Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

An Itinerant Taster looks at some 2000 Claret

June 2001

The 2000 clarets have already been hailed as great and they are, by all accounts, currently selling like hot cakes. A thousand or two professionals tasted them in April, the moment samples were first made available, and the judgment was almost entirely positive. Less in a hurry myself, and a bit of a lone wolf anyway, I waited another couple of months before paying this year’s first visit to Bordeaux, and contented myself with tasting the wines of a mere 50 or 60 châteaux. It should be added, though, that most were excellent estates.


What follows does not pretend to be a definitive judgment on the vintage, just an account of an informal series of visits.


The year 2000 is certainly spectacular in Bordeaux. What all the wines I tasted had in common was a deep and lustrous colour, high viscosity, richly concentrated aromas and flavours, and a long, powerful, generally well-balanced finish. Another striking feature is the very high levels of tannins – in many cases the highest ever recorded. The reds are, in fact, quite a bit more tannic than the 1982s which, in their time, had unprecedentedly high levels. In both years the tannins are of the “ripe” kind, lacking harshness and astringency. But even ripe tannins can take years to soften when their concentration is extremely high. For this reason, I would not be surprised if some of the wines close up quite early on and remain inaccessible for quite a few years.


Old Label of Château Cheval-Blanc, one of Saint-Emilion’s elite of Premiers Grand Cru Classés – the region’s very best wines.

My very short trip got off to a flying start with a tasting of the Premiers Grands Crus Classés wines of Saint-Emilion – that region’s crème de la crème – at Château Cheval-Blanc. That famous property is one of two that are rated, by common consent, as even greater than their supposed peers (the other, matching twin-peak is Château Ausone).


The tasting was marked by something that should be a feature, but seldom is, of all serious tastings: complete silence. Only two tasters took part: myself, and Clive Coates M.W., author and publisher of “The Vine”.


Three properties did not send samples: Châteaux Ausone, Belair, and Magdelaine.


Among those that were represented, the ones I liked best were:


Splendidly rich black-purple colour, almost opaque, and a full, rich, assertive aroma suggesting black cherries, coconut (a by-product of the oak), and molasses and prunes (derived from extremely ripe Merlot grapes). A faint suggestion of truffle too. Great aromatic thrust to the nose, round and rich, and more in line with the voluptuous modern approach than the Pavie of old (the estate is now under new management).

Fine ripe vital flavour, very suave, with the restrained sweetness of utterly ripe grapes: black cherry jam, prunes, liquorice, truffle. Long nuanced flavour with sweep, the lush fruit tasting like jam. Fine smooth texture with oak of the highest quality giving a slight, beneficial rasp on the finish. Splendid sweep to the truffly aftertaste which, unlike the aroma, shows little sign of oak. An impeccably made wine in the modern (somewhat California) style, polished, plump, and seamless. That being said, one cannot but regret the passing of the old, quirkily individual Pavie, sometimes a little prosaic but frequently thought-provoking and sometimes extremely subtle (a case in point is the splendid ’86 Pavie, a crimson eminence of a wine, full of nuances). 8-10 years to open and 15+ of pleasurable consumption.



Vivid, homogeneous black-purple up to rim. Richly fruity aroma (clearly a hallmark of the vintage) with superripe Merlot grapes giving suggestions of tobacco, morel (the most meatlike of fungi), truffle, dried fig, and molasses. Also a whiff of clay soil. A sensation of must-like thickness and of fine understated oakiness. Seems a little more alcoholic than the preceding.


Big round luscious flavour, lots of bilberry and blackberry, with a chunky, even aggressive character. Lots of sinew. Behind the voluptuous Merlot fruit lurks a forceful, uncompromising structure with pronounced earthiness. A feeling of hard, stony soil. Weighty, showing relatively little on the palate except earthiness and length, with a flick of oaky dryness at the very finish. A closed up wine that needs at least 10 years to lose its hard edges, with 15 or more years’ development thereafter.



