We enjoyed a spectacular lunch and tasting at this top Bordeaux estate as a part of the Iberian Wine Tours Bordeaux and Rioja Tour. As we pulled up to the Estate, we knew we were in for something extraordinary. The curving cement walls flanking the gates with vines growing up them spoke of class and regality. As we entered the estate we looked across an expanse of perfectly manicured lawn to the site of the Chateau itself: with its two round turrets, steep-pitched roofs, symmetrically spaced windows and reflection pond, it is the archetype of the French Chateau.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron enjoys a rich history, dating back to the 17th Century. It was created at the time of La Grande Siecle or “Great Century”, so-called because Louis the 14th had ascended the throne and ushered in an age of appreciation of the finer things. His creation of the Palace at Versailles focused attention on all of the arts, culinary included. It was within this context that in 1689, Pierre de Mazurres de Rauzan, a wine merchant who also was steward of Chateau Latour and Chateau Margaux, acquired the estate lands close to Latour, naming them Enclos Rauzan. These lands became a part of his daughter Therese’s dowry when she married Baron Jacques Pichon de Longueville. As was French custom at the time, marriage would change the name of a property and in 1694 it became Chateau Pichon-Longueville. The Baron took over running the estate when he was just 19 and continued to run it for the next 71 years!
At the age of 90, on the evening of his death, he divided the estate bequeathing half to his two sons and the other half to his three daughters. The sons called their estate Pichon-Longueville Baron and the daughters called their estate (which is right across the street) Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Today the sons’ estate is most commonly referred to as Pichon Baron and the daughters’ estate is generally called Pichon Lalande. Both are wineries of great repute and each was awarded Deuxieme Cru or “Second Growth” status in the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. Interestingly, the boys’ estate is generally thought of as making the more powerful and masculine wine and the girls’ estate the more elegant and feminine wine.
We were greeted at the Chateau by the charming and very affable Nicolas Santier who oversees reception and tourism at Pichon Baron. We started our tour in our favourite place to start any wine tour: the vineyard. There is always something magic about seeing the vines and walking the earth of the grounds that produce a wine you’re about to taste. Nicolas was very thorough and very knowledgeable in describing the features of the estate to us. He also kept things light, avoiding too many technical terms, and injecting plenty of his easy going humour. The vineyards are in the southern part of Paulliac, the commune that sits halfway up the Gironde Estuary in Bordeaux’ Left Bank which is home to three of the five First Growths. Across the street are neighbours Chateau Latour and Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. The southern end of the vineyard connects to Chateaux Leoville Las Cases and Leoville Poyferre, two of the second growths in St. Julien. Tony real estate indeed!
As we walk among the rows of vines, Nicolas tells us about the estate’s 73 hectares. The soils we are walking on are gravelly sand and clay, ideal for causing vines to struggle out of the ground due to the low nutrient value and the good drainage. This struggle produces small berries of intense flavours. The vineyard is divided into 4 main blocks that are further sub-divided into 70 parcels. Plantings are currently 65% to Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% to Merlot, 3% to Cabernet Franc and 2% to Petit Verdot. The terrain undulates as it rises gently to an elevation of 13 metres above the river.
Vines here have an average age of 35 years. Nicolas points to the “Butte de Pichon” which are the best plots at the highest elevation whose fruit is used exclusively for the Grand Vin. Other plots are used to make Les Tourelles du Pichon and Les Griffons de Pichon, flanker brands to the Grand Vin Pichon Baron. Vines are trellised using the Double Guyot System that allows for the creation of adequate canopy and restrains yields. It was interesting to see the vines up close and notice the contrast between their vineyards and other vineyards we have visited in North America. The French, like most of the rest of Europe, train their vines much closer to the ground than is typical in North America. When we enquired about the difference, Nicolas merely shrugged and said “that is what we have been doing…for centuries”.
From the vineyard we made the short walk to the new tasting area and underground cellar that was constructed in 2008. The clean lines and modernity of this complex stands in stark contrast to the historic look of the Chateau itself. After a terrific tasting through their complete line up in the tasting room (see tasting notes below) we crossed the yard and entered the Chateau for a most amazing and memorable lunch.
