margaux

Winery Spotlight: Chateau Latour-Martillac

LM 3The JJ Buckley wine staff recently had a chance to learn a bit more about Chateau Latour-Martillac, one of the top estates in the Pessac-Leognan appellation south of Bordeaux. Tastings with owners and their winemakers or marketing managers at our offices are always an important way to add to the knowledge we gain during our annual visits to Bordeaux. This visit, however, afforded us the chance to learn about something other than soils and varietals.

The domaine has a long history that starts with an ancient tower from the 12th Century that gives rise to the winery’s name. Vines were not planted until the middle of the 19th Century yet the quality of wine from the estate was soon recognized by Edouard Kressman, a negociant from Bordeaux. His son purchased the chateau and its 100 acres of vines in 1930 (about 80% is planted to red varieties with the rest planted to semillon and sauvignon blanc). The domaine remains in the family’s hands while members of the Kressman family still work as negociants.

The vineyards are located outside the little village of Martillac, some ten minutes southeast of the small town of Leognan that comprises part of the appellation’s name. The weather and soil composition of the two villages are quite similar but differ markedly from the Pessac wineries located next to the city limits of Bordeaux. There’s a sense of elegance and finesse found in the wines made here compared to the power and concentration found in wines from Pessac. Thanks to the heat generated by the warmth of the city, Pessac’s grapes there are picked two weeks earlier than in Martillac and Leognan.

The Latour-Martillac label and the diary that provided inspiration.

The Latour-Martillac label and the diary that provided inspiration.

2014 marks the 80th anniversary of the Kressman family’s purchase of the domaine and the creation of the winery’s distinctive label. As explained to us by Wilfrid Groizard, the estate’s Marketing Director, the label has remained unchanged since it first appeared. It was designed at the height of the Art Deco era and was based on a small diary owned by Alfred Kressman. (See photo on left) We were all quite fortunate to get a chance to examine this beautiful notebook which was carefully brought over to us directly from the winery.

But what really caught our interest lay inside the covers of this fragile journal, a detailed account of Alfred’s tastings over the years accompanied with sketches of labels and bottles. (See photo on right) It provides a fascinating insight into the wines that traveled across the tables of a top negociant during the early 1930s. In less than a month, wines from the 1864-1875 (Margaux,

Tasting notes from January and February 1932

Tasting notes from January and February 1932

Malescot and Chasse Spleen among others) were complemented by more recent wines from 1911-1920 including a Petrus from Pomerol and St. Estephe’s Tronquay. But the most intriguing entry was for a bottle of 1911 Haute Rive from “Etats Unis”, more evidence showing that wines from America made it across the Atlantic. (See upper left corner) Unfortunately, little is known about this winery or what state it came from.

While it was great to taste through their wines (including a sumptuous 2001 blanc along with a ripe and powerful 2009 rouge), it’s often stories, history and context that make wines richer. Our session certainly proved this adage to be true.

2013 Bordeaux: That’s Why They Call Them The First Growths

Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux

Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux pontificates on the 2013 vintage

The first growths are so designated because they are considered to have the best terroirs in the Haut-Medoc. (I say this knowing that the Right Bank and Pessac are excluded here.) The argument here is that the land speaks more than the winemaker’s hand.

Over the past few years with Bordeaux consistently churning out some incredible wines, the riding tide of quality that comes from a great vintage compresses the distance between the first growths and other top notch estates of the Haut-Medoc. Witness the astounding Pontet-Canets from 2009 and 2010 which arguably give the first growths a run for the money.

But what happens in the more difficult years? Do the supposedly superior terroirs actually allow the first growths to produce wines better than their neighbors? Or has the new money that has modernized so many wineries in combination with whipsmart winemakers closed the gap between the first growths and their upstarts? With some of the worst weather in decades, the wines from 2013 would provide a good platform to answer these questions.

