An evening of Château Pichon Longueville Baron: 1989-2010
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
21 January 2015
This was my sixth consecutive annual Bordeaux gala dinner in Washington D.C. The wines of Pichon Baron have been particularly excellent in recent memory since the 2000 vintage. Jean-Rene Matignon – who flew to Washington for this tasting dinner – has been at the helm since 1987 as technical director, when AXA Insurance bought the property. Their investments in the vineyard and the vat room have borne fruit especially in vintages since 2000. And yet, 1989 and 1990 were both marvelous, made from higher yields. No false notes from any of the 13 vintages enjoyed by assembled merchants, sommeliers, wine bloggers and wine lovers who attended this tasting dinner on a cold January Martin Luther King Day in the nation’s capital. And a word of praise to the relatively weak 2007 vintage, which was charming and very aromatically pleasing for current enjoyment, even though it, too, has Pauillac power, as it should, with tannic structure.
Although I sought to do a double vertical with both Pichon Baron and Pichon Comtesse, it was great to see Jean-Rene again, as I had organised verticals with him in three German cities back in 2006, where we had tried several of the same vintages as here in Washington D.C. including 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Five years ago in New York City, I had co-organized a double vertical of both estates; private individuals and wine lovers brought their own bottles and we compared the wines blind over several vintages and then-Pichon Comtesse wine director Thomas Do Chi Nam, who later joined the team at Chateau Margaux, took part.
As most readers of these pages would know, both Château Pichons were once a single, larger estate, owned by Pierre de Rauzan. In 1850 the estate was divided into the two current châteaux, facing each other as one enters Pauillac along the D2 highway. In 1987 the French insurance company AXA purchased the estate and appointed Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages as administrator, but the estate has been run since 2000 by Christian Seely, whom I last saw in Florence for the 8th annual Master of Wine Symposium in May 2014. In any case, much of the team’s continuity over the last 30 years guarantees that the unique character of this wine is maintained.
TASTING NOTES FROM THE DINNER
Before we get to the tasting notes, a word on point scores. For me, point scores ultimately reflect subjective taste and perception and are meant to be a sign of enthusiasm – or deception – more than anything else. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had tried some of the best wines ever that I know, including a magnificent “100 point” Latour 1959. So how could one compare that with some of the wines below, which I “graded” 97 points? In some ways, point scores are a futile exercise. Sometimes high scores reflect future potential rather than actual enjoyment – as with the 2009 and 2010s below. But because people like to have reference points, I go ahead and assign scores. More important is to read the notes :-).
2000 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut – France, Champagne
What a way to start a vertical of Chateau Pichon Baron! Marvelous bubbly. Combines citrusy verve with a creamy mid palate. Fine bubbles, clean aromas of brioche, lemon and lime fruit, subtle notes of red apple and stone fruit, the flavors echo in your palate and the texture is smooth with a full bodied feel that caresses all the while impressing you with substance and corpulence leading to a long and tantalizing finish. (97 pts.)
2006 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
What an impressive sense of structure and corpulence in this full-bodied wine. The bottle was open in the early afternoon and the aromatics were somewhat muted. Even with time in glass, they stayed a bit closed at dinner. The wine went better with the stuffed bone marrow, as the pronounced richness and flavor of that food matched the substance of the wine. Full body and in need of further aging to be fully appreciated but not as bright as either the 2007 or the 2008, which were served with it in the first flight. (91 pts.)
2007 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Charming and very aromatic. When the bottle was opened before the dinner, it smelled immediately appealing, showing red and black fruits and pleasing tertiary, savory, aromas and flavors such as leather, fresh wet earth and beef jus. The tannins are initially softer and the wine is on a faster evolutionary track than either the 2006 or the 2008, which were in the same flight but make no mistake, this has Pauillac power. A slightly short finish compared to the other two – and the other wines we had tried over dinner – but as a wine to enjoy today, on its own – or with a steak/frites. (92 pts.)
2008 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
My personal favorite with the stuffed bone marrow, served at Ripple and prepared by the talented chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley. As fellow taster Kevin Shin notes, with more “pure fruit” than the 2006, more brambly, but just as much substance and corpulence, with full body and a smooth finish. Still, the high and ripe tannin (a good match for the high acidity) is not resolved, and the 2008 needs a few more years in your cellar to begin to enter its optimal drinking window. (93 pts.)
2001 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Alas one of the three bottles was corked. But with two bottles, we had just enough wine to enjoy. I recall loving the balance and poise of this wine and as with other 2001s, the wines are coming together. Although later overshadowed in the next flight, it was in a gorgeous place tonight and almost overpowered the savory duck prosciutto. A full-bodied wine that exudes cassis and subtle lead pencil but also plum, no doubt from the 27% Merlot in this blend. (93 pts.)
2002 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
I have always enjoyed this vintage as reflecting the long Indian Summer that “saved the vintage” and resulted in ripe and smooth Cabernet. Interestingly it has 35% Merlot. It exudes freshness and verve throughout and its tannic structure makes it ready to age further, although it seems that the 2001 will outdistance it. When last enjoyed over a vertical in Berlin, back in 2006, it was brighter. (92 pts.)
2004 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
This was my overall favorite of the flight. It exuded the purest fruit, with a joyful brambly aspect. And yet full bodied and even somewhat brooding tannin underneath makes it built for a longer run. Long finish, too. Loved it from bottle in London in March 2014, and love it again in January 2015. https://wine-chronicles.com/blog/rev … _bordeaux/ (94 pts.)
