Incredible Value in a Second Wine

Today’s Story: Château Montrose

Château Montrose is a historical Bordeaux wine estate located in Saint-Estèphe and established in 1815 by Etienne Théodore Dumoulin on a patch of land his family purchased from Nicolas Alexandre de Ségur but largely forgot. At the time of Etienne’s death in 1861, the estate spanned 95 hectares though his heirs sold it in 1866 to factory owner Mathieu Dollfus who quickly redeveloped and modernized the buildings and winery with the best technology of the time. One of Mathieu’s most interesting achievements, in my opinion, is the construction of a windmill to pump water aboveground and flood the estate which ultimately saved much of the vineyards from phylloxera. After Mathieu passed away in 1886, the estate fell to the Charmolüe family who, from 1896 to 2006, guided Château Montrose through wars and financial crises while crafting some of the best vintages and providing stability. Martin and Olivier Bouygues acquired the estate in 2006 and engaged in a massive renovation project, propelling Château Montrose to ever increasing heights for decades down the road. Montrose, one of fourteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, produces world-class wines and even placed third with their 1970 vintage in the Judgment of Paris in 1976.

To learn more about this great estate, check out their website here. In particular, I recommend checking out the “From Vine to Wine” section!

Today’s Wine: 2016 La Dame de Montrose

52% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 La Dame de Montrose is opaque deep ruby and nearly black at its core with purple hues. I decanted this for 6 hours (wanted a preview of my Grand Vins still in hiding) and it needed every second of it. On the nose, I get aromas of blackberry, crème de cassis, black plum, pencil shavings, cigar box, finely crushed rock, dried earth, chocolate, black pepper, and oak. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, cherry, redcurrant, graphite, loamy soil, slate, tobacco, spice box, and toasted oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. The wine is incredibly promising, and makes me excited to try the Grand Vin in 15 years.

Price: $50 (though you can find steals closer to $40). This is an absolute rockstar for value from the utterly incredible 2016 vintage, though you will have to be patient. Pair this with steak, grilled leg of lamb, or a high-end burger.

Utterly Elegant, Aged Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château Léoville Las Cases

Château Léoville Las Cases is a historical Bordeaux estate rated as a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Though the estate used to be much larger and is one of the oldest in the Médoc, it was split up between 1826 and 1840 as a result of the French Revolution and came into the Las Cases family as 3/5 the size of the original estate. Luckily for the family, however, their land made up the heart of the domain and therefore consists of the original terroir back to the 17th century.

Las Cases was managed by the same family through the 19th century, moving by inheritance through Pierre Jean, Adolphe, and Gabriel de Las Cases until Théophile Skawinski bought a stake in 1900 to become the manager. Today, Jean-Hubert Delon is the sole owner with the family coming in during the mid-20th century. I encourage you to take a look at the cool video on their website here, which shows the estate’s geographic location as well as a breakdown of the terroir at the domain.

Today’s Wine: 1990 Château Léoville Las Cases

43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 1990 LLC is opaque deep garnet/ruby in color, showing no sign of its age besides some sediment in the bottle. Though this sang right out of the bottle, the nose truly showcased its beauty after 30+ minutes in the glass with aromas of redcurrant, cassis, pencil shavings, graphite, cured meat, sous bois, tobacco, black pepper, and dried underbrush. Once in the mouth, this elegant wine shows notes of dusty blackberry, plum, redcurrant, charred earth, cigar box, leather, green herbs, and spice. This is medium-bodied with moderate acidity, fully integrated light tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $400. A special occasion bottle opened to celebrate my recent birthday. Pair this with steak, roasted lamb, veal, or pheasant. Mushroom sauce or truffle with the steak would be a well-rewarded plus.

For another interesting review…

I reviewed the 1986 Château Léoville Las Cases alongside a 1986 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande back on October 28, 2019 in Bordeaux Battle. For some insight into another aged LLC, check it out! At the very least, you may be introduced to Pichon Lalande as well.

Left Bank Elegance

Today’s Story: Château Palmer

Château Palmer is a historic winery in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux with roots back to 1748. Once part of Château d’Issan, 50 hectares of vines came to the Gascq family through division of d’Issan by the estate’s heirs in 1748. The Gascq family took this land and started producing wine under Château de Gascq, quickly becoming a well-known winery who served the court of Versailles under Louis XV.