Luckily, our schedule was constructed to visit all of the Haut-Medoc first growths in succession. Now let’s acknowledge that from a purely hedonistic point of view, this was going to be a pretty awesome experience. We consider ourselves quite lucky to have a morning where we can indulge in some of Bordeaux’s best wines, one after the other. This all notwithstanding, we had some work ahead of us!!

Tasting the 2013 Chateau Latour

Tasting the 2013 Chateau Latour

Fortunately, this morning also followed a couple of days going through many of the wines that comprise the other four classes of the 1855 classification. Domaines like Pontet-Canet, Cos d’Estournel and Palmer are among the 10-20 or so estates that can easily challenge the first growths as one of the best wines of the vintage. Would any of these wines surpass the quality of the first growths in 2013?

A visit to Chateau Margaux showed that 2013was a test the winery passed successfully. As winemaker Paul Pontallier observed, “We feel we are quite privileged to have the means to make great wine. But also it is true that in vintages like 2013, great terroirs show their supremacy.” Parceling much of their merlot into the domaine’s other cuvees, this year’s grand vin had 94% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cab franc and 1% petit verdot and showed graceful power with good length. This vintage shows a richness of fruit that is tempered by Margaux’s trademark finesse and was a success for the vintage.

Focusing again on a first growth that possesses a finessed palette, Lafite Rothschild showcased it’s prettier fruit expression clearly in 2013. Like Margaux, Lafite depended on cabernet sauvignon (98% in this case) to provide the power and foundation of the grand vin. One trait of the 2013′s is a fresh and vibrant red fruit expression with a crisp and crunchy texture that slowly gives way to more depth and concentration with some air. The wine’s fine grained tannins were in balance with the fruit weight keeping the sleek structure that Lafite is known for.

When it comes to power, Mouton Rothschild and Latour traditionally show the full-bodied texture and intensity of flavor that is a foil to Margaux and Lafite’s elegance. Once again, these two properties stayed true to their identities pouring 13’s that were as good if not better than last year’s wines. Depth and concentration abounded, not only in their top cuvees but also in the second wines. Already looking like complete wines, layers of blackfruits peeled away to reveal even more nuance and complexity. Just the right amount of acidity added vibrancy and precision to the flavors while the integrated tannins added support contributing to the wine’s overall balance. These were thrilling examples that stayed true to the pedigree of each estate. At the same time, these wines proved that excellent wines could be found in this difficult year.

The setup at Lafite-Rothschild

The setup at Lafite-Rothschild

Compared with the wines of the Haut-Medoc tasted during the previous two days, the first growths clearly stole the show. Their 2013s were what you would expect of a first growth, maybe without the potential to age 25+ years, but they were no slouches. The other top chateaux of the Haut-Medoc clearly showed more variability among them with successes mixed with others where the challenges of the harvest proved difficult to overcome.

In the end, it seems that in 2013, the great terroirs of the first growths added that something special to make wines of greater quality than what we found in all the Haut-Medoc wines encountered beforehand. The technical talent and equipment available to Bordeaux’s best estates is relatively equal so perhaps it is the terroirs that speak with a stronger voice in challenging years. Why? Who’s to say. As those at Chateau Margaux say themselves, “The genius of great terroirs is difficult to fathom.” But in 2013, the terroirs of the top estates clearly showed why they are called “The First Growths of the Medoc”.

Musings on the Haut-Medoc

Musings on the Haut-Medoc

Post by Chuck Hayward & Alex Fondren | April 11th, 2013

Margaux vines

Margaux vines

En primeur week is approaching the halfway point today and it is around this time when initial impressions turn into comfortable assumptions. Us wine professionals are always searching for threads and themes that we can weave together into a story that might interest our readers.

