One sunny afternoon twenty-two years ago I pulled into the pebbled drive of Chateau Palmer in a silver VW Golf. I remember the mouth watering excitement of passing famous chateaux on the way up from Bordeaux on the D2 before arriving in the sleepy little hamlet of Issan. I headed off to fine Yves Chardon, then Palmer’s cellar master, having arrived to work the vendange, the harvest due to start in the next few days. It was late September 1988.
It’s tricky business assessing a young wine just five months after harvest. Of course a critic has to call the wine exactly as she or he sees it, anything else would be dishonest, but in judging wine that young there is always a margin of error. A big wine in a big year will always have the risk of feeling monolithic at the outset. Given the size of all the elements how could it be otherwise? Now maybe those critics who lambasted 2009 Chateau Cos d’Estournel this spring for being over-the-top did allow for that. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just a question of taste. Would they say the same thing if the wine was lined up for them now after a year in barrel I wonder? I think not.
Alfred Tesseron of Chateau Pontet-Canet in Pauillac
I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have had a different agenda. I fear that you might suggest I should rechristen the site ‘wine, hagiography and videotape’ – that’s before you berate me for not posting any videotape yet either – those vast millions of you quietly visiting this site each day! Would I be better writing about the most under-performing estates in Bordeaux rather than the other way round? Say – ‘Five ways to squander great terrior’? That way I could try and answer the question why Chateau Rauzan-Gassies is not a patch on Chateau Rauzan-Ségla, for example. How about a list of the most over-extracted wines in St Emilion – wait a minute I haven’t the space…. How about ‘Slave to labels’ – crus classé to avoid at all costs? This all sounds rather fun, but I’m not yet finished with the hagiographies, though the following property I’m about to describe would have certainly made it onto a list of disappointing estates prior to its purchase by a family of cognac merchants in the mid-seventies.