Home of the most powerful and prestigious Chateau in the world - Ch Latour, Ch Lafite Rothschild & Ch Mouton Rothschild. Three of the five first growth properties are in Pauillac and that speaks volumes for the quality of the terroir here. These wines are so highly prized they are traded on wine stock exchanges for incredible amounts of money. Top vintages have a very long shelf life (40-50 years!) and can easily reach £1000 per bottle after only a few years of ageing. The highly prized Latour 2005 has already risen in value to over £10,000 per case! It then tracked back again in value in late 2008. Regardless of the sensibility of this what does wine of this value actually taste like? Well the Pauillac trademarks are power, richness & finesse. The gravelly coarse ground, rich subsoil and closeness to the Gironde Estuary tends the (mostly) Cabernet Sauvignon grapes into ultra rich juice that can be fashioned into inky black brooding 'God Of War' wine. This sublime tannic creature will then soften and gain huge complexity in a dark cold cellar - the result often being pure perfection. It can take quite a few years to get there but Pauillac wines have proven they are worth it in many ways. The Chateau adjacent to the first growths can also command high prices, being so close to the top terroir. There are also about 100 growers in total with some producing nice wines for the smaller pocket! The fact is there are 18 Classed growth properties and 16 Cru Bourgeois, which makes Pauillac considered by many as the top Left Bank AC. Certainly my favourite (though sometimes I edge towards the fragrant Margauxs) Pauillac wines must be experienced!
The first, rather bizarre, fact I learned about Chateau Latour wasn't on the lines of it's 'one of the finest wines known to humanity' (which it is), but that it was the musician Leonard Cohen's favorite tipple! Humanity had obviously forgotten to tell me as I'd never heard of it! However, being in the music industry, and greatly respecting LC's laconic songwriting, I rather fickly thought this sounded cool and did some research! I soon found out that LC had an unsavoury 3 bottle a day habit and I couldn't afford even a half! When I eventually got to taste is it was a totally sublime experience but one I taught myself not to fall too hard for. I have since owned and sold quantities but I still don't drink it at home. There is something very special about Latour though. I tend to just prefer it over Lafite though perhaps Lafite is (currently) a stronger 'investment' wine. Latour is a touch more robust but still incredibly fine. It's not a beautiful property (see right) but I like that about it. It's about the exceptional terroir and what they do with it! Latour has been known for excellence since the 1700's, but they can't simply rest on this reputation. They constantly need to improve quality which means investing state of the art aging cellars, ('chai') talented management, (Frederic Engerer) the latest single berry sorting machines, instant, innovative reactions to good and bad weather conditions etc. Armies of informed professionals and consumers judge the annual vintage and any below par performances are uncovered immediately! That doesn't really happen at estates like Latour these days. They have enough resources at their disposal to make excellent wine, even in poor vintages...they obviously can't fashion the weather though! Having said that, I've known some rich producers fly their helicopters over their vines to give them a necessary blow dry! Whatever it takes really...!
A great example of a mid range (£20-£50) Pauillac which benefits from top drawer terroir is Chateau Clerc Milon. This is under the same ownership as First Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild and the vines snuggle up next door to each other. It's a Fifth Growth but I think that's a bit mean. It's generally better than a lot of Third Growths but that wasn't the case until Baron Philppe de Rothschild bought it in 1970 and did some serious replanting. Chateau Lafite Rothschild also has a neighbour that it purchased and seriously improved the quality of the wines. This is Chateau Duhart Milon, a delicious wine to seek out and try. Lafite has certainly left it's mark here...look at the labels for a start...
Duhart Milon provides a touch of Lafite for £25-£50 depending on vintage and when purchased. It's becoming a bit of an investment wine too, due to it's association with the great name. This is especially so in Asia where Lafite is the strongest brand right across the region. Duhart has the typical Pauillac finesse with plenty of aromas of black fruits and spices. Like any fine wine, after showing plenty of fruit in the first 3 years, it can 'shut down' for a few years after. I'd advise cellaring the bulk of a case for 10 years, dipping in occasionally to gauge the development.
Another delightful Pauillac is Chateau Pontet Canet. Also bordering Mouton Rothschild, is has continued to gain recognition by producing exceptional wines year after year. If you drive past the Chateau you might be surprised to see a horse and cart slowly plodding it's way around the vineyard! This is not a gimmick- Monsieur Tesseron is seriously into biodynimics and reducing his carbon footprint. Generally he avoids all the tampering that other Chateau do to the vines. Everything is highly organic. Though this must get a bit scary at times, the team have made it work for them. The wine is first class! However they do allow themselves the right to treat vines as other Chateau do, should it be a case of losing the crop. They therefore slip in and out of biodynamic status...some years the weather is just too unforgiving to work with. I have been buying, selling and drinking Pontet Canet for a while now and though I love it to bits, it is slipping over the £50 mark now. Best to buy early really...again it will need cellaring for sometime. Pauillac's do especially.
If you are looking for other fantastic Pauillac's I would look to Chateau Batailley Plummy, broad Claret @ £20-£30 Chateau Haut Bages Liberal Rich blackcurranty, smoky in the same price range Chateau Haut Batailley A Pauillac with a hint of St Julien @ £20 Grand Puy Lacoste Absoultely incredible in good vintages @ £25-£35 Chateau Lynch Bages Excellent, collectable but expensive @ £60+ Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (phew!) Second Growth, highly collectable @ £500-£1500 per 12 depending on vintage Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron Next door & also a highly sought after Second Growth. I always seem to sell these last two before they mature!
A notch down from these- Pauillac for £10-£20 if bought from reasonable merchants - I would recommend Chateau Pedesclaux. The 2005 famously trumped some very high end wines, including First Growths in a blind tasting a few years ago. Much controversy ensewed! Finally, a kind word for Chateau Lynch Moussas. This is next door to Ch Lynch Bages and generally considered to be a rather lowly neighbour! Critics such as Robert Parker never seem to score it highly and the wines are therefore overlooked by many consumers. I often see this wine in French supermarkets when they have their 'Foire Aux Vins' in September. It was there I picked up one and was hugely impressed. It's great!!! Firm but rich, reasonably complex Claret that would pass my lips and be classed as a fine wine...lets just keep it to ourselves eh?