In 1814, however, Madame Marie Bumet de Ferrière (the widow of the last remaining Gascq heir) sold the estate to English Lieutenant Colonel Charles Palmer (later a Major General in the British Army). Palmer spent decades enlarging the estate and modernizing its winery, with Château Palmer spanning 163 hectares with 82 hectares under vine by 1831. Unfortunately for this great estate, Charles Palmer faced some financial issues that forced a sale and the estate fell under control of an agricultural mortgage corporation.

Several years later, Château Palmer returned to private hands when Émile and Isaac Péreire purchased it in 1853. The Péreire brothers previously built an empire spanning railways, real estate, and banking (they were rivals of the Rothschild family) but wanted to add a winery having grown up in Bordeaux. Unfortunately for the estate given its recent turmoil, Château Palmer received the Troisième Cru (Third Growth) designation in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. I say this is unfortunate only because Palmer used to have a reputation similar to Château Margaux and Château Beychevelle.

Though Palmer eventually grew to 177 hectares with 102 hectares under vine, the estate as it exists today came about in 1938. Owners had to sell land parcels thanks to World War I and the Great Depression, though the Mähler-Besse family from the Netherlands and the Sichel family took over and descendants helped rebuild the estate following World War II. Though the two families are still involved, they have entrusted management of Château Palmer with Thomas Duroux, a former winemaker at Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia.

I would like to end this post with some comments on the values of Château Palmer. Like many great historic estates, Palmer believes they must respect their soils and vineyards to achieve the greatest expression in their wines. To this end, they explored biodynamic farming in 2008 and the practice soon became a necessity in the eyes of those running the estate. Sheep graze on the land and in the vineyards, grass and flowers grow naturally, and the estate stopped using agrochemicals. These efforts are so far greatly rewarded, with Palmer producing some of the greatest Third Growth wines.

Today’s Wine: 1996 Château Palmer

55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; 12.5% ABV

The 1996 Palmer is medium to deep ruby in appearance and moderately transparent as you edge toward the rim of the glass. Once this wine opens up in a decanter, the complex nose showcases aromas of blackcurrant, blueberry, black plum, violet, pencil shavings, forest floor, tobacco, truffle, black pepper, green underbrush, and coffee grounds. In the mouth, the wine offers notes of blackberry, blackcurrant, anise, cigar box, sweet tobacco, graphite, crushed rock, chalky minerality, and a hint of oak. The wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium but elegant tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $250. A nice bottle of wine for a celebration with family, though this is not one of Palmer’s greatest vintages. I had a 1995 not too long ago that showed very well and was a bit more powerful, a nice surprise given it’s also not one of the greatest vintages. Pair this with high quality steaks or lamb.

Decidedly Opulent Pauillac

Today’s Story: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

Another easy one today so I can get off to my Thanksgiving festivities here in the US (and hopefully a short read if you celebrate too). I wrote about Pichon Lalande back on October 28 in my post Bordeaux Battle, which I’d suggest checking out for a 1986 vintage comparison to Leoville Las Cases.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) estate based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth. For more, check out my prior post!

Today’s Wine: 2003 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot; 13% ABV

The 2003 Pichon Lalande is deep purple/ruby in color and moderately opaque. This certainly needed a decant, though the wine came right out of the bottle singing. Once this opened up and warmed from cellar temperature, the wine offered aromas of plum, blackcurrant, slight barnyard, forest floor, cigar box, pencil shavings, rosemary, truffle, and a hint of oak. On the palate this showcases notes of blackberry, blackcurrant, pomegranate, graphite, smokey earth, tobacco, dried underbrush, and limestone. Full-bodied and powerful, this wine has high acidity and velvety medium (+) tannins into a long, lingering finish. Overall this is very ripe and opulent, and probably one of my favorite Pichon Lalande bottlings to date. Though drinking magnificently now, I’d cellar this another 10 years and it’ll live on even decades beyond that.

Price: $180. Though not an inexpensive bottle of wine, Pichon Lalande offers incredible value next to the First Growths and is a wonderful representation of Pauillac. Give this wine a try and you will not go wrong. Pair this with veal, pork, steak, or red game meats (and any mushroom/truffle sauce is a plus).

Timeless Passion in Saint-Estèphe

Today’s Story: Cos d’Estournel

Cos d’Estournel is a historic winery located in the Saint-Estèphe appellation of Bordeaux. The estate is also one of fifteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) noted in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Its founder, Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, inherited Cos in 1791 and became immediately convinced that the hill of Cos consisted of exceptional terroir. Without wasting any time, d’Estournel started purchasing neighboring vineyard land to expand his estate from 14 hectares to 45 and implemented many innovative processes to produce magnificent wines. In 1810, the estate received its current name of Cos d’Estournel.

