1998 Château Palmer Margaux Bordeaux
Drinking Classified Bordeaux is always a treat. Drinking a bottle that’s over 20 years old? Now that’s something special. Imagine my surprise when this wine was poured for me as a “pairing” on The Alinea Gallery Menu! I was instantly blown away by the youthfulness of the palate. In retrospect, 20 years YOUNG is a better way to describe this bottle. The course served was Rossini of Wagyu, Frites, Foie Gras, Wood-ear and Truffle. – A textbook and delicious pairing most certainly brought together by a chef who cares deeply for the innovation of classics and a sommelier who pounded through hundreds of options to find the perfect match. Inspiring for sure.
So, a bit about Château Palmer. The winery sits in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux’s Left Bank and is one of fourteen Third Growths, however, Palmer is undoubtedly one of the better-known names. As with many estates in Bordeaux, the story behind Palmer’s rich history includes multiple family names, heirs, and a dab of casual royalty. The most recent part of Château Palmer’s story dates to 1814, when the property was sold to an England native, Major General Charles Palmer. Like most Englishmen, Palmer had an affinity for good Bordeaux and quickly expanded the property upon acquiring it. By 1831, more than 160 hectares sat under the Palmer name. However, things began to plummet just a decade later, and inconveniently, right before the 1855 classification, Palmer was forced to sell his property to Francoise-Marie Bergerac-- for a serious financial loss, nonetheless. The estate then bounced over to an agricultural corporation, ultimately falling into the hands of Isaac and Emile Péreire, otherwise known as the arch nemesis to the renowned Rothschild family. What started with a great few years quickly followed with some years of difficulty. To the brothers’ chagrin, powdery mildew contaminated the property just five years later, forcing them to replant a serious chunk of vines. And it didn’t stop there. World War I and the Great Depression followed, forcing the brothers to sell the estate off piece by piece. The duo couldn’t catch a break.
Shortly after, four local families formed the Société Civile de Château Palmer and sold the wines under a neighboring Château that was also purchased by the same group. At the turn of the millennium, 2004 to be exact, Thomas Duroux took the reins at the estate, and let’s just say he was beyond well-prepared. Before running the show at Palmer, Duroux was previously a winemaker at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. The guy clearly knows what he’s doing. Today, Palmer is comprised of 55 hectares of vines. 94% of plantings are dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (exactly 47% of each), with the remaining 6% planted to Petit Verdot.
1998 was an extremely important year over at Palmer. In addition to the standard Palmer cuvée, the estate began vinifying a second wine, known as Alter Ego de Palmer. While the latter wine is produced with the intention of earlier consumption, Palmer’s Grand Vin is what continues to captivate my and many other Bordeaux aficionado’s attention. The wine is a blend of all three grape varieties planted at the estate. 1998 was a hot, dry, and rather ripe vintage that gave way to tannic, textured wines that, like most grand vins from Bordeaux, need some time. Fermentation took place in cone-shaped steel vats, followed by 18-20 months of aging in French oak. Drinking now, the wine shows flavors of fleshy black fruit, pencil shavings, sage, and wet earth. Although beautiful, I would potentially continue to wait a few more years to see the true magic unfold.
Another interesting turn of events over at Palmer is their conversion to biodynamic viticulture. Of course, they weren’t doing this 20 years ago, but as of 2017, all vineyards are 100% farmed with these principles. The estate is also experimenting with other technological advances, including the use of infrared cameras to detect the ideal moment to pick. In addition to their open-mindedness to move with the times, it’s the estate’s consistent production of world-class, age worthy bottles that keeps us all coming back for more.