Château Pichon Lalande

William Kelley on Pichon Lalande

Château Pichon Lalande is widely regarded as one of Bordeaux's greatest wines, and a leading 'super-second'. A recent tasting with the Antique Wine Company offered a perspective on the wines of this estate.

The history of this famous Bordeaux second growth begins in 1850, when the Pichon Longueville estate was partitioned in two. The wines from Château Pichon Lalande and Château Pichon Baron, which face each other on either side of Bordeaux’s D20 road, began to be made separately from 1860. In 1925, Édouard and Louis Miailhe purchased the estate, and began to make improvements. The Miailhe family were also owners of Château Siran, and part-owners of Château Palmer, so it is perhaps no coincidence that a significant proportion of Merlot was planted at all three estates.

The present-day reputation of Château Pichon Lalande, however, is largely owed to the efforts of Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, who inherited the estate in 1978 and made significant changes. A new cuvierwas built in 1980, and a new barrel cellar in 1988. Madame de Lencquesaing lived at the Château, and was, by all accounts, a formidable personality, as well as a vocal critic of the en primeur system. She sold the property to the Louis Roederer group in 2007. Work began in 2012 on an entirely new winemaking facility, with smaller fermentation tanks so different plots can be vinified separately. After several changes in personnel, Nicolas Glumineau, formerly of Château Montrose, was appointed Director of the Château in 2013. The clay and gravel vineyards occupy 75 hectares in the south of Pauillac, and include some parcels that are actually within the commune of Saint Julien. Merlot makes up 35% of the plantings here, which lends the wine early approachability and a voluptuous texture with supple tannins. The balance is made up with 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 12% Petit Verdot, and it is planned to increase the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon as the vineyards are replanted. Classic aromas of blackcurrant, plums, cedar and tobacco are commonly found in these wines, in contrast to the more brooding, darker hued wines of neighbouring Château Pichon Baron-though Pichon Lalande is equally capable of remarkable longevity.   Pichon Lalande has produced some truly outstanding wines, and has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the greatest so-called ‘super seconds’. The 1982 vintage, in particular, has acquired a legendary status, and terrific wines were produced here in 1985, 1986, 1989, 1995 and 1996. But it is rumoured that a parcel of old vine Merlot which supposedly gave the great vintages of the 1980s their special character was grubbed up in the 1990s, and perhaps this goes some way to explaining why the estate has turned in some perplexing performances, in particular in great vintages for Bordeaux, with the controversially herbaceous 1990 and 2000, and a 2005 strangely deficient in concentration and structure. At a recent tasting held by the Antique Wine Company, it was instructive to compare the outstanding 2006, a striking achievement for the vintage, with the less impressive 2005. In 2009 and 2010 Pichon Lalande also appears to have been bested by its rival across the road. It will be interesting to see what changes ensue when the new cuvier is complete, and as the current administration increases the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the finished blend, for the potential of this estate is not in doubt.

2006 Château Pichon Lalande Still a youthful purple-red, the 2006 Pichon Lalande is somewhat closed, but exhibits aromas of cassis and ripe stone fruits, along with some hints of liquorice and wood spice. Plum, voluptuously textured and with relatively low acidity, this is a supple, sexy wine that is strikingly superior to the 2005. (94+ points)

2005 Château Pichon Lalande Seemingly more evolved in colour, lighter-bodied and higher in acidity than the 2006, the 2005 Pichon Lalande exhibits a similar cassis-driven bouquet, but less of the plumy ripeness, cocentration and structure that make the 2006 so impressive. Given the calibre of the vintage, this is a perplexing wine. (89 points)

1996 Château Pichon Lalande Just beginning to approach its plateau of maturity, the 1996 Pichon Lalande is a deep ruby, with some slight lightening at the rim. Some tertiary notes of cedar wood, bay leaf and espresso roast complement the vibrant bouquet of sweet ripe blackcurrant fruit. Layered and opulently textured, with superb balance and density, this wine is a classic specimen of Pichon Lalande. Like most of the northern Médocs from 1996, this wine is still youthful and shows some unresolved tannins on the end palate, but they will soften with more time in bottle. (96 points)

1995 Château Pichon Lalande The wines of the 1995 vintage were initially touted as fruit-forward and approachable, but as they age doubts are beginning to emerge about the balance of the wines, which seem to display excesses of dry tannins. The 1995 Pichon Lalande has developed more successfully than many of the Médoc classed growths, showing a ruby colour very similar to the 1996. The aromatics are somewhat more exotic, with scents of liquorice, Asian spices, cedar and cassis, and on the palate the wine displays lower acidity. But despite its good concentration and body, it doesn’t possess the impressive layered palate impression and overall balance of the 1996. (94 points)

1986 Château Pichon Lalande A mature ruby-garnet colour, this wine possesses a beautifully expressive and sweet bouquet of cedar wood, dried red berries, blackcurrant, tobacco, and notions of loamy soil. The tannins are fully resolved, and this wine shows beautiful intensity and persistence. Though seemingly fully mature, this wine surely still has a long life ahead of it. (95 points)

1985 Château Pichon Lalande To my taste, a little past its prime, the 1985 Pichon Lalande displays the characteristic sweetness of the vintage, along with a rather autumnal bouquet of cedar wood, leather, tobacco and cigar box. Its fruit is beginning to fade a little. Arguably this wine might have attained a higher score if it had preceded the 1986 and 1996, rather than following those more youthful wines. (90 points)    

Written by William Kelley

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