was my favorite wine & food match of the evening.

Antinori’s Tignanello and Sasicaia from tenuta San Guido has never disappointed me.

Torres’ brought his special Mas la Plana with its velvety smoothness this Cabernet Clon 15 had a distinct “Catalan” concentration.

My weakness for Moutons has to be acknowledged here. I loved the 1989 vintage! Baroness Rothschild was perhaps right when she said that “1989 was the best of the century”. I’ve had some Moutons before and this one was my favorite so far. My nose is always enchanted by its ‘poppy seed’ aroma and the elegant balance of a 30-something woman is what I seek in an outstanding wine.

Port is perfect to finish any dinner and the 1970 vintage of Graham’s was with a chocolate dessert what a well-fitting dress is on a lady with a great figure. Nice on this own (the chocolate), yet stunning when the earlier comes with it (the port).

That was a Dinner with a giant D. It is truly rare, that one drinks so many magnificent wines in the course of three hours! Literally, next year, I am going wherever the PFV annual dinner will be taking me.

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As the 2010 En Primeur frenzy escalates in Bordeaux one has to think what is all that craze all about? These are just some wine makers selling their wine before even being bottled. But, recently it became something more, a subject of speculation of some, an object of desire and prestige by others.

The old times

Undoubtedly, the Bordelais are masters in marketing their wines. The Champenoise are stepping on their heels. In both regions marketing of wine has deep roots in history. The British palette keen on their fermented grape products (wine) has played into their cards from centuries ago.  Abundant trade between Bordeaux and Britain as well as popularity of bubbles ‘invented’ by a Cisterian monk Dom Perignon sparked a marketing tornado from these two legendary wine regions across the Western world. London became a cradle for Bordeaux wine and glitzy champagne bars.

Today, as the money turns East, the Bordelaise are following their sight and, many informed would agree, they have done a great job in marketing their chateaux. The booming Chinese market became their main target. Only the test of time will show whether it’s just a bubble, which will burst soon, as it happened over a decade ago in Japan. On the side of the coin though the popularity of wine may flourish in China and it thus will become the major export wine market on the world. Until the economic crisis it was the US, where most of the top wines would go.

In the marketing race in China the Rotshields seem to be the most savvy from all so far. Their Lafitte has achieved a star status there. Drunk by the Chinese government and the business elite it became the most desirable trophy of the many new-rich in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Repeal of tax on wine by the Hong Kong authorities in 2008 played into their cards as the record prices at recent auctions in Hong Kong testify. Mike Veseth on his blog The Wine Economist analysed this perhaps ‘foxy’ move of the HK authorities in detail.

The ‘butterfly effect’ as he calls it didn’t take long to materialise. Just last year (2010) a bottle of Chateau Laffite Rotshield 1869 fetched some HK$ 1.8m ($230.000). Interestingly after the bid Doug Rumsam, managing director of Bordeux index in HK, said: “I don’t think it’s a reflection of the market, but of the right buyer in the right mood.”

His prophecy didn’t work since later last year the stellar prices of top chateaux wines at a number of auctions on Hong Kong have raised the brows of many in the West. In a recent interview Ian Harris, CEO of Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) told me: ‘Is a wine for £10 better than a £3.000/bottle? Yes. But, is it 300 times better? Not.” And the same applies to enjoyment you get from it. Therefore, for the true wine connoisseurs, not speculators, this price turmoil lead by Chinese buyers is a very sad news leaving them pondering whether they will ever again enjoy a bottle of their favourite claret.

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A flight through 1998 Bordeaux with a Master of Wine Jasper Morris at Berry Bros.& Rudd in London revealed the strengths of this vintage in the Right Bank of the most watched wine region on the world today.

The fact that 1998 was a great year for the Right Bank but not as successful in the Médoc and other districts left from the Gironde estuary highlights the necessity in sharpening our focus on a specific area each year. Jasper Morris, MW said: “The Left and Right banks in the Bordeaux region should be considered separately.” The weather conditions can vary quite significantly in each area leading to a different quality of wine depending on the vineyard’s location. The two recent vintages of 1998 and 1996 are the best examples of this happening in one region.

As I mentioned already the 1998 was perfect for Saint-Emilion and Pomerol on the Right Bank, but not outstanding on the other side of Gironde. The opposite happened in 1996 when Médoc produced remarkable wines, whereas across the river they were in general a more average vintage.

On these two examples I have learned that it can be a huge mistake to over-generalise especially in such a big region as Bordeaux in South West France.

Still, we all have preferences in terms of châteaux style. During the dinner at Berrys there was a heated discussion between the guests when our host Jasper Morris, MW raised the question – “So, which one do you prefer?”

