So I tend to preface many of my posts with something being “one of my favorite __________”. This post is going to be a bit different in that it is about a wine that is NOT among my favorites - namely white Bordeaux. It is pretty far down my list of white wines, below the likes of Colli di Luni and Finger Lakes Riesling (but above Marsanne). It is not that I don’t like it per se; it’s just that I prefer many other things ahead of it.
I am a big fan of both Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, so what is it I don’t find compelling about WB? Well, I tend to prefer that Sauvignon Blanc is kept away from barrels, new or otherwise, and I generally like it fresh. I have had too many a Graves or Pessac Blanc that tastes too much of wood and has no verve or backbone. So it was with a touch of incuriousness that I attended a recent HDH event featuring Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux; eight vintages spanning four decades no less. Château Margaux’s famous white is generally 100% Sauvignon Blanc, aged in barrel (typically 1/3 of which is new), and typically exceeds 14% alcohol.
I went in to the event indifferent about the wines, and left anything but. Barrel aged, high alcohol, old Sauvignon Blanc never tasted so good! Now granted, one (great) Château’s white wine does not represent an entire region (even if I wished it did), but it most certainly made me reassess this vinous peccadillo of mine.
The eight vintages we tasted were 2009, 2005, 2004, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1983 and 1978. The first thing that stood out to me about the wines was the balance. The great majority of these wines were well above 14% alcohol, but without exception all the wines were balanced and not showing any excess heat. While many of the (relatively) younger wines were most certainly rich, none were unbalanced by the perception of excess alcohol. The second thing that struck me about the wines was their freshness. The fact that the wine ferments in barrel, and the malolactic fermentation is blocked most certainly contributes to this; as does the relatively short 7-8 month period that the wine spends in the barriques.
Beyond these two common themes, each wine possessed its own unique characteristics. The ’78 was quite possibly the freshest wine of the group, with the ’83 a close second. The youthful disposition of these two wines was fantastic to experience. The ’00, ’05 and ’09 will have long lives ahead of them, and the trio of ’04, ’99 and ’98 all shared a similar richness and power. It was enlightening to taste all of these wines side by side and experience how they changed in the glass throughout the course of the evening.
In wrapping up this little educational experience of mine, I would be remiss not to mention Hart Davis Harts FANTASTIC offering of Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux in our retail department. We currently have 12 vintages (!) on offer, in magnum (!!), and all ex-Château (!!!). To think how well these wines will age in magnum is exciting to say the least. And combine that with the provenance and relative value of this exceptional, world class white is truly remarkable. I could not think of a safer, more exciting investment in cellar worthy white wine.