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 third instalment.
"From Pauillac we travel into the commune of Margaux, where six properties have Irish connections.
The village of Margaux gives its name to the most southerly of the great Haut-Médoc appéllations. It is also the most sprawling. There are the four villages of Arsac, Labarde, Cantenac and Soussans, in addition to Margaux itself, which are entitled to use the Margaux appéllation. In the 1855 classification a total of 21 Châteaux from here were included, as against 11 in St.-Julien, 17 in Pauillac and just 5 in St.-Estèphe.
There is a diversity of soil here, but one finds the lightest most gravelly type with the deepest levels of pebbly earth, especially on the three small plateaux. This allows for the production of some of the most delicate, elegant and fragrant wines of Bordeaux. Although they lack the power of Pauillac wines they have the capacity to last a very long time. In fact they generally need cellaring to show their true quality. The two outstanding wines presently are Château Margaux and Château Palmer.
Travellers to the region should note the restaurant Larigaudière, in the village of Soussans. The regional specialities include the delicious Cêpes Bordelaises, Lampreys, Escargots and Entrecôtes grilled over vine cuttings. The Auberge de Savoie in the village of Margaux itself is also excellent, with a fine list of Médoc wines.
CHATEAU BOYD-CANTENAC, THIRD GROWTH
Châteaux Boyd Cantenac is a vineyard without a Château and it is doubtful if there ever was a residence there. The property was acquired in 1754 by Jacques Boyd who was, by then, a member of the French nobility. The Boyds were a prominent Belfast merchant family engaged in the woollen trade during the latter half of the seventeenth century.
Belfast then had important trading links with Bordeaux. The archival records from there show that, in 1700, a Boyd imported 29 cwts. of lead and 22 cwts. of wool in 30 barrels. Boyd's explanation to the Controller General is of great significance for it shows that the infamous 'Irish Wool Prohibition Act 1699', introduced by the English government to protect their own woollen industry, was biting. Boyd observed as follows: 'In view of the impossibility of shipping from Ireland without disguises, its export being prohibited under penalty of death, it was essential to place lead in the barrels to bring up the weight to salted beef.'!
The economic impact of this legislation was widely felt throughout the country but nowhere more severely than in the 'woollen counties' of Ulster. Here it had a devastating effect, bringing sudden impoverishment to the farming and merchant communities. The young men were forced to emigrate to the continent, many settling in Bordeaux. The choice of this city is not surprising when one considers the long existing trading links. The Act was also instrumental in fostering wool smuggling on an unprecedented scale.
The vineyard, which was acquired from M. de Sainvincens, a former treasurer of France, remained in the Boyd family until 1806 when it was acquired by John Lewis Brown of nearby Châteaux Cantenac-Brown.
Boyd's daughter married David Skinner, a partner in the well-known wine business of Skinner and Fenwick, and a brother married Skinner's sister, Marie. Further Irish links were woven through the marriage of Boyd ladies into the Barton and Baudry families.
In 1860 Brown Cantenac was sold to M. Lalande, wine shipper, then owner of Château Léoville Poyferré (see pages 24-26), fatherin-law of Edward Lawton of the great Cork wine family. It would appear that the wine continued to be sold under the Brown Cantenac label until around 1920.
It was acquired in the 1930s by the Guillemet family of nearby Château Pouget and, until 1982, was vinified under the same roof. Since moving into its ownchaisacross the road results seem mixed. The 1982 was most attractive: full, rich, concentrated with lots of fruit and soft tannins. It should peak in around 7 to 9 years. The 1983 is also full and well-structured with tannins; it needs more time to mature. 1985 is less than exciting as is the 1986 when related to the property's exalted classification. Production from 40 acres comes to around 7,000 cases in an average year. 30% new oak barrels are used for ageing, yet most experts feel the property is greatly underperforming.