JJ Buckley is getting ready to leave the reaches of the Medoc to get acquainted with the new releases the Right Bank. But before we venture into unchartered territories, this looks like a good opportunity to take a retrospective look at the 2012s from the Medoc.
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Bottomless Pours at Chateau Margaux

Bottomless Pours at Chateau Margaux

Post by Alex Shaw | April 2nd, 2012

Here in Bordeaux, two words inspire more reverence than any others: First Growth. Thanks to the 1855 classification system, there are only five First Growths (Lafite, Latour, Haut Brion, and Margaux, with Mouton added to the group in 1973), and they are widely considered to produce the finest wines from the Left Bank. We were lucky to taste all five on Monday, an excellent exercise that shed some light on the possibilities of the top end of the 2011 vintage. For many, including myself, the First Growth that inspires the most passion, even  reverence, is Chateau Margaux, so it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to dining there that evening.

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After Hours of Bordeaux, There’s Nothing Like Champagne

After Hours of Bordeaux, There’s Nothing Like Champagne

Post by Alex Shaw | April 5th, 2011

The Driveway to Chateau Prieure-Lichine Seemed So Long

The team split up for our second night in Bordeaux—a few folks stayed back at the hotel to get work done, one group went to Chateau Kirwan for dinner, while we set out for Chateau Prieure-Lichine in Margaux for the evening.  Following an afternoon of tasting 75+ wines, with no lunch, on about 3.5 hours of sleep, we were understandably dragging.  Settling into the living room, the evening was led by Prieure-Lichine’s Commercial Director Lise Latrille, who immediately started us off with the new vintage of Prieure-Lichine.

The Table Is Set—With Bollinger

While the wine was wonderful and elegant in a way that the great cabernets from Margaux are, we were fading and in no shape to truly appreciate it. I could see people fidgeting in an attempt to stay focused and knew this was going to be a long evening.  And then came the Bollinger!  When your palate is fried from hours and hours of tasting barrel samples of tannic reds, there is simply nothing in the world that can compare to a glass of champagne.  It’s hard to overstate this. Lunches often start with a glass of bubbly (as mornings are filled with tasting multiple wines), and marathon tastings are often interrupted by a glass of champagne, which reinvigorates the palate and helps assess the wines that follow more accurately.  Lest we forget the sheer joy of Champagne…  It’s medicine for the palate and brings joy to the soul. (more…)

Simply Irresistible – Dinner at Ch. Palmer

Simply irresistible: Dinner & tasting at Ch. Palmer

Post by John Perry | Monday, March 29th

Ah, Monday.  Officially the beginning of en primeurs, and as per our usual M.O. we hit the ground running.  Appointments were stacked back to back to back to back and a hectic pace was kept all day (complicated by horribly wrong directions as well as excruciatingly slow restaurant service, but that’s an entirely different story).  After careening at break-neck speeds up and down the Left Bank, I can’t begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to sitting down to a long, pleasant dinner.  That our meal would be enjoyed at Chateau Palmer, a fantastic bastion of high-quality wine in Margaux, made it even sweeter.

I had the pleasure of visiting Palmer last year and was quite impressed with Chateau Palmertheir 2008 efforts.  At this point in the trip, I’ve had a handful of Margaux wines (mostly terrific I might add) and I was definitely looking forward to what Palmer would pull off for 2009.  My fellow sales team members Alex Lallos and John Sweeney as well as the president of JJ Buckley, Shaun Bishop, accompanied me at the Chateau.  Our tasting was conducted by Bernard de Laage de Meux, a director at the Chateau who would also be our very charming host for the remainder of the evening.  The two wines, 2009 Alter Ego and 2009 Palmer, were outstanding and a real step up from the 2008s that I had enjoyed so much last year.  Bernard informed us that they experienced an easy vintage at Palmer- no extreme fluctuations in weather during the growing season that allowed for a slow and steady ripening of the grapes and the result was optimum maturity.

