There is, I sense, something of a soft spot for Château Cissac in the British wine trade. There are some obvious reasons why this might be the case, those that could perhaps be applied to any number of left-bank estates. There is the location, a stone’s throw from some very famous Médoc appellations, namely Pauillac (east and south a little) and St Estèphe (east and north a little). And while this may mean the estate does not have the benefit of a perfectly drained gravel slope that runs directly down to the palus, within sight of the Gironde, it does still have some favourable sandy-gravelly soils, over a deep limestone bedrock. This means the estate can offer a wine fashioned in a classic left-bank style, but with the potential for good value as well. And there isn’t a wine buyer or a wine critic who shouldn’t be swayed by that.
Then there are the reasons perhaps more personal to Château Cissac. For many years during the 20th century the property was under the direct of Louis Vialard, a proprietor of infectious enthusiasm. Louis spent some considerable time pushing his wines in Great Britain, maintaining a high profile for his domaine; this he achieved in part through his role at the head of French Wine Farmers, London-based wine shippers. It is not just gravel and grapes that can influence buyers and critics, so too can successful tastings; after all, if you have never tasted a wine, there is no real likelihood that you will be buying it for your clients, or opining on its qualities for your readers. Vialard knew this, and ensured his wines were brought to the attention of opinion-makers. He would host huge vertical tastings of his wines at plush London venues, such as the Ritz, pouring wines from ten, fifteen or even twenty different vintages. No wonder the wines were popular.
Once I became aware of Vialard’s keen approach to marketing his wine, I suddenly realised why every new colleague I encountered in the wine trade – or at least those of a certain ‘vintage’ anyway – seemed to have their own Cissac ‘story’. The first bottle they ever bought, for example. The many bottles they used to enjoy with their father. The first case they bought to lay down. The particularly fine bottle of the 1962 they enjoyed at dinner a few years (or a few decades) ago. And so on. To some extent, however, much of what was described didn’t really tally with my own experiences of Château Cissac. Before I come to my own feelings about these wines, however, as is customary I first present some history.