You have to feel sorry for your average wine writer, shipped around the world by wine bodies or smart producers. They may not earn a fortune, but the abundant hospitality that is wine will challenge their waistlines and livers, and make staying on a beautiful wine farm almost seem like a commonplace experience.
For the wine obsessive who blogs for pleasure it’s not always like that. Persuading busy producers to give you an hour before Robert Parker arrives, or engaging winemakers who fear you might be just another Brit who will guzzle back the samples and leave without buying anything, can be frustrating.
So it is really special when one is invited for a weekend experience which money literally cannot buy, as we were thanks to the generosity of Anthony Gates, fellow Wine-Pages forumite, and invitee of Chateau Pichon-Longueville. As four of us drove up the D2 towards Pauillac on a cold and misty Friday afternoon we joked that perhaps we’d be in caravans in the car park, but obviously that was not the case.
We stayed in rooms which were fully commensurate with the grandeur of this most beautiful of Haut-Médoc Chateaux, with the added luxury of the whole ground floor to ourselves – a large dining room (where six of us sat at a table for at least fourteen), three drawing rooms and a billiard room, with more hidden corners beneath the turrets, all connected by a long sweeping stone staircase.
So this was our base for the weekend. In Part One I recounted our extra-chateau activities, and here I want to talk about the tasting and dinner we were treated to at Pichon-Longueville.
Our main contact at Pichon was Nicolas Santier, Responsable du développement réceptif et tourisme for Chateau owners, AXA Millesimes. AXA, who also own Suduiraut (in Sauternes), Petit-Village (Pomerol), Pibran (also Pauillac) plus famous estates in Burgundy, Tokay, Douro and Languedoc, took over Pichon-Longueville in 1987. At that time the chateau was very run down, but they have completely restored it. Today it’s used for occasional hospitality – important people such as clients and wine writers…and now us.
We had a rendezvous with Nicolas late afternoon for a tour of the Pichon-Longueville winemaking facilities and a tasting. The new facility, which is underground, some beneath the lake which fronts the chateau, is very modern. The tall, cylindrical vat room is breathtaking and one of the barrel halls sits directly beneath the lake with round portholes both bringing in light and showing the water above.
Winemaking here is pretty traditional, but the investment of a Super Second allows plot-by-plot vinification and micro management of different batches. Unlike Pichon-Lalande over the road, Longueville has one large plot for the Grand Vin directly to the left of the chateau. The grapes are therefore right by the cuverie.
Our tour was peppered with many stories, some which perhaps one shouldn’t repeat, but Nicolas did tell us how this beautiful chateau is increasingly the backdrop to (Chinese) pirate weddings. A coach arrives, a bunch of people pour out, including bride and groom in their finery, photos are taken, and then they screech away as if they think what they are doing is illegal. Nicolas said they don’t actually mind so long as they don’t cause any disruption. He found their fear of capture quite funny.
(A few old bottles safely stashed, too safely…had my eye on the ’59s)
The tasting room is as smart as one would expect, and pretty luxurious compared to anywhere we’d been earlier in the day. We settled into our chairs to be treated to a selection of gems including Second Wine “Les Tourelles”, Pibran and the new selection from the Grand Vin vineyard, “Les Griffons” (emphasis on Merlot, small production), all 2012, and three vintages of the Grand Vin (2009, 2010 and 2012). Needless to say, all were exemplary. A couple of us preferred the more fleshy 2009 but I, along with the majority, were knocked out by the 2010, especially its drinkability (whilst obviously having a very long life ahead).
We were to be treated to dinner at the chateau on Saturday evening, and we had no idea what would happen regarding wine, so we’d purchased a few bottles just in case – a couple of Haut-Marbuzet, a Blanc de Lynch-Bages and a Lynch-Bages 1998. A hint they may not be needed was when Nicolas said we may as well take the newly opened bottles of 2009 and 2010 back as an aperitif! These were consumed watching France beat Scotland.
(09 on the left, 10 on the right)
As it happened, we were more than well catered for. Canapés accompanied a Jacquesson 737, a super scallop starter by the dry “S” de Suduiraut 2012, local lamb with two more Pichon-Longueville (2003 and 2004) plus the gentle Lynch-Bages 1998. A pineapple cream dessert was accompanied with a really beautiful Suduiraut 2005, lots of freshness and lacking overwhelming botrytis. The chef introduced each course. He looked in his very early twenties, and he did an excellent job.
The evening finished with billiards, of sorts. It would have finished with Armagnac but a late night search the day before had only yielded up a Lidl. For €10 we could hardly expect the stars. We smelt it and some of us tasted it, but it was perhaps just as well none of us could drink it. It would have been a sorry way to end such a marvellous day.
But nothing could spoil such a weekend, not even the dire holding pens, reminiscent of a cattle market, in the easyJet “shed” at Mérignac as we awaited our flight home. I doubt I’ll ever experience a wine weekend like this again. A very big thanks to Nicolas Santier and the staff at Pichon-Longueville for their hospitality, and, of course, thanks beyond measure to Anthony Gates for inviting my wife and me along. Only one word fit to finish on – Wow! And Thank you!