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Bordeaux - Top Producers of the Left Bank

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Cellar designed by Ricardo Bofill at Château Lafite-Rothschild © Provided by DKBooks Cellar designed by Ricardo Bofill at Château Lafite-Rothschild

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Photo: Baron Philippe © Provided by DKBooks Baron Philippe

Château d’Yquem

Photo: Château La Mission Haut-Brion © Provided by DKBooks Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Baron Philippe

© Provided by DKBooks

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Photo: Harvesting in the vineyard of Château Suduiraut with Château d’Yquem in the distance © Provided by DKBooks Harvesting in the vineyard of Château Suduiraut with Château d’Yquem in the distance

Château Palmer

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou

Harvesting in the vineyard of Château Suduiraut with Château d’Yquem in the distance

Cellar designed by Ricardo Bofill at Château Lafite-Rothschild

Top Producers of the Left Bank

Château Cos d’Estournel - St-Estèphe

location: St-Estèphe
telephone number: 05 56 73 15 50
website: www.cosestournel.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

Cos d’estournel was founded in 1811 by Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, and it was his fascination with Asia that led to the construction of the eye-catching pagoda-like cellars that are still in use today. One of two second growths in St-Estèphe, Cos makes a distinctively rich, dense, and finely textured grand vin, with an uncharacteristically high percentage of Merlot in the blend, which adds extra body. The noteworthy second wine, Les Pagodes de Cos, was introduced in 1994. The property is currently owned by a French businessman and managed by Jean-Guillaume Prats—whose family were previous owners.


Château Montrose - St-Estèphe

location: St-Estèphe
telephone number: 05 56 59 30 12
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

Owned by the Charmolüe family since 1896, St-Estèphe’s other second growth has a profile similar to that of Château Latour in Pauillac. Montrose’s deep, gravelly vineyard lies in close proximity to the Gironde Estuary with a southeast exposure, and the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wines are firm, steely, and made for long aging. In recent vintages, a heightened level of maturity in the wine has helped to soften the sometimes tough exterior.


Château Lafite-Rothschild - Pauillac

location: Pauillac
telephone number: 05 56 73 18 18
website: www.lafite.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

The history of Château Lafite can be traced back to the 14th century. Its name stems from the Gascon term la hite (meaning “the hillock”) and indeed, the 100-ha vineyard is planted on a gravelly knoll facing the Gironde Estuary. The estate was ranked first of the first growths in 1855, and Lafite’s wines have always been noted for their elegance and capacity for aging. Thanks to changes in the selection and in the winemaking processes, vintages since 1995 have been sublime, with added weight, volume, and texture. The estate has been owned by the Rothschild family since 1868. Its second label is called Carruades de Lafite, a wine that has also much improved since 1995.


Château Latour - Pauillac

location: Pauillac
telephone number: 05 56 73 19 80
website: www.chateau-latour.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

Château latour has the classic profile of a Pauillac. Produced mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon grown on deep gravel soils, the wine has a subdued power, cool, steely frame, and scents of black currant and cedar. The heart of the estate is the Enclos vineyard, which surrounds the château and recently renovated cellars (2002); this is the mainstay of the wine, while other parcels of land are used for the excellent second label wine, Les Forts de Latour. Following 30 years of British ownership, Château Latour was purchased by French businessman François Pinault in 1993.


Château Lynch-Bages - Pauillac

location: Pauillac
telephone number: 05 56 73 24 00
website: www.lynchbages.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1990

Château Lynch-Bages has the most distinctive of wine styles. Dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, opulence and exuberance distinguish the wine here from other more steely and reserved Pauillacs. Its popularity is evident: Lynch-Bages has for a number of years sold well above the price of its fifth-growth status. Located on the Bages plateau, the estate was at one time owned by the Lynch family from Galway, Ireland, but is now in the hands of the Cazes. A tiny amount of white wine, Blanc de Lynch-Bages, is also made, from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. Something of a rarity for the Médoc, it is similar in style to white Graves.


Château Mouton-Rothschild - Pauillac

location: Pauillac
telephone number: 05 56 73 21 29
website: www.bphr.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

Originally known as Château Brane-Mouton, the name was changed in 1853 when Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild bought the property. Classified as a second growth in 1855, Château Mouton-Rothschild was upgraded to first-growth status in 1973. This was largely due to the persistence of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who took over in 1922. Among other things, he initiated the idea of artist-designed labels . Since 1945, every vintage has had a label created by one of a host of illustrious names including Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Andy Warhol. Mouton is a rich, dense, and opulent wine, and there is also a second label, Le Petit Mouton, and a small amount of white, called L’Aile d’Argent.