As we arrived, Bernard kindly offered us some Champagne to refresh our palates.  The NV Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle that was poured was just what the doctor ordered – seriously kick-ass Champagne!  With cleansed palates and a full appetite, we moved into the adjacent dining room.  The first wine of the flight was one of the more unique wines that I’ve had during this trip.  Bernard called the wine “a history of the late 19th century” and it was a blend of Syrah from Hermitage in the northern Rhone with some of the wine from Palmer’s 2007 vintage.  Apparently, this was a regular practice before it became illegal to do so under the strict appellation control system.  Although now this wine can only be labeled with the generic ‘table wine’ designation, during the 1800s you could frequently find wine designated as Hermitage-Bordeaux.  Palmer continues the practice today, though makes a ridiculously small number of cases that are sparingly doled out.  Fascinating to say the least, and a wonderful complement to the mushroom and garlic risotto first course.

As we waited for the second course to be served, Bernard poured us blind on another wine and asked us to guess the vintage.  We narrowed it down to the mid 1990s (’95 as it was later revealed) and it was amazing how fresh and vibrant the wine looked.  Another wine was poured blind a few minutes later and at first I thought that maybe Bernard had grabbed the same decanter because the wine looked remarkably similar in color.  Upon further inspection, it was slightly less dense and saturated with some lighter ruby showing up on the rim and it was time again to guess the vintage.  Alex nailed it like a pro- the 1990!  From a decidedly riper vintage, the ’90 was stunning on all levels.  The aromas were enchanting and complex (in fact, Bernard mentioned that he even picks up notes of aged Sauternes in this wine, and with my eyes closed the slight whiff of citrus made that easily apparent).  On the palate, this was silky smooth, voluptuous and rich- an absolute pleasure.  When more was offered it was impossible to say no!

Alas, the evening had to come to an end.  After a round of espresso and some more engaging discussion, we made the short stroll to our car as the full moon shone down from above.  It’s nice to know that despite the insane schedule that we keep it’s still possible to slow down for a moment and enjoy some of the finer things in life.

PS: Check out this…interesting musical interpretation of the 2009 vintage at Ch. Palmer.

First Impressions of the Big Five

First Impressions of the Big Five

Post by Chuck Hayward | Monday, March 29th

They are called the Premier Grand Crus, the First Growths— a Bordeaux Best of the Best, designated as such by the famed Classification of 1855 (with a certain exception made in 1973). These five revered wineries— Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rothschild— produce some of the most sought after and coveted wines by enthusiasts and collectors from across the globe. And I was about to taste them all!

There has been much debate about the 1855 Classification and whether it’s

The JJB Team at Chateau Margaux

still valid today. Many wineries further down in the classification are now producing wines that are considered superior to those made by the Premiers— and you can be assured that the JJ Buckley staff have been hacking away at that old chestnut over the course of our visit! But this is not the time nor place to rehash the argument. I can say, though, that these wines are something special.

Interestingly, however, the ways these grand estates present themselves and their en primeur wines is sometimes anything other than grand. In the case of Chateau Haut Brion, we tasted the new wines in a beautiful salon. For Lafite it was an unadorned conference room and at Latour, we tasted quietly in a lab.

Whatever the setting, the wines from the “big five” were exceptional, each with its own, unique personality. Margaux stood out for its almost rustic qualities. Lafite impressed me with its restraint and elegance, while at the same time avoiding any unripe qualities or a sense of dilution.

For those who favor power, Latour, Mouton, and Haut Brion will be at the center of the First Growth conversation in this vintage. All three offered up rich, mouthfilling flavors that never ended. These are big wines but do not become cloying or ponderous thanks to fully integrated acids and the barest of tannins to support the thick fruit.

The key observation for all the Premier Grand Crus is that each wine, while being fully expressive, seems to offer a sense of restraint and the feeling that there is much, much more to come down the road. Tasting them young is like being in a boxing ring, knowing that my opponent is holding something in reserve that’s later going to put me on the ropes.

Well, if it’s going to be a Premier Grand Cru that clocks me, then just ring my bell.