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In January of 2013, Eben and I spent some time wandering around the Medoc, hoping to find some wine we liked among the over-extracted, over-oaked, modern wines of Bordeaux and their neatly herbicided vineyards. We were ecstatic to find "Planquette" in Saint-Yzan, Didier Michaud's two hectare organic estate - our fifth vintage of this beautiful Vin de France (2015) is arriving soon. Our most fascinating discovery, however, was the amazing Margaux of Jean-Pierre Boyer at Château Bel Air Marquis d'Aligre. It has taken almost five years, but finally some of this delicate, complex and old-fashioned Bordeaux has arrived at Chambers Streeet! Our visit began a bit inauspiciously, as we stood in the freezing rain outside what appeared to be an abandoned Château. Eventually, M. Boyer appeared with an umbrella and ushered us into the cellar, where we saw no new oak barrels, only large cement cuves and miles of bottles neatly arranged in the stock rooms. The estate's principal retailer (the excellent "Vins Etonnants") calls the wine "untypical and rare, vinified as in the 19th century." Indeed, we were transfixed by the delicacy and complexity of the wines, which bear no resemblance to the dark, oaky, fruit-bombs of today. More a "claret" in style, the wine undergoes a long, slow natural fermentaion, with no extraction, then stays in cuve until spring. After a six-month passage in old barrels, the wine spends two to three years in cement vats before bottling and release. The estate has about thirteen hectares, with a few parcels of very old vines, the main parcel being approximately 50 years-old, planted at 10,000 vines per hectare, with part of the vineyard next to that of Chateau Margaux. M. Boyer currently farms only about 3 hectares with the remainder rented to his famous neighbors. While not certified organic, there are no modern treatments and only a bit of organic compost as fertilizer. The blend is approximately 35% Merlot, 30% Cabernet, 20% Cabernet Franc with Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere.
These are fascinating wines and present a bit of a challenge to the taster as they are relatively light in body, and lack the tannic structure that new oak brings to most Bordeaux. They are, however, built to last, as our tastings of the older wines made clear. Jancis Robinson says of the 1995, "rich and Burgundian nose - really rather like a mature Côte de Nuits burgundy. Sweet with the tannins completely melded and then dry rather than tannic on the end. Just at the right point." We were charmed by M. Boyer's enthusiasm and in complete agreement with his opinions and methods - we look forward to another visit this winter and to our next shipment with a mix of younger and older wines. I think that 2017 is his 68th vintage, we wish him many more!
NOTE: The wines should ideally be carafed in the early to mid-afternoon, for drinking that evening.
Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre 1995 Margaux
The wines of Jean-Pierre Boyer at Chateau Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre, are made in the lighter "claret" style of the 19th century. The 1995 shows a light red/garnet slightly mature color with pretty aromas of sweet red currant, cassis and prune with sous-bois, licorice, tobacco, citrus and spice. The palate is delicate and silky, with a firm core of red currant/cassis fruit, framed in firm acidity. Very earthy with fruit liqueur, smoke, mint and minerals in the long finish. Decant a few hours in advance to enjoy this very unusual and beautiful Margaux. Another 5 to 10 years of cellaring would be interesting. David Lillie
Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre 1996 Margaux
The 1996 Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre is a completely different style of wine than modern Margaux, especially in this rather cool vintage. On opening the aromas are quite subtle, slightly musty, with bright, sweet red-currant fruit with violet, earth and mineral flavors, a bit austere, but lovely. The palate is deep, firm and earthy with red currant, black cherry and mineral flavors, with brown spice, cedar and licorice. We would suggest decanting six to eight hours in advance, or cellar for ten to fifteen more years.
Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre 2000 Margaux
Jean-Pierre Boyer makes Margaux that resemble the wines of the distant past. His 2000 shows a slightly maturing red/black color with bright aromas of red currant, cassis and raspberry with cedar, rose, citrus and earthy sous-bois notes, really lovely and complex. Relatively light for a Margaux, the palate is deep and velvety with firm tannins under lovely blackberry and cassis fruit with earth, licorice and mineral flavors. It's delicate and powerful at the same time and very long. Delicious now with three to four hours in carafe or after another ten to twenty years in the cellar. David Lillie