The Grand Lady of Pauillac

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Anyone who knows me understands my love of French culture…style, fashion, design, art, history, cuisine, but most especially, French wine. Last evening I enjoyed this elegant, magnificent wine…a 1999 Bordeaux from Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. This wine was even more special to me because I visited this beautiful château in Pauillac, Bordeaux in September of 2009.

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This wine was a blend of 47% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot…well-balanced, medium-bodied, with soft tannins, a slight perfume, raspberries, underbrush and a smooth, long finish. The château is in Pauillac, home to some of the most renowned estates in Bordeaux, on the left bank, with the estate facing the majestic Gironde estuary. What is unusual is that wines on the left bank generally have more Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot in their blends. Higher Merlot content is the focus of the right bank wines of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. But this particular Pichon-Lalande vintage had Merlot as the somewhat dominant grape in the blend. Pichon-Lalande is a prestigious Deuxième Cru, or second-growth château, under the 1855 Classification.

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I visited this beautiful place and tasted their 2006 vintage in 2009, on a mild, but drizzly early September day. The château, half of the massive Pichon Estate (the other is neighboring Pichon-Baron, owned by AXA, the French insurance giant) has an interesting tradition of female ownership and management dating back to the mid 19th century. Virginie, the wife of the Count of Lalande, and her two sisters, built the regal residence, inspired by the Hotel de Lalande in Bordeaux, and managed the estate under the name Comtesse de Lalande, making her a key Bordelaise figure, with her impact lasting to the present day. Unfortunately, there were no direct heirs, and the estate was gradually passed down from aunts to nieces.

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World War I wreaked havoc on the region and many vineyards were auctioned. In 1925, the property was purchased by the Miailhe brothers, who managed the château until May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, daughter of Edouard Miailhe, took over in 1978. Under her tutelage, she invested in and modernized the estate, travelled extensively to increase awareness of her wine, moving the château to the next level. In 1997 she acquired another left bank property, Château Bernadotte. In 2007, she sold the estate to the Louis Roederer Champagne house.

In 2011, the female tradition carried on under Sylvie Cazes, co-owner of Château Lynch-Bages, and whose brother Jean-Michel ran Pichon-Baron until he retired in 2000. Sylvie has also been the recent president of Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, until she left it and Pichon-Lalande just a few weeks ago.

She is now concentrating her efforts on the development of the Bordeaux Wine Cultural Centre, which breaks ground this spring and is scheduled to open in 2014. The female tradition at Pichon-Lalande has come to end for now, with the appointment of Nicolas Glumineau. But look at what these powerful French women have accomplished to make Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande the Grand Lady of Pauillac!

Until next time…à votre sante!

Photos by Christine Humphrey ©2013

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