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Chateau Margaux: Sauvignon Blanc is a Sauvignon Blanc…unless it is… Pavillon Blanc

Posted: Monday, 21 April 2014 16:12

Chateau Margaux: Sauvignon Blanc is a Sauvignon Blanc…unless it is… Pavillon Blanc

Apr 21: Chateaux Margaux is well established as the First Growth Bordeaux Chateau for its red wine but it is not common knowledge that it produces a small quantity of Pavillon Blanc made from Sauvignon Blanc, tasting of which should be on the wish-list of every connoisseur, feels Subhash Arora who tasted the ‘09 with two reds last Saturday at the Taj Mahal in the company of the visiting trio of Alexandra Petit- Mentzelopoulos, owner Corrine’s daughter, Paul Pontallier, Managing Director and Thibault Pontallier, Brand Manager Asia

Click For Large ViewI had met Team Asia of Chateaux Margaux last December at a private, exclusive dinner at a 5-star hotel. The trio of Paul Pontallier, the iconic winemaker and Managing Director, Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos, daughter of the owner Corrine Mentzelopoulos, and Thibault Pontallier-Hong Kong based Brand Ambassador for Asia, had come for an event where Pavillon Blanc ‘09 and ‘95, Pavillon Rouge ’08 and Chateau Margaux Grand Vin ‘08, ’01 and ’85 were served with multi-course Kashmiri food. The dinner was regal - truly fit for Maharajas and Nawabs. A few points regarding pairing were brought out by the critics invited as they relished the iconic wines. A tentative date of April 19 at Palace Hotel in Srinagar was announced for a grand Margaux dinner to be organized.

Therefore, I was surprised to receive an invitation to attend a tasting of the three variants of Margaux matched with kebabs for that date - at the Taj Mahal Hotel. But the tasting invite was too good to miss. I was at Villa Medici at the appointed hour - very happy to meet the trio again as well as the importer Sanjay Menon and Dhruv Sawhney who was co-hosting the event.

The afternoon started with a repeat of the first of the wines at the earlier Dinner- Pavillon Blanc ‘09. Bordeaux is known for great reds; some parts like Graves are known for whites but these are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. One of the little-known secrets is the pure Sauvignon Blanc based age-worthy wine from Chateau Margaux, known as Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux or simply, Pavillon Blanc.

Pavillon Blanc 2009

Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grown in 11 hA of vines, in a plot outside the 1855 Margaux Appellation, it used to be called Chateaux Margaux Grand Vin du Sauvignon. But in 1920 the name was changed to Pavillon Blanc; the Chateaux has been making it for almost 300 years, says Thibault. The fermentation is done in mildly toasted barriques - with a third each in new, first (one-year old barrels) and the second pass (two-year old barrels). No malo-lactic fermentation is carried out. Wine is kept separately in barriques for about 8 months and blended before bottling.

The beauty of this wine is not only in its flavour- the 2009 was very fresh, slightly fat, wonderfully perfumed and refreshing with complex fruit flavours, medium to full body (almost like an oaked Chardonnay). There was hardly any trace of astringency due to oak though one could feel it lurking quietly in the background. In fact, Paul emphasized that he did not like wood overpowering the flavours. Surprisingly, it has zero gms. of residual sugar. The pure expression of fruit made the flavour surrealistic. I would not like to drink this wine any cooler than 14˚C to enjoy its complexity although in summer I would not mind a degree or two cooler.

Thibault further explained that the weather has been perfect for the grapes during the last decade, including 2013. Every year the harvest is done on selective basis, in September – generally 2-3 times to ensure that the grapes are fully ripe.

Click For Large ViewI could have enjoyed the whole afternoon sipping the Blanc with the succulent vegetarian roasted corn and spinach kebabs on a sugar cane stick, crafted by the renowned Executive Chef Amit Chowdhury who was there to present them. The crispy kebab was crunchy on the outside but it melted away with just the right amount of spices to match the wine with a long after-taste. The murgh kebab, rich with soft spices, was a heavenly match due to the fruitiness and full body of the wine.

Pavillon Blanc is like a very approachable but age-worthy red wine - very rich on the palate with persistent and pleasant taste on the mouth-the ‘09 was drinking very well on its own but became heavenly with the kebabs. Paul claimed these wines easily age for 30 years or more, with great vintages lasting considerably longer. The 1982 and ’83 Blanc are reportedly still doing very well but It was a surprise to know that they still had 1924, ‘28 and ’29 Pavillon BLANC in their library. 