Louis Gaspard d’Estournel was a nonconformist when it came to his vineyards and marketing his wine. For instance, he would typically travel broadly to faraway and unknown places with his wines to introduce them to the world. He even used to sign every bottle by hand to portray not only his dedication but his belief that his wines were some of the best in the world. Interestingly, any wine he didn’t sell while traveling would come back to the estate to be opened and tasted, with these bottles labeled “R” for “Retour des Indes” or “Returned from India.”

Though ownership changed multiple times over the years, the current steward of the estate shares a similar drive for innovation and dedication to d’Estournel. Michel Reybier purchased Cos d’Estournel in 2000 and I believe (based on some of his commentary) this decision was largely due to the emotional attachment he felt to the history and physical presence of the estate. Much like d’Estournel, Michel’s passion for Cos is extreme and he is incredibly active year-round at the estate and in its business dealings. Further, Michel seeks to strike a balance between innovation and tradition, many times in nonconformist manners yet again. Under his ownership, the estate invested dramatically in a complete overhaul of the winery and château by introducing state-of-the-art facilities and equipment while transitioning to a gravity flow winery. The wine I am reviewing today is the first vintage (2008) produced in the brand new winery.

Geography and production facts: Cos d’Estournel today consists of 100 hectares, though vineyard land accounts for only 70 hectares. The vineyards are broken into 30 parcels with 60% planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% to Merlot with small areas of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Annual production is typically about 32,000 cases.

Fun fact: Cos d’Estournel’s neighbor just to the south is the famous Château Lafite Rothschild, one of the original First Growths. Lafite, of course, is in the Pauillac appellation.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Cos d’Estournel

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc; 13.8% ABV

I’ve enjoyed several vintages of Cos d’Estournel over the years, each of them being delightful, though this is my first time trying the 2008. Cos typically blends with more Merlot, so this vintage is interesting particularly due to its high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is deep, opaque ruby in color. I let this decant because it is still quite young and certainly needed time to open up. The nose showcases aromas of black plum, blackcurrant, black cherry, graphite, pencil shaving, tobacco, black pepper, and a hint of vanilla. Once in the mouth, I get notes of blackberry, plum, granite, iron, green herbs, smoke, sweet tobacco, and oak. This Cos is full-bodied with high acidity, high yet still refined tannins, and a long finish. An interesting note is that this is the first vintage produced in the new winery facilities at Cos.

Price: $160. Compared to First Growths I think Cos consistently delivers great value if you’re looking at Bordeaux. Definitely give this one a try if you haven’t already. Pair this with steak, a burger, or an assortment of charcuterie and cheeses.

Bordeaux Battle

Today’s Stories:

Château Léoville Las Cases is a historical Bordeaux estate rated as a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Though the estate used to be much larger and is one of the oldest in the Médoc, it was split up between 1826 and 1840 as a result of the French Revolution and came into the Las Cases family as 3/5 the size of the original estate. Luckily for the family, however, their land made up the heart of the domain and therefore consists of the original terroir back to the 17th century.

Las Cases was managed by the same family through the 19th century, moving by inheritance through Pierre Jean, Adolphe, and Gabriel de Las Cases until Théophile Skawinski bought a stake in 1900 to become the manager. Today, Jean-Hubert Delon is the sole owner with the family coming in during the mid-20th century. I encourage you to take a look at the cool video on their website here, which shows the estate’s geographic location as well as a breakdown of the terroir at the domain.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is also a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth.

Similar to Léoville Las Cases, Pichon Lalande was once part of a much larger estate. As ownership changed hands over the years, Pichon Lalande earned its name when the founder’s daughter Therese received it as a dowry for her marriage to Jacques de Pichon Longueville. During the 18th century, the estate was dominated by women (Therese de Rauzan, Germaine de Lajus, and Marie Branda de Terrefort) throughout the winemaking process until Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville took over for his mother. In 1850, with his death, the estate split between his two sons and three daughters and ultimately resulted in the division of Comtesse de Lalande and Pichon Baron.

With no familial heirs, Edouard Miailhe and Louis Miailhe purchased Pichon Lalande following WWI. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing took over management in 1978 and became a prominent ambassador for Bordeaux wines while dramatically increasing quality of her estate. One of her major endeavors, and possibly most famous, was growing the size of Pichon Lalande from 40 hectares of vines to 89. In 2007, however, May-Eliane sold a majority stake of the estate to the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Champagne, and management changes as well as renovations took place.

