With Easter approaching , and the spotlight on Bordeaux, David is delighted to share unique insights from the book "The Irish Wines of Bordeaux" written by his father, T.P Whelehan in 1990. We hope you enjoy the second instalment.
"We begin our Irish tour through the vineyards of Bordeaux on the south side of the Gironde, in the commune of Pauillac. This is perhaps the most famous of all appéllations in the Haut-Médoc, and has within its relatively small territory three of the four First Growths: Latour, Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild. In the original classification of 1855 no less than seventeen Pauillac wines were included, the majority of which would comfortably hold their station today. Moreover, these seventeen control virtually all the acreage of the appéllation, so that very little cru bourgeois wine is made, giving a special distinction to this area. The wines are rich and full-bodied, with the scent of cedar and of blackcurrant on the nose.
Château Lynch-Bages is one of the finest, most famous and most sought after of all the wines of the region with an Irish connection.
Though only a Pauillac Fifth Growth, it currently commands the price of a Second Growth. It is recorded as a single property as early as the sixteenth century, and in 1728 was purchased by the Drouillard family by which it then came through marriage to the Lynchs. It was inherited by Mme Lynch (née Drouillard), who also owned Château Dauzac, in 1749. She was the wife of Thomas-Michel Lynch, eldest son of John Lynch, who was born in Galway in 1669 and fought with King James at the Battle of the Boyne. He sailed from Galway with the departing French armies after the battle, and settled in Bordeaux, where he founded an important trading company and subsequently married a local beauty, Guillemette Constant. The family assumed French nationality in 1710, the year of Thomas-Michel Lynch's birth.
The famous Comte Jean-Baptiste Lynch, Mayor of Bordeaux, was born on the 3rd June 1749, at the family's other property, Château Dauzac (which, for a long time, was known as Dauzac-Lynch, and is dealt with later) the second of eight children. The most wily of politicians, James Seely in his book Great Bordeaux Wines likened him to the Vicar of Bray who could change religions according to the reigning monarch.
The property was administered by the Comte's younger brother Michel who died without issue in 1840. It had been sold prior to that, in 1824, to a Swiss wine merchant. The current owners are the Cazes family who have been making the wine here since 1934 and never better than in the last ten years. The dynamic Jean Michel Cazes is very proud of the Galway connection and is a regular visitor to the city of the tribes. The family also own the splendid Château Les Ormes de Pez in St.-Estèphe.
The style of the wine is rich, full, fruity, with an intense and classically Pauillac aroma. Professionals can often identify it blind. Like many Médocs the 1986 is a powerful wine, full of fruit but also very tannic. It should mature into an exceptional wine in 15 years' time. 1985 has a different style. Great body, wonderfully cassis aromas, but softer and more supple. In 10 years it will please greatly. Both 1983 and 1982 are among the top wines of the vintage and both need another 5 to 6 years at least. Tasted at the Château side by side, the 1982 was preferred. Now I am not so sure. The 1966 with dinner at the Château was disappointing. The 1961 is still quite stunning.
CHATEAU LYNCH MOUSSAS,FIFTH GROWTH
Château Lynch Moussas was formerly owned by the legendary Comte Jean-Baptiste Lynch, and is now the property of the Casteja family, of Château Batailley. The gravelly soil is similar to that of Batailley and Grand Puy Lacoste, but the wines tend to be light and undistinguished.
None the 1980s vintages have so far excited me. It continues to under-perform in relation to its classification.
CHATEAU PICHON LONGUEVILLE - COMTESSE DE LALANDE,
Pichon-Lalande has always been one of the great wines of the Médoc. Over the last ten years it has moved into a special category, widely known as "Super Seconds"; these frequently challenge the supremacy of first growths. This is the case with Pichon Lalande.
The property is a splendid one, its impressive main building approached through elegant gates and up a double flight of steps. It was built in the 1840s. Along with the wine handling facilities, it has received great and loving investment over the last 10 years. The story of the Château is interesting in that the Comtesse, a widow, had it built on land given by her lover the Comte de Beaumont, owner of Château Latour. The Comte was later to use the same architect to design Château Latour itself.
