Today’s Story: Château Margaux
Château Margaux is an incredibly historic wine estate located in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux’s Left Bank. It is also one of the original four properties ranked as a First Growth (Premier Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 (with Château Mouton Rothschild being added as the fifth First Growth in 1973). Château Margaux traces its roots back to the 12th century with a name of La Mothe de Margaux, though there weren’t any vines planted on the property at that time. Throughout the property’s first several centuries, it was reserved for Lords and royalty. Margaux as we know it today, however, started to take shape in the late 16th century when Pierre de Lestonnac spent the years 1572 to 1582 completely restructuring the property to wine production. By the end of the 17th century, Château Margaux consisted of 265 hectares (655 acres) with about one-third of that area planted to vine. It remains largely in this same format to this day.
The 18th century brought great growth to both Château Margaux and the world of wine as we know it from a quality perspective. At this time, most of the wine made in Bordeaux was low quality and somewhat watery which didn’t bode well for aging ability. At Margaux, Berlon became the first to vinify red and white grapes separately while vine stocks were mixed throughout the vineyards. He also decided to delay harvest time from dawn to later in the day so dew would dry up and not dilute the juice. Thanks to the improved quality, Margaux’s 1771 vintage became the first “claret” to be sold through Christie’s and, during Thomas Jefferson’s trip to Bordeaux in 1787, became noted as one of the top four properties by the statesman.
The fortune of the 18th century died down unfortunately, thanks to the French Revolution that saw Elie du Barry (owner of Château Margaux at the time) sent to the guillotine. The estate was auctioned to the revolutionaries and its new owner, citizen Miqueau, let the property fall into a horribly dilapidated state. In 1801, Bertrand Douat, Marquis de la Colonilla, purchased Château Margaux and set about building a new mansion in 1810. This was the château that still stands today and adorns the Margaux labels, though Douat died before ever living at the property. His children had very little interest in the property, ultimately selling it to a wealthy banker named Alexandre Aguado in 1830. Margaux trudged onward until the financial troubles and phylloxera of the late 19th century, with the estate sold to Count Pillet-Will in 1879. The estate bounced back with a great 1893 vintage, though the young vines of phylloxera-resistant rootstock didn’t produce at a high enough quality and a second wine named Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux was born.
Throughout the second quarter of the 20th century, wealthy wine trader Fernand Ginestet purchased shares in Margaux until ultimately purchasing the entire estate around 1950. Fernand and his son Pierre reorganized the vineyards and guided the estate through several successful vintages, though they were unfortunately no match for the financial crisis of the 1970s and the horrible vintages of 1972, 1973, and 1974. The Ginestet family, due to these struggles, had to sell Château Margaux and it was purchased by André Mentzelopoulos in 1977. André made his fortune trading cereals and through his ownership of a grocery chain, so he was able to invest heavily in Château Margaux during this trying time without the need for immediate financial gains. Though André passed away far too soon in 1980, during his short ownership of Château Margaux he completed drastic renovations to both the buildings and vineyards of the estate and set the property on a renewed path to greatness. André’s daughter Corinne adeptly took over in her father’s footsteps, guiding the estate through the incredible growing demand for Bordeaux wines following the 1982 vintage and into the 21st century. She remains CEO to this day.
Switching gears, as I mentioned before the size and format of Château Margaux hasn’t really changed since the end of the 17th century. Today the property consists of 262 hectares (647 acres) with only a third of that planted to vine. Vine density is fairly high but typical of Bordeaux, with 10,000 vines per hectare (2.5 acres) of land. For the red wines, 75% of this land is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% to Merlot, and the balance to Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. They also have 12 hectares (30 acres) planted to Sauvignon Blanc. With this Château Margaux makes four wines including the Grand Vin, Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux, and Margaux du Château Margaux for their reds and the Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux for the white.
From a winemaking standpoint, Margaux is fairly traditional for the realm of Bordeaux. The red wines ferment in a combination of oak and stainless steel vats ranging in size from 5 hectoliters up to 180 hectoliters. The reds also go through malolactic fermentation in vats, however the press wines complete their malolactic fermentation in barrel. Aging is accomplished in 100% new oak for 18-24 months, with many of these barrels coming from Margaux’s own in-house cooperage. The white wine, on the other hand, is whole cluster pressed with no skin contact and ferments partially in stainless steel before wrapping up in 33% new French oak barrels. This wine is aged on its lees but forgoes malolactic fermentation while aging for 7-8 months before bottling.
Today’s Wine: 1982 Château Margaux
Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux blend; 12% ABV
The 1982 Château Margaux is deep garnet in color, showing no signs of bricking. I decanted this for sediment, but there really wasn’t any and this seemed ready to go after a short while. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of redcurrant, blackcurrant, red plum, dried violet, tobacco, pencil shavings, graphite, smoked meat, forest floor, black truffle, eucalyptus, and cedar. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, while the palate offers up notes of redcurrant, blackberry, cassis, stale licorice, violet, cigar tobacco, scorched earth, crushed gravel, charred green herbs, green peppercorn, and a touch of smoke. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium but perfectly integrated and silky tannin, medium alcohol, and a long finish. This is an outstanding bottle with exceptional balance, and it’s drinking perfectly right now.
Price: $1,200 (we paid $980). At this price-point I can’t really discuss the value proposition because, let’s be honest, nobody can argue it. However, this was an ethereal bottle that I am very happy and lucky to have enjoyed and it was firing on all cylinders. This showed intensity, complexity, and incredible balance that will be memorable for a long time. I would love to find a 1983 for comparison.