Beychevelle & Saint-Pierre : Vertical Tasting

IMG_6708In comparing the major Bordeaux wine appellations, it would be difficult to find more consistency than in Saint-Julien. Perhaps this is due to having over 90% of its vineyards owned by classified growth châteaux, but it is more likely due to the high quality of the producers found here. Located just south of the Pauillac appellation, Saint-Julien is the home to some of the most historic wine producers in Bordeaux, from Léoville Barton to Talbot and Ducru-Beaucaillou. The Saint-Julien châteaux consistently produce some of the best wines in Bordeaux in the stronger vintages, but some of the best wines of the Médoc are typically found here even in lesser vintages. And while there may not be a Latour or Lafite found here, the consistent excellence in Saint-Julien is unparalleled and is found nowhere else in the region.
We recently participated in a dinner that included vertical tastings of two excellent Saint-Julien properties, Château Beychevelle and Château Saint-Pierre. Both the wine styles and history of these properties are quite different, though both can claim significant improvements in their wines over the past decade. Situated at the southern end of Saint-Julien, Beychevelle is a large property that boasts both a classic old château and a new state-of-the-art winery. Classified as a fourth growth in the 1855 Médoc Classification, much of the improvements in their wines can be attributed to more strict selection of grapes to be included in their grand vin. Saint-Pierre is another fourth growth, but is situated on a much smaller property. Like Beychevelle, the wines have shown recent improvements and their facilities upgraded. While there are stylistic differences between the two estates, both wines exhibit a balance of power and elegance that is characteristic of Saint-Julien.
The dinner involved a vertical tasting of most of the important vintages from 2003 to 2010. A 2005 wine of another Saint-Julien producer, Château Branaire-Ducru, also found its way into the tasting. And finally, a number of dry and sweet Bordeaux white wines served as openers and closers to the evening. All in all, the wines showed well, but this tasting confirmed that these wines require a lot of aging. In fact, it could take well over a decade for most of these wines to reach their peak drinking potential. The tasting notes are all below.
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2003 Beychevelle – As the oldest Beychevelle in the tasting, it was not surprising that this was the most generous and enjoyable. Didn’t show any of the heat of the vintage. A very balanced wine. The aromas were fresh black currant, pencil lead, tobacco, violets, earth, and some barnyard seasoning. Soft and silky on the palate, with refined tannins. This is entering a good spot, and while it hasn’t peaked yet, you can definitely open this now. Needs at least an hour of aeration to show its stuff. – 94/100

2005 Beychevelle – Started out very shy and reticent, but the aromas amplified after a couple of hours. The nose showed black currant, green pepper, espresso, herbs, cedar, and dark chocolate. Showing very young right now, as it’s pretty tight and tannic. This is a pretty powerful vintage of Beychevelle. Needs more time to unwind. – 92/100

2007 Beychevelle – Yes, these 2007s are early drinkers, but this was clearly a step below the stronger vintages. The aromatics were fine, and kept things interesting. But this lacked the concentration and depth of the other wines. I would drink this sooner rather than later, as it will eventually dry out as the fruit fades. – 88/100

2009 Beychevelle – One of my favorite wines of the night. With two hours of air, this just blossomed. Very fruit-forward, but has already started to develop its interesting tertiary elements. Packed with concentrated fruit and a serious backbone. It’s amazing how much more open and accessible the 2009 is than the 2010. This is already starting to enter its early drinking window, but this still won’t peak for a very long time. If your preference is for more mature Bordeaux, however, I would still give this ten more years. – 93/100
2010 Beychevelle – Unlike the 2009 Beychevelle, this was very tight and not ready for drinking. It’s clearly not showing much right now. This needs a long time to unwind, and will need well over a decade to enter its prime drinking window. – 93/100
2003 St. Pierre Lighter than the 2003 Beychevelle, with a medium ruby color. The nose was very Burgundian, almost reminiscent of a Gevrey-Chambertin. It was all red cherry, spice, paper, and cigar tobacco. Fruit showed good purity. Had a nice elegant weight on the palate, but lacked some concentration. A straightforward finish with fresh acidity. A low sweetness factor. Very accessible, and likely getting close to its peak, but I’m a bit curious to see where this goes. – 91/100
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2003 St. Pierre – Very dark color. The nose was mostly dark fruits and oaky elements. I liked this, but it just never kicked it into high gear. Needs a lot more time to shed its oak. Should develop nicely, but I would give this at least five years in the cellar. – 92/100
2007 St. Pierre – Similar to the 2007 Beychevelle, this wasn’t as deep and complex as the stronger vintages at the tasting. It’s enjoyable nonetheless, but this is an early drinker. These should probably be opened within the next decade. – 89/100
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2009 St. Pierre Like the 2009 Beychevelle, this was also surprisingly very accessible. Dark fruits, vanilla, spice, and cigar tobacco on the nose. Deep concentration and very layered. Fruit-forward and sweet on the palate. Nicely structured with soft, round tannins. Needs more time to enter its prime drinking window (though it is accessible now), but this was an impressive wine. – 94/100
2010 St. Pierre – This is nowhere near ready for business. It has the stuffing to blossom into a really nice wine. Good complexity overall. The aromas are very dark and layered, with black currant, blackberry, cigar box, dark chocolate, spice, and vanilla. Tough and tannic on the palate. – 94/100
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IMG_66952005 Branaire-Ducru – A really nice showing for a consistent wine. This is always so approachable. The fruit is a very pure black currant and blackberry. The others aromas were very classic left bank, with pencil lead, cedar, and tobacco. A focused wine. Very fresh and finessed on the palate. Really nice balance. Excellent length on the finish with no heat and beautifully balanced acidity. – 94/100
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Château Palmer Vertical Tasting (14 vintages) from 1966 to 2012