CHATEAU CANTENAC-BROWN, THIRD GROWTH
The Château itself is one of the more extraordinary in the Médoc, resembling the Victorian architecture one would associate with the home of a successful English industrial tycoon of the 19th century. It was acquired by John Lewis Brown, whose family came from England and traded successfully as wine shippers in the early 1800s.
Brown was a person of substance and a painter of some ability. Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular visitor and, it is said, enjoyed both good wine and young girls. Perhaps Brown's tastes contributed to his bankruptcy in the mid-1800s.
The property was acquired by Armande Lalande (see Château Léoville Poyferré). Lalande's daughter was married to Edward Lawton of the Cork family and their son Jean Lawton acquired the property in 1935.
The latter was a regular visitor to Ireland during the 1960s both to sell wines on behalf of the Lalande company and also for shooting. The property was sold in 1968 to the Vivier family.
It is a wine rarely seen in Ireland although the production is fairly substantial (15,000 cases). It is traditionally rather austere and perhaps a bit charmless. The new owners are trying for a softer style. A recent vintage of quality was the 1986: extremely well made, full bodied, deep, rich, with strong Cabernet aromas and plenty of grip. It needs a minimum of 10 years cellaring.
CHATEAU LASCOMBES, SECOND GROWTH
The estate of this Château is one of the largest in the Médoc with around 200 acres under vine. Its standing was obviously very high in the mid-19th century, being classified high among the Second Growths. The residence itself was best described by James Seely, in Great Bordeaux Wines, as Victorian, Scottish Baronial. Its acquisition by the ubiquitous Nathaniel Johnston after the French revolution provides the Irish connection. The name of Johnston - from Armagh - will keep cropping up in the course of the following pages. The family is dealt with more fully under Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (St.-Julien). The current owners are the British brewery, Bass Charrington. Much money has been spent on the Château which is used as a hospitality centre for their visiting customers.
Despite the resources of the brewery the wines have not lived up to their inherited rating. Its most glorious year may have been 1929. Tasted from a jeroboam at 40 years it was sheer perfection. However, like many other underperforming owners of precious soil, recent vintages suggest a renaissance.
The 1986 vintage does not have the immediate appeal of the a 1985. Like most 1986s it shows more tannin and just may surprise us all. But there is a question mark at this early stage. The 1985 is quite attractive in a full, soft style, and is developing fast. It has lovely ripe fruit flavours. The 1983 has a deep rich colour. The bouquet is of blackcurrant, vanilla, and spice. There is good structure and depth. Give it 10 years. The 1982 has rich, ripe flavours with berrylike aromas and vanilla from new oak casks. It is full-bodied and concentrated, with soft tannins. The 1981 is on the light side. It is pleasant but will not last. Earlier vintages, through the 1970s, were all rather disappointing for a Second Growth classification.
CHATEAU DAUZAC, FIFTH GROWTH
Château Dauzac - once known as Dauzac-Lynch - is one of the oldest vineyards in continuous production. Built in the early 1700s, the property came as a dowry with Elizabeth Drouillard on her marriage to Thomas Michel Lynch in 1740. Thomas Michel continued to work with his brother, Jean Arthur, in the family wine business. Jean Arthur married a French from Galway while his sister Jeanne Catherine married a Kirwan also from a Galway family.
Down through the years Château Dauzac has had other Irish connections. Nathaniel Johnston acquired it in 1863 and it remained in his family for 57 years. It was during this period that an unexpected viticultural leap forward took place. Johnston's manager was plagued by passers-by who helped themselves to grapes from the vines near the road. To control this, he sprayed the grapes with a mixture of bluestone and lime, which coloured the leaves a sickly blue-green colour, and had the desired effect. After a couple of seasons it was noticed that the sprayed vines did not suffer from mildew. The famous Bordeaux mixture was born and is still used today, although now being superceded.
