On the one hand, what else could one write about Chateau Margaux that hasn’t been written already? On the other hand, IT IS Chateau Margaux - how can you not write about it?
Especially when it’s presented by Thomas Bruke - the US Business Development Manager for Chateau Margaux, and a Master Sommelier. We met at Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco and had a couple tastings of their Pavillon Blanc, Pavillon Rouge, and of course, the Grand Vin.
Chateau Margaux has an interesting history with some ups and downs. Did you know that Robert Parker described their wines from the 60s and 70s as “dismal performances”? However, from the 80s on things began to turn around and they’ve been on the up and up ever since. Thomas explains in the past 30+ years that they’ve really focused and horned in on making quality wines. For example: back in 1977, about 75% of the wines they produced were considered Grand Vin (to be labelled as Chateau Margaux) and only 25% were Pavillon Rouge. Now that ratio is flipped, as only the best of the best from the estate can wear the prestige “Chateau Margaux” label. Also in the 70s, they were producing roughly 40,000-50,000 cases of wine per year, now that number is down by half to the current annual production of 20,000-25,000 cases. In addition to lowering their production, they’ve improved on vinification; they added 65 fermenters and now have 90 of them total. This allows each small plot to be fermented separately, developing their own unique characters, and thus it gives the winemaker more flexibility to pick the best ones for the final blend.
Thomas also corrected me when I called Pavillon Rouge as a “second label”. The winery pays just as much attention and hard work into each Pavillon Rouge as they do for their Grand Vin. It’s not a second class wine but rather a “Super Second” quality wine. They say the proof is in the pudding – or in the bottle in this case. I personally couldn’t agree more with this statement after tasting the Pavillon wines; not only was it super second quality, it was second to none!
I also wanted to find out what type of measures are taken by Chateau Margaux to protect their customers from fake wines; a scary trend in the current wine market. Thomas started out by pointing at the little silver sticker on the neck of the label - an implementation since March 7th, 2011. This reflects on the 2009 vintage forward, AND any older vintages the winery releases in the future. A unique series of numbers and letters are printed on the tag, which one can just go on to their website, type them in (it’s case sensitive! Which I learned after my first failed entry and got myself worried there for a second!) and wah-la! Out comes the exact date this bottle left their cellar, plus a photo of your bottle’s unique “Bubble Code”. The codes are activated as soon as the bottles leave their cellars and one can track them anytime online or download their smartphone app! They also listed some winery notes and vintage condition; pretty neat and useful when you are bringing it to a gathering and want to talk about the wine on the spot!
But wait, there is more! Just to be extra sure, there is another tag with the same numbers on the lower back of the bottle, and it doesn’t stop there. Your unique bottle code is also engraved onto the bottle itself! Thomas said they have a couple more tricks still, but those are classified information, he will have to kill me if I find out type of deal (just kidding!).
Now on to the yummy stuff:
2013 Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux was first up. It was fresh, aromatic, grassy, and herbal with white floral notes reminiscent of apple blossom. However, it did not compare to the richness of 2009, or the focused elegance of 2011 vintage, both of which I had the pleasure of enjoying recently. Thomas told me an interesting side note on Pavilion Blanc – to prevent these wines from oxidation, gas is used to fill the headspace between the cork and the wine. The bottles also have a slightly smaller neck diameter, in turn makes the cork fit in tighter and makes it that much harder for oxygen to come through during the aging process. I love their attention to details!
2014 Pavillon Rouge du Chateau Margaux is a solid beast! I think wine critics really under estimate and under sold the 2014 vintage overall. This bottle was highly aromatic, lots of red floral notes, and the acidity + tannin structure are built for this wine to age 20+ years. If you are patient enough that is when this Pavillon Rouge will peak. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.
2000 Pavillon Rouge du Chateau Margaux made my nose, mouth, and eyes all very, VERY happy. So much initial intensity of aromas and complexity on the palate making it such an incredible and addictive wine! Full of lively fruits ranging from cherry, raspberry, red current, black plum, and black berry. Then perfectly laced with tea leaves, light smoke, tobacco leaves, damp soil, and dusty minerality. There was so much going on I couldn’t stop smelling it! Tannin, acid, and overall structure just starting to peak, like a young man in his mid-20s – fully developed and full of energy getting into the prime of his life. The finish was long and layered, its color still very concentrated. Hard to believe it is a 17 year old wine! It is rounding out to be highly enjoyable and drinking beautifully. Dare I say it performed better than both Margaux Grand Vin tastings I had next? Oh yes I dare! Amazing value for world class wine here. CLICK ME TO BUY
2014 Chateau Margaux is still a baby. Firm and unyielding tannins, jam packed fruits ready to party in a few years (a bit reserved right now), plus high acidity; this wine is showing great promise. Like all great wines, this baby will need to be put to sleep and re-visited in 30 years!
2004 Chateau Margaux was very earthy and red fruit driven, an underdog vintage overshadowed by the very ripe and hot 2003 and the incredibly lush and muscular 2005. With that said, an “off” vintage wine from a great winery can often provide great value. This 2004 is already well rounded and starting to approach its peaking drinking window so you don’t have to wait 30 years for it.
It was an honor to break bread and share a few glasses of AMAZING wines with the incredibly knowledgeable Master Sommelier, Thomas Burke! He has also invited me to go visit the property next time I’m in Bordeaux! (I’m saying it here to make it official! He can’t go back on it now! Ha!) Last words of advice: Get the 2000 Pavillon Rouge! It’s worth every penny, especially knowing it will be coming directly from Chateau Margaux!