Noble, glowing black-purple “robe” of almost Cheval-Blanc density with full, dynamic, intense aroma (black cherries, peony, raspberries) which jumps out of the glass. There is a subsidiary aroma like freshly sharpened pencil – this is characteristic of the Cabernet-Franc grape, which accounts for one-third of Figeac’s acreage (somebody from the Château confirmed that this variety performed spectacularly well in 2000). Some of the oak used must have been quite highly toasted, as there is also a smell of tar and smoke.


On the palate, a fine, firm, concentrated flavour of almost Pomerol-like sumptuousness, hinting at black cherry and blackcurrant jams, damson, and liquorice, with very good fruity acidity from the Cabernet-Franc component. Long concentrated serious aftertaste with real depth, though partly cloaked by tannins which, while ripe, give real stoutness. The sheer power of the thrustful Cabernet-Sauvignon grape can be felt, too, on the finish. 10-12 years to open, with 15 years of accessibility, followed by another 15 or so at a peak


Old label of Château Canon.2000 CHATEAU CANON

This Canon fired me to great enthusiasm. Very deep colour and a full, broad, vital aroma of great density and weight: black cherries, crème de cassis, a huge whiff of truffle. Very homogenous and excitingly opulent, with a hint of tar from the oak accentuating the truffly side.


The wine delivers a huge mouthful of rich, sweet, superripe fruit but its voluptuousness is tempered by a facetted structure from fine, ripe tannins which confer profundity and discipline. Very round and all of a piece. Because of its exceptional ripeness, this Canon may well be delectable in only 7-8 years, but this would be deceptive: true maturity is unlikely to arrive much before 2020, and will doubtless persist a decade or two thereafter. Excellent wine.



The star of the tasting. Blackest in colour so far, it has a vast, extraordinarily concentrated aroma of typical Cheval-Blanc sumptuousness and depth, suggesting freshly roasted coffee, black cherry jam, sweet ripe blackberries, truffle, and (from fine oak) cigarbox and vanilla.


In the mouth, a huge, lush, round Cheval-Blanc flavour, the most sumptuous of the whole tasting, with a meld of molasses, sweet walnut (an interaction between the fruit and the oak) black cherries, and truffles. Like Figeac, Cheval-Blanc is on the very border on Pomerol and, as so often in previous vintages, has distinct Pomerol traits – most especially, a lush weightiness combined with real finesse.


Very long and complex, this big wine has great lift, despite its sheer weight, and its unforced ripeness gets just the right support from ripe tannins. 10-12 years to start then 20+. Magnificent.



If anything, even blacker than Cheval-Blanc. The colour of crème de cassis. Huge, dynamic, concentrated nose, very jamlike, whooshes out of the glass, its dense fruitiness offset by a singed smell that doubtless comes from highly toasted oak.


On the palate, an almost California glossiness and power: black cherries and damson jam, with great sweep to the long, suave aftertaste. This, however, has a slight rasp on the finish, with firm tannins contributing a slight bitterness. A very polished, high tech. wine vinified with great skill and aplomb, though perhaps a little too studied. 12-14 years to round out then at least 12-15 of mature drinkability.



Of the rest, CHATEAU LA GAFFELIERE was very Merlot (you could smell the clay soil on which that variety is planted) and the oak was discernable in the scent of vanilla and cinnamon. Freshly fruity on the palate, quite fleshy, the wine had a solid, somewhat smoky aftertaste with a certain earthiness.

Less complex than some, it will nonetheless give much pleasure when mature, around 2010-2025.


CHATEAU BEAUSEJOUR-BECOTwas faintly soapy on the nose – a transitory smell that will go away – and was a bit lighter on the palate than its quite massive nose suggested. There was a slight lack of concentration. But what it lost in power in gained in elegance. I found damson, violets, and cherries on the unexpectedly delicate, flowery finish. It would doubtless grow softer and fuller over the next three decades or so.


CHATEAU BEAUSEJOUR-DUFFAU-LAGAROSSE was in a somewhat brutal mood (it might have shown quite differently one day before or after!), with an interaction between ripe fruit and toasted oak giving a subsidiary smell uncannilly like boot polish. This, of course, will melt away in time, allowing the real core aromas to emerge: crushed raspberries and damson were coaxed forth by shaking the glass a few times.


