Palmer, Latour and Haut-Brion
Horsing around at Latour…. See below for the inside track on Latour’s new secret weapon.
After a quick, but nonetheless good lunch at Rauzan-Segla, it was a short journey across the road to our next appointment at Palmer, one of Margaux’s undoubted superstar chateaux. It may have been a short trip but, for me, it was a big leap in quality. At the top end, this is turning out to be a fascinating and intriguing vintage.
There’s no question in my tasting notes that Palmer is one of the firm front runners of all the wines I’ve tasted today. For a kick-off Alter Ego, (its second wine) was hugely impressive and already temptingly drinkable . However, centre stage was completely occupied by the Grand Vin.
Frankly, the Palmer 2009 is a stunning wine, which rates a handsome 19/20. The blend is 41% Cabernet and a substantial 52% Merlot and a significant 7% Petit Verdot, which is most unusual. On the palate, it is rich, sweet, dense and seamlessly elegant (as Margaux should be) with intense black and red fruits and remarkably supple tannins. The oak is 50% new, but the fruit is so vibrant that the oak barely registers. The finish is awesomely long.
For me, Palmer’s drinking window could open sooner rather than later. But will it age? Yes, I think it almost certainly will – because of the acidity and tannin that underpin the wine. This could be another 1990 in the making. Except that this is even better.
The other question to answer is whether 2009 is shaping up as a great vintage? The word in the tasting rooms of the Medoc is that it is looking that way. It’s certainly shaping up as something unusual and exceptional. It’s ripe but not like 2003 because it has more freshness. Nor is it like 2005 because of the fleshy ripeness of the tannins. When it comes to vintages, comparisons with previous years only take you so far. In other words it’s something else again.
However, it wasn’t easy either. According to Sabrina Pernet, Palmer’s Technical Director, the most challenging aspect was when to pick. ‘We had to wait a bit for phenolic ripeness for the tannins to soften, which was a little scary because the potential alcohol was getting worryingly high. But it all came right because we waited and it worked perfectly. The tannins are beautifully ripe this year.’
Off to Latour
It was tempting to stay longer at Palmer to talk more about the vintage. But we had a 3.00 appointment at Latour. Naturally, one doesn’t want to be late for Latour so we made a quick getaway, which was just as well as there was a bit of a bottle neck in St Julien. Thankfully, we arrived at Latour right on schedule.
As ever, the vineyards and chai looked immaculate as we were shown into the tasting room. The 09 Pauillac – Engerer’s third wine was good, but no match for its second wine Les Forts de Latour. Already, rumours are circulating that Parker has rated this the best ever Les Forts. I wouldn’t be surprised.
What did surprise me was that Sonia Gerlou of Latour told me that this was one of the most difficult and complicated harvests that Latour has ever completed. It had to be done very quickly using an army of 200 pickers. Time was of the essence. In contrast 2005 was a breeze, she told us.
However, the result for both the deuxieme and the Grand Vin in 2009 are without question seriously prodigious efforts and are right up there in the pantheon of great Latours.
The latter in particular is a Latour de force, which has been treated to 100% new oak. There were concerns about the levels of alcohol, but what saved the day was the high acidity. Certainly, there is a remarkable freshness and ripeness to the wine, which almost seem at odds with each other. But tasting is believing.
Just 38% of Latour has gone into the Grand Vin, so selection has been rigorous again. Indeed, only 8,000 cases have been made, which is very, very low – even for Latour. As for the cepages – it is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot – no Cab Franc or Petit Verdot made the cut.
On the palate? Well the nose seems to have been lifted from Margaux, such are the aromatics. But look out for the cedar and lead pencils, plus the creamy cherry and cassis fruit and sexy sumptuous tannins. The balance is poised and pinpoint, perhaps because Engerer has kept the alcohol firmly in check at a manageable 13.7%. And there’s a sheen and polish to this wine. Frankly, it’s pretty faultless and registers another 19 points out of a maximum 20.
So we left on another high. But as you’ll see from the picture, what also caught my attention at Latour was a magnificent nag called Olympe who was dutifully ploughing the rows between Latour’s hallowed vines just in front of owner Francois Pinault’s pad and the historic tower at Latour.
Why a horse in this age of the latest gizmo technology? According to her boss Bertrand, she is one of three horses now fully employed at Latour. And the reason is simple. They do less damage than tractors to the environment and to the soil. ‘Tractors compact the soil and create more erosion. Olympe does no damage at all,’ Bertrand told me. A case of back to the future at Latour, where clearly not everything is ultra high-tec. Personally, I think it’s fabulous to see such traditional, tried and tested approaches to viticulture and vinificaton making a comeback.
Meanwhile, tomorrow morning, look out for my latest blog on Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. They’re worth the wait….