Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Chateau Palmer and an Unusual White Bordeaux

The Third Growth Chateau Palmer is famed for its red wines but in 2007 it produced a rare experimental white wine to revive the past of the chateau. Only 75 cases were produced and the wine (classified as a vin de table) is not for sale, having been made for the chateau's shareholders. It is known that Chateau Palmer produced a white wine in the 1920s – although the chateau itself has no records of doing so. However some Chateau Palmer Blanc did exist, the proof being in the few rare bottles which the preceding generations have left in their wine cellars. The 1920s label design is the same as that of Château Palmer; only the colours are different, with a black image on a white background.

It's not known on what ground the vines that produced this white wine were grown on but the chateau was owned by the brothers Isaac and Émile Pereire at this time. They were two powerful bankers, rivals of the Rothschilds, who contributed to modernizing France during the Second Empire. They took an active part in Napoléon III's rebuilding of the “new Paris” and built rail road lines throughout the country. Their foremost achievement in the Aquitaine region was the creation of Arcachon, a seaside resort near Bordeaux.

Émile and Isaac made numerous significant improvements to the estate and in 1856 they commissioned Burguet to construct the beautiful chateau we see today. By 1870 the estate covered 177 hectares, with 109 of these planted to vines. Nowadays the chateau has 52 hectares of vines so it is possible that these white grape varieties were on land sold off in troubled times.

The Pereire brothers and their descendents fought off mildew and phylloxera, survived the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and then World War I. Only the great economic crisis of the 1930s eventually forced them to let go of the estate.
The modern Chateau Palmer Blanc is made from a blend of 65% Muscadelle, 25% Sauvignon Gris with the remaining 10% a mix of Merlot Blanc and Lauzet.

Merlot Blanc is one of the permitted white grape varieties that Bordeaux allows in its blend and although no new plantings have been done since 1995 it can be found in the wines of the Entre deux Mers, Côtes de Bourg, Graves de Vayres, Fronsac, Sainte-Foy, Cremant de Bordeaux and Côtes de Blaye. It is said to have been brought to Bordeaux in 1891 by a gentleman named Guinaudie who planted the vines at his Château de Geneau in Virsac.

It was thought that Merlot Blanc was no direct relation to its famous namesake, Merlot, and was named after it due to a resemblance in the leaves. However in 2009, it was discovered that its parents were indeed Merlot and Folle Blanche. The Merlot Blanc grapes are a greenish yellow and can produce wines with a hint of raspberry flavour but are low in alcohol.

Lauzet is an almost extinct grape from the Béarn and Jurançon AOCs (the foothills of the Pyrenees) and is also known as Lercat Blanc and Laouset. A study published in 2007 demonstrated that the varieties Courbu, Courbu Noir, Gros Courbu, Lauzet and Petit Courbu are very closely related. Lauzet grapes tend to be small and are a green colour that becomes amber toned when ripe – they are also very sensitive to botrytis. They produce fruity, spicy wines with strong acidity.

I am not sure why Chateau Palmer used Lauzet in their blend for this unusual white wine as it seems to hail from outside Bordeaux. However old records show that this grape was once known Doset or Corbin Blanc centuries ago in Sauternes so maybe it was once grown there, especially as it is a good grape for encouraging Noble Rot!


Pam said...

Very interesting as usual and that is quite an estate. The wine sounds great and just wish I had a sip right now! Love those fruity, spicy wines!

lostpastremembered said...

As we have talked about before... I love these antique grape varieties and am thrilled they are being brought up again.. Shame on Palmer to make something that sounds so good and then not share!!! I wonder, what other wines are made with this Lauzet??

tasteofbeirut said...

that wine sounds wonderful! Would love a taste right about now~

Sue said...

Thanks Girls! I am having a look at what other wines are made with Lauzet. I wondered too if Chateau Palmer will ever release its white wine? I hope so. Chateau Margaux is in the same AOC and its Pavillon Blanc is world famous so maybe there is an opening for Palmer here too?