11-12-2015 Château Palmer vertical tasting at Stripsteak restaurant, Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami Beach

Chateau_Palmer_bottlesChâteau Palmer vertical with 14 vintages and 2 from Alter Ego. Michael Mina restaurant. That’s all I needed to know to attend this once-in-a-lifetime tasting event. It was hosted by Wine Watch in Ft. Lauderdale. Now, Château Palmer is one of our favorite wines, and I honestly can’t remember ever tasting a bad Palmer. In fact, most of them have been excellent. Jean-Louis Carbonnier, the Palmer representative, was in attendance and provided educational background of the wines. On this night, there were really no bad wines. And while some do not like this format of tasting so many wines at once, it really helps to understand a château’s wines by tasting them through the decades. On this night, the 1966 and 1990 Palmers shined above the rest. And while much was learned by tasting 14 vintages, it was also so interesting to taste the 1966 and 1975 again, having recently tasted these. It was surprising to see how different these wines were from the previously tasted bottles. One has to wonder how much bottle variation existed decades ago. This was likely due to how the wines were blended and aged; these days, all of the wine is blended together in one large batch prior to bottling, which serves to eliminate most bottle variation. All in all, this was a fantastic tasting, and I can safely say that I will likely never taste so many vintages of Palmer in one evening again.


Palmer_Alter_Ego2012 Alter Ego. Inky purple color. Plum, blackberry, and blueberry. Medium body. A bit more tannic than the Palmer ’12. While some say this is an earlier drinking wine, I wouldn’t touch this for several years. 91

2009 Alter Ego. Lots of dark fruits, smoke, and tobacco. Velvety texture. Tannic grip similar to the ’12 Alter Ego. A little drying on the finish. 90


Palmer_2012_20102012 Château Palmer. Deep ruby/purple color. An interesting, expressive nose of dark and red fruits, violets, and rich chocolate. Does have some grip, but is surprisingly not overly tannic. Medium acidity on the finish. 92

2010 Château Palmer. More floral than the 2012, and more concentration overall. Notable oak influence. Though subdued, a layered nose, with lots of ripe fruits and some truffle and earth. Full-bodied and a wonderful mouthfeel. Grippy. A long finish. Not a stunner yet, but has the makeup. 94


Palmer_2000_20052005 Château Palmer. Has lost its purple hue, with edges starting to show some lightening. Nice complex aromatics, with profile similar to the ’10. Fantastic on the palate. Excellent concentration and balance. Silky tannins. One of the favorites of the night. 96

2000 Château Palmer. A bit less powerful than the ’05 and ’10, exuding more elegance. A darker nose, with dark fruits, tobacco, cigar, and sous bois. Elegant reservation on the palate. Very fresh finish, with good length. I may ultimately prefer this style to the ’05. 94


Palmer_1990s1996 Château Palmer. Medium ruby color. Starting to show some signs of age. Red fruits, brown spice, tobacco. Can’t fault the balance and concentration. Not one of the best ’96 from the Left Bank, but a solid performer. Likable and charming. 93

1995 Château Palmer. More Merlot in the ’95 than the ’96, but more tannic on this evening. Similar aromatics to the ‘96, but more in your face. A bit more spiciness as well. Full-bodied and weighty. Still some formidable tannins. Probably not yet at peak. 94

1990 Château Palmer. Just a beautiful nose, with sweet red fruits, mint, leather, and flowers. Pure elegance, a lovely mouthfeel. Ultra-long finish that leaves you wanting more. One of the best Palmers I have tried. 98


Palmer_19881988 Château Palmer. More tannic than the ’90. Some described it as strange. Had a unique nose, with some dried fruits, tobacco, mushroom, and green peppers. A finish with formidable tannins and a hint of bitterness. Still had some aged Bordeaux charm. 92

1986 Château Palmer. Layers on the nose, with nice fruit, musk, and spice. Silky mouthfeel. Quite structured and tannic, but nicely balanced. A great finish that is its best attribute, very fresh. Would give this a few more years, but seemingly lots of potential. 95


Palmer_19831983 Château Palmer. Another fantastic nose, with lots of black cherry, cassis, and violets. Lots of complexity on the nose and palate. Not as memorable as a few others, but a very, very good wine. Another great finish. I should note that some at the tasting felt that this ’83 seemed different from recently tasted bottles. 96

1978 Château Palmer. Showing very well. Perhaps the surprise of the night. Not as much depth as some of the younger wines, but still had excellent balance and concentration. Lots of cherry and tobacco. Great finish, with lots of length. 95

1975 Château Palmer. Tried this one week ago, and this bottle was quite different. Much more tannic than the ’78 and ’83 (and the ’75 from one week ago). Some funkiness to the nose, with truffle, tobacco, and red fruits. Amazing how different two bottles can be from the same vintage. 93


Palmer_1970_19661970 Château Palmer. Lots of leather, old library book, and cherry. A little shy and laid-back on the palate. Still with solid structure. Notable acidity on the finish. 93

1966 Château Palmer. Easily the WOTN, edging out the ’90. A pure beauty. Had the most earthy notes of the tasting. Cherry, fig, leather, mushroom, and sous-bois. Near perfect balance. Silky mouthfeel, reminiscent of the ’90. A long, long finish, with balanced acidity. Perhaps the best Palmer I have ever tasted, and significantly better than the ’66 I tasted from two weeks ago. 98

Palmer_group                Tasting hosted by Jean-Louis Carbonnier from Château PalmerPalmer_corks

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