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Historical XIX Century Wine, Ch. Palmer (L20.06)
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Château Palmer is named after a British officer, Major General Palmer, who settled in Bordeaux in 1814. It is the top estate of the Margaux appellation after Château Margaux. It is located in the centre of the Margaux appellation, and its vineyards (Cabernet Sauvignon 55%, Merlot 40%, Cabernet Franc 5%) lie on a sparse gravel plateau.
Palmer is classified as a 3ème Cru Classé and was established as a Super Second long before Léoville Las Cases, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Pichon-Lalande, and in some years (1961, 1966, and 1983) it is as good as any wine in Bordeaux.
Palmer's relatively high Merlot content makes Palmer the closest in style of any leading Médoc properties to the great wines of Pomerol and St-Emilion.
Shiraz/Cabernet (or Cabernet/Shiraz, depending on which is the dominant variety) can be described as Australia's archetypal red wine blend. The blend can trace its roots back to 1865, when the famous Dr Guyot recommended it for the sunbaked vineyards of Provence. It became popular in the early 1960s and 1970s and came about largely due to the high demand for red wines and that fact there there was not enough Cabernet Sauvignon to meet this. At this time Shiraz was widely regarded as inferior to Cabernet Sauvignon and was still being grubbed up in Australian vineyards up until the mid 1980s.
The fleshiness and richness of Australian Shiraz acts as perfect foil for the more tannic and angular Cabernet Sauvignon and the blend is often matured in American oak, which adds notes of vanilla and spice. The proportions in the blend vary from 50/50 to 80/20 in some cases. It is seen across the whole quality spectrum in Australia and the blend is now been used in Languedoc Roussillon in France as well as in South Africa and California.
If Pauillac can be seen as the bastion of ‘traditional’ Red Bordeaux, then Margaux represents its other facet in producing wines that are among Bordeaux’s most sensual and alluring. It is the largest commune in the Médoc, encompassing the communes of Cantenac, Soussans, Arsac and Labaude, in addition to Margaux itself. Located in the centre of the Haut-Médoc, Margaux is the closest of the important communes to the city of Bordeaux.
The soils in Margaux are the lightest and most gravelly of the Médoc, with some also containing a high percentage of sand. Vineyards located in Cantenac and Margaux make up the core of the appelation with the best vineyard sites being located on well-drained slopes, whose lighter soils give Margaux its deft touch and silky perfumes. Further away from the water, there is a greater clay content and the wines are less dramatically perfumed.
Margaux is the most diffuse of all the Médoc appelations with a reputation for scaling the heights with irreproachable wines such as Ch. Margaux and Ch. Palmer, but also plumbing the depths, with too many other châteaux not fulfilling their potential. There has been an upward shift in recent years, but the appellation cannot yet boast the reliability of St Julien. However, the finest Margaux are exquisitely perfumed and models of refinement and subtlety which have few parallels in Bordeaux.