The Chateau must be seen to be believed! Its grandeur is unmistakable. As was common in the 1850s, when the Chateau was built, its dimension was long and tall. This was to create an impression of wealth and power when viewed from the road. But to save expense, the building is not very deep at all, an unusual bit of economy amongst all the extravagance. Lunch began with a Champagne reception in the beautiful drawing room, decorated in the Victorian period style with tall windows draped with floor to ceiling red curtains. The room is formal and elegant but still very comfortable. As we sat on one of the couches, sipping the delicious NV Brut Reserve from top level grower Bereche et Fils, we could not help but feel a little regal ourselves as we imagined the Lord of the house and their guests, 150 years ago, doing just this and in grand style.
We then crossed the hall to the formal dining room, whose table had been set beautifully for our arrival. Lunch was multi-course affair that included delicacies such as tuna sashimi with Chinese cabbage and roast quail with ratatouille. It was an incredible feast in an opulent setting prepared by the young and very talented Chef a Domicile Damien Bernadet and paired with some delicious library wines direct from the Chateau’s cellar.
This was truly a memory-maker of a lunch, one where we were treated as royalty but allowed to totally be our selves. An important feature given the remarkably fun people who joined us on our tour–there was nothing janky about this lunch! Thanks to Nicolas Santier of Pichon Baron and Jeremy Shaw of Iberian Wine Tours for this very exclusive inside look at one of the world’s great wine estates.
2017 Les Tourelles de Longueville
This was the first of the two second wines of Pichon Baron. First bottled in 1983 as Baronet de Pichon it changed its name to Les Tourelles de Longueville in 1986 due to copyright infringement on a name owned by Mouton Rothschild. The blend focuses on Merlot, 55% in the 2017 vintage and the rest is Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has a softer expression that shows black cherry and plum with hints of spice cake and a subtle earthiness. The body is medium and the tannins medium+, great for early drinking.
2017 Les Griffons de Pichon
Les Griffons was created in 2012 and is closer in style and quality to the Grand Vin. Made from 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot this showed classic Paulliac character: blackberry and black cherry with subtle forest notes on a medium/fully body. Plenty of tannin and acidity to balance out the dark fruit and make it very age worthy. It will show really well after a few years in the cellar allow things to integrate more.
2017 Pichon Baron
The Grand Vin was made of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon and 21% Merlot and is a beautiful wine! Black cherry, currant and plum gain lots of complexity from the cedar, earth and hints of dried flowers that we pick up. The finish is very long and quite structured. The tannin is quite ripe and so this wine drank more smoothly than we would have expected for a young Paulliac, but surely even greater things lie ahead over the next decade or two. Very classy!
2015 Pichon Baron
A similar blend to the 2017, this wine shows even more approachability and elegance. The black fruits take on a cassis-like character and once again show that cedar note that often defines wines of Paulliac. The wine has terrific balance and like its younger brother shows great potential for ageing.
Excellent ($300 at BC Liquor Stores (plus taxes)
2010 Pichon Baron
A classic Bordeaux wine! Black cherry, cassis, cedar and baking spices all roll up together to create a very complex wine that offers something slightly different each time you return to the glass. Rich and powerful but retaining elegance as well; all of its dimensions are in perfect balance. Still in its adolescence, this wine should continue to develop for decades. Sophisticated and utterly delicious!
2009 Pichon Baron
Similar to the 2010 the 2009 has a slightly rounder profile and might just be entering its plateau of maturity. Rich and textured it shows plenty of black fruits combined with earth tones and hints of cedar/forest. Terrific balance and a long, memorable finish!
2007 Pichon Baron
This was a more fresh vintage for Pichon Baron than the rich and powerful 2009 and 2010. It was classically Bordeaux, elegant, lots of black currant and here the cedar seemed to be replaced with notes we found to be more akin to eucalyptus. This vintage is on a faster evolution and is fully mature now but should offer great drinking for another decade.
With the dessert course we enjoyed a glass of the 2010 Suduiraut from Sauternes, the sweet wine region just to the south of Bordeaux. This was an unctuous elixir of golden honey, hazel nuts and apricot marmalade. Rich, textured but perfectly balanced with good back end acidity that gave precision to botrysized fruit.
33250 Pauillac – France
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