The property was acquired in 1926 by Edouard Mialhe. The family have been in wine for 200 years and the family tree includes Burkes, Lynchs and Mitchells. His daughter, Mai de Lencquesaing, wife of a distinguished general, took over the property in 1978. Rarely as powerful as nearby Château Latour it has more finesse and a softer, more supple style. This is partly due to the soil - a portion, roughly one-third, of the vineyard is actually in St.-Julien - partly due to the high percentage of merlot grape.
Then, of course, there is the character of the wine making. It is approachable after 6 to 8 years but the wine has a great lifespan. The 1961 tasted in 1986 was quite ready and magnificent; the Latour by comparison, on the same occasion, was still young. The 1987 is exceptional for this light vintage with depth and fruit. It is ready now but will last into the mid 1990s. The 1986 is certainly one of the top wines of this great vintage and ahead of many first growths. It has richness, structure and complexity. In 20 years' time surviving bottles will be fêted. The 1985 is excellent in a more open and fuller style. It is soft, fat, fruity and already delicious. 1983 is an incredibly big Pichon with a very big structure, wonderful fruit, stunning bouquet of cassis and vanilla. It will evolve sensationally into the next century. 1982: huge, rich, concentrated, and wonderful ripe fruit aromas. It will mature a few years ahead of the 1983.
CHATEAU BATAILLEY, FIFTH GROWTH
The delightful Château of Batailley was built in the early 18th century and stands in a lovely 13-acre park greatly enhanced by some splendid old trees. The vineyard itself is quite large with about 110 acres under vine .
It was classified as a Fifth Growth in 1855 and that would seem to be its correct rating today. The style of the wine tends to be austere and generally needs cellaring to show well. It is a good, though not very exciting growth, and is currently overshadowed by its neighbour, Château Grand Puy Lacoste, also a fifth growth but worthy of a higher rating.
The current owners are the well known Casteja family, who are also proprietors of Château Lynch Moussas. In 1819 it was acquired by Daniel Guestier, Barton's partner in Barton & Guestier. On his death a half share went to his two sisters Mmes. Lawton and Phelan. This was sold on in 1866.
The 1986 vintage is big, strong, and full-bodied. It has plenty of fruit and a tannic structure. It is for long term cellaring and should be superb at 20 years. 1985 is typical of the vintage: soft, with lovely ripe fruit flavours. It will be ready long before the 1986 and should be at its prime at the age of 7 to 10 years. 1984, by contrast, is light, elegant and ready for drinking now.
CHATEAU LATOUR, FIRST GROWTH
Château Latour is one of the oldest estates in Bordeaux. Its 120 acres of vine changed hands in early 1989 at a valuation of about IR£130 million. Its poor, but precious, Gunzian gravel soil has an annual production in the region of 20,000 cases.
Justifiably, it has a legendary status in the world of wine and is remarkable for its consistency and ability to produce good wine even in off years. Young raw, immature vintages are currently on offer at around £50 per bottle. In the mid sixties the 1961 - one of the finest ever - was acclaimed by me in The Irish Times but with the reservation that £3.50 was a rather high price. Today, this same wine fetches £300 per bottle on the open market.
In style, Latour is the most masculine of the great Pauillacs: full-bodied, rich, concentrated and complex. It is slow maturing and great vintages need a quarter of a century to reach their true potential.
In 1833 Barton & Guestier, together with Nathaniel Johnston, started building up a stake which ultimately reached 27%. It would appear that their partnership with the other shareholders was not a happy one. They bought out the new shareholders in 1841 for a sum which must today leave the present Barton and Johnston heirs more than a little envious. Between £28 and £30 million would seem to be the current value of that early holding.
The 1986 Latour has an impressive, deep colour, and the typical bouquet of cassis, vanilla and walnut. It is full-bodied with depth and length, but appears to lack the massive dimension expected of Latour. 1985 is not as fine as 1986, lacking the traditional depth of Latour. It is medium-bodied with nice ripe fruit flavours, and should develop fairly quickly. 1984 is light, elegant and pleasant. Ready for drinking, it will keep for 5 to 7 years. 1983 is a disappointment for the vintage. One would expect a bigger, stronger, more structured wine."
Next instalment: Margaux and Margaux wines...
Reproduced with the kind permission of Bruce Arnold.