The flavour was more revealing, showing delectably luscious fruit as well as great vigour and sweep. The tannins on the finish were a little dry on the day, but I’m sure it was just a passing phase and they will soften up. The raspberry aftertaste was full of zest and I predict the wine will be unfaded 35 years from now.


CHATEAU TROTTEVIEILLE was the lightest wine of the lot. Round, smooth, and elegant as to aroma, it was restrained and close-meshed on the palate. The blackberry aftertaste was of medium length. It will certainly fill out over the years but one expects more body than this from a PGCC. The use of oak was more subtle than has sometimes been the case in recent years.



Next, a tasting of some 30 of the Grands Crus Classés of Saint-Emilion. These are placed in the second rank, immediately after the 13 Premiers Grands Crus Classés. Nobody would contest the clear superiority of the Premiers, which are not just more complex but also have more pronounced individuality; but the very best of the G.C.C.s can sometimes come quite close. In the past it was generally accepted that the GCC were “rustic(rough -hewn) by their very nature, so most were vinified accordingly, in order to accentuate that trait. An honourable minority, it should be said, did their best to attain subtlety and finesse.


A dozen or so years ago a number of far-sighted proprietors, among them Hubert de Boüard de Laforest of Château l’Angélus, decided that the wines’ potential was far greater than generally allowed, and set about proving it.


Rigorous selection of the grapes was introduced, both in the vineyard during picking and at the winery as the fruit arrived, and a proportion of new oak barrels were brought into use when this seemed to be justified. In some cases, second wines were created, thus making it possible to relegate less successful casks. These and other improvements resulted in a huge leap in quality at a number of estates. In the case of Château l’Angélus, the wine was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé status – an extremely rare accolade.


But if producers are more selective today, and wine-making vastly improved, there is also a greater uniformity of style. This emerged at the tasting. Most of the vines had good colour, clean and concentrated aromas, richly fruity flavours, and good tannin levels. But while the PGCC had all their own distinct styles, quite a few of the GCC lacked uniqueness. The next challenge here is to rediscover the innate qualities of each property and bring them out to the full.


In any event, the châteaux that most appealed to me were those with the greatest individuality. As a number of wines were very closed up on the day, this quality was possibly masked in some cases.


Châteaux that I rated as very good were La Serre, Le Prieuré, Petit Faurie de Soutard, La Marzelle, Balastard de Tonnelle (always a full, generous wine of great appeal), Berliquet, Cadet Piola, Cap de Mourlin, Clos Saint Martin, Couvent des Jacobins, and La Dominique.


Those that struck me as excellent were Tour du Pin Figeac (fresh, focused, stylish); Tertre Daugay (dense yet mellow); Faurie de Souchard (vigorous, with old vine mellowness); Gaudet Saint Julien (structured and full of extract); and Haut-Sarpe (glossy and very intense).




Dark as to colour with a round, intensely fruity aroma, very harmonious, of black cherries, elderberries, peony, and graphite (the latter from an interaction between Cabernet-Franc and oak).


The nose has a mellowness and roundness, typical of wines from old Merlot vines – the variety that clearly dominates here. Well balanced and structured in the mouth, lush and concentrated, with that special complexity conferred by old, low-yield vines. One of the best. 10-12 years to emerge from its shell, then at least 15 on a plateau of maturity.


There was time for only one visit in Pomerol, to Château La Croix de Gay. I have known the Reynaud family, which runs the property, for many years and have bought their two Pomerol wines over a couple of decades. La Croix de Gay has been a well-respected wine for many years, capable of achieving something close to greatness in top vintages (this was certainly the case with the unforgettable 1947 which I tasted once at dinner).


There is a tendency for some to underestimate La Croix de Gay’s capacity to age. This is perhaps due to its roundness and precocious charm. In fact, the wine has great structure, and can go on improving for decade after decade in good vintages. The ’85, at 16 years is not yet at its peak, while the ’88, ’89, and ’90 still need 6-10 years. Younger vintages still should simply be forgotten.


