It was a rare treat to be able to taste some back vintages of Chateau Palmer this past November. Chateau Palmer is one of the most highly regarded Troisièmes Crus or Third Growths of the Bordeaux 1855 Classification, and within Margaux, it is often viewed as second only to the First Growth Chateau Margaux.
The tasting was sponsored by Chateau Palmer and its Ontario importer Eurovintage. Jean-Louis Carbonnier, Director of the Americas for the Chateau, mentioned that especially in the US, they have been building an inventory of back vintages to share with their clients, as part of the process of promoting an understanding of their wines.
I began with the 2008 Alter Ego (Margaux AOC, 13% alcohol, $139.00), which is the estate’s second wine that replaced the older label Réserve du Général in 1998. Unlike the estate’s grand vin, the Alter Ego is made to be enjoyed quite soon after bottling. For example, in addition to appropriate fruit selection, vinification techniques such as cooler fermentations and less extraction help to create softer and rounder tannins, and less new oak is used in barrel aging, (25% to 40%, versus 45% to 60% Chateau Palmer).
The wine is deep ruby, with a youthful violet tinge on the rim. The nose is complex and quite intense, with aromas that suggest rich tart black fruit — blackberries, black currants and just a hint of crème de cassis — along with a delicate floral lift, and underneath some notes of twigs and dry earth. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity, medium alcohol and body, and elevated youthful tannins with a slightly chalky texture. This is an excellent wine, particularly in the face of the difficult 2008 vintage. It can certainly be drunk now with food, but will develop over at least another ten years. The blend is 52% Merlot and 48% Cabernet Sauvignon. (91)
The first grand vin was the 2004 Chateau Palmer (Margaux AOC, 13% alcohol, $415.00). The wine is deep ruby with garnet highlights. This has a rich and intense nose, with some evolved character — leather, oxidative notes — but is still dominated by ripe, black currant fruit with some sweetness that also suggests crème de cassis, as well as violets, Christmas spice, and a light dusting of dried herbs, pepper and twigs. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity, medium body and alcohol, and elevated integrating tannins. The palate shows the lovely fruit, with more slightly resinous oak evident than was apparent on the nose. Tobacco leaf, spices and earth underlie the fruit. The finish is long, rich and complex, with some real elegance. The blend is 47% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Petit Verdot. (93)
The 1999 Chateau Palmer (Margaux AOC, $899.00) is medium ruby-garnet, with a garnet rim. The rich, evolving nose suggested old leather and cinnamon, black currant fruit and crème de cassis, violets, and forest floor. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity and alcohol, and soft, round tannins. On the palate the rich black currant and cherry fruit is accompanied by black licorice, leather, dried herbs and twigs. The finish is quite long — rich and powerful rather than elegant. The wine is drinking very well now. The blend is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. (92)
The 1995 Chateau Palmer (Margaux AOC, $529.00) pours medium garnet, with lighter garnet on the rim. The intense nose suggests mature black currant and plum fruit, with hints of licorice, leather, dried herbs and cedar. The wine has elevated acidity, balanced alcohol, and softening but still noticeable tannins. On the palate the fruit is elegant and just starting to fade, with light leather notes, mint, and dried leaves. This is drinking beautifully — speaking with a soft, gentle voice but saying quite a lot! The blend is 51% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Cabernet Franc. (94)
1983 was viewed as a very good vintage, particularly for Margaux, and the 1983 Chateau Palmer (Margaux AOC, $1,479.00) is a tour de force! The wine is medium garnet, moving to light orange on the rim. The nose is rich yet elegant and nuanced, with cedar, green herbs and mint, a richer waft of baking spice, black currant and plum fruit, but all melded together into a seamless whole. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity and gentle alcohol and tannins. The palate is still full of life, textured and elegant, a wonderful wine that age has distilled to its essence. While the wine has life for years to come, it must be close to maximum enjoyment now. The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. (96)