By Charles B. Rubinstein
“It is better to hide ignorance,but it is hard to do this when we relax over wine.”
- Heraclitis, On the Universe
In the famed region of Bordeaux the brightest star is the commune of Pauillac. Within its boundaries are three of the five First Growths; Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour and Château Mouton Rothschild, and it also is home to 18 of the classified Growths listed in the 1855 Classification of the Wines of the Medoc. According to Jean-Michel Cazes, proprietor of Château Lynch-Bages, Pauillac is somewhat unique in having distinct boundaries – a drainage channel, a river, a creek and a plateau. The soil is gravelly. Monsieur Cazes along with Alfred Tesseron, the proprietor of Château Pontet-Canet, and Philippe Dhalluin, the Director of Winemaking at Château Mouton-Rothschild were on hand to present their wines a week ago to the members of the Wine Media Guild, an organization of professional wine communicators, at a luncheon at Felidia in New York City.
The luncheon was preceded by a walk-around tasting of the following wines; 2001, 2004 and 2006 Lynch-Bages, 2008 Echo de Lynch-Bages, 2002, 2004 and 2006 Pontet-Canet, 2005 Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, 2004, 2005 and 2006 Clerc-Milon and 2005 Le Petit-Mouton. To accompany the lunch the châteaux provided 1996 and 2000 Lynch-Bages, 2001 and 2002 Pontet-Canet, 1994 Clerc-Milon and 1995 Mouton-Rothschild. To supplement those riches at lunch some members of the Guild dug into their cellars and brought older vintages of the same châteaux. There might have been an ulterior motive for their generosity. Members bringing older vintages were assigned seats at the table of the owner of the Château whose wine they brought. In the interest of full disclosure I admit I brought a 1982 Lynch Bages from my cellar. Wines brought by other members included a 1961 Lynch-Bages, 1994 Clerc-Milon and 1988 Mouton-Rothschild.
Château Lynch Bages is a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification, but almost everyone in the wine trade now considers it a Second Growth. The name comes from the Bages Plateau on which it sits and Thomas Lynch and the Lynch family who owned it from 1749 until 1825. It subsequently changed hands a few times until it was bought by the grandfather of Jean-Michel Cazes who later took the helm in 1973 and turned the operation over to his son Jean-Charles Cazes in 2006. Echo de Lynch-Bages is a 2008 renaming of Château Haut-Bages Averous, which has been known as a second wine of Lynch-Bages since 1976. In general a second wine is produced from the younger vines of its more famous parent.
Château Pontet-Canet is a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. The Pontet family owned the Château for 140 years until Hermann Cruse, an important négociant, bought it in 1865. Unfortunately, the Cruse family did not adopt the practice of château-bottling until it became mandatory in 1972 and they also became enmeshed in other problems. Guy Tesseron, a Cognac négociant and owner of Château Lafon-Rochet, bought Pontet-Canet in 1975. His son, Alfred, is now in charge. Hauts de Pontet-Canet is the second wine of Pontet-Canet.
What surprised me was the pleasure and enjoyment I experienced from the 2004s.
Château Clerc-Milon, which adjoins Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild, is a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. The name came from the nearby hamlet of Milon and the Clerc family who owned the original estate and expanded it. Baron Philippe de Rothschild bought it in 1970. There was no château, only a collection of cottages. Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, the Baron’s daughter, and her children now own Clerc-Milon. Le Petit-Mouton, the second wine of Mouton-Rothschild has been produced since 1993.
As for the wines we tasted there was not one that betrayed its pedigree and disappointed. What surprised me was the pleasure and enjoyment I experienced from the 2004s. They are at their peak drinkability right now, and I highly recommend them. Weather conditions were not favorable that year. Only those châteaux that reduced the yield in the vineyard, ruthlessly selected at harvest and paid careful attention to their winemaking succeeded. This was a year where the financial resources of the châteaux were important, and it showed in these three 2004s. Because of the overall high quality of the wines presented by the châteaux I picked one other favorite from each to highly recommend.
During the question and answer period that followed the luncheon one of the members asked if we would ever see screw caps on a classified Growth. A few moments of silence ensued and then Monsieur Cazes arose and said to much laughter, “I will consider it when Mouton-Rothschild does it.”
If you have questions or comments about wine write to me at The Two River Times or email me at email@example.com.
Pick of the Bunch
2004 Château Clerc-Milon ($80)
2005 Château Clerc-Milon ($80)
2004 Château Pontet-Canet ($90)
2006 Château Pontet-Canet ($95)
2004 Château Lynch-Bages ($105)
2006 Château Lynch-Bages ($145)
1995 Château Mouton-Rothschild ($470)