Stuart George

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2005–1991

In Tastings on February 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Belatedly, here are my notes from a tasting of Pichon-Lalande 2005–1991 held at Christie’s St James’s offices in London on December 1, 2009. The wines were presented by Pichon-Lalande’s Technical Director, Thomas Dô Chi Nam.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2005

Harvesting went from September 20 to October 7, yielding 47hl/ha. The final blend was 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot.

The color is a striking pyrope purple, though it is not opaque like some 2005s. The nose shows a lot of oak at first but gradually reveals red fruits and earthy flavors. Medium-plus body of substantial richness, with wonderful velvet-like tannins. Good length, glowing sweet fruit, and vanilla oak on the finish. Despite the stellar, sometimes notorious, reputation of this Bordeaux vintage, Pichon-Lalande 2005 is not a blockbuster, capturing the elegance and balance of its terroir rather than the sometimes over-generous nature of the year. This wine is already beguiling but is it lust or love…? It could be drunk now or aged 2015–30+ for cerebral rather than sensual enjoyment.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2004

The harvest started on September 27 and concluded on October 14. The Merlot was picked in warm weather and came in with relatively high potential alcohol of 13° to 13.5°. The final blend comprised 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc.

Color as before though perhaps a little brighter at the rim. This wine leaves a very different impression to the 2005, being much less opulent and generous. It smells of blackcurrant rather than red fruits and is nowhere near as concentrated. The balancing act of tannins and acidity is striking though they are rather spiky at the moment. Lacking the opulence and length of 2005, it is however perhaps more typical and “classic” in its styling. Age 2012–25+.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2003

Picking started on September 10 for the Merlot and on September 18 for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Harvesting finished on September 26 and the finished wine was made from 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot. At 33hl/ha the yield was much lower than average.

Same depth of color as before though showing more garnet at the rim. Not as jammy or overblown as one might expect, showing mint and pepper, but with aeration it becomes simpler and more jammy. The tannins recall those of 2004 but there is less acidity to counter them, so the wine has a rather ornery finish. Like so many 2003s, this is not one to endure. Now to 2015.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2002

Picking started on September 30 for the Merlot and October 4 for the Cabernet Sauvignon and was completed by October 10. The final cuvée was 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot.

Surprisingly this has a similar color to the 2003! The appealing nose is already quite cedary, though at first there seemed to be a non-trivial prickle of acetate that tickled my admittedly cold-ridden nose… Coming after the ultra-rich 2003 and 2005 this feels thin by comparison. It has a much lighter framework than those two leviathans, with the tannins already well amalgamated. The flavors on the palate are really quite prematurely aged—it lacks some freshness and verve. On its own terms, a more than decent claret but not a great Pichon-Lalande. Dô Chi Nam reckoned that it was “good value for money. It’s not a fashionable vintage but it has a strong energy inside.” Drink now or age to 2020 for extra smoothness, though it might lose more freshness along the way.

Château Pichon-Lalande 2001

This vintage has an exceptionally high Petit Verdot content of 14%. The 2000, which was not available to taste here, has 10% Petit Verdot. “We have very old PV blocks,” explained Dô Chi Nam. Petit Verdot gives “freshness and complexity” to the wine. There are only three clones of Petit Verdot commercially available in France but Pichon-Lalande has propagated its own by massal selection—that is, it takes cuttings from its own plants and grows them.

The remainder of the blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Merlot. The absence of Cabernet Franc resulted in a different cuvée to the norm, with a different structure and flavors. Harvesting endured from September 27 to October 14.

Similar depth of color to 2002 but more garnet. Cedarwood and licorice aromas make this appear very lean compared to the riper vintages. Nonetheless, there is a nicely structured palate, with tannins and acidity in harmony. The palate is surely more appealing than the nose. An elegant, refined claret to drink now to 2020+.

Château Pichon-Lalande 1998

Harvested September 24 to October 7 and blended to 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc. As in 2003 there was no Petit Verdot.

Similar depth of color to the 2001 but just a bit lighter at the core. Tobacco, earthy, almost meaty in comparison to the previous wines but fresh with it. Peppery and complex. Earthy on the palate too, finishing elegantly and long. A good wine, just about mature. Who would ever have thought it in this vintage? It must be all that Merlot! Drink now to 2020.

Château Pichon-Lalande 1996

In this great Cabernet vintage Pichon-Lalande used 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. Harvesting began on September 24.

Its color is similar to that of the 2001. Compared to the 1998 it is closed and unyielding on the nose. There is intense Cabernet fruit and structure on the palate—this is nowhere near ready. Intense rather than opulent, it is still elegant and earthy, with velvety and smooth tannins. The ’96 might be less approachable than some of the other wines, its palate resembling a squeezed fist, but it is intense and long. A very good wine though, on the basis of the other wines here, not typical of Pichon! But Dô Chi Nam felt that the wine was “very Pauillac and very Pichon.” For me this was the best wine of the tasting. Age 2015–30+.

Château Pichon-Lalande 1991

There were devastating spring frosts this year on April 21–22 that destroyed new shoots; 80% of the potential crop was lost to the frost and only 30% of the final crop made it into the grand vin, which was harvested October 1–9. The blend was 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Petit Verdot.

Medium depth brick red, turning to tawny at the rim. It smells like a “cool” vintage, the aromas suggesting capsicum or tomato leaf, but also some tobacco. Complex and mature but not opulent. It’s not bad at all considering what horrors some 1991s are! Again characteristically elegant. Still reasonably fresh, if rather lean and unripe compared to other wines here, and retaining a backbone of acidity with the characteristic Pichon elegance. It has good length but the younger wines are more enduring—it becomes less convincing with aeration, especially up against the 1996. Drink now to 2015.

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