2004 WS Wine Experience: Ch. Margaux Vertical

Hyatt Regency, Chicago

Tasted November 6, 2004 by otisabdul with 2,213 views


Senior editor, James Suckling, moderated this seminar. We tasted through nine vintages of Chateau Margaux since 1982, or what JS called the “Mentzelopoulos Years”. Representing the chateau on the dais were owner, Corinne Mentzelopoulos and director/winemaker, Paul Pontallier.

Corinne’s father bought the chateau in 1977 and she took over after he died in 1981. Pontallier arrived in 1983.

Said Suckling: “The 1982 vintage of Ch. Margaux was the beginning of one of the great renaissance stories in wine history. Ch. Margaux is the quintessential Bordeaux, with an incredible ability to age for years while possessing fine qualities of harmony, depth and length. Everyone needs benchmarks as to what truly great wine is. This tasting will help set some of those benchmarks.”

Here are my notes. All wines but the 2000s were decanted 3 hours prior to the tasting. Ballpark market prices are based on wine-searcher.com.

Flight 1 (9 notes)

2000 Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
89 points
Though this is made from the second level of grape selection, Pontallier said that the Pavillon gets just as much attention at the winery. In 2000, even the young vines did well. 67% cab sauvignon and 33% merlot. This was a pretty straightforward wine, with some lovely fruit and capable of aging for 6 to 10 years. 12,500 cases were made. $55
2000 Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
98 points
Simply an incredible wine, with perhaps the best young Bordeaux nose I have ever experienced. Extremely powerful and complex with layer upon layer of ever-shifting flavors and aromas. Said Suckling: “This wine is like a tightly knit ball of cashmere and is a modern classic.” Said Pontallier: “The complexity makes it difficult to describe. Nothing jumps out at you, yet so many things are happening. There is an extraordinary impression of broadness, depth, and length. Its noticeable power does not translate into aggression. You can leave it in your mouth for minutes and get exhausted well before the wine does.” 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, 5% cab franc/PV. The 2nd best 2000 Bordeaux I have tasted (Pavie is my fave). $400
1996 Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
93 points
This wine contains only 7% merlot. It rained everyday during the merlot harvest, but weather was perfect during the cabernet harvest. Pontallier said that is the best cabernet sauvignon vintage that he can remember. This wine was very tight, but classical in profile. Needs lots of time. Glassy mouthfeel and abundant tannins. $300
1995 Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
97 points
Fabulous nose, showing more fruit than the other vintages in the bouquet. A different story on the palate. Dense and long, with chewy tannins. A powerful, forceful style with great balance and masculinity. Extremely impressive and one of my favorites of the tasting. JS like the ’95 better than ’96. Pontallier preferred the ’96, while saying of the ’95: “It would be a pity to drink now, since it has so much to prove in the years to come.” $300
1990 Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
96 points
Slight bricking on the rims. Fantastic bouquet of flowers and licorice. Super-smooth. Said Pontallier: “The ’90 was a turning point for Margaux moving to the modern style. It has a blend of freshness and floral character evolution that is reminiscent of a rose slowly opening. The wine has never had the slightest roughness of tannin.” Said Suckling: “It shows an evolved style in the nose, but is super-ripe.” Will certainly improve with age, but is fabulous now. $500
1989 Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
94 points
Said Pontallier: “The ’89 vintage was the archetypal great vintage – but there was a big gap between the merlot and cabernet harvest. We had to wait an extra ten days between them. In many cases, winemaking is not intellect, but luck and patience.” Said Suckling: “On release, many Bordeaux critics said that ’89 was a hot California-style vintage that will not age. But you will notice that the tannins are really starting to assert themselves in this wine and it should easily last for another 10 years.” Indeed, the wine is very intense and tannic, with amazing flavor density. I would open the 1990 before the 1989 (letting the ’89 sit for at least another five years). $250
1986 Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
92 points
This is the first year they did crop-thinning on their merlot. It was a later harvest than normal. Said Pontallier: “Given the same vintage conditions, we would have made a different wine today. We probably would have picked later to achieve riper, more complex tannins and resulted in a wine that would be more approachable at a young age. The ’86 will be fabulous, but is made in an old-fashioned style. It needs time. We must wait. There is no other choice.” The wine is definitely more astringent than the ones made in the ‘90s. The tannins are still very aggressive. Some interesting maritime notes coming through. Suckling said it reminds him of a fine Bordeaux from the 1950s. $275
1983 Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
92 points
Said Suckling: “Upon release, there was general consensus within the Margaux appellation that ’83 was better than ’82. It is now showing lovely fruit and elegance.” Said Pontallier: “I am suddenly smelling a floral aspect that never belonged to the vintage. To me, this signals that the wine is ready to start drinking.” I thought the ’83 was less concentrated and intense than the other vintages on the table, yet was still fairly tannic on the finish. $350
1982 Château Margaux France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
96 points
Said Suckling: “1982 was a turning point for Ch. Margaux. They had just built a new cellar and vat room. America’s current love affair with Bordeaux really started with this vintage, despite much skepticism from European critics due to its large yields and approachable profile. But clearly, the ’82 Margaux has the potential to be fresh and elegant for 40 more years.” The wine possesses a great nose of tobacco and red fruits. So balanced and sure of itself. An ethereal experience. Said Pontallier: “A well-balanced old wine was also a well-balanced new wine – with very few exceptions.” $500


A truly memorable tasting.



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