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.