Their super-cuvée La Fleur de Gay was first launched (I think) in 1982. I have never tasted that vintage but I still have bottles of the ’83, which is well short of full maturity at nearly 18 years. La Fleur de Gay is made from mostly old vines and is 100% Merlot.


2000 LA CROIX DE GAY had a typical inky colour and a fine, full, weighty aroma, full of vigour and with good concentration. The succession of aromas that rose from the glass made me think of blackberry jam, lingonberries, and black plums, with the oak contributing cinnamon and the terroir a suggestion of clay.


A fugitive scent of violets gave added complexity. The flavour was thick, lush, very fruity and smooth, and had that refreshing quality without which no wine is ever really enjoyable. Lots of very good extract, together with fine tannins, suggest that this wine, though probably delicious in 8-10 years, won’t really be at its best until around 2015-25.


Only 6500 bottles were made of 2000 LA FLEUR DE GAY. Yields were an exceedingly modest 20 hectolitres per hectare, I was told by the daughter of the house.


If La Croix was dark, La Fleur was darker, and had a very full, refined, richly concentrated aroma that was velvety, with ripe berry fruit mingling with scents reminiscent of red roses and violets. Despite the wine’s extreme youth, the flavour was delectable, suggesting damson jam, chocolate, raspberry, and a meld of spices. The long rolling aftertaste hinted at truffle and there was a slightly gamey, even decadent, quality to the finish – from overripe Merlot. This is a 30-40-year wine – in my estimation, at least.


Now to the Médoc, a good eighty minutes’ drive away. There, the principal grape is the dark, very tannic Cabernet-Sauvignon which, with the round and fruity Merlot in subsidiary role, gives what are surely the world’s longest-lived red wines. Playing an even smaller role there are the Cabernet-Franc, which gives a certain delicacy, and the Petit-Verdot, which can give an inner core of condensed vinosity as well as an unexpectedly exotic touch of truffle.


My first call was at Château Latour, one of the greatest red wines on earth. Three wines are produced in parallel: the Grand vin Château Latour itself; a second wine Les Forts de Latour (often of Cru Classé quality), and a generic Pauillac. A tasting of the ’99 Château Latour showed that, even if the vintage was very good rather than great, this wine – like any good Latour – will last decades, and a child born this year would be able (if given the chance!) to enjoy it at its peak on his or her 50th birthday.


But now to the 2000s. The PAUILLAC had a wonderfully round, copybook Pauillac nose, very glossy and with an exceptional intensity for a wine of such modest pretensions. That it was vinified with the same consummate skill as Latour itself explains its excellent balance, and the wine will age beautifully over the next 20 years.


The FORTS DE LATOUR, though, put it very firmly in its place. Perhaps the best Forts I have ever tasted, and as dark as all but a handfull of the best 2000s, it had a full, assertive aroma of damson jam, tobacco, prunes, and cinnamon, but also with hints of a gritty earthiness. The intense, chewy flavour conjured up autumn berries, truffles, and black cherry jam and was very long.


An outstanding Forts to keep 30 years or so if one is so inclined. Initially, it was more seductive than Latour itself, which is not surprising: the 2000 grand vin, according to Frederic Engerer who made it, has a better quality of tannin even than the stupendous ’90 and ’96, and a higher level of acidity than in any recent vintage.


As a result of these and other exceptional factors, the 2000 LATOUR was initially far more closed up. But it took only a few moments to register that the Forts, though exceptional, was far outclassed in terms of power, concentration, sweep, and complexity. Extremely dark, though no darker than Les Forts, it exuded a vast, explosive yet focused aroma of carnation, peony, crème de framboise, and black cherry jam. The flavour was very intense, too, but the immensely powerful structure gave restraint. There was something indescribable about the aftertaste, which was crammed with luscious fruit but somehow as firm and uncompromising as a slab of granite.


The painter Paul Gaugin once said that he wanted to imbue his paintings with the earth’s “mighty resonance”. I found that mighty resonance in the 2000 Latour – a wine that, if well-cellared, will surely reach into the next century.


