Chateau Palmer was a little farther away than we expected after lunch, so we flew through Margaux to find the estate. But there was no missing the beautiful Chateau with it’s blue trim and ornate ironwork.
Chateau Palmer gets its name from Major General Charles Palmer of the British Army, who purchased the estate in 1814 from the Gascq family. Charles Palmer lived mainly in England and was a man of English society, promoting the wines of Chateau Palmer to popularity with the English Court and the London clubs. In 1853 the Pereire brothers purchased the estate and reorganized the entire vineyard. Unfortunately, the vineyards were not ready in time to be considered for first growth status in the 1855 classification. Chateau Palmer was classified as a third growth even though they have been recognized as one of the best estates in Bordeaux. The Pereire brothers hired Bordeaux architect Burguet to build the estate house of Chateau Palmer in 1856, which was modeled after the estate house of Chateau Pichon Baron. They are both beautiful Chateaux and you can definitely see the similarities between the two.
We joined a larger tour already in progress with visitors from Vancouver, B.C., close to home. Like many other estates, Chateau Palmer combines the use of modern stainless steel vats with traditional wine making practices. They use an optical sorter for their wines – much like many of the other Chateaux of the region. In fact, we had several interesting conversations about the use of the optical sorter as we toured various Chateaux. Some feel it is cheating, but many Chateaux have realized it’s worth the extra investment to make certain those “less than optimum” grapes don’t make it into production – especially when the production is sizable.
While the optical sorter will reduce yields, it also has a direct impact on higher quality. On a very good-to-great vintage, the optical sorter has less effect, but on a trying vintage, the optical sorter can make a great difference. In fact, when we were touring one estate, our guide jokingly told us that they were grateful to have an optical sorter, because they give their volunteer pickers the more intense wine made from the lees at lunch each day, so they are glad to have the optical sorter at the end of the day to ensure quality!
Here are the wines we tasted:
2008 Alter Ego Palmer – Nice dark floral fruit on the nose. Dark cherries with good acidity, slightly coarse but sweet tannins. Medium in body, but slightly one dimensional and a medium length tannic finish. Needs several more years to round out in the mouth.
2004 Palmer – Nice nose of red and black fruit with spice and a hint of wood. The nose is more evolved than the pallet. In the mouth, it tastes like a warm dark black currant and blackberry pie, with a noticeable spicy characteristic to it, no doubt from the 7% Petite Verdot. Good acidity, but a little dry and tannic on the medium long finish. I think the wine is well made and is just in its adolescent awkward stage and could use another five years or so to round into shape.
Chateau Palmer makes some excellent wines that age gracefully. A couple of Palmer’s older wines that are drinking beautifully now are the 1989 and 1983. We have several bottles of the 1989 in our cellar, and I’m betting they’ll continue to drink well from now over the next decade…