Day Two and feeling surprisingly sprightly after the previous night's entertainment, we headed back out on the road to take on the two opposite ends of the Médoc; from St. Estephe in the north to Margaux in the south.
The main distinction between these two regions just 45 minutes or so apart, was the level of summer rainfall; Margaux encountered between just 20 and 30mm of rain in August, whereas St. Estephe had over 100mm. The evidence of this is apparent in a number of the wines from the north, which struggled to achieve quite the same level of purity, clarity and elegance as their southern brethren. That evidence also manifests in slightly shorter finishes and tannins which have a little more rusticity.
That said, there are still some very commendable wines of which Calon Ségur was our favourite, displaying real quality and St. Estephe power throughout their range; from Capbern through to Marquis de Calon Ségur and up to the Grand Vin.
Today was the first day of the UGCB (Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux) tastings – appellation-specific events for many producers to show their wines under one carefully prepared roof. Not only do these provide an opportunity to seek out some lesser-known gems and give a very helpful calibration against the grander wines whose chateaux we visit independently, but they also deliver something extremely important – lunch.
UGCB lunches can be a little hit and miss but the Margaux event at Chateau du Tertre was an Anthony Joshua 2nd round knockout – a beautiful barbecue of steaks and rotisserie lamb, bookended by superb charcuterie and salads, and some truly magical patisserie, all supported by a live performance of 'La Chanson Francaise et la musique hurdy gurdy...' We had almost two hours to 'use' before our visit to Chateau Margaux and we certainly gave it our best shot. Post lunch amusements included a display of 'les vaches de Giscours' and playing in du Tertre's vintage Citroen...
Today was always going to be tinged with sadness as we made our first visit back to Château Margaux after the tragic, untimely departure of our dear friend Paul Pontallier. It is fitting that a man who did so much for Bordeaux, and who arrived in the stunning Margaux vintage of 1983, should have had an opportunity to see a vintage as fine as 2015; but his loss weighs heavily on us all. He should have seen so many, many more fine vintages produced from the beautiful new Norman Foster winery in whose design and construction he was so closely involved.
Paul's son Thibault introduced us to the wines and showed immense humility, courage and good humour under the circumstances, which speaks volumes for the legacy he will no doubt hope to continue. And the wines? Truly magical. At its peak, Margaux is a wine of astonishing, looking-glass purity and 2015 is one of the best vintages we have ever tasted. You will want this in your cellar; we certainly do.
Before heading through the afternoon traffic hell of the Bordeaux ring road to reach St. Emilion for the next two days' visits, we dropped into Château Palmer. 2015 has blessed them with the same conditions as Château Margaux, and the resulting wines, whilst different in style to the effortless clarity of the First Growth, are enormously impressive with power and grace in abundance. Margaux finally gets a good year.
Dinner was a quiet, but delicious, affair at the excellent Caffe Cuisine in Branne, just 15 minutes outside town. A great way to prepare for the day ahead discovering what treats the Right Bank has to offer...