Mouton-Rothschild wine labels

In 1945, Baron Philippe de Rothschild celebrated the end of World War II by commissioning an illustrated label for Château Mouton-Rothschild. It was the beginning of a tradition. For each vintage since the war, the estate has called on a contemporary artist to create an original work for the new wine. Two exceptions are 1953, celebrating the estate’s centennial, and 1977, in honor of a visit from Great Britain’s Queen Mother.


Famous contributors

Illustrations by many celebrated artists have graced the labels of Mouton-Rothschild. Each contributor was asked to interpret the themes of the vine, the joy of drinking, and the symbol of the estate – the Augsburg Ram, a 16th-century drinking vessel in the Rothschild estate museum. Each artist received cases of the estate’s wine as payment for their work. The artists include:

1955 Georges Braque

1957 André Masson

1958 Salvador Dali

1964 Henry Moore

1969 Joan Miró

1970 Marc Chagall

1972 Serge Poliakoff

1971 Wassily Kandinsky

1973 Pablo Picasso

1974 Robert Motherwell

1975 Andy Warhol

1980 Hans Hartung

1990 Francis Bacon


Château Pichon-Longueville - Pauillac

location: Pauillac
telephone number: 05 56 73 17 17
website: www.pichonlongueville.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1990

In 1850, Baron Joseph de Pichon-Longueville divided the family property equally between his five children. Second-growth Château Pichon-Longueville (Baron) was the part inherited by his two sons. Its Cabernet Sauvignon–dominated wine is more classically powerful than the wine from the other division across the road. The estate has been owned since 1987 by insurance company AXA-Millésimes, which restored the château and built a modern winery designed by two international architects.


Château labels

Each of Bordeaux’s châteaux has a main wine, or grand vin, which is identified simply by the name of the château. The names of second-label wines are usually also derived from the names of their estates. Some estates additionally have third labels.


Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - Pauillac

location: Pauillac
telephone number: 05 56 59 19 40
website: www.pichon-lalande.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

This property is made up of the three-fifths of the original Pichon-Longueville estate belonging to Baron de Pichon-Longueville’s daughters. All three parts were managed by one daughter, Virginie, so they came to be known by her married name, Comtesse de Lalande. Another indomitable lady, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, has owned and administered the estate since 1978, maintaining its status as a top second growth. The wine, with a slightly higher percentage of Merlot in the blend than is normal in Pauillac, is round and suave, and seductive from an early age.


Château Ducru-Beaucaillou - St-Julien

location: St-Julien Beychevelle
telephone number: 05 56 73 16 73
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995

This 19th-century château, with its long central building and twin square towers, is prominently positioned close to the Gironde Estuary at the southern end of St-Julien. Set discreetly behind it is a new, high-tech barrel cellar built in 1999. The pebbles of quartz, flint, and other rocks, or beaux cailloux, which gave the château its “Beaucaillou” name, are visible in the vineyard. Wood contamination in the old barrel cellars caused some irregularity with vintages in the late 1980s, but the estate is now back in top form. The wines of this second growth château are ripe and elegant, but need at least 10 years to fully develop.


Château Gruaud-Larose - St-Julien

location: St-Julien Beychevelle
telephone number: 05 56 73 15 20
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1990

Château Gruaud-Larose overlooks a tiny stream to the south of the appellation St-Julien. The well-exposed vineyard is located in one single plot on deep gravel soils with a high percentage of clay. This partly accounts for the rich, full nature of the wine. The estate has changed hands several times in the last 20 years, but between 1993 and 1997 it benefited from a massive program of investment under owner Alcatel-Alstom, the industrial conglomerate. The Merlaut family is the present owner of this second growth estate.


Château Léoville-Barton - St-Julien

location: St-Julien Beychevelle
telephone number: 05 56 59 06 05
website: www.leovillebarton.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

Having purchased Château Léoville-Barton in 1826, the originally Irish Barton family has the longest-standing ownership of a classified estate in the Médoc. The present guardian, Anthony Barton, has been managing this second growth property since 1982 and has confirmed it as one of the most consistent in the Médoc. Traditionally made in wooden vats, the wine is classically long-lived with balance and reserve. Winemaking facilities are shared with third growth Château Langoa-Barton, which is also owned by the Barton family.