Jasper Morris, MW during the dinner at Berry Bros.&Rudd

We tasted seven red Clarets and one outstanding sweet wine with a desert. The sweet queen was from Sauternes and not from the Right bank. We were treated like a royal family as we savoured a glass of golden-hued Château d’Yquem from a fantastic vintage, the 2001.

First came two St Emilions in ‘B’ classification:

Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, 1er Grand Cru Classé ‘B’

Château Angélus, 1er Grand Cru Cru Classé ‘B’

We were puzzled over the technicality of the French appellation system. Not only it differs tremendously from region to region but, often, it confuses the consumers by using the same name such as the Grand Cru, in this case meaning something different in the Bordeaux St. Emilion and in Burgundy. You always have to consider the other wines in the appellation and the ways they are being identified in terms of their classification.

The Château Beau-Séjour Bécot was a fresher wine bursting with youthful fruits whereas the Angélus was more deep, intense, warm and settled. Approximately half of the present diners preferred the former for its refreshing properties. I was probably in the winter mood as I adhered to the party enjoying the calming and warming sensation conveyed by the Angélus.

The difference between the release prices of the Château Angélus in 1998 and in 2009 was stunning. The 1998 came for €53 in the time of its release while the venerated 2009 sold for €210! The rising release prices of Bordeaux and their desirability have two consequences: One as Jasper Morris pointed out is that the traditional consumers of Bordeaux in Europe are looking into other wine regions where the prices have not risen so much yet. For that reason Bordeaux had to redefine itself as the producers have “to find new market every year”. Another one is that “there is no reward for a good behaviour in Bordeaux” as the proprietors try to come with the highest possible prices the market can still accept.

With our second course came two class ‘A’ St Emilions:

Château Ausone, 1er Grand Cru Cru Classé ‘A’

Château Cheval Blanc, 1er Grand Cru Cru Classé ‘A’

This time the vote was stronger on the Cheval Blanc side. I remember the first time I tasted this renowned wine, cannot recall the vintage but I would guess it was 1989 (as my scribbles on a piece of a random paper confirm, perhaps it was the first time I tasted it), and my surprise that this legendary wine can find such a wide fan’s base. I smelled it – my verdict was – a cabbage, yes it smells like a cabbage; then tasted it and swallowed with a clown-like facial expression – too tannic, where is the fruit? That was my first date with Cheval Blanc. Perhaps my palate has developed since then or I was lucky to taste better vintages, but now I cannot take my lips out of a glass filled with this magnificently complex wine.

The deliciously tender saddle of lamb with a spicy herb & mustard crust was the next course on our plates and with it the final three red chariots from Pomerol arrived. It was a battle indeed. The Pomerols tasted so differently. The tannins weren’t as green as in many of the St. Emillions at this stage.

The three Pomerols: Château Certan de May; Vieux Château Certan and Château Lafleur

Château Certan de May

Vieux Château Certan

Château Lafleur

Perhaps the most famous is the Château Lafleur ( and the most expensive), nevertheless, for the present drinkers-turned-judges it wasn’t the winner of the fight. At least not for now, about 13 years after these wines were born. It was the complexity of the Vieux Château Certan, which enchanted the majority.

After all these intense reds we needed to appease our palates with something soothing, dense and sweet. A bottle of Château d’Yquem 2001 couldn’t please more. 100 points from Robert Parker might persuade many of the rare possition of this wine. Interestingly, it was a glamorous match with a warm pistachio cake with yoghurt cream & blood orange ice cream.

If you are not salivating yet and imagining those heavenly sins in the form of a marriage of the divinely prepared meals with the ‘Right’ wines, then a glass of an old cognac might do the job. That was a strong dot to an evening full of joy from a wine induced conversation and one that won’t be forgotten easily, at least for me.

Hopefully, I will have the privilege to attend one of the numerous dinners and tastings at Berrys in the future. The line is long though, as for the most popular themes you need to book at least three months in advance. That is my advice to you as well as don’t expect an old and stuffy wine dinner, but instead, an evening of a vigorous discourse, jokes and openness.

Oh, and, if you by any chance got a hold of a spare ticket or your company fell ill in the last minute, you can always let me know in the future. I’ll fly to London from wherever I’ll find myself at that moment.

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Château Palmer, the king of gold elegance is nesting just next to the majestic symbol of Margaux – the Château Margaux, bearing the same name as the AOC known for its feminine wines.
Château Palmer Margaux, Bordeaux

Château Palmer

Both neighbours touch the shores of the Gironde estuary so significant for the terroir of these Châteaux. The gravely soil is another aspect common to many vineyards located in the feminine Margaux appellation. Perhaps the last thing they have in common and what at the same time distinguishes them is their vibrant (turbulent) history.