A few changes have been made at the property since M. Engerer’s arrival in time for the 1999 vintage. One of them is a reduction in the percentage of new oak used for maturation. Most Premiers Crus and their peers elsewhere – and those that wish to be counted as such – use 100% new oak.


It has long been my belief that a reduction in this percentage would be more beneficial than otherwise. The latest vintage confirmed this belief. “We have arrived at the crossroads between the old and new ways. It’s all about finding the structure. We’ll try to fuse the best of the old and the new.”


I made a few other visits in Pauillac. At Château Pichon Longueville (Baron), they had three wines to show: the excellent Cru Bourgeois Pibran, the Pichon Baron itself, and Tourelles, the second wine of “Baron”. All three were excellent in ’99, but the trio had an extra dimension (as well as a much richer colour) in 2000.


2000 CHATEAU PIBRAN was a beauty: rich in pigment, sumptuous on the nose, with a promise of real finesse, it had a superb, dense, harmonious flavour with real depth and an appealing chocolaty finish. At its peak in 10-12 years, this Cru Bourgeois from a top vintage will be a better drink than a Premier Cru from a mediocre one!


2000 TOURELLES was excellent, but just a shade hollow on the palate, though it will certainly fill out in time.


2000 CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE BARON was exceptional: huge, round, silky, and wonderfully balanced, it contrives to be both sensuous and cerebral, fleshy and structured, at one and the same time. It has the glorious, unforced harmony of Mozart’s music. Very Pichon Baron; very Pauillac too.


Château Pichon Longueville Lalande, one of the most elegant of all Pauillacs.

Across the road at Château Pichon Lalande, I enjoyed the ’99 wine, though it was clearly dominated by the Merlot grape, which gives roundness and fruit rather than the rigour and depth imparted by the Cabernet-Sauvignon. This gave a wine for medium-term rather than long-term enjoyment.


The 2000 PICHON LALANDE “COMTESSE” was very different from the 1999. It’s much denser, bluer colour testified to a rather higher proportion of Cabernet-Sauvignon in the wine, as did the distinctly Cabernet aroma of blackcurrants, bilberries, and damson. The finest of oak barrels, used with the lightest possible touch, conferred a subtle accent of cedar and cigarbox. A few seconds’ wait, a couple more shakes to the glass, and more noble aromas were coaxed forth: peony, violet, red rose. It was a nose of exceptional finesse, found only in complete wines.


In the mouth, a kind of feminine Latour: in no way lacking in backbone and sinew, the intensely fruity flavour, of optimum concentration, had a very long, nuanced aftertaste with a brilliant flourish of Petit-Verdot density and depth on the finish. A great Pichon “Comtesse”, to keep many, many years. A stylistic echo of the majestic ’45 and ’86.


I enjoy the thought that while the “Baron” is run by men, the “Comtesse” has a lady proprietor, Madame de Lencquesaing. The wines themselves have corresponding traits. The femininity of the “Comtesse” is perhaps partly explained by the fact that part of the vineyard, though the estate is officially a Pauillac, is in fact inside Saint-Julien, a commune noted for the elegance of its wines.


Tannins in wine (if you’ll indulge me for a moment) can be compared to Venetian blinds in a window. While always present, both can appear to be absent when in certain modes. A small adjustment to the blinds makes the slats obscure all light. Another flick lets the light shine through again. By the same token, the tannin in a wine, while always there, can utterly change the taster’s perception of the wine. Over the course of a few weeks the very same wine can give the impression of being almost tannin-free, being smooth and succulent and even, on occasions, almost flabby. But the tannins are still there. All of a sudden that same wine can seem to be so brutally tannic as to have hardly any fruit at all. As the blinds’ slats block out all light, so can the wine’s tannins mask all fruit.


This is a preamble to my account of tasting the 2000s at CHATEAU LYNCH BAGES. All of the three châteaux owned by the Cazes family tasted extremely tannic on the day of my visit, the 5th Growth Château Lynch Bages (which richly deserves promotion) spectacularly so.


Immediately after tasting the trio, I noted that they were “today, at least, the most tannic and astringent wines of the whole trip. Even now, 15 minutes later, they leave a brutally dry, tannic, astringent aftertaste.”