2000 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Likely the most pleasing of all the Pichon Barons tasted this evening. In a very sweet spot for current drinking, the wine combines full body and finesse, with a tannic spine that reveals excellent cellaring potential for at least another 20 years. The cedar like aromatics with much cassis and darker fruit pleased the senses, as did more tertiary aspects, subtle and just coming out, on the palate. Matched well with the savory hand cut tagliatelle and short rib ragu. So glad to have six bottles of this. (97 pts.)
2003 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Now some participants found this “very 2003” as compared to the 2000, but like others, I just loved this wine’s seductive approach. Wine director Jean-Rene Matignon said that if it had been placed in a blind tasting, it would not be readily detected as a 2003. I did not get any raisin or confit notes, but it was sweeter in terms of the tannin. Very ripe but not glossy in a New World way. Full bodied and long on the finish, if lacking the exciting tension of the 2000. (94 pts.)
2005 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
We opened this bottle first. And in spite of that, it was still closed by the time it was enjoyed at dinner. The aromatics are subtle rather primary but not yet singing. The palate, full bodied and substantial, with fresh red fruit that makes it so well balanced. A brilliant wine in the making, almost certainly in need of at the very least five more years to start to properly appreciate. Potential for higher score, indeed! Glad I have a few bottles. (95 pts.)
1989 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Subtle notes of truffle and cigar box mingle to make this wine utterly seductive and smooth. Participants went back and forth between this and the 1990, but even Pichon Baron wine director Jean Rene Matignon, who prefers the 1989 today, says that the 1990 is on a slower evolutionary track and will last “much longer” than the 1989. At least based on this tasting. The 1989 paired very well with the utterly delicious rack of lamb served with parsnip acorn squash and tasty kale chips. (95 pts.)
1990 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
When I opened this after the 1989 in preparing the bottles for the dinner, the aromatics were far fresher and more vigorous. Jean-Rene Matignon also perceived the same sensation. Perhaps the 1989 went better with the lamb, its truffle and cigar box aspects pairing better, but the 1990 was marvelously ripe and fresh. A beautiful wine that has full body and a long finish. (97 pts.)
2009 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
This wine is like a more youthful 1990, but with lower yields and higher tannins. With pure and ripe red and black fruit aromatics and flavors, almost as if still a barrel sample. Full bodied, with a smooth, yet nuanced texture, and high and very ripe tannin lending excellent structure. The wine is spherical in its balance without being glossy. A gorgeous vintage in the making. Open a bottle in five years. A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. (96 pts.)
2010 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron – France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Opening this wine before the dinner and smelling it, I thought of the comical line from Spinal Tap: “This one goes to 11”. So just when you thought 2009 was amazing, this one was somewhat even a bit more… of everything: higher tannin, higher concentration. But I could even sense new oak toast, this being far more primary than the 2009. More Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend at 79%. It will be fascinating to compare the 2010 with the 2009 over the next 30 years. (97 pts.)
A good time was had by all, with special thanks to the great food and service at Ripple, from executive chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley to general manager Danny Fisher. High praise to the great wines made by Jean-Rene Matignon and his staff at Chateau Pichon Baron.
But how could I forget! Thanks to Randy McFarlane for bringing a superb Chateau Suduiraut 2001, a top vintage from Sauternes that had such taste appeal. I did not carefully note my impressions but suffice to say: excellent!
OLDER TASTINGS AND MORE!
In this video below, you can see footage from the estate where I was invited to stay for one evening in the summer of 2012. Just by chance workers were racking the wines in barrel and tasting coordinator Nicolas Santier was on hand to explain things as well as guide a tasting.
Pauillac, a Médoc appellation, is located about 40 kilometres to the north of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Gironde River.
The land contains quaternary gravel deposits and large pebbles and sand which are typical of the appellation. The subsoil composition allows rainwater to accumulate, which will then provide water for the roots, and the rolling landscape helps to improve drainage. The maritime climate is made milder by its proximity to the Gironde estuary – and as wine historians have pointed out, the best estates of the Médoc can “see the water”.
At Pichon Baron the average age of vines is 30 years with a planting density of 9,000 vines per hectare. Being in Pauillac, it comes as no surprise that Château Pichon Baron’s 73 hectares are planted with mainly Cabernet Sauvignon (about 62%), then Merlot (about 33%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (2%). The yield is typically less than 40 hectoliters per hectare.
The 30-hectare plateau of Pichon Baron (one of the estate’s historic plots which was already in use when the wine was first produced in 1694) is devoted entirely to production of the first wine and in recent vintages represents the major part of the blend.
The 14-hectare Sainte Anne terroir ensures production of the estate’s second wine, Les Tourelles de Longueville, which is made using grapes from selected plots planted mostly with Merlot giving this wine its own distinctive character.
Yield per plot is limited, with only 5 to 12 clusters per vine according to age and variety. Harvesting is entirely done by hand, with baskets, in order to keep the grapes in the best condition. Clusters are selected by variety, age of vines and plot. This selection process is capital and requires a large number of trained staff, able to discern the differing stages of maturity to be found in the vineyard.
Parcellar selection followed by vat maturation and barrel aging produces a very diverse range of wine profiles. It is this diversity and variety that gives the final blend of wines sophistication. Successful blending is the result of successive tastings which must be both individual and strictly controlled, of just under 40 different wines, by the vinification team. Blending is a highly complex operation which changes from one year to the next, giving each vintage its unique character.
The best batches tasted on being removed from the vats are set aside to make the Grand Vin Château Pichon Baron; for the most part they are initially aged in new barrels made from oak from the best French forests. Three months later they will again be tasted and the final blend will be decided.
The blend is therefore slowly adjusted during barrel aging which lasts for a total of 18 to 20 months. The wine is racked regularly every three to four months using the traditional candle method to separate it from the lees in barrel.
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Great article Panos, thanks for sharing!