100 Most Iconic Wine Estates:
Bordeaux

Château Leoville-Las Cases Saint Julien
Classified as a Second Growth in the 1855 Classification , Las Cases would certainly graduate to First Growth status if a re-classification ever took place, such is the exceptional quality of the wines made here. Always in the top handful of Châteaux in the Left Bank and more often than not the apogee of the St-Julien commune, the sheer bravado and dark fruit flavours in this wine are a wonder to behold.
Some of the finest wines I have ever tasted have come from Leoville-Las Cases, and this is down to the superb vineyards, incredible discipline shown by the winemaker and the steely determination of owner Jean Hubert Delon.
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The style is opulent, powerful and often tannic and unyielding in its youth, blossoming after 15 years or so into wines that are monumental masterpieces.
Château Lafite Rothchild Pauillac
Lafite is the least opulent and most introverted of the First Growths in its youth. It is a wine that appeals to purists and vinous academics thanks to its compelling, erudite flavours and control on the palate. There is nothing overt or hedonistic about Lafite; preferring to infiltrate your sense by stealth and guile rather than by force. You are immediately calmed with Lafite in your glass and it is the grandeur and restraint which makes this eminent red wine so irresistible.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grape shows its elegance and persistence at Lafite more so than at any other Château. It is this character, coupled with its exceptional ageing characteristics, which has, no doubt, endeared it to the hearts of the world’s most discerning collectors.
Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac
Well many of the greatest properties in Bordeaux are owned by multinational companies and it is difficult to feel connected to all passionate about the wines all the entities that run them, Pontet-Canet is the diametric opposite. The incredible property is owned by the thoroughly engaging, sage like Alfred Tesseron. You may be surprised to hear that a classed growth Châteaux in Bordeaux can draw fruit from any plot of land that they own in their commune (in this case Pauillac). By contract, Pontet-Canet’s vines are all visible from the vat room, which doubles as their tasting room.
This introduces another fascinating fact about this property. Two decades ago Alfred Tesseron decided to adopt a strict organic and biodynamic regime at the Châuteau – farming using natural treatments administered in harmony with the phases of the moon. Very few people have adopted these labour-intensive and costly methods of farming in Bordeaux – which is surprising in one of the largest wine regions in the world. Why has no one else taken the plunge? Perhaps the dramatic, initial drop in yields which come about when you start this new life for the vineyard is one reason. After all, man-made fertilisers and insecticides are designed to promote vine vigour and production, not reduce it.
Chemical viticultural tends to stifle a degree of complexity in wines and they often seem to lack a certain ‘je ne said quoi’ compared to wine is made from organically grown grapes. Bordeaux is all about money and yet Alfred acknowledged that he would drastically reduce his production and income while the transitional ‘shocks’ to the vines took place.
Considering the increased price of his recent releases, he ought to have more than made up for the initial low volumes of his crops by now. Also the vines ‘recover’, never returning to where they were before, but certainly to healthy levels of top-class fruit. Having said this, it is still a massive gamble which is all based on the vine itself taking the responsibility for its own balance with the sun, moon, earth and air; all aided gently by the loving viticulturists and those non-impactful gentle horse hooves.
The Pontet-Canet’s deep, intense multi-faceted flavours have been augmented beyond belief since the 2004 vintage -when critics noted the impact of the changes of this wholly responsible and admirable regime. With an overhauled winery and stunning barrel-room, this Château has rapidly earned super-star status. The 2005, 2009 and the 2010 vintages of this wine are phenomenal and the difficult 2011 vintage proved Tesseron’s belief that a biodynamic vineyard, at total harmony with its terroir surroundings, can cope with unexpected climatic difficulties, and still yield stunning raw materials. 2011 Pontet-Canet is even more profound than the sublime 2008 vintage; something that speaks volumes for this estate.
Today, Pontet-Canet is run by Alfred Tesseron, with his niece Melanie. Spectacularly situated, just south of the First Growth Château Mouton Rothschild, Pontet-Canet is on a majestic tract of land. In the 81ha of vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon is king and augmented with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and a touch of Petit Verdot. The wines are sheer heaven with an inky black colour, hedonistic nose and ethereal, intense, immensely long finish.
Château Latour Pauillac
In April 2012, just after the annual, barrel-sample preview tastings of all of last season’s wines, Château Latour issued a missive saying that from this year onwards it would not sell its wines as part of the time-honoured ‘en primeur’ system and that it would release the wines when they were ready to drink. Frédéric Engerer, the dynamic ‘président’ of arguably the most important Château in the region, must have taken the utmost pleasure in turning the most important region, the brokers who sell it, the courtiers (agents) who place the stock, and the customers who fight to buy it, all on their heads. Latour is a very wealthy property owned by a very wealthy man, the self-made billionaire and industrialist François Pinault, who also owns Yves St. Laurent, Gucci and Christie’s Auction House. If anyone can afford to sit on some stock and then release it on to the market when they decide (at much more expensive prices, of course, than they would have received in the ‘en primeur’ model) then it is the jewel in the Left Bank of Bordeaux’s crown.