So far as I know, none of the respected tasters who saw these samples earlier have remarked on this very pronounced astringency so I simply have to conclude that this trait suddenly appeared, without warning, and will disappear again just as abruptly. Such is the mysterious alchemy of wine!


In all other respects the wines were deeply impressive. All were rich in pigment, highly aromatic, and full of wonderfully ripe, dense fruit. The aroma of the Lynch Bages was vast, with that striking distinction found only in top vintages, and promised great profundity. In the mouth, a gush of wonderfully luscious fruit – blackcurrants, black cherries, and bilberries – of almost portlike density. Only on the finish did one become conscious of the almost shocking astringency of the tannins. Nonetheless, I am sure the wine is great; but the tannic impression it made on that particular day is a salutary reminder that 2000 is, after all, one of the most tannic vintages of modern times.


Old label of Château Léoville Barton, one of the finest Saint-Julien wines.

Only one stop-over in Saint-Julien, at the distinguished second growth Château Léoville-Barton, where they also produce the always delicious third growth, Château Langoa-Barton. Owner Anthony Barton (who doesn’t seem to have aged at all in the 20-odd years I have known him) once told me that, no matter how hard they tried, they could never achieve quite the same level of body and complexity in the Langoa as in the Léoville – proof, if any were needed, that terroir and microclimate are of crucial importance.

The 2000 LANGOA-BARTON is perhaps the best ever, with plenty of depth but also lashings of charm. Very round, with a pleasing meld of the traits of all four varieties used in the wine, it had a firm and decisive structure due to a high level of tannins. These, however, showed no astringence whatever, and the wine will clearly develop steadily for several decades.


Less immediately seductive, but noticeably more profound, was the 2000 LEOVILLE-BARTON. Black cherry-fruit was well in evidence on the nose of this wine, as well as super-ripe autumn berries and (no doubt from the Petit-Verdot) liquorice. A classic Léoville-Barton, sinewy yet with velvety fruit, it was a superb wine in the classic mould, to keep at least 15-17 years and then, in a more mature mode, several decades thereafter.


Once, at lunch at the Château, I tasted a pure Cabernet-Sauvignon version of Léoville from the 1940s (I think it was the ’48), after which we sampled the grand vin from the same vintage, made from the traditional blend of all four varieties. It was instructive to find that the blend had lasted far better than the “pure” Cabernet version, despite the latter being made entirely from the densest (if one discounts the Petit-Verdot) variety of all.

Old label of Château Rausan-Ségla (the old spelling of “Rauzan” has since been restored).

On to the commune of Margaux. One of its finest properties is Château Rauzan-Ségla which, in the 1855 classification of the Médoc, was rated as the best of all the Second Growths. Anybody who tasted the wine during the long, uninspired Eschenauer regime, though, could have been excused for thinking it one of the most mediocre wines in the whole region! Without going into details, the wine was lamentable, year after year.


In the mid-1980s the great Emile Peynaud was called in as consultant and he immediately brought about dramatic improvements (the ’86 is a marvel). Then things seemed to lapse again and it was not until 1994, when the Chanel group took over, that an unmistakeably upward direction was resumed. Today, it is one of the best-run châteaux in all Bordeaux.


The 2000 RAUZAN-SEGLA is a superb wine. Needless to say, the colour was of maximum intensity, while the “nose”, if initially a little restrained, expanded in the glass with a whoosh, showing Margaux polish in a meld of scents that suggested bilberry jam, damsons, cherries. For me, the predominant Margaux smell is blackberries. Dutifully, this aroma set in with a vengeance. But no great wine has a single aroma and soon all manner of scents developed in the glass in parallel. Violets were in evidence, too, as well as truffle and tobacco.


When a very young wine has an open aroma, I find it often has a closed flavour. That was the case here. The dense and tannic Cabernet-Sauvignon (61%) dominated, suggesting such fruits as damson and blackcurrants (and blackberries, of course!). But the Petit-Verdot was in evidence, too, despite accounting for only 3% of the vines. Of all four of the Médoc varieties, the P-V. has the most densely concentrated flavour, which is why it can sometimes be detected when a wine contains only 1-2%.


