Chateau Palmer revives an old tradition

Vin de table lies at the bottom of the administrative heap in France: it’s derided, dirt cheap and sold in supermarkets by the flagon.

Paradoxically, however, producers who dare to do something different are all-too-often ending up in this undifferentiated tier. (I detail more of the shortcomings of the appellation process in my book, Wine Politics.) Although quality producers in Italy make wine outside of the DOC system, the French have clung with surprisingly fervor to the AOC system as relatively few have left, in large part fearing the stigma of vin de table.

Chateau Palmer, the “super second” classified growth from Margaux, does not appear to fit the profile of one to buck the system. But that’s what they’ve done with their “XIXth Century historical wine.” Apparently, blending syrah from the Northern Rhone with Bordeaux was fairly common in the pre-appellation controllée era, particularly in weaker vintages, to result in a wine that had been “Hermitagé,” so-called after the celebrated region that produces fine syrah.

To make the Historical wine, winemaker Thomas Duroux blends barrels that were otherwise destined for Chateau Palmer with no more than twenty percent syrah from “friendly” (but unspecified) sources in Hermitage, Cote Rotie, and Cornas. Although it has been produced only in 2004, 2006, and 2007, the label legally can’t state a vintage as a vin de table, so instead they rely on the microscopic font of the lot number, 20.06 in the one I tasted last week. The wine is nothing like shiraz, cabernet, merlot blends of Australia, but it’s not really very Margaux either since it is fuller and richer and showing more of the syrah character now. Of the 250 – 300 cases made, the chateau is holding back 50 cases for a minimum ten years to see if the wine changes back to show more of the Margaux character. Priced the same as Chateau Palmer ex-cellars, this isn’t your typical vin de table.

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13 Responses to “Chateau Palmer revives an old tradition”

  1. I had that wine at a tasting maybe 2-3months ago and it was pretty damn good, you get the bordeauxness and the NRhone Syrahness jsut lovely, to bad in canada if I wanted to buy some it was like 375$ more then the normal Palmer!

  2. […] Chateau Palmer revives old tradition […]

  3. I’m glad you posted this. There’s a lot of great Bordeaux+Syrah blends out of California, Oregon, and Washington, and they’re often very enjoyable for the $10-15 price point.

    There’s so many of the French wine rules that are taken as near-religious law, yet frequently broken even under AOC rules. You never mix white and red grapes, except in Cote Rotie or Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Gouais Blanc is practically illegal to grow, but it’s the mother of Chardonnay. You never, EVER blend Pinot Noir with anything… except in Champagne. Only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier are allowed in Champagne, except for a handful of other grapes that were grandfathered in a hundred years ago.

    This past weekend I tried an Aussie rosé that’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. And I really enjoyed it. I’m preparing myself for the hate mail as we speak. 🙂

  4. What?!

    Blend varietal wines? Thats blasphemous! Appalling. How could anyone who is serious about wine consider doing such a thing.

    Truth is, the different components of vaietal wines lend themselves to blending and the result is a more interesting outcome.

    And yes, it is a revival of an old system. A system that was in place before wine geeks turned a fun filled interesting product into a p…ing contest, obsessed with parker points and bulldust. wine geeks dont love wine. Thay are a group of people who are geeks and wine is the subject that enables them to obsess. If pork bellies or corn futures could be used as boasting tools, then the geeks would be onto them just like they are onto wine.

    Sorry for the rant. But ultimately, who cares whats in the bottle if it tastes good and is a pleasure to drink?

  5. Aw, there’s all kinds of “heresies” out there. In France (of course) some of them have been institutionalized: AOC Cabardès requires cabernet and/or merlot to be blended with syrah and/or grenache. It bills itself as the “land of the East Wind and West Wind.”

    My favorite American heretical blend (can there be such a thing?) is Tandem’s “Peloton,” which blends Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. Yes, really.

  6. Sorry to be a troll, but I think that Warren Roberts needs to rein in his generalizations. These are comments on a wine blog after all, not really the place to disparage wine geeks.

    That said, I do agree with him that the splendo-blendo is too often dismissed out of hand. I think some of the negative sentiment coming from ‘wine geeks’ (or anyone else) is based on the idea that blending varietals is only a way of making up for insufficiencies; nothing more than some last minute, half-assed tinkering to try and get something to market, even if it is horrible dreck.

  7. There are a number of examples of Pinot Noir blended with other grape varieties outside of Champagne. Two that immediately come to mind are Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire and Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains. And the Loire is full of AOCs that blend Pinot Noir with other varieties.

  8. “I think some of the negative sentiment coming from ‘wine geeks’ (or anyone else) is based on the idea that blending varietals is only a way of making up for insufficiencies; nothing more than some last minute, half-assed tinkering to try and get something to market, even if it is horrible dreck.”

    Ah, yes, Chateauneuf-du-Pape: nothing but dreck.

  9. My bad Dave, “…the misinformed idea…”

    What other examples of well known and tasty blends can you think of?

  10. “What other examples of well known and tasty blends can you think of?”

    Um, Bordeaux? (Sorry, it’s often my mission in life to point out the obvious…)

  11. With all the changes going on in the world today, and Asia having such an impact on the wine industry, it is nice to have tradition carry on. The Old World must have a hard time keeping up with the New World in innovation because of all the restrictions and laws so keep up the great work Old World vitners.

  12. super second??? Pretty sure Palmer is a third growth.

  13. I like palmer’s idea and I like the packaging. I’ve seen some nice cab/syrah blends come out of france. Most recently, 06′ Mas De Guiot from languedoc. Fantastic at $10.99. As long as the price is right this could be a winner.


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