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First Growths hold first joint London Masterclass

The Bordeaux First Growths this weekend held their first ever UK joint tasting for the general public, at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter - only the second time in their history that they have conducted a public tasting together.

Charles Chevallier with Decanter.com editor Adam Lechmere

All 90 tickets for the masterclass, which featured a tasting of 10 wines starting with Chateau Latour 2008 and finishing with Chateau Lafite 1988, sold out within minutes of going on sale in August.

The five directors of the estates – Frederic Engerer of Chateau Latour, Charles Chevallier of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux, Jean-Philippe Delmas of Chateau Haut-Brion and Hervé Berland of Chateau Mouton Rothschild – shared the podium.

They discussed the vintages they had chosen, their own personal philosophies on wine-making, and a range of issues from counterfeit wines to the ever-escalating prices on the secondary markets.

Sarah Kemp, publisher of Decanter, said that the event had been years in planning. ‘To say I’m delighted and thrilled seems underwhelming. Here we really do have iconic and legendary wines, and these directors are the custodians of these great estates.’

Introducing his 2005 Chateau Margaux, Pontallier said, ‘There is no recipe to produce great wines. We work rigorously in the vineyard, but the real difference is the terroir – that is what keeps us apart today.’

Chevallier explained how, although they rarely present their wines together in public, they do stage joint initiatives behind the scenes. ‘We are of course very independent, but we have shared a technical club for past 20 years to study microbiology and other viticultural issues, and have done a joint analysis of our soils.’

The question of prices was tackled by Engerer, who said that while they regretted any wines bought purely for investment, ‘we should be proud to have the top wines of Bordeaux among the most sought-after products of France. These wines have existed for 300 years and created great reputation for quality – the prices are recognition of this work.’

Chevallier and Berland said later one of the highlights of the event for them was to be able to taste each other’s wines.

‘It was a treat for me to be able to drink and re-discover vintages such as Margaux 96 and Haut Brion 98,’ Berland tells Decanter.com in a video of the event.

‘We concentrate on our main objective which is to make the best wine possible individually – most of the time we don’t have the chance to taste [each other’s wines].’

Decanter readers who attended the event ranged from those who said they did not own any first growths but were delighted to be able to taste them, veteran enthusiasts with well-stocked cellars, and those who counted themselves lucky with one special case.

‘I’ve got a case of 86 Latour in the cellar at home waiting to be drunk,’ said one attendee. ‘That’s all, I’m afraid.’

Written by Jane Anson

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