The Glory Years of Chateau Margaux at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

By Craig Norton

Dec 18th, 2019

Last weekend FINE+RARE hosted a very special wine tasting dinner alongside Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos of Chateau Margaux. An introduction to the history and unique philosophy of this legendary estate was presented alongside a specially curated tasting menu from top chef Matt Abé - Chef de Cuisine at the three Michelin star flagship restaurant in Chelsea.

A cold, rainy Saturday evening in December; Christmas around the corner; FINE+RARE, Chateau Margaux and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. The stage was set for a special evening, a time to be remembered forever. One of London’s institutions of gastronomy, discreetly located, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Chelsea’s Royal Hospital Road has been at the top of its class for decades - this year celebrating 20 years of maintaining three Michelin stars. A massive achievement and statement. Standards have been set at the very highest level, and have remained there. The team, led by Head Sommelier James Lloyd and Chef de Cuisine Matt Abé, are formidable and together have driven this place to stratospheric heights.

Matt Abé is, quite simply, one of the great culinary minds of his time. James Lloyd one of the most experienced, genuine and hospitable Sommeliers globally. Both kind, both humble. The challenge normally is for James to match the wines to Matt’s creations. This time, the tables were turned, James and F+R decided on the wines and the vintages, leaving Matt tasked with matching dishes and courses to each flight of wine.

We were also privileged to be joined by Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos, daughter of Corinne Mentzelopoulos – owner of Chateau Margaux, one of Bordeaux’s most revered and iconic First Growth properties. Her intimate and deep knowledge of the history and philosophy of Chateau Margaux, her understanding of the terroir and everything that characterises the beauty and consistency, is unsurpassed and was set to add so much to the evening. Guests had travelled from far and wide: Hong Kong, Sweden, Turkey, France, as well as locally in the UK.

Following some rich and bright 2004 F+R Selection Gosset Grand Millesime from magnum, we took our seats and embarked together on a journey of gastronomic exploration, alongside an investigative pairing of Chateau Margaux’s greatest wines - "The Glory Years".

By their own admission, for both James and Matt the most challenging dish to match to the wines was the first course, the whites. Pavillon Blanc is Chateau Margaux’s vin blanc, painstakingly produced from small plots of old Sauvignon Blanc vines. The style is fresh, pure, focused and precise. Capable of extended cellaring and developing over the long term, the opportunity to try this special and singular Bordeaux from two vintages 20 years apart was special. 2016, zesty and vibrant; 1996 soft, mellow and complete. A treat for sure, but a challenging flight to pair with the perfect dish. Over to Matt.

The challenge was pairing young, high acid vibrancy with mature, almost buttery soft texture. The answer? Blue Lobster. A masterpiece of a dish and a tremendous start to the evening's dining experience, the deep meaty texture freshened by the zesty 2016 and the sweet, buttery texture paired perfectly with the mellow, complex 1996.

2016 Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux

Pale yellow. Bright, zesty, vibrant nose – refined tropical aromas of pineapple, guava, fresh ripe lemon. Hints of coconut, mint and grass. Palate is fresh, taught and alive – so much brightness and tension. Balance of concentration to acid is perfect, with deep core of underlying power that will unfurl over the next 20 years. Mineral long finish. A stunner.

1996 Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux

Medium straw yellow. Quiet nose needs some coaxing, but with some air delivers rich ripe lemon curd, soft butter, nutty hints and white pepper. Palate is rich, more viscosity and concentrated compared to the 2016, a spine of minerality present again. Smoky finish and flash of acidity reminds that this wine is not only in perfect condition following 20 years in the cellar, but can last longer. Genuinely brilliant. 

Next up – Pavillon Rouge, a blend more or less replicating that of the Grand Vin but with higher percentage of Merlot, and produced from certain plots of younger vines. A bright fresher style, more approachable in youth but still capable of developing complexity and delicacy over time. Paired with a rich turbot dish, with savoury, fish stock reduction.

2009 Pavillon Rouge

Deep crimson, rich density evident – glass coating. Dark cassis and black cherry, smoke and ripe plum. The ripeness of the 2009 vintage showing brightly, with rich dense fruit, good mid-palate weight and concentration. Some perfume on the finish.