As to the Merlot: even if it does not perform as well in the Médoc as in Saint-Emilion, its presence is still vital as a support grape, for it brings roundness, fatness, and spice. It certainly played its part in the 2000 Rauzan-Ségla’s combination of power and finesse, and this exceptional wine will live and improve for decades.


John Kolasa who manages the estate (he is also in charge at Château Canon in Saint- Emilion) told me that the level of tannins in the 2000 wine was the highest ever recorded at Rauzan-Ségla. However, he added drily that “Eschenauer didn’t keep very careful records during their stewardship.”

Like many others among the brighter lights in the new generation in the Médoc, John is an enthusiast for the Petit-Verdot as a vinous support for the Cabernet-Sauvignon – which is, after all, the mainstay of all good Médocs. “But you have to plant the Petit-Verdot in the right spot,” he stressed. “Like our old plot of deep gravel with south-facing exposure.” The old Médoc proverb about the Petit-Verdot was quoted: ‘it likes its head in the sun and its feet in the cool”. “But it hates water!” John said emphatically.


The sympathetic Paul Pontallier received me at Château Margaux. He started working there with Emile Peynaud round about 1980 and took over the wine-making in stages. Today, he is seen as one of the most accomplished wine-makers in the region. Prior to his and Peynaud’s arrival, however, things were very different. Over many years the vinification was mediocre, giving wines that were often weak in colour, with volatile acidity on the nose, and with a frequently banal, Merlot-dominated aroma with farmyardy aspects.


When the Mentzelopolous family bought the estate in 1987 it was very rundown. Emile Peynaud told me that when he was taken on, in 1978, the late Philippe de Rothschild of Mouton had told him that it would take 10 years to restore Château Margaux to its former glory. But so efficacious were the changes he made that results were produced instantly: “the ’78 Margaux was the best wine of the vintage,” he told with with justifiable pride.


One reason for the poor performance of Margaux prior to ’78 could be the following: the chief characteristic of Margaux wines is finesse and, while the best of them do not lack power and intensity they are generally lighter, physically, than their peers in other top communes of the Médoc.


What Peynaud recognized, however, is that Château Margaux, while an archetypical Margaux as regards subtlety and finesse, has an untypical weightiness and amplitude. “Château Margaux, in point of fact, is really a Pauillac in terms of structure,” he once told me, “and is one of the most tannic wines in the whole Médoc.” Since that fact was recognized, and appropriate measures taken, the Château has shown exceptional power as well as delicacy.


Frank Ward discusses the 2000 Château Margaux with Paul Pontallier, who made the wine.

The tasting began with the 2000 PAVILLON ROUGE, the estate’s second wine. Predictably, the colour was very dark, and the aroma, both flowery and fruity, had a wonderful velvety feel. Full of verve on the palate, beautifully poised, the wine had very pronounced Margaux style – polish and subtlety – and a sustained finish. It should drink well in about 8 years from now.


Paul Pontallier feels it is the best Pavillon Rouge ever made at Margaux: not just because of the exceptional vintage but also because, for the first time ever, the less successful part of production had been relegated to a generic Margaux.


But the 2000 CHATEAU MARGAUX did demonstrate that truly great wines in great years really do have another dimension entirely. How a wine can be both opaque and lustrous I cannot say, but this Margaux was. The “nose” was very Margaux (both Château and commune) with its huge yet focused, soaring aroma that suggested the most opulent of flowers and the most intensely ripe, densely concentrated fruits. There was an enticing suggestion of kirsch but without any hint of alcohol. On the palate, an impression of limitless amplitude but also of great rigour and discipline. Despite the very high level of tannins, the profound aftertaste was velvety and very long indeed.


Like the 2000 Latour, this very great wine will doubtless survive into the next century if properly cellared. The aftertaste was very long – about 50 km. That’s all the way to Bordeaux airport, for the flight back to the UK and my typewriter.


© Frank Ward 2001

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