Of course, the provenance of these wines is even more important than reds as they are quite delicate. Wines being served for tasting today had been air-freighted to the importer Sanjay Menon of Sansula (Sonarys) a month earlier, directly from the Chateau cellars. Those who know Sanjay know that he would treat such wines like babies.

At 13.5% abv, the alcohol may not be too high but given the fuller body and the oak effect, it might not be easy to finish a bottle like one normally would with a quaffable Sauvignon Blanc. Just as well - the Pavillon Blanc does not come cheap. It does not come to India, period. But the retail tag of $200 ( lists the average price from $180-$220 in the wines from this millennium), makes it a highly luxurious product affordable mainly by the millionaire connoisseurs who are willing to chase the 1000 cases made every year-the selection process is so stringent that 60% of the wine made is sold in bulk.

Rise of historical Chateau Margaux   

Enough information is available on the Net about Chateaux Margaux whose history goes back to the 12th century with the Chateau taking its current shape in the 16th century. Fast forward to the modern times - it changed hands in 1977 with a Greek magnate Andre Mentzelopoulos buying the property and creating a furore in Bordeaux with the ‘Greek in Medoc’ rumblings heard even beyond Bordeaux. Andre had brought on board the famous professor of oenology at the University of Bordeaux, Emile Peynaud, to put the then dilapidated estate back on track. The untimely death of Andre in 1980 at the age of 65, after he had done the house cleaning and brought back the quality, the 27 year-old daughter Corrine taking it upon her shoulders to continue the work started by her father, hiring in 1983 of the then young Pontallier with a PhD under his belt and a couple of years experience - is all well documented. So is the fact that in 1993, Corrine was forced to part with 75% of the company share to the Agnelli family (owners of Fiat) in Italy but bought it back in 2003 when the opportunity arose.

Click For Large ViewYoung  Corrine had business acumen and the commitment to carry on the work done by her father (one cannot but notice similarity between her and the other Dame of First Growth -  Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, exactly 20 years her senior, who took over the reins of Chateau Mouton Rothschild when her father Baron Philip de Rothschild died in 1988. Both became heiresses since their only brothers died young. Both are awarded Officer of the Legion of Honor). In conjunction with the winemaking genius of Paul Pontallier, the estate is today considered to be right on top and yet striving for better quality.

Commitment to India

But what is not widely known is the long term commitment of Chateaux Margaux to India and their passion to match their wines with Indian food, however much is practical. Paul feels that unless wine can match the local food, not much progress can be made in the long term. He says, ‘we don’t pretend to change the diets of Indians. But I believe a lot of your dishes-though not all, can do well with our wines and other wines too.’ He adds, ‘it took us a century to reach where we are. I came to India 5 years ago but our story is long and we are happy to start this dialogue.’ Paul eats a lot of vegetarian food and drinks a lot of Margaux, says Alexandra who says ‘we don’t always drink Chateaux Margaux though’ as she talks of Indian vegetarian food and the First Growth red wines.

One could trace the love of Chateaux Margaux for India and their passion to be here on a long term basis to Alexandra’s grandfather who she says came to India when he was 25. Dhruv Sawhney, who knows Corrine personally and has stayed at the estate as her guest, says the second floor of the residence is full of Indian artifacts. Their long term commitment to India is beyond doubt with the trio taking time out of their heavy schedule and congregating in India from Bordeaux, London and Hong Kong merely 4 months after their previous visit.

The Red Icons

The mainstay of the business is of course red wines - the iconic Chateau wine and the second wine Pavillon Rouge which has been produced for the last 400 years and is a good introduction to Chateau Margaux, as Paul explained. Of course, the soil is suitable for Cabernet Sauvignon which is the mainstay grape of their wines, followed by 10-20% Merlot and a sprinkling of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The selection process is so stringent that earlier 70% of the wine used to be the Grand Vin and the balance 30% was the Pavillon Rouge du Chateau Margaux. Today about a third of the wine is the top wine and a third goes to make Pavillon- about 130,000 bottles each. The rest is sold as bulk wine.

