St Julien de Château Pichon-Lalande 2003
In Marcel Aymé’s tale of schoolboy adventure and socioeconomic divide Les Bottes de Sept Lieues, first published in 1943, the protagonist Antoine Buge and his band of accomplices discover, during their afternoon quest, a curio shop. Within there is a nameless shopkeeper and a stuffed heron, a quite lifeless companion who nevertheless seems to engage the merchant not only in intensely passionate debate but also the occasional game of chess. All about the madman is his stock, as Aymé describes it “the modest litter of history”. Or at least that is what the shopkeeper would have his customers believe; a closer inspection might of course suggest otherwise.
Some of the articles within his window display do not, at first glance, seem that remarkable. A hat once owned by French President Félix Faure, for example, or the pipe-stem of the Reine Pomaré, otherwise known as Lise Sergent, one-time cohort of Baudelaire who was on occasion known to dress as a man. All that is remarkable is that these objects should have come to this run-down, backwater shop. A small, white-wood kitchen table marked up as the “outdoor writing-desk of Queen Hortense” begins to push the boundary of believability, however, as one imagines that Hortense, step-daughter of Napoleon I, wife of his brother and mother of French Emperor Napoleon III may have possessed a somewhat more grandiose bureau. That boundary should be well and truly broken by the sight of a leather football-cover labelled “once the property of Pope Joan“, but if that is insufficient evidence of the shopkeeper’s fraudulence, those still viewing the artefacts with open-minded credulity might awaken to the deception with the discovery of the Flying Carpet of the Thief of Baghdad within the store.
Is there a vinous equivalent of these mischievous relics? Perhaps there is – what about a St Julien made from the fruit of vines within that appellation owned by one of the top estates in neighbouring Pauillac, Pichon-Lalande? A ridiculous suggestion you might think….but think again. The vineyards of Pichon-Lalande do indeed stretch over the communal boundary into St Julien, 11 hectares of them in fact. The fruit can not be included in the grand vin, a Pauillac, no more than village Meursault can be legally bottled as Montrachet. The two are separated by appellation law; their geographically distinct origins must be maintained right through to the moment the wines go into the bottle. And so this is not a candidate to join the display of fanciful curios after all; rather, the St Julien of Pichon-Lalande is a very real entity, just as real as the shopkeeper’s most fantastic of antiquities, the seven-league boots of the story’s title, (as Antoine Buge discovers for himself on the very last page).
And so to this week’s wine, the identity of which is by now I hope obvious, the 2003 St Julien from Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (almost ubiquitously abbreviated to Château Pichon-Lalande). The wine has a very dark colour, with a glossy concentration right out to the rim, showing the deep, matt shades of a wine in very early maturity, but without any real move away from its red-black hue. The nose is very seductive, a theme which can be found running throughout this wine, with plenty of dark and toasty black cherry fruit along with elements of fresh coffee grounds. Despite its warm and ripe character (reflecting the vintage) there is still a fine, green peppercorn edge to it as well. On the palate a very welcoming texture, plush and svelte although still with an elegant poise. The tannins are ripe and fine-grained, and provide a subtle backbone, well-hidden behind the plush fruit. There is depth and complexity of flavour laid on top, an element of roasted fruit in keeping with the vintage, but also more savoury elements, spiced and grilled meats. The finish is caressing, the character slightly sweet but still well poised, and it is very long. Approachable now with a decant, although it is very primary at present, and it is certainly still on the way up. The only truly negative element – accepting that some will find the fruit character and texture displeasing, although I don’t – is the low level of soft acidity, giving this a very fleshy, flashy rather than direct or defined style. That’s just 2003, of course. Still delicious though! 17/20
I have included links to Wine-Searcher below but searchers looking specifically for this wine are likely to be disappointed. This is not a commonly seen bottle; most search result are simply bottles of the grand vin mislabelled as St Julien rather than Pauillac. My thanks go to Richard Loadman for sourcing and sending me this bottle. (14/6/10)