Château Latour is the most famous and revered of Bordeaux’s Premier Crus. The 90ha estate sits just north of Château Pichon-Lalande, overlooking the mighty Gironde Estuary on the southern border of the St. Julien communes. The famous tower on the label is not in fact the Château – which hides in the trees behind it – and it is one of the most famous landmarks in the entire wine world.
The wines are remarkably long lives, often dark, brooding and impenetrable in their youth and are the epitome of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety. Some 10,000 cases of Latour’s Grand Vin are made each year and this wine comes from a collection of plots in the heart of the property known as L’Enclos. Latour created a second wine in 1966, the immensely collectable and expensive Les Forts de Latour. Even the third wine, called Le Paulliac de Château Latour is a beautiful and impressive creation. In addition, Latour always pulls if off with so-called ‘lesser’ vintages, or those with challenging weather conditions. The skill of the winemaker, the endless hours in the vineyards nurturing the vines, the divine setting with its perfect soil and aspect and the ruthlessness of the owner or manager to declassify substandard fruit makes Latour a paragon of perfection.
Dating back to 1331 the name Latour is thought to come from the Tor à Sant-Lambert garrison which was situated here. The original tower, which gave its name to the surrounding estate, was destroyed at the end of the Hundred Years War, but in the 1620s a circular tower, La Tour de Saint-Lambert, was built on the estate and rather than housing its architect or its owner it was actually designed as a pigeon roost. Wine was made on the estate during this time, too, and for nearly 300 years later was passed down through the generations, via a number of in connected families. Interestingly three centuries ago, in 1716, it was part of a portfolio which included Lafite and Montrose, and Calgon-Ségur was added a few years later! Can you imagine this happening today? One of the worlds most famous wine collectors Thomas Jefferson was, in the latter part of the 18th century, minister to France and he noted that ‘La Tour de Ségur’ was ‘a vineyard of first quality’. Latour’s reputation was already very strong by the beginning of the 18th century and was exported to England alongside other soon to be First Growths Lafite and Margaux. This fêted status was bestowed on four Châteaux for the International exhibition, held in Paris in 1855. This moment onwards Latour, Lafite, or Haut-Brion and Margaux secured their positions in history forever. Latour is, however, the mightiest of the bunch and it never fails to leave an indelible mark on our taste memories. In 1963 the estate finally left the Ségur family, after them losing it following the French Revolution and then manoeuvring cleverly to regain their interest afterwards. They sold Château Latour to the British Pearson Group, owners of the Financial Times and of Harvey’s of Bristol among other companies. It was during this period that a massive investment was made in research at Latour and the vineyards are expanded and also replanted where necessary. Latour became one of the first Premier Crus to bring the wine making and production up to 20th century standards. In 1989 Latour was purchased by Allied Lyons, but four years later François Pinault stepped in and re-establish French ownership.
Château Margaux Margaux
Probably the most photographed building in the region, Château Margaux is a stunning ‘castle’ and it makes epic wines. A beacon of excellence and the only First Growth in the commune of Margaux, every wine that I taste from this property resonates around the senses, impressing with its heavenly texture and deliciousness. With more immediately seductive fruit but just as much longevity as all of the other stellar properties in the Left Bank, Margaux is in a different league.
Owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos the professionalism and dedication of the team at Margaux is second to none. They capture the essence of the vintage in the Grand Vin, as well as in the second wine Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux, and the dry white wine Pavillion Blanc du Château Margaux, unusually made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc.
Château Haut-Brion Pessac Leognan
The oldest of the five First Growths in Bordeaux and the only one situated in the outskirts of the town itself; Haut-Brion is the epitome of elegance and distinction and the wines have a character all of their own.
Reserved and stylish, Haut-Brion is not as showy or opulent as many, preferring to open slowly in the glass and enrapture the taster with its complexity and phenomenal length. Haut-Brion makes a superb second wine called Le Clarence de Haut-Brion, after Clarence Dillon, the American banker, who bought the estate in 1935.
Haut-Brion also produces a spectacular and very rare white wine which never fails to gain my top score for a dry white in the region every year.
Haut-Brion also owns Château La Mission Haut-Brion, which makes magnificent red and white wines too.
Château Climens Barsac Sauternes
Jean-Charles le Bault de la Moriniere took over from his father Jean in 1994 after giving up his career as an architect. He has taken this estate a long way in nearly two decades and the wines are finer and more attractive than ever.
He is also edging towards a biodynamic regime in the vineyards which has certainly made a difference to both the Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru and its red brother Corton Grand Cru. The 11ha of vines, all on the Pernand side of the Corton hill, are split up into many different parcels and they are vilified separately before being carefully reassembled to make the finished wine.
