Chateau Palmer 2004

The business.

The business.

Local wine wholesaler and importer Great Domaines is to represent Bordeaux Third Growth Chateau Palmer in South Africa and yesterday the property’s export director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Christopher Myers introduced the winery to a gathering of trade and media.

Owned jointly by negociants Mãhler-Besse and Sichel, the property is 57ha in size and produces 9 000 cases of first label and a further 7 000 cases of its second label called Alter Ego. Two points of interest is that 1) 2014 was the first vintage the property was 100% biodynamic (or “organic-plus-plus” as Myers put it) and 2) the winemaking team was working hard to get sulphur levels down in line with the natural wine movement increasingly taking hold across the world.

Tasting notes and scores for wines tasted:

Alter Ego 2008
Approximate retail price in SA: R1 462.50
52% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon. Red and black berries and some cigar box. Quite modern in being fruit driven with soft tannins but not short of freshness.

Score: 89/100.

Chateau Palmer 2007
Approximate retail price in SA:  R3 893.50
49% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. Black fruit, toasty oak and some unbecoming dank and weedy notes. Better on the palate which appears rich and full. Concentrated fruit, fresh acidity and firm tannins – seems quite heavily worked. Plenty of Stellenbosch wines like this that don’t cost nearly as much!

Score: 91/100.

Chateau Palmer 2004
Approximate retail price: R4 153.50
Red and black fruit, violets and a touch of spice. Medium bodied with fresh acidity and fine tannins. Intensely flavoured but not weighty. Plenty of finesse here. Long and properly dry on the finish. This is what makes Bordeaux great.

Score: 94/100.

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8 Comments

  1. Grant DoddMarch 22, 2015 at 11:43 amReply

    In fact, there are significant fluctuations between vintages of even the firsts and seconds in Bordeaux over the past handful of years, something that is often overlooked when making comparisons to South Africa.

    I think it is pretty much a given that producers in SA would put Cab and family blends into bottle at 13.5% if they could achieve ripeness at that level. But with shorter growing seasons, warmer winters/less vine dormancy, GDD numbers of 2200 ( Stellenbosch) vs @1550 ( Bordeaux) we’re playing a different game. All the same, some really nice gear being made here.

  2. joeMarch 17, 2015 at 6:47 amReply

    Kwispedoor: What do you reckon is most comparable nowadays? Or is basically nothing from 2003 onwards from SA anything like good Bordeaux?

    • KwispedoorMarch 17, 2015 at 10:40 amReply

      Well, I think our wines are different, Joe. There’s good value to be found and they can perhaps compete a bit more directly with some new-wave Bordeaux that is also produced in the more modern/Parkerised idiom.

      The fact is that our wine country is mostly hotter than Bordeaux and over the last decade and a half, our winemakers have been taught to go for more power, more colour, more ripeness, more extraction, more early drinkability, softer tannins and to avoid pyrazines like it’s the Black Plague. Thus, our wines are not really likely to echo the classical profile of traditional Bordeaux any more.

      Those who have tried it don’t always succeed; for instance when earlier picking results in unripe flavours (not all pyrazine nuances are bad IMHO, but some definitely are).

      I can name quite a few pre-2003 SA wines that evoked Bordeaux, but it’s really difficult after that. Stylistically, only two come to mind right now:
      (1) Most vintages of Jordan’s CWG Sophia. I remember one year when tasting the CWG wines, I felt that the whites (again) really overshadowed the reds and that most of the reds lacked at least some elegance and balance – they were all about power. The two that I liked most was a 2003 Cordoba Auction Blend (not 100% sure about its exact name) and a 2006 Jordan Sophia, if memory serves. I did some research afterwards and found out that they were the only red wines (besides Pinot) that had ABV’s below 14%. I think the Sophia is still really South African in style, but with a bit of a nod towards some of Bordeaux’s traits.
      (2) Hillcrest Hornfels (mostly Cabernet-led) and Quarry (mostly Merlot or Merlot-led). These wines really need time, though. Especially in some (mostly earlier) vintages, their pyrazines will scare some people off when they’re opened in their youth. Pyrazines from unripe grapes never turn the corner and even tends to become more severe over time, but pyrazines from mature vineyards and slow-ripening grapes that’s well-managed viticulturally, tend to soften and blend into a wine as it matures. I’ve experienced this many, many times over (most recently with a Hillcrest Merlot 2005 that has lost all of its youthful pyrazines by now – of course it was tasted blind, so no prejudice towards the label). I feel these two wines have great balance, mouthfeel, freshness, minerality and character and I’m going to keep mine for ages before I’ll even think of broaching them.

      Okay, more has come to mind now: perhaps Raats Family Cabernet Franc, the 2012 vintages of Vilafonté, some of Belfield’s reds, newer vintages of R&R Baron Edmund (some older ones were vulgar) all have at least a bit of Bordeaux character in them. I’m sure there are more that I’ve either not tasted yet or that I simply can’t think of right now, but you have to think hard nowadays…

      Sorry for rambling on like this on your blog, Christian (not that I assume you or anyone else has read this far). I can’t help myself. :-)

  3. joeMarch 14, 2015 at 11:20 amReply

    Thanks!

  4. joeMarch 13, 2015 at 1:23 amReply

    I’m trying to convince a friend of mine who is a die-hard Bordeaux fan that SA can produce similar tastes for much less money. Can you recommend a few bottles from Stellenbosch (or elsewhere in SA) that as closely as possible match that of the Palmer 2004 or 2007? Thanks!

    • KwispedoorMarch 13, 2015 at 8:59 amReply

      Looking forward to your answer, Christian. On Monday I had a look (a look only, unfortunately) at a few mid-noughties Palmers and they hovered around the 12.5% ABV level.

    • Christian EedesMarch 13, 2015 at 9:29 amReplyAuthor

      SA wines which I feel show “classic Bordeaux styling” include (but are not limited to) the following: Buitenverwachting Christine, Diemersdal MM Louw, Eikendal Classique, Kanonop Paul Sauer, Meerlust Rubicon, Morgenster and Vergelegen GVB. There are of course other very good wines from the Bordeaux varieties but for stylistic reasons make a less useful comparison (De Toren Fusion V, Ernie Els Signature, Saronsberg Seismic and Tokara Director’s Reserve, for instance).

      • KwispedoorMarch 14, 2015 at 12:25 pm

        Hmmm. I agree with some of those, but even so, the current vintages of those SA wines have about 2% more ABV (compared to the Palmers from the mid 2000’s), except for two or three which are 1% to 1,5% higher. I’m not sure exactly how reliable the French labels are with regards to alcohol content, but it remains one glaring difference between us and Bordeaux. For me, Cordoba Crescendo perhaps came closest. And way back, before the ripeness-at-all-costs movement, there were a few that came arguably even closer. I particularly – and fondly – remember the fantastic Buitenverwachting Grand Vin 1989 (Christine by a different name), which was stunning as a mature wine.

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