Wine Experience of the Week – The Winery Formerly Known As

Having a short time in the Bordeaux region, we consulted the Wine Atlas and chose a road that seemed pretty well populated with wineries. That was programmed into the navigations system and we said we would pop in to a one or two along the way.

The first winery we saw, in Pomerol, was called Chateau Plince. We were a bit hesitant to go there because we thought the place was owned by Japanese. However, the man there was the third in a generation of local Pomerolian owners. He said he spoke very little English, but he did say that the language of wine is international… He showed us a five minute video, in French, gave us a glass of his wonderful 1998, then showed us around the cellar with bottles available for sale from 1998 to 2007, all at very reasonable prices if the 1998 tasting was anything to go by.

The main grape grown here is Merlot – pronounced “mairlloo”, not the Australian “mur-low”, as we discovered from the confused look on the man’s face when we asked the percentage of the blend. The other grape grown here is Cabernet Franc to give some acidic balance to the wine, but is grown, as it is blended, in very small quantities.

We continued down the road we had picked out. We passed Chateau Petrus with tour busses outside and didn’t turn off to Chateau Le Pin because we feared the same tourisity tendencies. Instead, we pulled into another spot just down the road with a grand building and a sign offering tastings.

We say, “degustation?”, and he realizing we aren’t French, says “tasting?” Just then, four other people walk around the corner and he thinks we are part of the same group. “You realize the cost of a tasting is €15?” The well dressed man says. The group of 4 say they know this, as they’ve been to the tourist office in ST Emilion.

€15 for a tasting? Are you crazy! What comes with it? Well you do get to meet the owner as you walk from the car park to the impressive chateau. They are all called chateaus in Bordeaux whether they have a moat and portcullis or just are an old farmhouse.

The man from Chateau Siaurac was far more up market than the owner at Chateau Plince. He spoke impeccable English, once he found that five of us were from Australia (Sydney-siders but we didn’t hold that against them) and one from England. He did the full tour of the grounds and the winery, while explaining his wife’s father was a minister in one of De Gaulle’s governments but didn’t appreciate the vines grown there. We saw the mairlloo grapes and tasted some from the vines. They will be picked next week. He warned against eating the Cabernet Franc grapes, as will be picked in three weeks – but we ate them as well. The winey itself was quite interesting, it was being cleaned to be ready for harvest. It has concrete vats for fermenting as well as the stainless steel. Petrus, rumour has it, has started using the old concrete vats too. Then we saw the barrel room, and then at last, the tasting.

Six tastes were on offer in the opulent tasting room. The 2007 and 2009 wines from their three vineyards in the region; one in St Emilion, one in Pomerol and one in Leland Pomerol – which the man called “the poor man’s Pomerol”. All three had completely different tastes because of what the French call terroir – what the rest of us call dirt and weather. The St Emilion vineyard is on limestone and had a distinctly chalky taste. The poor person’s Pomerol was less than one and a half kilometers from Petrus. It cost €25 compared to €4,000 a bottle.

The pre-release 2009 vintages were great, but production had been severely savaged by hail, only their mature vines had survived to produce a small volume of sensational quality. They won’t cost €25 on release I suspect…

I enjoyed the Pomerol 07 the best. I said the smelt floral, he said violet. I said it was long in the palate, he said it had different textures all along the pallet. He was right on both counts, despite his insistence that we were all our own Parker’s with our own tastes and internal rating systems…

The only wine we bought during the day was a 2001 Chateau Plince. 90% mairlloo, 10% Cabernet Franc. Drinking it a day later, it was gorgeous. Great colour, great floral nose and then a full bodied long taste that was so complex it gave you something different each sip. One of the best wines I have tasted in France and for €27 great value.

This brought up an interesting thought to me. Australian winemakers struggle to make a Merlot, let alone mairlloo with such quality. I wonder why? What do you think? Is it all in the terrior or is it something else?

By Michael Metalfe


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