Chateau Palmer Tasting

One thing I have learned in my short time here in China. . . the Chinese love French wine. . . particularly Bordeaux. I can find obscene amounts of Bordeaux here in any wine store or local grocery store. That love of Bordeaux led me to a unique tasting last Saturday at Enoteca, a local wine venue. Chateau Palmer was on the menu and, as it is also an iconic producer from the left bank, I jumped at the chance to taste.

A quick review. . .

Red Bordeaux wines are generally blends of six varietals (although a very few produce single varietals). The AOC only permits Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Malbec, and Petit Verdot in the blends. Use of other varietals are known as Vin de Table or “table wines” — not true Bordeaux.

The Bordeaux region is situated on the Gironde estuary and its tributaries, the Garonne River, and the Dordogne River. This wonderful “irrigation system” helps the wineries of Bordeaux produce world reknowned wines. Wineries from the left side of the Gironde, or the “left bank,” are known for producing wines blended with a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wineries on the right side of the Gironde, or the “right bank,” tend to be blended with more Merlot.

Chateau Palmer. . .

Chateau Palmer is situated on the left bank. It is located in the Margeaux Appellation in Bordeaux. Chateau Palmer dates back to 1748 and was originally part of the ancient estate Chateau d’lssan.

The vineyard is about 52 hectares in size and is composed of equal amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as some Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

Chateau Palmer is considered one of the two most popular Third Growth wines in Bordeaux.


The Tasting. . .

Last Saturday, this wonderful and historical Chateau offered six different bottles for tasting at a local wine store in Shanghai. Enoteca served as the host to about 40 wine enthusiasts. The wines offered were the 1995, 2004, 2007 and 2008 Chateau Palmer; the 2006 and 2008 Alter Ego de Palmer; and the “Historical Blend” Lot 20.07 (a sly way to put a vintage on this “non-vintage” wine).

Chateau Palmer, while a left bank Bordeaux, generally features Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon as its main varietal. In fact, in only one of the bottles tasted, the 2006 Alter Ego, was Cabernet Sauvignon the predominant varietal.

Our host for the evening from Chateau Palmer, Bernard de Laage de Meux, explained that many Bordeaux winemakers are moving toward a more even blend of Merlot and Cab as a way to produce a more “smooth-velvety” blend for the consumer. In the case of the wines we tasted, there definitely was a wonderful velvety overtone in all the wines.

The ‘Alter Ego’ from the Chateau is a second label that has been produced since 1998. The Alter Ego uses the same grapes as Chateau Palmers but are made with different techniques and different percentages of varietals to produce earlier drinking wines. The Alter Ego label now accounts for 40% of Chateau Palmer’s production.

All of the Alter Ego and Chateau Palmers were what you might expect. . . rich, elegant and velvety— with the exception of the 1995 Chateau Palmer and the Historical Blend.

The ’95 Palmer was devine. Not as deep in color as its younger predecessors, it has a brown tinge around its ruby coloring in the glass. The nose is dusty and musty with red berries coming through. The palate is old world all the way, full of raisins, red fruit, dirt and a hint of chocolate.

The “Historical Blend” is Chateau Palmer’s little experiment. The Chateau believes that there may be a way to make a more “interesting” wine from the region by using a varietal from another part of France. The Historical Blend is Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, from “difficult” vintages, blended with Syrah from the northern Cotes du Rhone. Because of the use of a varietal outside those allowed by the Bordeaux AOC, this is considered a vin de table (table wine). It is not what most Americans would consider a normal “table wine” though, in that it has the wonderful characteristics of a Bordeaux with the added spice of Syrah on the back end. (The blend is 88% Merlot and Cab and 12% Syrah). The finished product is an outstanding array of flavors for the palate that I truly enjoyed.

China has been a bit of a challenge for my wine world. Except, of course, for the availability of Bordeaux. This local love of the region led to this unique opportunity for me to taste the wines of Chateau Palmer. I hope these unique opportunities keep coming my way while I am here!