Pichon-Longueville Baron vertical tasting
Jimmy really excelled with this most interesting of tastings at the West London Wine School, describing it himself as “one if the most fascinating tastings I’ve ever run”.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron is a second growth estate in Pauillac, Bordeaux and these days is considered a “super second”, challenging the big boys at the top of the tree. The estate also possesses one of the most beautiful Chateau anywhere in the wine world, with its fairy tale towers and beautiful reflecting lake in front if it. But things haven’t always been great at Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron. Jimmy described the 80’s as the “dark times” and highlighted that in 1982, a vintage where it appeared impossible to make a poor wine, Pichon somehow managed to do so.
The tasting consisted of two wines from the 80’s, followed by pairs from the 90’s and the 2000’s, after huge investment from insurance giants AXA. There was then a 7th wine, tasted blind… More of which later.
(All prices are from Fine & Rare – correct at 23rd March 2013)
The 1980’s – the dark times
The Bouteillier family bought the estate in 1933 and enjoyed a good reputation under their ownership but the death of Jean Bouteillier marked the beginning of the property’s decline. His children took control and lacked experience, investment and by all accounts, interest.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1985 (£126.48)
Very pale garnet in appearance but a very intriguing nose of blackcurrant and savoury/anise spice. There’s lots of character here and lots of different parts working together nicely. Unfortunately the palate just plain disappointed. Lean and green and real lack of any structure or depth. Not a great deal of fruit and just hints of earth and game. Well past its best. A wine that promised so much on the nose but certainly didn’t deliver on that promise. 86 points
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1986 (£158.08)
Much deeper colour that the 85. Not as opulent on the nose as its predecessor but lots of black fruit depth, mushroom and savoury spice. Quite rich on the palate with layers of dark fruit and still lots of bright acidity. There’s still some good tannic structure balancing the acidity but there’s not much length on the finish. Lovely balance but lacks depth and length. 88 points
The 1990’s – insuring the future
AXA Millésimes completed the purchase of the property in 1987 and the first thing they did was to bring on board Jean-Michel Cazes, of Lynch-Bages and Les Ormes de Pez fame, who oversaw the complete redesign and rebuild of the wine-making facilities.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1998 (£92.68)
This has a very rich nose of blackcurrant and now we also get those classic Pauillac scents of cedar and cigar. This wine certainly has some polish and there is a delightful sweet hint of oak in the background. Lots of body, power and concentration, with lashings of dark fruit and smokey spice. A delightful balance of tannin and acid and altogether very pleasing. A completely different beast to the 80’s with real power and balance. 92 points (voted best value wine of the night)
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1999 (£116.28)
Less fruit and more grunt here! Lots of gamey animal notes, with earthy truffle and leather hints too. Very well developed, with just hints of black fruit and sweet spice in the background. On the palate its butch and beefy upfront but then after a few seconds the wine really comes together. There’s lively fruity acidity and a very attractive spicy finish. You don’t think this is going to work at first taste and then it really falls nicely into place. 91 points
The 2000’s – cometh the Englishman
Jean-Michel Cazes retired in 2000 and AXA brought in Englishman Christian Seely to oversee the property. In his time, Mr Seely has pushed the quality if the wine, with stricter selection for the grapes to be included in the Grand Vin.
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2005 (£108.88)
Much more inky appearance with hugely concentrated blackcurrant, cassis even, on the nose. The fruit aromas are backed up with butch cedar and savoury spice and shouts of real power but also finesse. Lots of grip on first taste but balanced with delightful sweet black fruit, cedar and smoky cigar-spice. Lots of lively acidity, balanced with nicely defined tannin and some steely minerality. This is a wine with many years ahead of it, but already in great balance and harmony. It’s polished and sophisticated. Great stuff. 94 points (my best value wine of the night – one to lay down and enjoy in 2020!)
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2006 (£74.88)
More excellent depth on the nose. Here we get the blackcurrant but also swathes of red fruit – raspberry and cranberry, and its all supported with sweet spice – feels like a bit of oaky makeup has been applied here. More medium in body than the 05 and a much more delicate affair. Tannins are very forward here and there’s a touch of acid but the harmony isn’t quite there and I’m not sure whether time will sort it out. A very different style of wine, more delicate and definitely atypical. 90 points
The blind bottle
As we had tasted three very different styles of wine over three decades, how easy would this one be to place?
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1996 (£110.40)
Oh this just smells complete! A perfect balance of delicious blackcurrants, worn leather and roasted meat, supported with exotic and smokey spice. On the palate there’s layers of black and red fruit in beautiful harmony with the smokey spice, roasted game and acid lift. The tannins are beautifully integrated and provide a wonderful and generous finish. For me it had to come from the 90s given its evolution and I plumped for 1995, knowing this to be a fine vintage… So just a year out! This really was the wine of the night in every way and one I need to add to the cellar. It has everything in perfect balance and harmony. 96 points