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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
THE WONDERFUL CHATEAU PALMER ...



Ch Palmer holds a special place in my wine affections.  From the 1966 vintage I learnt what a near-perfect bordeaux blend or cabernet / merlot wine should smell and taste like.  There were other lovely and typical 1966 Bordeaux wines,  but the 1966 Palmer stood out as a beacon:  it was so fragrant and floral,  and so velvety and smooth and rich.  I bought a case of it:  it has guided my wine evaluations ever since,  never more so than in later decades when New Zealand winemakers tried to tell me cabernet-dominant and cabernet / merlot blends were something quite different.  The 1966 wine itself developed wondrously in bottle,  ultimately overtaking Ch Margaux itself as one of the top wines of the vintage  in the estimation of careful and experienced northern hemisphere winewriters.  In particular it is the beauty of the merlot component in Ch Palmer which convinced me the 100-point merlot-dominant 1990 Ch Petrus reported on recently was not in fact a perfect wine.

So it was with a rare sense of anticipation that I attended the Glengarry Wines tasting of Ch Palmer last month in Auckland,  with Damien Grelat,  the chateau's Asia-Pacific export man.  And there,  glory-be,  I tasted again the kind and quality of wine which first bowled me over in 1970.  Such things don't happen often in a wine career:  it was very special.

Ch Palmer is the other great growth in the Margaux commune,  after Ch Margaux itself.  It has always been characterised by an unusually high percentage of merlot in the cepage.  As with an increasing number of highly-regarded chateaux and domaines,  viticulture is well on the way to becoming organic and biodynamic,  the goal being to have at least 37 ha (of the 55 ha) fully biodynamic from the 2014 vintage.   The 'second wine' is named Alter Ego de Chateau Palmer,  though management emphasises it is not a second wine in the usual sense,  but instead a different,  more modern,  interpretation of the site,  often from parts of the vineyard selected to illustrate that difference.  It does however include the younger vines,  it tends to be higher in merlot again,  with less new oak,  and is accessible earlier.

Stephen Brook records that the chateau has investigated the relationship between cropping rate and wine quality in some depth.  They feel the particular finesse and beauty of Palmer is impaired,  if the yields are reduced much below 45 hL / ha,  an interestingly highish figure.   Nonetheless some years nature dictates that the yield is lower,  in practice.  And the Ch Palmer website itself records that the cropping rate for the petit verdot component is limited to 35 hL / ha,  if it is to properly ripen.  Petit verdot is important because they have in effect no cabernet franc.  This intriguing detail therefore tends to confirm my claims made elsewhere,  on the relationship between 'perfect' ripeness and cropping rate.

The wines tasted were an absolute delight:  one could only wish for more vintages.

Brook,  Stephen,  2007:  The Complete Bordeaux.  Mitchell Beazley,  London,  720





THE WINES REVIEWED:

#  The prices below are the current Glengarry Wines website offer,  not the price on the evening.

2011  Alter Ego de Ch Palmer
2010  Alter Ego de Ch Palmer
2010  Ch Palmer
2007  Ch Palmer
  2006  Ch Palmer
2005  Ch Palmer
2000  Ch Palmer


2005  Ch Palmer   19 ½  ()
Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $825   [ cork 51mm;  cepage this year CS 53%,  Me 40,  PV 7,  average age 35 40 years,  planted @ 10,000 vines / ha,  typically cropped @ c.6  t/ha = 2.4  t/ac;  time spent in barrel in better years c.20 months,  45% new,  light toast;  now rated as one of the undoubted 'super-seconds';  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some garnet,  the middle wine for depth.  Bouquet here is the perfect complement to the 2010,  just as wondrously pure,  but a little more development than expected.  The wine has lost nearly all its primary fruit characters,  instead showing a rich amalgam of near-floral qualities and 'winey' fragrance on wonderfully rich berryfruit,  with the faintest suggestions of browning,  plus brown pipe tobacco and cedar.  In mouth there is a velvety richness of fruit,  the firmness attributed to petit verdot in the 2010 now totally melted away into a glorious lightly cedar-infused near-perfect cabernet / merlot blend.  This wine takes me back to the beauty of the 1966 Ch Palmer when it was a young wine back when at $6.35 one could afford a case of it,  even on the salaries of the day.  The 2005 and 2010 Palmers are of comparable richness,  though the 2005 being more developed does seem fractionally richer.  Cellar 5 30 years.  GK 11/15

2010  Ch Palmer   19 +  ()
Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  14.5%;  $699   [ cork 50mm;  cepage this year Me 54%,  CS 40,  PV 6,  average age 35 40 years,  planted @ 10,000 vines / ha,  typically cropped @ c.6  t/ha = 2.4  t/ac;  time spent in barrel in better years c.20 months,  45% new,  light toast;  now rated as one of the undoubted 'super-seconds';  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a beautiful deep claret colour,  the second deepest wine.  Bouquet shows wonderful darkest roses merlot florality underpinned by both dark plum and cassisy berry characters,  at this stage fruit totally dominant over oak.  This fruit-dominant ratio in the young wine is noteworthy,  relative to so many over-oaked young New Zealand cabernet / merlot blends.  The purity and intensity of bouquet is wonderful.  In flavour immediately the firmness of the petit verdot component suggests itself,  but there is no hardness in the sense of stalkyness such as Pichon Lalande (which until recently had up to 8% petit verdot in the blend) has often shown.  The freshness of the wine is sensational,  totally belying the 14.5% alcohol.  Flavour is long,  at this stage finishing on grape tannins awaiting softening.  The subtlety of the oak is particularly attractive:  this is a classic young claret despite the alcohol.  Grelat agreed the 2010 was classic,  but 'masculine' (not the usual for Palmer),  and compared it with the 1983 (not 1982,  in Margaux),  or more particularly the 'legendary' 1961.  The dry extract is wonderful.  Cellar 10 35 years.  GK 11/15

