Château Palmer 2018
• Domaine: Château Palmer
• Appellation: Margaux
• Classification: Third Growth, 3ème Grand Cru Classé
• Origin: Margaux, Left Bank, Bordeaux, France
If a reclassification were ever in the cards, Château Palmer would be up for a promotion without a doubt. This Third Growth Margaux estate transcends its ranking from 1855 and is now considered by many wine critics to belong in the higher ranks. These sensationally fragrant, richly complex wines are some of the finest examples of Bordeaux. Their second label, Alter Ego, has a cult-like following and if a new classification were ever to take place, would be easily considered a Fourth Growth wine or higher. Alter Ego is a worthy purchase for any wine buyer - and it never stays on the shelves too long. With knockout vintages each year, Château Palmer is a star producer with a massively loyal fanbase.
The history of Château Palmer dates far before it received its namesake. The vineyards were initially holdings of Château d’Issan before they were purchased by the fiery Madame de Gascq. Madame de Gascq saw the estate’s potential well before anybody else did and told Englishman Charles Palmer the wines of the estate were easily as good as some of the First Growth properties in the Médoc. Charles agreed with her, purchased the estate, and per the tradition of the time named it after himself. Charles Palmer tripled the property’s holdings to 80-hectares, and in 1843 sold it to the Periere family. The Periere family invested a lot of money into improving and modernizing the Château, only to sell it to a group of four powerful négociant families. Of these four families, the Mähler-Besse family and the Sichel family are still some of the major shareholders running the estate today.
In 1998, Château Palmer debuted their legendary second label, Alter Ego. Buyers take note – Alter Ego is not a Second Wine. It’s an entirely separate label with different plots used for production. Château Palmer is unique for a Left Bank estate because their vineyards – and wines including Alter Ego -- have a heavy preponderance of Merlot. These vines are planted within the mixture of gravelly/clay soils. Many other properties in Margaux plant their Merlot vines simply in clay, but what makes Château Palmer unique is their decision to plant these vines in their more graveled areas.
Today Château Palmer is overseen by the young and energetic Thomas Duroux. Duroux brings with him an impressive background; he formerly was in charge of the Super Tuscan legend Ornellaia prior to his working at Château Palmer. Before that, he apprenticed at Château Léoville Las Cases and has worked at renowned wineries such as Mondavi and Tokay. Thomas Duroux was responsible for transitioning the vineyards to 100% biodynamic viticulture. Sheep graze in the 60-hectare vineyards and a herd of cows provide manure for fertilizer. Special nettle and horsetail teas are sprayed on the vines to assist in fertilizing and protecting them. Château Palmer has also invested in soundwave machines that emit tones and vibrations to help develop protein cells in the vines. Château Palmer has been Certified Biodynamic since 2017, with their 2014 label being their first 100% biodynamic vintage.
The viticultural team at Château Palmer has a culture of respect regarding the land, their wines, and their team. That holistic mentality and consistent pursuit of excellence manifests itself in their profound wines – year after year.
"The 2018 Palmer is composed of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. Grapes were harvested September 13 to October 15, and the wine has a 3.83 pH and 14.3% alcohol. Very deep purple-black in color, the nose is a little reticent to begin, but with coaxing, it slowly emerges to show fragrant violets, underbrush, mossy bark and iron ore with exponentially growing notions of crème de cassis, Black Forest cake, plum preserves, hoisin, Christmas cake and red roses with wafts of dusty earth, Indian spices and cracked black pepper. Full-bodied, concentrated and downright powerful in the mouth, it has a solid structure of firm, wonderfully plush tannins and masses of fragrant accents, finishing very long and very spicy. By the time I finished tasting this, the nose had exploded in this fragrant bomb of fruit, earth and floral notions. This is one of those 2018 wines that has a beguiling brightness that comes from the many floral, spice and mineral accents among all that rich fruit. WOW!
With yields of just 11 hectoliters per hectare, Château Palmer produced only about one-third of a normal crop. There will only be around 6,000 cases of 2018 Palmer. There will be no second wine this year. “But,” Technical Director Thomas Duroux said, looking on the bright side, “in 1961 we did just 12 hectoliters per hectare.”
The problem was mildew during the early part of the growing season. It didn’t help that Palmer is committed to organic/biodynamic viticulture, which in the end was simply not enough to stave off the final wave of mildew infection that struck after the July 4th rains. “Mildew was so aggressive this year,” Duroux sighed. “Even after the bunch closure, the mildew continued. It was very difficult to manage—there are no rules.”
Fortunately, the weather turned dry and warm soon after this, offering optimum conditions for ripening the remainder of the crop. “I’ve never seen in my career such concentration and such depth in the ripening berries. Our decision was to take our time. A very important factor was to harvest each parcel at perfect phenolic ripeness. It took us over a month to harvest just 600 hectoliters!”
Duroux finished our discussion by saying this about the winemaking: “We had to be very gentle with extraction. The IPT in 2010—a tannic vintage—was 65. This year it was 85. This is the most powerful Palmer ever.”
The result is simply jaw dropping. My perfume award for 2018 goes to Palmer." - Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate (4/23/2019, Bordeaux 2018 Issue), Ratings: 97-99
"The 2018 Palmer is a freak of nature from yields of just 11 hectoliters per hectare harvested over an entire month by CEO Thomas Duroux and his team. Rich, unctuous and flamboyant in its ripeness, the 2018 possesses off the charts intensity from start to finish. Blackberry jam, espresso, crème de cassis, licorice, menthol, lavender and cloves develop in a palate-staining, hedonistic Palmer that oozes with personality. This extravagantly ripe Margaux won't be for everyone, but it is a stunning, head-spinning wine that may, in time, very well join the ranks of the truly epic Palmers. A wine of pure and total pleasure, the 2018 is nearly impossible to resist. The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. In 2018, Palmer bottled just their Grand Vin and no Alter Ego." - Antonio Galloni, vinous.com, (April, 2019), Ratings: 95-98