Blanc Expressions at Margaux

Notes from Bordeaux En Primeur

Longtime friend and colleague of Charles Communications Associates (CCA), Devon Magee, recently took his annual trip to En Primeur in Bordeaux with his team at Bay Area online wine retailer, JJ Buckley Fine Wines. Literally translated from the French language, “the first to know,”  En Primeur is a method of purchasing wines early while a vintage is still in barrel.  Largely associated with the Bordeaux wine trade for centuries, it is now being adapted by other iconic wine regions to showcase wines in advance. For the last nine years, the JJ Buckley team has usually represented the largest contingent of any American retailer to Bordeaux, and they continue to produce an impressive tasting report on the vintage following their trip, chock-full of producer articles, appellation assessments and hundreds of tasting notes.  This report has become required reading for serious wine enthusiasts hoping to invest in each year’s Bordeaux futures campaign (as well as anyone who simply wants to live vicariously through a week’s worth of multi-course meals at storied, classified-growth chateaus).  

Below is Magee’s sneak peek preview from the soon-to-be-published 2014 vintage report, centering on the wine that many insiders are proclaiming the ‘wine of the vintage’:

Chateau Margaux

Chateau Margaux

Chateau Margaux…Blanc!

Paul Pontallier pours us a taste of his 2014 Pavillon Blanc, and the little tasting room in Chateau Margaux’s cellar falls silent – not a common occurrence for our stentorian 14-person team.

This is the highest organic praise for any wine, when the wine is so stunning, so beguiling, that it defies words and literally leaves the tasters speechless. 

Paul looks at us knowingly. “Yes, we think that it’s pretty good,” he says in English with a subtle, aristocratic French accent. “In fact, I think that it might be the greatest Pavillon Blanc that we have made.”

Sometimes, the En Primeur tastings in Bordeaux can feel like a soapbox for producers and Chateaux owners to proclaim just how good their wine is that year, vintage be damned.

But Pontallier’s proclamation, at that moment, as we struggled to find our own descriptive words, rang true. And he would know best, biases aside. He has been making Chateau Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc since 1983.

“You know, I just drank a 1900 Pavillon Blanc at a dinner here. It was okay. Let me go to get it,” and Paul disappears through a small door.  He returns with a clear, incongruent/blemished glass bottle. The label is well worn, yet unmistakably reads “Chateau Margaux Blanc.”

“My fifth time tasting this vintage,” he says.

Chateau Margaux Wine Director Paul Pontallier discusses the vintage

Chateau Margaux Wine Director Paul Pontallier discusses the vintage

Up until 1920, Chateau Margaux labeled their white wine Chateau Margaux Blanc. Perceived label confusion – Marguax was already the name of the red wine, the town, and the appellation – led the Chateau to introduce Pavillon Blanc to keep Chateau Margaux’s Grand Vin distinct.

Yet the change led to a different form of label confusion. Wine drinkers often put Margaux’s Pavillon Blanc on the same qualitative tier as Chateau Margaux’s second wine, Pavillon Rouge, when in fact Pavillon Blanc is Margaux’s top white wine.

The 2014 Pavillon Blanc is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and is a selection of the estate’s top parcels. Only 35% of the total yields made the 2014 Pavillon Blanc cut.

This is Bordeaux’s answer to Grand Cru white Burgundy – equally powerful, dense, and expansive, yet absolutely unique in its gravelly minerality, racy, driving length, and edgy, almost oily texture.

One of us finally asks the obvious question. “Paul, why don’t you label this Chateau Margaux Blanc?!”

He rocks back onto his heels and again, knowingly, looks at us. “That is a very good question,” he says. “In fact, we have been wanting to rename our white wine Chateau Margaux Blanc, but we have been waiting for the quality to be there. And I think that it is obvious that the quality is there.” 

The label change still needs to be approved by INAO (Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité), France’s wine police, so don’t expect to see Chateau Margaux Blanc’s new release until at least the 2015 vintage.

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