2010  Alter Ego de Ch Palmer   18 ½  ()
Margaux,  Bordeaux,  France:  14.5%;  $200   [ cork 50mm;  cepage this year CS 51%,  Me 49,  average age 35 40 years,  planted @ 10,000 vines / ha,  typically cropped @ c.6  t/ha = 2.4  t/ac;  time spent in barrel in better years c.18 months,  25% new;  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fractionally denser than the grand vin,  the deepest wine.  It is very difficult indeed to tell the second wine from the first wine,  on bouquet,  in 2010.  The clarity and purity of berry is stunning.  It is not quite so warmly floral or the merlot so forward,  perhaps,  but on bouquet the two wines are wonderfully close.  Flavours do show up a slight difference,  almost as if there is more press wine in the Alter Ego.  It is slightly harder,  and slightly leaner,  but it is still of a quality surpassing many lesser classed growths.  How different Bordeaux practice is today,  from when I first started studying them.  Back then,  and all through the 60s,  70s,  80s and even the 90s,  the second wines were often miserable affairs.  Selection now for the grand vin is so rigorous,  and the same approach applies for the second wine in the great estates,  that investing in this wine seems essential.  Cellar 5 25 years.  GK 11/15

2000  Ch Palmer   18 +  ()
Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $825   [ cork 49mm;  cepage this year CS 53%,  Me 47,  average age 35 40 years,  planted @ 10,000 vines / ha,  typically cropped @ c.6  t/ha = 2.4  t/ac;  time spent in barrel in better years c.20 months,  45% new,  light toast;  now rated as one of the undoubted 'super-seconds';  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Ruby,  garnet and some velvet,  the lightest of the seven wines.  Bouquet is a little more old-fashioned than the 2005,  and not so warm and rich,  all showing secondary and some tertiary qualities of bouquet evolution:  browning cassis,  tobacco,  faint leather,  cedar.  Palate shows the same elegance of fruit / oak interaction as the younger wines,  namely great restraint,  but not quite the same pinpoint ripeness.  Maybe there are trace less-ripe grape tannins here.  There might be the subtlest wild yeast complexity too.  This is more advanced than I hoped,  but it is pretty classic claret,  still with some tannins to lose.  Cellar 5 25 years.  GK 11/15

2006  Ch Palmer   18  ()
Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $525   [ cork 50mm;  cepage this year Me 56%,  CS 44,  average age 35 40 years,  planted @ 10,000 vines / ha,  typically cropped @ c.6  t/ha = 2.4  t/ac;  time spent in barrel in better years c.20 months,  45% new,  light toast;  now rated as one of the undoubted 'super-seconds';  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  a hint of garnet starting,  the second to lightest wine.  Bouquet is beautifully fragrant and focussed,  the merlot complexly floral and dominating with hints of violets and port-wine magnolia,  cassis,  and cedar less apparent.  There is lovely total harmony in a slightly less ample style than the top wines.  On palate the smoothness and integration is wonderful:  this wine is already approaching its plateau of maturity.  There is the faintest suggestion of less ripe tannin,  but the oak is so subtle,  this character is not accentuated.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 11/15

2011  Alter Ego de Ch Palmer   17 ½ +  ()
Margaux,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $160   [ cork 50mm;  cepage this year Me 48%,  CS 37,  PV 15,  average age 35 40 years,  planted @ 10,000 vines / ha,  typically cropped @ c.6  t/ha = 2.4  t/ac;  time spent in barrel in better years c.18 months,  25% new;  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fractionally lighter than the 2010 Alter Ego,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is the most modern of the set,  in the sense there is more apparent oak.  Berry quality is firm and youthful,  scarcely floral,  just clean and pure hinting at cassis and red and black plums.  Palate shows good richness for a second wine,  more obvious dark fruits now,  but also a firm stalky-tannin note,  which lingers to the aftertaste.  It  is clearly a shorter wine than the 2010 Alter Ego,  yet it still gives the impression of better fruit and cellaring potential than the 2007 grand vin.  Intriguing.  Cellar 5 20 years.  GK 11/15

2007  Ch Palmer   17 +  ()
Margaux Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $370   [ cork 50mm;  cepage this year Me 49%,  CS 44,  PV 7,  average age 35 40 years,  planted @ 10,000 vines / ha,  typically cropped @ c.6  t/ha = 2.4  t/ac;  time spent in barrel in better years c.20 months,  45% new,  light toast;  now rated as one of the undoubted 'super-seconds';  www.chateau-palmer.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  surprisingly much fresher than the 2006,  just under midway in depth.  This wine is slightly different from the others,  showing a faintly leafy character through bouquet and palate.  There is fragrant cassisy berry apparent,  and again this wonderful subtlety of oaking.  Here however there is also a green stalky quality on palate,  imperfectly ripe tannins,  along with good berryfruit,  reminding of many more-commercial New Zealand merlot-dominant blends.  These are the hazards of temperate-climate viticulture.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 11/15