On the Trail

Moving Through Margaux

David Driscoll

Moving further south, we had a morning appointment scheduled in Margaux at the world-famous estate that bares the appellation name itself: Château Margaux. The wines from the Margaux region are revered for their beauty and are often more delicate on the palate with fruit flavors that are more graceful and prettier aromatics than some of the more-structured St. Juliens or powerful Pauillacs. The embodiment of all those characteristics are the coveted cuvées of Château Margaux, but as you probably read in Ralph’s post from yesterday, the mood at the property for this year’s en primeur tasting was somber in the face of a recent tragedy. Just ten days earlier the château’s dynamic director and and fearless leader Paul Pontallier passed away after a fight with cancer. The 2015 release would be his final goodbye, an expression to remember him by. We entered the property with both compassion and commiseration for everyone carrying on the day’s events in the wake of that emotional loss.

There to meet us front and center was Paul’s son Thibault who bares a striking resemblance to his late father. He walked us back through the fermentation room, past the towering wooden vats, and into the tasting parlor where we would sample the château’s second wines—the Pavillon Rouge and Blanc—along with the 2015 grand vin. As we strolled through the winery, Thibault mentioned to us that the vintage at Margaux was a strong one, comparing the conditions to the heralded harvests of 2005, 2009 and 2010. “The grapes were small and with thicker skins,” he said. I had only previously tried Château Margaux (a magnum of 1989) once at staff dinner event with Clyde and the experience was so memorable I took the bottle home as a souvenir. Tasting at the first-growth château itself was a huge honor and the wines delivered on their reputation. The Pavillon Rouge was the embodiment of finesse with fine tannins and incredible purity of fruit. The estate’s notes on the wine claim it may be the best the château has ever produced. The grand vin was exceptional as well, a subtle and alluring note of grace that moved effortlessly over the palate. It's a fitting final tribute to Paul.

After Margaux we drove the short distance over to Château d’Issan, one of the most beautiful properties in all of Bordeaux. We were all excited to taste the 2015 here, especially since as a store we’ve been largely impressed with the château’s recent efforts. Personally, I bought a case of the 2012 cuvée because it was easily one of the best values from that vintage, a plush and charming expression that to me manifested everything we love about Margaux in the glass. The grounds at Château d’Issan were as resplendent as the wine itself, majestic and classy all the way through. I had an exhilaration moving through my body as we pulled into the parking lot. Everything about the property is classically romantic.

As we entered the château, Alex whispered to me: “You’re going to love this place. We get to taste in a historic parlor with creaky wooden floors. It’s fantastic.” Indeed it was. There were ancient tapestries, oil-painted portraits, and shelves of old books everywhere, creating an atmosphere for the degustation that could not be beat. The 2015 grand vin at Issan was as refined and regal as the palace itself with silky tannins and a red-fruited purity that just put a smile on all of our faces. The wine was a sleeper in 2012 and we think the 2015 will potentially be ever better. When the prices are eventually released, this will be a wine we’ll be looking at carefully.

After attending the UGC event for Margaux where we had the chance to sample a dozen or so other wines from the region, we left for our final appointment at Château Palmer, perhaps the most respected of all the third growth estates in Bordeaux. The vineyards at Palmer were actually once part of Chateau d’Issan until a family inheritance split the property in 1748. Trey was super pumped about tasting here. “If there’s any wine that can stand toe-to-toe with that Ducru-Beaucaillou we tasted, I think this is probably it.” Both the grand wine and the château’s second—the Alter Ego—showed exceptionally well with dark, brooding cores of fleshy fruit and a lurking power on the finish that hinted at supreme maturational prospects. All in all, the wines of Margaux in 2015 are everything we expect Margaux to be: elegant, delicious, and charming.

-David Driscoll