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Chateau Palmer: The Importance
In the words of Robert Parker: “Palmer can be as profound as many first growths, and in vintages such as 1961, 1966, 1067, 1970, 1975, 1983, 1989, 1995, 2001, 2004, and 2005 it can be better than many of them.” Judging by recent scores from Wine Advocate 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015 would all likely vie to feature on that list too.
In fact in some years Château Palmer has surpassed the dominance of the First Growths, as Neal Martin explains: “There have been periods in history when Château Palmer has gently eased the crown from the head of Château Margaux to become the most esteemed wine within the commune.” He goes on to denounce its ranking in the 1855 Classification: “Few would argue that its status as a Third Growth does complete injustice to Palmer's wines over the last four decades, particularly since its immortal 1961 vintage [100 points, Neal Martin] practically invented the term ‘super-Second’.”
Château Palmer has cemented its position in the very top echelon of fine wine’s greats. At time of writing, the innovative wine rating website Wine Lister placed Palmer only a fraction behind Le Pin, on a scale of Bordeaux wines, with a scoring system based on critic data, distribution, popularity, ageing-potential, price and liquidity. The high esteem this brand is held in was proven by a barrel of 2015 Palmer selling at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong for HK$3m, six times its expected value.
Chateau Palmer: The Insight
A consistently high-scoring Margaux, the Grand Vin is one of the most sought-after and iconic wines in the world. The quantity produced has been dramatically reduced since the introduction of Alter Ego de Palmer (around 10,000 cases per year), making it harder to get one’s hands on. The high Merlot content makes Palmer unique on the Left Bank, although the die-hard fans would say that this is the true taste of Margaux.
Alter Ego de Palmer (around 8,000 cases per year) is a second label not a second wine, although many still view it that way. The launch of this label boosted the quality of Palmer’s Grand Vin and also provides an accessible way to experience this incredible winery. Jeff Leve, of The Wine Cellar Insider, says: “If a reclassification ever took place, it would certainly deserve Fourth Growth Status.”
Château Palmer also occasionally produces Palmer Historical XIX Century Wine – a nod to a nineteenth century tradition of bolstering Bordeaux varietals with ripeness from the Northern Rhône, in this case 15% Syrah – and a white made from Muscadelle, Loset and Sauvignon Gris. Production of these wines is only around 100 cases, they are therefore rarely seen.
Palmer owns Château Desmirail in Margaux, which again offers a very affordable insight into this brand.
Chateau Palmer: The Background
Originally part of Château d’Issan, the vineyards were separated and what is now Château Palmer became Château de Gascq. Owner Madame de Gascq, who apparently boasted that her wines were as good as Lafite’s, sold the property to Charles Palmer, a British field officer in the Duke of Wellington’s army. Pulling on his charm and connections to the Prince Regent, he managed to increase the size and standing of the estate considerably. When he died Château Palmer passed to the Pereire family, banker brothers and rivals of the Rothschilds, who built the famous conical roofed château and vastly elevated the status of the estate, unfortunately not quite in time for the 1855 Classifications. The Pereire brothers were forced to sell under the combined weight of The Great Depression, phylloxera and war. The site was rescued by a number of families, two of which still form the majority shareholders today: Mähler-Besse and Sichel.
Winemaking is currently carried out by Thomas Duroux, formerly of Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia, who has over seen many of the greatest vintages produced. The 66 hectare site located on the gravel plateau in the centre of Margaux has moved to biodynamic farming. Thomas Duroux says: "The biodynamic approach gives more identity in each block, and we can understand the diversity and adapt the winemaking." Cabernet Franc has been removed and the 40 year old vines are formed of a roughly even split of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon plus around 6% Petit Verdot.
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