Today’s 1st Wine: 1986 Château Léoville Las Cases

66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4%Petit Verdot; 13.3% ABV

While I’d put the fill level on this bottle between top shoulder and into neck, a pull of the cork showed immediately that we were in for a beautiful, textbook Bordeaux. No need to decant this one, we just let it slow ox in the bottle and glass. In appearance this is still deep ruby with slight garnet rim variation. On the nose, I got aromas of crème de cassis, graphite, pencil shavings, tobacco leaf, and forest floor. Once in the mouth, this luxurious medium- to full-bodied wine shows notes of black and blue fruits, crushed stone, cigar box, and ground green herbs with a hint of black pepper. We get high acidity and medium dusty tannins into a long finish.

Price: $500. Another rare bottle that my generous friend shared (the ’86 Pichon was his too) so we could do this side-by-side tasting. If you can stomach paying the price, this wine is damn near perfect. Pair with steak with a peppercorn or mushroom sauce.

Today’s 2nd Wine: 1986 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot; 12.5% ABV

This is my second bottle of 1986 Pichon Lalande, coincidentally consumed with my same friend who was there for the first bottle. While fill level and provenance of the bottle are good, this seems to be significantly more advanced than the first one (tasted April 2018). Color on this was more light ruby and borderline garnet. After slow ox in the bottle and a glass, the nose offered aromas of stale cranberry, red apple skins, graphite, eucalyptus, chocolate, and pyrazine that unfortunately didn’t want to blow off. Perhaps this needed more air time than we gave it, but regardless it was an overall solid nose save for the pyrazine. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases flavors of green herbs, cigar box, mushroom, black peppercorn, and forest floor. Due to this more advanced stage, the palate certainly showed better than the nose. Medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $250. If you can guarantee the provenance, this is well worth the price. As with any aged wine you take a risk, however to try old Bordeaux and such a classic example of it, the potential reward is there. Pair with steak.

Winner: 1986 Château Léoville Las Cases

The Léoville Las Cases drank with such elegance and class while being a textbook representation of what Bordeaux is and what it should be. I am already hoping and dreaming that I get a chance to taste it again.

Polished Pauillac

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bages Libéral

Château Haut-Bages Libéral is a winery in the Pauillac AOC of Bordeaux, and one of eighteen wineries classified as a fifth-growth in 1855 (5ème Grand Cru Classé en 1855). The classification came about when Napoleon III, the emperor of France, organized a Universal Exposition in Paris and wanted French wines in an exhibit. The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce enlisted wine merchants to develop a list of 1er through 5ème wines only, to not overrun the exhibit with wines, and the designations are present on bottles to this day. Some of you may be familiar with the Premier Grand Crus of Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton Rothschild (this was 2nd-growth until 1973), however these wines start at the $100s of dollars and move upward of $1,000 per bottle.

Anyway, Château Haut-Bages Libéral operated under the Libéral family beginning in the early 18th Century and their wine was shared throughout various social and political circles. For the classification of 1855, half of the winery’s vines are next to Château Latour, with the other half being behind Château Pichon Baron. Running forward to 1960, the family behind Château Pontet-Canet, another 5th-growth in Pauillac, purchased Château Haut-Bages Libéral and replanted much of the vines. Ownership changed again, however, in 1982 when the Villars-Merlaut family stepped in and they have been running the winery since then.

Today’s Wine: 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot; 13% ABV

2005 was an outstanding vintage for Bordeaux, with the growing season hot and dry as a whole. Though vines struggled at times, rain came at opportune moments, particularly in August and September, to help sustain the vines. Today’s wine shows this vintage in stride and the notes demonstrate classic Pauillac. In the glass, we have deep ruby with not much color variation toward the rim. I let this open up in the glass and decanter for about 30 minutes, which it needed, and drank over the following couple hours. The nose showcases notes of blackberry, cigar box, spice, dried soil, green herbs, and pencil shavings. Moving to the palate, our wine displays blackberry, blueberry, charred earth, ground pepper, and a touch of coffee. Overall not entirely complex and easy-drinking, this Bordeaux is medium-bodied and shows medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $75. I think this is great value for Pauillac, an AOC where wines can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per bottle. Pair this with filet mignon, potatoes, and veggies and you can’t go wrong.