Bordeaux has not escaped the au courant fashion of excessive grape ripeness, new oak barrel aging and higher alcohol levels. Fortunately, classic Bordeaux wine reigns at the venerable Chateau Palmer located in the Margaux appellation.
Bordeaux is divided by the Gironde River into two sections known as the Left Bank and Right Bank. I have always viewed Margaux as the transition appellation. By that I mean it uses more merlot than its northern neighbors St. Estephe, Pauillac and St. Julien, and more cabernet sauvignon than the Right Bank wineries of St. Emilion and Pomerol. At its best, Margaux is a velvety, plush wine, with less force in the mouth than wines from the northern appellations because of a lower percentage of cabernet sauvignon in the blend.
Margaux’s use of all five Bordeaux grapes- cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and malbec- combined with its diversity of soils, gives its wines the broadest palate and makes it the viticulture crossroads of Bordeaux. If there is any grape that is superlative or problematic in a vintage, you’re most likely find it in Margaux.
Chateau Palmer’s conception began in 1748 when the heirs of Chateau d’Issan sold 125 acres to the Gascq family, who introduced Chateau Gascq wines to Cardinal Richelieu and the court of Louis XV. In 1814, the final Gascq heir sold the property to the English general Charles Palmer. Palmer invested in the vineyards and its reputation and price became among the highest in London. However, Palmer’s financial problems caused him to sell the property in the 1840s; the gradual deterioration of the vineyards lowered the wine quality, resulting in Chateau Palmer’s Third Growth rank in the 1855 Paris wine competition that would eventually calcify the standings of Left Bank chateaux. (The 1855 classification was established at a trade show made by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and the Union of Brokers Attached to the Bordeaux Market at the 1855 Great International Exhibition in Paris. The Union of Brokers established five Categories from First to Fifth Growths covering 61 Chateaux all from the Left Bank. This classification has remained nearly immutable regardless of a chateau’s quality over the course of 157 years).
I have been drinking and collecting Chateau Palmer since the mid-1970s and have bottles and magnums in my cellar from 1985 to 2005. With proper cellaring, enjoying Chateau Palmer from very good to great vintages at your 50th wedding anniversary is a realistic possibility.
During the last 30 years, Chateau Palmer’s owners and managers have applied a laser-like focus on vineyard management, winemaking, and winery technology, raising the level of Chateau Palmer to a Second Growth, in my opinion.
If you have the opportunity to purchase at auction from a pristine cellar Chateau Palmer from 1985, 1989, 1990, or 1995 do not pass it up. In the current market, buy from a retailer with temperature-controlled storage the world-class 2000 and 2005 wines. And the superb 2009 vintage is the most recent arrival. Slightly less prestigious, but certainly pleasing are the 2001, 2004 and 2006 wines of Chateau Palmer.
Prices range from $200-375 for the listed auction wines; about $400 for the 2000; $250-300 for 2005; and $300-400 for the 2009. The lesser vintages can be purchased in the range of $175-250 (be certain the wine has been in temperature-controlled storage).