The Château Palmer was founded at the beginning of the eighteen century by the Gasq family, but soon was purchased by the british Major General Palmer, who not only gave the Château its name but also contributed to the development of the vines and vineyard all in a controversial fashion. Nowadays, the proprietors of the Château still try to stand out as they have even commissioned creation of their own song for the 2009 vintage. They also have a very informative blog.

Yet, those who deserve the most praise are the Pereire brothers who bought the Palmer’s estate in the time of crisis in 1853. Their Portuguese – Jewish origin could have sparked the business success and also competitiveness with the powerful Rothshild wine magnates contributing to an accelerating quality of the wines produced at the Château Palmer. Pereire brothers sponsored building of the magnificent château distinguishing it vividly from the other Margaux wine estates. The Palmer’s conical towers and slate roofs contrast with the romantic Château Margaux building.
Another crisis struck Palmer and this time the whole world. The 1930s economic crisis brought Château Palmer into the hands of four Bordeaux families, two of whom reign the estate until today. These are the Sichel and Malher-Besse families.

The history might be one facet peculiar to every single château but, as it is typical for Bordeaux wines, each of them produces unique wines of distinguished smell, colour and bouquet even though their grapes, not just literally, touch each others roots.

Moreover, their fan club of wine connoisseurs varies. Those relishing the absolute balance, elegance and finesse appreciate Château Palmer’s red clarets. One of them is surely Simon Berry of the oldest wine merchant in London Berry Bros&Rudd. He even wrote a foreword to the Château Palmer’s own book published in 2008 (You get it free of charge on your visit of the chateau). There he shares his passion for Palmer, he elevates his first taste of the famed 1961 vintage he drunk with Peter Sichel, one of the Palmer’s owners as he writes:

‘..it seemed to me to be the most perfect bottle of claret I had ever tasted. Not the most powerful, not the most flavoursome, not the oldest, and certainly not the flashiest or the most expensive, but just what every claret should aspire to be at a perfect stage in its maturity…’ (he drunk it in 1997- 36 years after the grapes were picked and transformed into wine).

Affordable cost of a bottle of Palmer (most vintages, the 61 goes to a higher sphere) is another distinction when compared to the Château Margaux whose wines are sold for double prices for some vintages.

bottle of the Chtateau Palmer

Chateau Palmer 1996

Palmer makes today only red wine from the three typical Bordeaux grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and hint of Petit Verdot (the shy Cabernet Franc is more popular on the right bank in Saint Emillion, Pomerol, …). What is interesting, in the past it made also a white wine of an unknown grape variety. A bottle of a white 1925 still hides in the cellar of the Sichel family and perhaps in some rare collections elsewhere on the world but nobody knows where exactly.

The discovery of this endemic bottle confirms the importance of white wines far into the history of Bordeaux winemaking.

Pavillon Blanc

Some of the châteaux in the Médoc area still produce smaller quantities of white wine. For me they are sometimes even more interesting than some reds. I have tasted plenty of white Bordeaux and was amazed how highly competitive they are even with the top white Burgundies. I dare to say that, so far the throne belongs to the white wine Pavilon produced by the Château Margaux. The bad news is that the white Bordeaux are difficult to find abroad so for most of them you will need to travel to the Bordeaux itself in order to purchase at least a case.

Another practice, though more popular nowadays, is to make a second red wine. Both the Palmer and Margaux follow the suit.

Palmer’s youthful equivalent is Alter Ego setting it apart from the ‘Grand wine’ with its reverse coloured label. Instead of deep dark blue background with golden imprint the Aler Ego’s label has golden background with a dark blue imprint.

Chateau Palmer 1996

second wine of the Chateau Palmer the Alter Ego 2002

Alter Ego 2002

However, the proprietors like to emphasise that Alter Ego isn’t a second wine as it is just a different, fruitier and ready wine enjoyable in its youth. From this stems its great value as it can be drunk in two or more years and you do not need to wait for the minimum recommended 10 years ageing as with the ‘big clarets’.

Château Margaux has also a second wine. It is called The Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux.

The peculiarities of each Château are tangible in their divergent Grand Cru classification from 1855. Château Margaux got into the first top five 1er cru rank whereas Château Palmer stands in the third family of Grand Crus. In the 1850s Palmer was in its challenging period therefore it is a distinguished achievement that it got to the Top Cru status at that time.

Moreover, who can trust an over 150 years-old classification nowadays? Traditions are worth to respect, but our taste should decide. Therefore, I encourage everyone to try as many various Bordeaux as you can and compare them yourselves. Just a small example. Château Petrus and Cheval Blanc from the right bank aren’t in the 1855 classification at all and whose wines are today priced as one of the highest?

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