When I was invited to join an elite group of the great and the good from the UK wine trade to taste the wines of Château Margaux, I naturally cleared the diary. It was only when I arrived at Trinity House in The City that I fully appreciated what we were being asked to taste. I can only liken it to being asked to come and drive some Ferraris and then turning up and then being told that we would be driving their new electric car, a new shooting break version of the Enzo, a city car and then the same car but with various components left off.
Margaux have teamed up with Yvon Mau to host a number of tastings around the world to showcase the experimentation they have been undertaking at the Château. This is commendable work and Paul Pontalier was quick to point out that in Bordeaux a huge amount of work goes into research, it is just that the other issues surrounding the region seem to overshadow the academic and scientific study. This is, on reflection, probably true, so this was an exciting event and one I relished more than just tasting the finished wines of the estate.
The tasting was in four flights, outlined as follows:
Flight one: 3 wines served blind. Each wine was either Biodynamic, Organic or Conventionally produced from one plot of vineyard and the same variety, Cabernet Sauvignon and vintage, 2010. This plot was used for their third wine.
Result: Each wine showed differing characteristics, but most marked were the differences in tannins and top note aromatics. The organic wine seemed a little dumb but well balanced, the conventional wine polished but veneered too and the Biodynamic wine the prettiest and easiest to drink and garnered the greatest praise.
Flight two: 3 wines served blind based on stem influence during fermentation. The wine was a conventionally produced Cabernet Sauvignon from a plot that might make it into the Grand Vin
The results here were also marked. The wine with 1% added whole stem had supple tannins, a nutty character and a soft finish, the wine with no stems was spicy, but had green notes and a slightly bitter finish, the third wine had some crushed stems added and the wine proved to be perfectly balanced and the best ‘formed of the three’. It is interesting to note that in Bordeaux the rule is no stems at all.
Flight Three: 3 wines with different closures, third wine but from the 2003 vintage
The wines were very different here. The consensus was that the wine under cork was the screw cap wine, which came as a complete surprise as it was so youthful and generous. There were two screw cap wines, one with no oxygen and one with a little permeability. The latter was really not good at all, but the former was actually the wines people thought was under cork as it was evolved and very complex, in fact delicious, it fooled me!
Flight Four: 3 white wines under different closures, All 2004 Sauvignon Blanc
There was again a very marked difference, but the wine with cork was beautiful and complex and all a white Bordeaux should be, where the screw capped wines were in fact a little oxidised, albeit still with freshness and the mark of quality.
Flight Four: Cabernet Sauvignon from three different terroirs, all 2011
Firstly, these wines all taste beautifully and pre the oak are wines that could almost be drunk now. I am not trying to build up the 2011 vintage, Caviste will not be running an en primeur campaign this year, but these are pretty wines never the less. What this showed was that wine produced from Gravel and Pebble soil was pure pretty and elegant, whilst this produced onmore chalk and clay soil are structured and provide the base notes of the wine. Blended together they made a delicious glass.
This was a fascinating insight into the mindset of a prestigious estate who are genuinely ready to take some bold steps if they feel the results are worth it. No doubt that the Bio wines were impressive, and screwcap for red a no brainer, but how long will it really take to make these changes? Well as Paul Pontalier said, probably not under his stewardship.