Château Léoville Las Cases - St-Julien

location: St-Julien Beychevelle
telephone number: 05 56 73 25 26
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

Although situated in St-Julien, the heart of the Léoville Las Cases vineyard—the Grand Enclos—lies adjacent to Château Latour, and not surprisingly the wine has more than a hint of Pauillac steel. A draconian system of selection sees only 40 percent of the production destined for the grand vin, the rest going to the very good second label, Clos du Marquis, or sold in bulk to négociants. Although classified as a second growth, Las Cases now merits comparison with the first growths.


Château - Margaux - Margaux

location: Margaux
telephone number: 05 57 88 83 83
website: www.chateau-margaux.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1990

This first-growth château, with its imposing colonnaded residence, has rarely put a foot wrong since its purchase by the Mentzelopoulos family in 1978. The estate has a total of 90 ha under production, and the wine, a mainly Cabernet Sauvignon blend with an often rather interesting “seasoning” of Petit Verdot, combines natural power with elegance. The excellent second label wine is called Pavillon Rouge, and there is also a top-quality white, Pavillon Blanc, which is made solely from Sauvignon Blanc and designated, as the appellation rules demand, as a generic bordeaux.


Château Palmer - Margaux

location: Cantenac
telephone number: 05 57 88 72 72
website: www.chateau-palmer.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1990

This estate was established in the 19th century by Major-General Charles Palmer, an English officer in Wellington’s army. It is now owned by a consortium of Dutch, English, and French families. For many years Palmer’s reputation has exceeded its third-growth ranking, and in the 1960s and 70s the wines were superior even to Château Margaux. A healthy percentage of Merlot contributes to Château Palmer’s legendary velvety texture, while recent investment (1995) in new winemaking facilities has helped to maintain quality. The second wine, Alter Ego de Palmer, is also excellent.


Château Rauzan-Ségla - Margaux

location: Margaux
telephone number: 05 57 88 82 10
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995

Deemed the appellation’s second wine after Château Margaux in the 1855 ranking, Château Rauzan-Ségla had a checkered reputation in the late 1900s. Fine vintages were produced in 1983, 1986, and 1988, but it is only since the property was bought by the Wertheimer family, owners of Chanel, in 1994 that the estate has regained its former glory and consistency. A massive program of investment has transformed this second-growth property, and the wine now expresses true distinction and elegance.


Château Haut-Brion - Pessac-Léognan

location: Pessac Cedex
telephone number: 05 56 00 29 30
website: www.haut-brion.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1990

Owned by the American Dillon family since 1935, Château Haut-Brion was first established in the 16th century. It was the only estate outside the Médoc to be classified as a first growth in 1855. The 45-ha vineyard is now surrounded by Bordeaux’s urban sprawl, and grapes grown here are some of the earliest in the region to ripen, bringing a reliable maturity. This and a generous helping of Merlot in the blend make Haut-Brion less austere than its Médoc peers. A tiny quantity of lush, rich, dry white is also produced.


Château La Mission Haut-Brion - Pessac-Léognan

location: Pessac Cedex
telephone number: 05 56 00 29 30
website: www.haut-brion.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

Château la mission Haut-Brion was acquired by the Dillon family in 1993 and is now part of the same stable as neighboring Château Haut-Brion. Despite sharing the same winemaking team and using similar technical facilities, each wine maintains a distinctive style. While Haut-Brion is fine and elegant with a certain subtlety, La Mission is rich and fleshy with a powerful, open character. Haut-Brion is usually the superior wine.


Perfect case: Left Bank second labels

Château Pape Clément - Pessac-Léognan

location: 216 ave du Docteur Nancel Pénard, Pessac
telephone number: 05 57 26 38 38
website: www.pape-clement.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1990

Pape Clément’s history can be traced back to the 14th century, but its modern renaissance began in 1985. A new vinification cellar was built, a second wine, Le Clémentin, introduced to improve selection, and the vineyards steadily over-hauled. A further revolution came in 2001, when an army of 120 people was brought in to destem the grapes by hand. Already deeply colored, rich, and full, Pape Clément has gained even more in concentration and texture since this vintage. A tiny quantity of white Pape Clément is also produced.


Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte - Pessac-Léognan

location: Martillac
telephone number: 05 57 83 11 22
website: www.smith-haut-lafitte.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1990

There has been no expense spared to improve this ancient estate since it was purchased by Florence and Daniel Cathiard in 1990. The vineyard has been entirely restructured, yields reduced, and organic methods applied. The cellars have been renovated, new wooden fermenting tanks introduced, and a cooperage, which provides 50 percent of the barrels, launched. The château’s aromatic Sauvignon Blanc was the first to benefit, but since 1994 the red, made from the usual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, has gained in density, body, and finesse.


Domaine de Chevalier - Pessac-Léognan

location: 102 chemin de Mignoy, Léognan
telephone number: 05 56 64 16 16
website: www.domainedechevalier.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1990

The long-lived, Sauvignon Blanc-based white wine is the star of this property, but quantities are extremely limited. The red, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, has improved in recent years and is now a classic Graves wine, complex and minerally with balance and great length. Domaine de Chevalier has been immaculately run by Olivier Bernard since 1983. New winemaking facilities have been built, the vineyard revamped, and four large wind machines introduced to counter the spring frosts.


No ordinary oenologists

Bordeaux University’s Faculté d’Oenologie has had a vital influence on winemaking around the world. Its raison d’être is to facilitate research, introduce new production methods, and educate oenologists. Since its foundation in 1880, the faculty’s work has been continued by a number of dedicated directors, including three members of the same family—Ulysse Gayon (who studied and worked with Louis Pasteur), Jean Ribéreau-Gayon, and his son Pascal—and the present incumbent Yves Glories.

Consultant oenologists connected with the faculty have also had an impact on modern winemaking. One of the best known is Émile Peynaud, who established many existing winemaking practices, including the control of malolactic fermentation and the importance of mastering fermentation temperatures. Also of international fame is Bordelais Michel Rolland , an advocate of super-ripeness in grapes, who works worldwide.


Château Climens - Sauternes

location: Barsac
telephone number: 05 56 27 15 33
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: white, dessert
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1990

First-growth Château Climens is the leading estate in Barsac, producing archetypal sweet white wine from this region, rich and concentrated but with a delicate edge of acidity. Usually discreet at first, Climens needs at least 10 years to develop a complex panoply of honeyed aromas, and then continues to evolve for a number of years. The property was bought by Lucien Lurton in 1971 and is now owned and run by his daughter Bérénice.


Château d’Yquem - Sauternes

location: Sauternes
telephone number: 05 57 98 07 07
website: www.chateau-yquem.fr
wine styles: white, dessert
best vintages: 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1991, 1990

Château d’Yquem has been in a league of its own for many years. Classified premier cru supérieur in 1855, it enjoyed the continuity of single ownership under the Lur-Saluces family from 1785 until its sale to the luxury goods group LVMH in 1996. The commitment stays the same. The grapes, mainly Sémillon with a little Sauvignon Blanc, are selectively harvested in the extensive 100-ha vineyard, sometimes berry by berry. Yields are tiny—the equivalent of a glass of wine per vine—and if the vintage is not up to scratch (as in 1992), no Yquem is made. Fermentation and aging take place in new oak barrels, where the wine remains for three-and-a-half years. The result is a rich, powerful, exotic elixir.


Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey - Sauternes

location: Bommes
telephone number: 05 57 19 57 77
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: white, dessert
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1990

The magnificent 1983 vintage relaunched the reputation of this first-growth château. Since then, its sweet white wines have been rich and fragrant with a wonderful concentration of fruit. The property comprises a château, which dates from the 13th century, and a well-exposed vineyard situated on a hillock in the commune of Bommes.


Château Rieussec - Sauternes

location: Fargues de Langon
telephone number: 05 57 98 14 14
website: www.lafite.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: white, dessert
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1990

If ever Château d’Yquem had a rival for the power and concentration of its Sauternes, it would have to be neighboring Château Rieussec. Purchased by the Rothschild family of Château Lafite in 1985, this first-growth estate has since developed greater continuity and purity of fruit. The selective harvesting is more precise, fermentation takes place in barrel (since 1996), and the period of aging has been lengthened from 15 months to two-and-a-half years.


Château Suduiraut - Sauternes

location: Preignac
telephone number: 05 56 63 61 92
website: www.chateausuduiraut.com
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: white, dessert
best vintages: 2002, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1990

Insurance company owners AXA-Millésimes have completely renovated the magnificent 18th-century château of this first-growth estate, with its gardens designed by Le Nôtre. The wine, too, has benefited from greater investment, both in the extensive 90-ha vineyard and in the cellars. Recent vintages have all been a great success, producing unctuous Sauternes that is finely balanced and has considerable aging potential.

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