Day Seven, Final Stop: Chateau Palmer

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.

Chateau Palmer.
Chateau Palmer.
The details.
A closer look at the details.

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!

Bordeaux 2013 2954
The vat room with it’s warm wooden beams.
Bordeaux 2013 198
The barrel room was charming with the mid-afternoon light streaming in – you don’t get a lot of light in barrel rooms, typically!

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…

Day Seven, Second Stop: Lunch at Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

We were looking forward to visiting Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac, because a friend of ours, Nicolas Glumineau, is the new General Manager and Winemaker.  We have gotten to know Nicolas over a six-year period from a Bordeaux dinner that is held every year in Seattle, where he represented Chateau Montrose.  In late 2012, Nicolas left Chateau Montrose, where he was Technical Director, to run Pichon Lalande.  Clearly, it is a great opportunity for him – but not without its challenges.

Nicolas Glumineau and Christina Watt at Chateau Pichon Lalande.
Nicolas Glumineau and Christina Watt at Chateau Pichon Lalande.

Upon arrival, we were surprised to see just how much work they had done on the construction project.  They were in the process of building an entirely new state-of-the-art vat room, barrel room and winemaking facility, and harvest was looming large, just as they were putting the finishing touches on things.  In fact, we had planned our trip thinking that we would be touring during harvest, but it was turning out to be a very late season this year.

The impressive new vat room.
The impressive new vat room.
The work in progress, with harvest coming any minute...
The work in progress, with harvest coming any minute…

We had to laugh as Nicolas toured us around, when we marveled at his luck with the timing of the harvest, he simply replied, “it was in the contract!”  The new vat room is an impressive site – in fact, I found it to be easily on par with Cos d’Estournel, which everyone throughout the region raved about as being a technical marvel.  It was clear that Pichon Lalande had decided to reinvest a huge amount of money into their winemaking facility, to join the ranks of the elite few Chateaux in Bordeaux that combine the world’s best technology, with the traditional wine making practices and expertise.   The build-out has been estimated at roughly $21 million –  I cannot wait to taste the future wines that will be made at Pichon Lalande.

As we walked through the construction site, we stood in a gallery off to the side of the vat room that overlooked not only the vineyards below, but looked down on Chateau Latour.  Not a bad view for the planned events that will take place in the space in the future.

An upstairs view of the vat room.  We failed to get pictures of the view out the windows from here, but it was impressive.
An upstairs view of the vat room. We failed to get pictures of the view out the windows from here, but it was impressive.

Nicolas was a very charming host, and we couldn’t have appreciated the time he spent with us any more if we tried.  In the midst of what was clearly a very busy time for him, he took the time to welcome us with a wonderful lunch, spirited conversation about the region and some really spectacular wines.

For lunch we enjoyed:

2010 Pichon Lalande – Dark blackberry fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, deep dark velvety blackberry fruit fills every millimeter of your mouth.  The wine has excellent acidity and very fine tannins that lead to a beautifully long sweet dark fruit finish that doesn’t want to end.  All I can say is, wow!  This wine has so much going on, I cannot wait to see how it evolves over the decades to come.  In ten years, once the secondary characteristics start to show, the complexity of this wine is going to be a really show-stopper.  Pichon Lalande has knocked it out of the park with their 2010 Grand Vin and I have no doubt that it will still be drinking well 40-50 years from now.  This is definitely a wine to look for.

2003 Pichon Lalande – A warm, dark fruit nose.  In the mouth, it tastes like a warm deep dark blackberry fruit pie, with just a hint of alcohol.  Decent acidity and mostly resolved fine tannins are making this wine drink well now, with a nice long dark fruit finish.  This wine will not age like the 2010, but it is a pleasure to drink now and over the next decade or so.

1996 Pichon Lalande – This is a deep dark red color with a garnet rim.  The nose of spicy red and black fruit just soars from the glass, you could smell it just sitting on the table in front of you.  In the mouth, the sweet red and black fruit flavors are very complex with baking spices, tobacco, cedar and a slight green pepper note.  The wine has very good acidity keeping everything lively in the mouth, but at the same time is very smooth.  The very fine tannins are mostly resolved and the wine has a very long complex spicy/sweet dark fruit finish.  The 1996 is an absolutely beautiful wine today and will continue to age gracefully for the next two decades.  As stunning as the 1996 Pichon Lalande is though, I think it will be ultimately surpassed by the 2010.  If I had to describe the wines of Pichon Lalande with one word, it would be elegance.

