An Evening With Château Margaux Exquisite Wines from 1985 to 2012

Needless to say, it was an honor and a pleasure to host Château Margaux—one of the most iconic French chateaux in Bordeaux—at The Reserve this past October 22.

As per tradition, the evening began on the patio with a Champagne reception of Krug and caviar, along with passed bites of foie gras, chicken satay and gaufrette with caviar. As with these coveted wine dinners, space is limited and only a select few Members win the lottery to gain a seat at the dinner. For the lucky attendees, the wine glass-to-diner ratio was an impressive 7-to-1.That night, Aurélien Valance the Commercial Director of Château Margaux told stories about his time on property and his favorite wines—with a few insider tidbits that highlighted some behind-the-scenes decisions made at the chateau. As Valance told us, the estate dates as far back as the 12th century, when it was a fortress built to protect the city. However its long history in grape growing and wine production started about two or three centuries later—when, over the span of nearly a century, the Lestonnac family bought all the best plots nearby the estate to create the full property we know today. And that history in grape growing and wine production continues to this day with the Mentzelopoulos family. 
It was in the late 17th century, that Château Margaux became part of the elite “First Growths” alongside other wine houses such as Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Lafite Rothschild, and Château Latour. Roughly a third of the estate of Château Margaux is dedicated to producing its famous wines, with fans like Thomas Jefferson—and The Napa Valley Reserve. 
Over the past 250 years, they’ve har­vested the same vineyards and used the same techniques. It’s that level of consistency and dedication that makes the wine distinct and successful year after year. However, it’s not to say that they don’t experiment and change with the times. 
Valance explained in his introduction that the viticulture team adapted to the growing concern of global warming by dividing the estate into micro plots and conducting blind tastings to monitor differences. They discovered that because of global warming, the merlot was coming in with too much alcohol, which made it difficult to blend. With these blind tastings, they found that by harvesting earlier and managing new ways of pruning the vines made for a better wine.
Over the four-course dinner with seven elegant wines, the tables seemed merely a vessel for glassware. However Chef Alejandro’s menu managed to stand out as well as complement each wine exquisitely. Through­out dinner, we learned more and more about why Château Margaux is one of the premier estates in the Médoc.
While known best for the Cabernet Sau­vignon, Château Margaux makes one white wine for the Pavillon label: Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux. It’s a pure sauvignon blanc that they craft to be as complex as it possibly can be, so that according to Valance, it can age 10, 20, 30 years. He mentioned that they recently tasted a 100-year old Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux en magnum. It turns out that the 2011 harvest was the earliest since 1893 for the white grapes, and while the wine ended up being spectacular, the only disappointment was the small quantity. Out of 100,000 vines they made roughly 10,000 bottles. The 2011 Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux en magnum paired brilliantly with the buttery poached Maine lobster.
For the next course, Thomas Burke, Master Sommelier, US Business Development, walked us through the Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux wines. Originally, the second label for the estate, these wines have been catching up to the top wine in quality and distinction. The 2010 Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux enjoyed relatively ideal growing conditions and resulted in a wine that many felt was as close to a Château Margaux wine as they’ve ever made. (He mentioned that 2015 will likely top the 2010 vintage.) Whereas the 2005 ended up inheriting much of the merlot that didn’t go into the first wine, it found its balance when blended with a cabernet sauvignon to become one of the boldest, richest wines produced with good ageability and spice. Both of these wines went with the duck brique with smoked turnip and cherry compote. 
As the evening progressed, we moved to the 1996 and 2003 Château Margaux alongside grilled ribeye with vegetables from The Reserve Garden and cabernet jus. Valance explained why the ’96—beyond being a benchmark wine for classicism and purity—holds a special place in his heart. It turns out that he first fell in love with the ‘96 when he tasted it during a visit to the estate when he was in business school. He was so enthralled that he nearly begged the owner to work there, on site. The ’03 was another hot summer known for such extreme temperatures that they picked historically early, and yet the wine came out as consistently as in previous years. 
The final wines paired with the cheese course—Ossau Iratty—were the oldest wines of the night: 1989 and 1985. However, even 30 years or so in, it became apparent that these wines could spend twice as long in the bottle and still get even better. Perhaps that’s the true indicator of a Château Margaux wine.
As it was, the recurring theme of the gracefulness of age and time, rather than the act of testing time, seemed to permeate the evening. That these wines stand the test of time and get better and more elegant over decades, if not centuries, puts things into perspective in a reassuring and beautiful way.