In 1966 Château Dauzac was acquired by Alain Burke Mialhe whose family has many Irish connections. The family also owns Château Siran, Château Pichon Lalande and Château Coufran. Inheritance problems forced him to sell in 1976. The property has so far failed to show its true potential. The 1982s and 1983s are light, easy drinking and already maturing.
CHATEAU KIRWAN, THIRD GROWTH
Château Kirwan is located just outside the village of Cantenac and was classified as a third growth in 1855. Its performance over the last twenty years or so does not justify this high rating. This would appear to reflect on general husbandry rather than the soil, for recent vintages show dramatic improvement. It can resemble Margaux with great elegance and fragrance and may be one to follow now.
Two hundred years ago, the Château was known as the Domaine de Lasalle. In 1751 it was acquired by Sir John Collingwood, an Englishman and merchant from Bordeaux. One of Sir John's daughters married Mark Kirwan from Galway and he inherited the Château and vineyards in 1781. The name was then changed to Kirwan. Kirwan sired 11 children before losing his head and his property in the French revolution. The family managed subsequently to regain possession of the Château, and it remained in their hands until 1827. Today it is owned by the Société Schröder et Schöler who are also reputable wine shippers in Bordeaux.
The vintages of 1986 and 1985 offer us two contrasting styles: there is a depth, richness and structure to the former which suggests a slower but happy development in bottle. The wine needs 10 years in bottle. By contrast, the 1985 is immediately appealing. It is stylish and elegant with good structure. The present aromas are of cassis and oak. I expect this to evolve rapidly and nicely. These two vintages indicate a renaissance which is welcome. The 1983 has good depth of colour, is quite rich and well structured. It is worth cellaring and should keep well. The 1982 is a disappointment. It is full, but soft and rather loose-knit. It lacks depth and concentration and should be drunk young.
CHATEAU SIRAN, CRU BOURGEOIS SUPERIOR
Château Siran is unquestionably an underclassified gem. Its scholarly owner, Alain Burke Mialhe, has Mitchell, Lynch and Burke blood. Pierre Mitchell from Swords, was a captain in an Irish regiment serving the French crown, whose son set up the first glass factory in Bordeaux. The Lynch connection comes from Pierre's grandson's marriage to Elyse-Peggy Lynch, and the Burke connection from Pierre's maternal grandfather, Desbarats Bourke, a prosperous Bordeaux merchant and a partner in Gernon, Desbarats. At one stage Burke acquired Château Ducru-Beaucaillou from the Johnston family. This Burke line can be traced back to the Burkes or de Burghs of Portumna Castle. One of them, Honora Burke, widow of Patrick Sarsfield, married the Duke de Berwick Marechal of Louis IV, son of James II and commander of a famous Irish regiment. M. Mialhe is an expert on the Irish Bordeaux connection and published a book on Le Comte J-B Lynch in 1972.
Château Siran itself is something of a showpiece with an 18th century chartreuse-style residence, an anti-nuclear shelter filled with fine wine and a heliport. The best time to visit is in September when the magnificent 15 acre park is carpeted with cyclamens. There are 50 acres under vine yielding on average 12,900 cases annually.
The output has been a model of consistency. In style the wines have great delicacy, elegance and fruitiness and are quite full for its classification. They need at least 5 years to develop and keep quite well. 1985 and 1986 are both outstanding in contrasting ways. The former is full, rich and quite forward, the 1986 is more closed and more tannic. Both deserve attention. Give the 1986 a few extra years. The 1982 is rather powerful, blackcurranty and ripe tasting. The lesser rated 1983 vintage may even be better and will keep extraordinarily well.
M. Mialhe's sister, Mai de Lencquesaing, owns the magnificent Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande while cousin Jean Mialhe runs Châteaux Coufran, Verdignan and Soudars. Though they are not in Margaux we take here the other three Châteaux owned by the Mialhe family."
Next instalment: Haut-Médoc and Haut-Médoc wines...
Reproduced with the kind permission of Bruce Arnold.