2000 Pavillon Rouge

Core of bright ruby, some maturity evident on the rim. Smoky blackcurrant, smoke, sweet spice and earth. Quite classic in style and profile, elegant and fine tannins are almost completely resolved. A charming delicacy and harmony to the wine, everything smooth and nothing out of place. Savoury finish – drinking superbly.

The first course flight of the Grand Vins, a comparative to excite even the most experienced fine wine lover or collector. Paired with the first meat course of Dexter Beef short-rib, a rich, beefy, savoury partnership was surely set to be a perfect match.

1990 Margaux

Ruby core, with some maturity evident on the rim. A fragrant, perfumed nose displays incredible complexity – deep dark cherry, fleshy raspberry and smoke. Some spice and leather. Palate of sweet red fruit, cassis – layered and very finely structured. Earth, tobacco adds depth – but still fleshy, opulent and delicate. Confident, completely perfect. Magnificent.

1996 Margaux

Regarded as one of the wines of what can be considered one of the Left Bank’s greatest vintages, the 1996 Margaux is monumental. Expressive and exceptionally well-defined nose – dark blackcurrant, cassis, blueberry fruit, violets, smoke and tobacco. Evocative and sexy, everything is in perfect place and in abundance – rich, fleshy, opulent. Fragrant and perfumed finish, with hint of stony minerality. Core is open and expressive, whilst clearly shaken off adolescence. Still youthful with long life still ahead. Another perfect wine.

One of the restaurants revered dishes is their deer, if we were to look for a signature dish – this is surely it. Served with sweet blackberry and beetroot add an earthy element. By all accounts stood to be a perfect match to the evenings next flight: the mighty 1983 (a tremendous vintage in Margaux) and the world recognised 1982.

1983 Margaux

Ruby with hints of copper. Charming but slightly rusty nose – dark black fruit, some forest floor, mint, cloves. Complex but quite shy and reserved. Palate is sweet dark cherry, quite austere with some unresolved tannin evident on the finish. The expectancy for the 1983 to be clearly the wine of the night given the prestige of the vintage were not realised, the agreement being the wine was in a slightly awkward phase, sadly not showing the depth and finesse it would normally. Charming, but not firing all cylinders.

1982 Margaux

Core of dark red fruit with some bricking. Anticipation is high and it delivers – perfumed and delicately expressive, the complex nose of violets, sweet spice, cloves and pencil shavings. Dark red and black fruit is mature but still fresh and vibrant. Incredible purity and definition. Medium-bodied, the palate is sumptuous and opulent – tannins are very fine, layered and satin-like texture. Purity and definition characterise this sensational Margaux – classic, complex with real depth. Perfumed, mineral driven finish. Remarkable in every way.

Pineapple tarte tatin is the perfect way to finish such a special gastronomic journey, matched with a top vintage of the world’s greatest sweet wine – Yquem. Vintage? 1986. Only the best will do to round off such a special set of wines.  

1986 Yquem

Paired with a pineapple tarte tatin, this is a match made in heaven. Outrageously complex nose of pineapples, honey, blossom, apricots, hint of nuts. Orange-zest, some tropical guava – remarkable purity and freshness. Sumptuous mouthfeel, balanced by remarkable level of acidity – the level of harmony only found in the world’s truly great wines. Rich, honeyed and full bodied – at 33 years of age, the wine is in fantastic phase of life, but has all the components and balance to last for another 50 years. Tremendous.

At F+R, our primary aim is to bring people together in a special way, a way that allows everyone to share an experience that is unique and that is memorable. Hosting events such as this takes careful planning and consideration, each detail thought about with the priority being to ensure guests have the best possible time. Our partnership with Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and the exceptional and accomplished team there, is one we value enormously. We’ve worked closely with Chateau Margaux for over twenty years, a relationship we treasure. It was a pleasure to showcase the glory years of this magnificent, historic property, alongside Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos, in such a perfect setting. An extraordinary evening, a perfect way to round off a long and at times challenging, 2019. Here’s to 2020!

Photography courtesy of James Winspear ©

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