Pichon Lalande at night.
Pichon Lalande at night.

Time flew by at lunch – before we knew it, it was time to head out the door to Chateau Palmer.  The food, wine and company was so good, we were loathe to leave, though we knew that the show was far from over for Nicolas, who still had much more work to do!  We know that Nicolas will do great things at Pichon Lalande and we hope to come back to visit him again soon.

Day Seven, First Stop: Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron in Pauillac was our first stop this morning and very highly anticipated. We had driven by the estate a few times at this point, and it is by far one of the most spectacular Chateaux in the region.  We even stopped on the way back to our hotel one night after dinner to take pictures.

Chateau Pichon Baron by night.
Chateau Pichon Baron by night.
The captivating chateau.
The captivating Chateau Pichon Baron.

Pichon Baron was one of a small group of Bordeaux wines that is responsible for making me fall in love with the wines of Bordeaux.  Pichon Baron has been one of my long time favorites from Bordeaux, starting with their 1988 vintage.  Both the 1989 and 1990 wines from Pichon Baron are drinking very well at this point, with the 1989 even still being a little young in my opinion.  The wines from Pichon Baron are big, powerful Cabernet-dominant wines with big meaty fruit flavors.  The wines of Pichon Baron are not known for being feminine or delicate, but with age you will get a lot of delicate secondary flavors to go with the big masculine fruit.  I have always loved the wines of Pichon Baron and it is not by chance that we have more Pichon Baron in the cellar than any other producer in Bordeaux.

The barrel room sits beneath this structure - and the water!
The barrel room sits beneath this structure – and the water!

Our guide explained to us that Pichon Baron was once part of a larger estate, owned by Pierre de Rauzan, along with Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, the estate directly across the street. In 1850 the estate was divided into the two current Pichon estates. In 1987 the estate was purchased by French insurance company AXA. The property is currently managed by Englishman Christian Seely.

The vat room.
The vat room.

When we were in the barrel room, we saw something we had only heard about but hadn’t seen yet.  There were workers that were fining the wine in the barrels, which consists of adding egg whites in order to facilitate the removal of particles of matter from the wine.  We also saw they were cleaning empty barrels to prepare them for wine by burning sulfur in them – not a smell you want to spend a whole lot of time around, we assure you.

Bob and Christina Watt in the barrel room.
Bob and Christina Watt in the barrel room.
The laborious process of fining the wines.
The laborious process of fining the wines.
Can you see the sulfur haze?
Can you see the sulfur haze?
The wax and seal.
The wax and seal. Would’ve made a nice souvenir…

Here are the wines we tried in their tasting room:

2008 Pibran – Fruity nose, red and black fruit in the mouth, decent acid, medium-light in body and medium fruit finish.  A nice inexpensive Bordeaux red wine.

2008 Les Tourelles de Longueville – Nice nose of sweet dark fruit, well rounded in the mouth with dark red bing cherries, good acidity, nice medium-fine tannin and a medium-long dark fruit finish.  This is a very nice second wine that is drinking well now but will age very well over the next decade.

2008 Pichon Baron – Beautiful spicy sweet dark fruit nose.  In the mouth, very dark sweet blackberries with a hint of dark bing cherries combined with baking spices, very good acidity keeping everything lively.  Full bodied and lots of sweet fine tannins leading to a very nice black current and spicy blackberry long finish.  This is an absolutely beautiful wine that is starting to show some nice complexity, but is still a baby.  The 2008 Pichon Baron should start drinking well in another five years, but will age for two decades without even trying.  The prices for both the 2009 and 2010 Pichon Baron are significantly higher than the 2008 and for good reason, but the 2008 is a relative bargain by comparison of quality/price.  The 2008 Pichon Baron is a wine to look out for and I am very glad that I have it resting in my cellar.

Another view.
Another view.
And another.
And another.

It was a beautiful day, and we snapped a few more photos outside, before heading just across the street for a tour and lunch at Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande…