One of the more curious trends I discovered on a recent trip to Bordeaux is that a surprising number of families own a great many chateaux. In fact, some families own so many chateaux that these glorious, world-famous structures now exist as platforms for wine-related events, housing for journalists or guests from the wine trade, and, because no one really lives in them, a unique insight into Bordelais culture gone by.
So imagine — just imagine — you had the opportunity to taste the new 2009 vintage Chateau La Cabanne Pomerol in a pristine, virtually untouched eighteenth-century setting. Oil paintings of ancestors in their gilt frames smile (no frowns here) down on you as you sip the wine that members of their family made on that exact terroir two hundred years ago. One can just imagine the courtiers, negotiants, and perhaps a fine wine journalist or wine-collecting noble person where I now stand, tasting the new vintage and making a pronouncement. It’s quite a heady feeling to know that most (actually all) of the furniture in the room is over a century old and perhaps twice that. And of course the terroir is the same — only the humans standing in a circle, noses in glasses, are new and sadly temporal.
I am tasting the 2009 from Chateau La Cabanne and the five other estates owned by Michele and Francis Estager in the reception room of Chateau La Papeterie, a picture-perfect Chateau where I and other journalists will spend the night in this week of En Primeur. Michele Estager is a delightful, elegant, and well-dressed woman who tells many stories in French, some of which I can understand. The chateau is also a depository for at least two centuries of family heirlooms, curiosities, and museum-quality furniture that have been passed down through the family for generations. When I ask to borrow a pair of scissors to cut a thread, Madame puts her finger to her mouth as if thinking, and then slowly, as if led by a distant memory, leads me to a large bureau where she opens its ancient wooden doors and extracts an object the exact shape of a old square cigar box. She opens it and reveals a few spools of ancient thread. “It belonged to my mother-in-law!” she exclaims, with an amused laugh, seemingly surprised to have remembered where it had been stored so many years before.
Leading the tasting is oenologist for all the Estager chateaux, Florent Faure. The Chateau La Carbonne 2009 is deeply flavored, with concentrated fruit and an elegant sense of balance. The chateau dates back to the fourtheenth century when it was part of a larger estate. Its current size is ten hectares located in the graves of the western slopes of the Upper Terrace in the geographic center of Pomerol. The clayey subsoil and gravelly cinder (concentration of sand and iron) give the wine power and a distinct minerality and sense of place. The tasting includes all the wines in Michele and Francis Estager’s estate, and even the “under $20 wines” are fabulously rich and ripe. The wines all seem a terrific value and this is a terrific year to buy them.