A day in Médoc

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the MBA program I’m currently attending at the Bordeaux International Wine Institute is the connections it has with the wine industry, especially (and not surprisingly) in the Bordeaux region. In addition to regular classes, the MBA curriculum also contains several “wine tours”, which are day-long excursions focused on a particular Bordeaux region.

We recently completed our first wine tour of the Médoc AOC, during which we visited three chateaux—all classified growths from the 1855 Classification: Chateau Pontet Canet (Pauillac, 5th Growth), Chateau Desmirail (Margaux, 3rd Growth), and Chateau Prieuré Lichine (Margaux, 4th Growth).

'09 vintage at Ch. Pontet Canet
Wine being pumped over at Ch. Pontet Canet from the recently-harvested '09 vintage (it smelled unbelievably fresh, perhaps because it's bio?)

Starting the day with Chateau Ponet Canet, we were greeted by Winemaker and Technical Director, Jean Michel Comme, who gave us a thorough introduction to the facility and its winemaking practices. Ch. Ponet Canet produces a first and second label wine that is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Merlot and small portions of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The most unique aspect about Ch. Pontet Canet is that it is the only biodynamic (as well as organic) growth in the Médoc region. Comme explained that a producer takes on a certain amount of risk when switching to organic/biodynamic production and that most Bordeaux chateaux are owned by companies who don’t want to handle this risk, nor invest in the additional time required to convert to organic/biodynamic farming.

Ch. Pontet Canet became fully biodynamic in 2005. Having produced wines prior to its switch, Comme noticed a change in the wine’s composition within three years—citing a more pronounced minerality in the nose and an improved tannin structure. He also noted that the harvest happens earlier. Though currently working on the 2009 vintage, he considers 2008 to be Ch. Pontet Canet’s best wine, yet. His biodynamic philosophy is:

  • No agressive action on the vines
  • Almost all work to be completed by hand
  • No green harvest in July

The objective is to obtain a natural balance with low yields—with the job of the growers being to assist rather than work the vines.

We then continued our tour with a visit and “wine lunch” at Chateau Desmirail. Desmirail also has a first and second label red wine—again, predominately Cabernet Sauvignon, but blended with a higher amount of Merlot (~40%), which is typical for the Margaux appellation. Though certainly not disappointed by the red wines at our table, I was most intrigued by the rosé wine, which is also a blending of CS/Merlot. The Rosé de Desmirail is a fairly new offering that I imagine is part of the producer’s intention to capitalize on the growing rosé market. Classified as an AOC Bordeaux Rosé, I saw the ’07 vintage selling online for ~ US$32—not inexpensive, but certainly more affordable than a bottle of red from this troisième cru!

Our final visit was to Chateau Prieuré Lichine, where we had a brief tour of the facility and ended the day with a blind tasting of 5 Grand Crus Classés of Médoc from the 2004 vintage. The only clue we were given before the tasting was that each wine was from a different Médoc appellation. Having never studied Médoc wines before (let alone sampled more than three Médoc wines total prior to this tasting!), I just took things in stride and had fun trying to distinguish the nuances between each wine. This is what we tasted:

  1. La Tour Carnet (Haut-Médoc)
  2. Prieuré Lichine (Margaux)
  3. Grand Puy Lacoste (Pauillac)
  4. Cos Laboury (St.-Estèphe)
  5. Léoville Poyferré (St.-Julien)

My favorite was the the Cos Laboury Saint-Estèphe. The nose was of cassis and caramel with black pepper and toffee notes mixed in. Its flavor was very similiar to the nose, with a smooth, long-lasting finish. Ironically, the St-Estèphe was also the least expensive of the wines sampled with a retail price of around EUR 17—I guess I have a taste for value, even among the Grand Crus!

2004 Horizontal Médoc Tasting
Wines tasted blind from the 2004 horizontal Médoc tasting

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