Domaine G. Roumier Chambolle Musigny
It’s 30ha property situated at the highest point of the Barsac commune (20m above sea level), some 40 km from the Bordeaux up the Garonne River, is one of the finest sweet wine producing estates in the world. It is here, in a unique microclimate, that the microscopic fungus Botrytis cinerea develops in the vineyards clinging to the skins of the Semillion grapes, giving rise to the venerable-sounding and fortune-making ‘Noble Rot’. Late in the season this rot attacks the bunches on the vines and the mouldy grapes are sucked dry of their water, leaving fuzzy looking bunches behind, with the most heavenly sugar imaginable locked safely inside each grape.
It is worth noting that Noble Rot is not the same as grey rot, which ruins crops and brings with it a mouldy flavour in the resulting wine. In Noble Rot’s case the flavour of the wine is actually enhanced by this relatively unsightly invader and so it is encouraged. Why does this particular part of the world attract this peculiar rot so successfully? The answer lies in a tributary of the Garonne River called the Ciron, which bisects ‘greater’ Sauternes, separating Barsac in the north western corner of the region from other sectors – Bommes, Fargues, Preignac and Sauternes itself. Just north of Preignac, this river slices through the countryside and, by dint of its cool waters, brings the magical mistiness and early-morning moisture which, coupled with autumnal sunshine, Botrytis adores.
When the Noble-Rot affected grapes are crushed, sweet vinous elixirs emanate and after fermentation in oak barrels it makes the finest of all sweet wines. Barsac appellation wines have a distinct flavour which sets apart from their new neighbours. Both sacks have freshness and left on the nose and a pallet that renders them more of cereal and sprightly than some of the more intensely tropical Sauternes. It is for this reason that many wine lovers search up Barsac wines in order to enjoy them not only with puddings, but also with terrines, foie gras and a wide variety of cheeses.
Château Climens is owned by Bérénice Lurton, from the famous Lurton wine dynasty. She took over management of Climens at 22 years of age, in 1992 when her father Lucien announced one day that he was to retire and that his 10 children would have to look after his extraordinary collection of Château. Bérénice has done an incredible job from a very young age and she likes to do things her way; ploughing a single furrow which has elevated her to the ranks of president of the Association des Crus Classés de Sauternes et Barsac. Planted exclusively to Semillon, a rare single varietal estate in the region because Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle are also planted, the 35-year-old vines dwell in the fascinating-sounded ferrous clay sand on fissured starfish limestone subsoil.
Climens is one of the few estates in the region to change to biodynamic viticulture. Berenice took this leap of faith in 2010 and changed farming regimes en masse. Who knows what the future will hold, but it is certain that this will only further refine the offerings from the stellar estate.
Because of the nature of Botrytis, the yields are absolutely tiny in this form of wine production especially at Climens where the picking is obsessively meticulous – only 7 or 8 hectolitres/hectare (around a fifth of that of a red wine). The wine is fermented in oak barrels and the blending of the final wine is as ruthless as possible. In fact in 1984, 1987, 1992 and 1993 no Climens was released at all. In these years, another release called Cyprès de Climens is produced which is a shimmering gem designed for earlier drinking, still engendering the majesty of the estate. Blossiming at around the 15-year mark Climens is a divine pleasure. This is one wine which is not big, bold, mouth-filling and luxuriant; it is however elegant, graceful, ultra-refined, poised and subtle.
Château d’Yquem Sauternes
The greatest of all the time and the most respected and collected of all sweet wines in the world, Châteu d’Yquem is a work of art. In spite of its profound sweetness, it starts of life incredibly quietly with a heavenly nose, but a firm, restrained palette. In time this blossoms, taking between 15 and 30 years to come about, and when it does you will find the experience completely life changing. With 100 ha of vines you might expect a decent sized production, but with a microscopic 9hl/ ha yields it takes one vine to make just one glass of wine. Once tasted never forgotten; d’Yquem is truly liquid gold.
Château Rieussec Sauternes
Owned by the Rothschilds and sitting in the same portfolio the Château Lafite, Rieussec is the polar opposite in flavour and deportment to other Sauternes Château. With a rich, burnt orange colour and a heady aroma of marmalade and lusty wild honey, this is a wine which starts life with a firework of flamboyance and then never lets up on the pace. The ostentatious nose, drama drenched palate and woozy finish our gripping and this beautiful combination of traits is irresistible. In spite of its precocity, Rieussec ages extremely well and as the years tick by the enthusiastic primary fruit flavours fall away and a classy old dame remains.
Château Pétrus Pomerol
Château Pétrus is, without doubt, the most famous wine made from the Merlot variety in the world and it is also one of the most expensive and impossible to find in the fine wine market.
The key to the wine’s success is found in the vineyards. The soil at Petrus, on the top of the Pomerol plateau in the eastern corner of the commune, is predominately clay and the old Merlot vines love these conditions. Judicious viticulture focuses the energies of these vines into making a harvest worth its weight in gold.
Petrus is matured in 100% new oak barrels for two years and it is this full throttle winemaking which complements the velvety smooth Merlot fruit, giving it lustre and phenomenal generosity on the palate. The results are hypnotic and unforgettable. Sadly, only 2500 cases are made each year.
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