Stephen Brook attended the Pichon Baron masterclass at this year's Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, where he tasted 12 vintages of the Bordeaux second growth stretching back to 2001.
Scroll down to see Stephen Brook’s Pichon Baron tasting notes and scores
Pichon Baron: A brief history
For fifty years, from the 1930s onward, the splendid showpiece Bordeaux château of Pichon Longueville Baron lay empty, the shareholders reluctant to invest in a property that urgently needed more funds. The quality of the wine was mediocre at best.
Skip forward to 1987, and the Bouteillers decided it was time to sell up. The giant insurance company AXA had decided to enter the wine business, and its subsidiary AXA Millésimes was run by Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages.Cazes lived a mile away and knew the region inside out, and realised this was an opportunity too good to miss.
The wines: Available exclusively to Decanter Premium members
Changes were rapid. The château was restored, machine-harvesting was ended, and over the years its 33 hectares of vineyards were more than doubled.
In a brilliant stroke, Cazes organised an architectural competition. The winning Franco-American team created a neo-baroque yet modern fantasy, and built the actual winery under the courtyard with a shallow pool on top of it.
Not everyone loved the new buildings – Madame de Lencquesaing, chatelaine of Château Pichon-Lalande across the road, was none too fond of it – but few tourists pass by without pulling over to the side of the road to photograph the site.
More importantly, quality improved swiftly, starting with the 1988 vintage. Even in the frost-ridden 1991 vintage, Pichon Baron made a very good wine.
Since Cazes’ retirement, his replacement at the head of AXA Millésimes, Christian Seely, and technical director Jean-René Matignon, have continued his excellent work.
Quality has never been higher than it is today, partly thanks to ever more rigorous selection.
In 2001 Seely decided to make the grand vin solely from a 40 hectare sector just south of the château that consistently produced the finest wines. Roughly 80% of the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives the wine its characteristic structure and power.
The fruit is optically sorted and vinified in steel and wooden vats. The wine is then aged in approximately 80% new oak.
It was Seely who hosted this masterclass at Decanter’s Fine Wine Encounter – an excellent opportunity to taste almost the full set of vintages this side of the millennium. As the tasting demonstrated, Pichon Baron is a rich, formidable wine of great splendour, a true Pauillac blazing with fruit yet superbly structured for long ageing.
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