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Pauillac’s rich wine history

Zev Rovine, contributing Record writer

There is really nothing more intriguing and seductive than a great bottle of Bordeaux. The name alone makes you think of dusty bottles, elegant decanters, and that moment of quiet anticipation as a bottle is opened and its audience eagerly awaits the age-old secrets that it will no doubt tell. There is no region within Bordeaux that embodies this concept more than the classic commune of Pauillac. To understand this commune we must first understand the very basic rules of Bordeaux. The first rule is the grapes. The legal red grapes in Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Depending on what region within Bordeaux, certain these grape varieties tend to take center stand. For example, in Pomerol, the wines are very focused on the Merlot grape. St. Emillion on the other hand, tends to favor both Merlot and Cabernet Franc and in a region called the Medoc, Cabernet Sauvignon reins king and this is where we will find the tiny commune of Pauillac.

In 1855, the Medoc was rated in a classification system that picked the 58 best red wines and the 21 best whites so that they could be shown at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The classification stuck and it still exists today as the most significant cru system in France. The 58 reds were divided into five levels. There were four first growths, 12 second growths, 14 third growths, 11 fourths, and 17 fifth. Considering Bordeaux is the largest fine wine-producing region in the world with literally thousands of Chateaux that bear its name, this 58 was and still is pretty exclusive company to hang out in. Since 1855, there has ever only been one change in rank and that it Pauillac’s Chateau Mouton-Rothschild’s elevation from a second growth to a first. In fact, Pauillac possesses no fewer than 19 of the 58 Chateaux classified in 1855 and three of the now five prestigious first growths: Chateau Latour, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.

If one were to define the character of a Pauillac wine, it would be nothing more modest than big, black, and beautiful. These are the textbook Bordeaux wines showing the true concentration, complexity, nuance, and ageability of Cabernet Sauvignon. Chateau Latour is the powerhouse of the three, with firm structure and intense fruit. The classic cigar-box aromas and cassis-focused palates are as prevalent in this wine as any. Chateau Lafite-Rothschild enters the ring as the most elegant and complex of the three. The aged examples of this wine, that I have had the pleasure of coming across, have not only possessed that cigar box aroma that I love so much in great Pauillac, but a strange and distant coffee flavor that was followed by waves of raspberry, cassis, and strawberry. And finally, Mouton-Rothschild is known to be the middle ground between its two neighbors. These wines seem to be ready a little bit younger than its two high-class brothers and yet still retains its character just as long. Beyond, of course, this wine’s phenomenal depth and balance, I must admit that I am smitten by the labels. Since 1945 a different artist has been asked to design a Mouton label. The roster includes, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Keith Haring, and Andy Warhol, just to name a few.

Pauillac is the home of wine’s richest histories. These are wines that have defined France and their passion for quality and will continue to protect its reputation for decades to come. The gravely soils along the banks of the Gironde River have long since been the source of some of the finest wines in the world.

Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at zev@spottedfrogbooks.com .


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