Starting from the 2009 vintage, a third wine-Margaux du Chateau Margaux has been introduced- for the restaurant trade to begin with. While the iconic Chateau wine has been getting more and more pricey (According to, prices have escalated from the earlier average of under $600 a bottle, crossing the $1000 mark for the 2005 vintage and now varying from $1100-1250), the Pavillon has been more steady at $170-220 with the 2011 and 2012 available for as low as $120. The indicative prices of the third wine have been around $50.

As Thibault pointed out, it is important for people not to rush to buy the collectible and pricey wines. Certain vintages are less popular than others and cost much less. But still have the Margaux seal of quality. They may not age as long as the pricey vintages but may be ready to drink younger. He makes a valid point-the 2001 vintage that we tasted today as well as at the previous dinner on December 8, is listed at an average of $541. The vintage-on-fire 2009 will burn a much bigger hole in your pocket at @1245-for the same wine!

Margaux Grand Vin is one of the most sought after collectible wine and as Thibault pointed out, some vintages are extremely in demand and we need to stay away from them for drinking pleasure. Last year a limited edition of Balthazar (12-liter bottle) of the 2009 vintage went on sale for €148,000. This translates into a mind boggling $9300 (Rs. 750,000) for a standard 750mL bottle!

Margaux Red and Indian Food

Click For Large ViewWhen I pair food with wine, I believe if it is not 50:50 balance; it should be 51:49 in favour of the wine, especially if it is a fine wine because one of the quintessential elements of a fine wine is the after-taste; it is long and complex and lingers on in your mouth and one relishes those moments. Chateaux Margaux and even Pavillon Rouge are perfumed, elegant and feminine wines that sit light on the palate. Each sip needs to be savoured because of its long after-taste.

This is where Margaux has an explicit faith that their wines would go very well with Indian food. Notwithstanding the fact that most Indians do not drink wine with Indian food yet and very few can actually afford to spend enormous amounts on high end luxury wines with their mutton curry, aloo-matar, or baingan bhartha and daal butas Paul Pontallier expressed,  there are some parts of Indian food that go well with their wines-and kebabs is one such category.

It’s a matter of interpretation but in my book kebabs are snacky foods we love to have at parties or before dinner. I also believe they are the easiest and the best to match with wine-provided there is no tomato, onions, pickles and yogurt, as the Chef also pointed out and had avoided using them in the kebabs for the afternoon. A slight amount of tweaking would help as was done with the murgh tikkas.

Click For Large ViewThe second wine that followed was Pavillon Rouge 2003 which went deliciously well with the lamb kebabs-small pieces of lamb wrapped around prunes, called Zarkhanda at the Taj. Even the rajma tikki kebab went quite well due to the soft and rounded tannins of the balanced wine.

Galawati kebabs- the small, juicy, succulent rounds made from pounded meat with the legendary 32 spices is one of the most delectable Indian kebabs with a unique complexity, flavour and texture-especially when served with chutney. What Chef Amit had prepared was a specimen of the Indian delicacy. The pairing with Chateau Margaux 2001 was, as Paul pointed out, a pleasurable experience on the palate. But as I believe, if the wine/food balance is not 50/50 it should be biased towards the wine-especially if it is a super fine wine like a margaux. I’d rather have the lingering taste of wine.

The Galawati Kebabs might have been a bit loud for Chateau Margaux 2001, but the serving staff at the Taj Mahal Hotel truly matched the top quality wine and the ambience. They waited on the select guests quietly, without a murmur and at just a flick of the finger or the turning of eyes they rushed to you instantly.

Wah Team Margaux! Wah Taj! Wah Dhruv Sawhney and Sanjay Menon!  One hopes to cherish more such occasions and may the efforts of Paul, Alexandra and Thibault to fine-tune Indian food with their wines succeed!  I would love to continue to be a guinea pig in this worthy cause.

Subhash Arora

Tags: Chateaux Margaux, Pavillon Blanc, Alexandra Petit- Mentzelopoulos, Paul Pontallier, Thibault Pontallier, Bordeaux, Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux, Amit Chowdhury, Sansula, Andre Mentzelopoulos, Emile Peynaud, Dhruv Sawhney, Sanjay Menon 



Subhash Arora Says:

Chateau Margaux released the prices of 2013 En Primeur this morning-reportedly at €215 ex-Bordeaux (down 10%), Pavillon Rouge at €72 and Pavillon Blanc at €96. These are applicable for negociants. Subhash Arora

Posted @ April 22, 2014 14:44


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