BY CECILY CHAPPEL
Undeniably one of the greatest wine regions on earth, Bordeaux has a proud viticultural heritage dating back to the 17th century, when Dutch settlers drained vast swathes of land in the Médoc and revealed the legendary gravel soils that today are home to some of the world’s most famous producers. Ever since that time, the wines of Bordeaux have grown in popularity and prestige, with classifications and the birth of the en primeur system further emphasising their quality and desirability. Bordeaux will always hold a very special place in the hearts of the Chelsea Vintners team, and for most wine lovers around the world.
Chelsea Vintners have recently welcomed Cecily Chappel to our ranks as our new Managing Director. We wanted to find out a little more about Cecily, so we challenged her to take us on a journey through Bordeaux in just six special bottles. She responded in fine form, with a mouth-watering list of her most memorable Bordeaux wines that perfectly encapsulates the diversity and quality of this unique region.
Chateau Magdelaine 1961
‘This is a classic Bordeaux style from a property located on the bare limestone soils of St-Émilion, a stone’s throw from Chateau Ausone. I tried the 1961 vintage from half bottle a decade ago – I wasn’t expecting much, but I am always a fan of the estate so gave it a go and was well rewarded! Brimming with cedar, dark cherries and forest floor, the palate is as silky as it gets with a fabulously long finish. Sadly, the estate has long since been swallowed up by Chateau Bélair-Monange – due to a merger in 2012, the final vintage produced under the original Magdelaine label was in 2011. All the more reason to pick up old vintages from this great estate whenever you can.’
La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc 2010
Second on the list is something a little different from one of Bordeaux’s most famous names – La Mission Haut-Brion. Instead of the classic red Bordeaux blends, Cecily has chosen the estate’s Blanc, a sensational marriage of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.
‘I firmly believe that the dry whites of Bordeaux should never be overlooked. There are so many superb whites to enjoy, but the wine that takes my breath away every time is La Mission Haut Brion-Blanc. The 2010 is brimming with citrus, white flavours, honey and a hint of spice. A beautifully balanced wine, intense and vibrant with the with a wonderfully dense mouthfeel. Swap your glass of Burgundy for a splash of white Bordeaux this week!’
Médoc, SGC 2009
Whilst perhaps not one of the best-known producers in the region, SGC (Les Secrets de Grands Cru) is one of the most interesting and exciting names to come onto the Bordeaux scene in recent times – a great tip from Cecily for those Bordeaux lovers looking for something new.
‘SGC is undoubtedly the most interesting Bordeaux disruptor I’ve come across. The property’s owner, ex-financier Arnaud Christaens views the concept of terroir as marketing jargon, and instead takes a highly scientific approach by using soil specialists to analyse the best plots in Bordeaux to grow his vines. The closest comparison is to think of the intensely site-driven Burgundian mentality being put to work in Bordeaux. The 2009 Médoc was the first of the SGC range I have tried, and it was a wine that blew me away. Sweet tannins, cedar, tobacco and chocolate with a finish that makes you feel like you’ve been wrapped in cashmere! The wines are sold on allocation, so it is always worth taking the chance to taste whenever you get it.’
Cheval Blanc 1945
There are few names on earth more recognisable than Cheval Blanc – for many the ultimate Saint-Émilion wine, with a history dating back centuries and a level of prestige that most winemakers can only dream of. The name Cheval Blanc has been used since 1852, and by the late 19th century was considered a contemporary of the five famous First Growth properties. Its legendary status was further confirmed in 1954, when the château was awarded the prestigious Premier Grand Cru Classé “A” status, which it retains to this day. This extraordinary legacy makes the story of Cecily’s fourth bottle of Bordeaux even more special, if such a thing is possible!
‘I find wines always taste better when you’re surrounded by people you like and so I will have to choose a recent moment just before starting at Chelsea Vintners, when I was on holiday in Portugal with my family. We discovered a bottle of 1945 Cheval Blanc in the hotel cellar, not only in pristine condition but offered at what I can only assume was the price set at least 20 years ago! We snapped it up and were so glad we did. I was unsure how long it would last, but it just got better and better and better in the glass. Every sip changing, forever evolving. Sweet, ripe red fruit, raspberries, a hint of prune, a dash of cherry and softened by aged leather. Hedonistic, elegant, moreish – we drank it whilst enjoying fabulous food and watching the sunset. Pair that experience with the historical significance of 1945 and you feel like you have entered the gates of heaven early!’
Pichon Lalande 1982
No list of Bordeaux would be complete without a stop in Pauillac, and Cecily’s penultimate wine is one of the greats of this diminutive appellation. One of the ‘Super Seconds’, classified just below the First Growths, Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (to give it its full title) is a true Bordeaux heavyweight. Cecily has chosen the 1982 vintage from this great estate, a stellar year for the entire region and notable for Pichon in that this was one of the best-ever wines made under the careful supervision of the legendary Mme May-Éliane de Lencquesaing, owner and winemaker here for over 30 years.
‘Bordeaux 1982 was not only among the vintages of the century – part of a tiny select group that includes 1929, 1945 and 1961 – but arguably the jackpot of the century. It signalled the entry of the Americans to the Bordeaux marketplace in a big way and set the region firmly on the road to recovery after the financial hardships of the 1970s.
1982 also happens to be my birth year. I have been fortunate to have tried most of the greats and arguably one of the First Growths should be on my list from this year, but it was Pichon Lalande that moved me the most and so it is this that makes my top six. The ’82 is exquisitely balanced, brimming with red and black fruit, a whiff of cedar and some graphite for good measure, with cigar and dark chocolate finding their way through. The tannins are soft, subtle and velvety, and the finish almost unending … a very sensual wine.
If you can find a bottle of this in top condition, it’s a must. Avoid the bottles that have travelled great distances as they are showing signs of wear and tear.’
Ch d’Yquem 1983
Last, but most certainly not least, we conclude Cecily’s journey through Bordeaux as any good dinner or celebration should end … with a decadent drop of something sweet from Château d’Yquem, indisputably the world’s most famous dessert wine producer.
‘A list of Bordeaux’s finest would not be complete without a sticky bottle from Sauternes or Barsac. The sweet wines of Bordeaux are arguably the best in class. For me the ‘83 Chateau d’Yquem is a perfect example of what Bordeaux can produce from botrytised grapes. Uber concentrated with lashings of glycerin. Think succulent honey, quince, apricot andn butterscotch flavours, but with real vibrancy. Absolutely stunning. A wine your great-grandchildren will continue to enjoy in the future!’
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