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We were surprised and happy to see Neil Martin's excellent article about Jean-Pierre Boyer in Vinous, "Last Man Standing: Bel-Air Marquis d'Aligre" (May 30). "Although it is not the most famous or familiar château I will ever write about, Bel-Air Marquis d’Aligre constitutes one of the most important. It might be the last or the only time that I will meet bygone Bordeaux face-to-face." Indeed, on our first visit in January, 2013, we were astonished and delighted to find someone who was so totally "apart" from the techniques and styles of modern Bordeaux. As we, and Mr. Martin, have noted, the wines will not appeal to everyone, and a lengthy decant - or opening the before - are required to really appreciate the wine's quality. We think, however, that the wines are well-worth trying and in fact are quite beautiful and extraordinarily complex, if given enough time to awaken. M. Boyer has confirmed the quantities offered below which should arrive in mid-summer. We are delighted that he is sharing his wines with us and we wish him many more vintages... (excerpts from our visits appear below)
(November, 2017) We recently spent a few long rainy days in Bordeaux, happily visiting old and new friends who are bringing great organic farming and more natural winemaking methods to this land of stuffed-shirts and Chateaux. And of course we managed a visit to Jean-Pierre Boyer at Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre, whose delightfully old-fashioned Margaux offer a delicious glimpse into the past. We tasted the 2015 and 2016 from large cement foudres, as M. Boyer, who doesn't like to describe his methods, offered a steady stream of anecdotes and stories. Most importantly he said "de boire mes vins jeunes est de couper le blé en herbe." Roughly translated as "to drink my wines young is to harvest the wheat when it's green" - this is something to bear in mind when opening any bottle of BAMA, as even the 1995 needs many hours of aeration and the younger wines are often best if opened the day before.
The estate's principal retailer (the excellent "Vins Etonnants") calls the wine "untypical and rare, vinified as in the 19th century." Indeed, we were transfixed by the delicacy and complexity of the wines, which bear no resemblance to the dark, oaky, fruit-bombs of today. More a "claret" in style, the wine undergoes a long, slow natural fermentaion, with no extraction, then stays in cuve until spring. After a six-month passage in old barrels, the wine spends two to three years in cement vats before bottling and release. The estate has about thirteen hectares, with a few parcels of very old vines, the main parcel being approximately 50 years-old, planted at 10,000 vines per hectare, with part of the vineyard next to that of Chateau Margaux. M. Boyer currently farms only about 3 hectares with the remainder rented to his famous neighbors. While not certified organic, there are no modern treatments and only a bit of organic compost as fertilizer. The blend is approximately 35% Merlot, 30% Cabernet, 20% Cabernet Franc with Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere.
These are fascinating wines and present a bit of a challenge to the taster as they are relatively light in body, and lack the tannic structure that new oak brings to most Bordeaux. They are, however, built to last, as our tastings of the older wines made clear. Jancis Robinson says of the 1995, "rich and Burgundian nose - really rather like a mature Côte de Nuits burgundy. Sweet with the tannins completely melded and then dry rather than tannic on the end. Just at the right point."
Wines arrive approximately August 1st
The 2009 BAMA shows bright deep red/black color with lovely high-toned red fruit liqueur - strawberry, black-currant and cassis, with violet and earth. The palate is dense and ripe with bright acidity - not at all heavy, but with intense black and red fruits backed by flavors of mineral and earth. On day two the bright deep fruits have become more focused and linger on the palate in the long and very mineral finish. This is quite enjoyable as a young wine, especially after a day open, unencumbered by over-extraction and new oak - but beware, this style is for those who like some earth in their Bordeaux! Best to cellar for a very long time...
The wines of Jean-Pierre Boyer at Chateau Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre, are made in the lighter "claret" style of the 19th century. The 1995 shows a light red/garnet slightly mature color with pretty aromas of sweet red-currant, cassis and prune with sous-bois, licorice, tobacco, citrus and spice. The palate is delicate and silky, with a firm core of red currant/cassis fruit, framed in firm acidity. Very earthy with fruit liqueur, smoke, mint and minerals in the long finish. Decant a few hours in advance to enjoy this very unusual and beautiful Margaux. Another 5 to 10 years of cellaring would be interesting. David Lillie
The 2010 Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre is from very old vines and also from approximately 50 year-old vines planted by M. Boyer at 10,000 plants per hectare. There is a long fermentation without extraction, the juice remains in cuve until spring, then spends 6 months in old barrels followed by two to three years in cement vat. These are wines made in the lighter "claret" style of the 19th century, although the 2010 shows an incredible density of flavor, given the less-extracted style. Upon opening the wine shows subtle aromas of earth, red currant and cherry fruit with licorice and brown spice. The palate is deep and quite expressive with black cherry, strawberry, earth, licorice and mineral flavors, quite Burgundian in texture. The finish is very long with lingering tart cherry, sous-bois and mineral flavors. After two days open (re-corked) the aromas have broadened with prune, ripe cherry, tobacco, spice and rose and the palate is intense with red and black fruit liqueur, spice box and earth and ending with lingering red fruits and firm acidity. Delicious now with a long decant, this will be an extraordinary mature wine, best perhaps 2035 - 2050. David Lillie
A Margaux like no other, more akin to a 19th century claret than to a modern Bordeaux.The 2004 from Jean-Pierre Boyer shows a lovely deep garnet color and smoky red-currant aromas with earth, violet, licorice, spice and citrus peel. The palate is dense and mineral with firm structure, but showing velvety blackberry, cassis and red currant with earth and mineral flavors and a bit of bitter licorice. The finish is long and firm. Suspend your ideas of Bordeaux and enjoy this complex and Burgundian Margaux. Carafe four hours in advance or cellar ten to twenty years.(On day 2 the wine has deepened and softened into a lovely Burgundian Bordeaux)
Jean-Pierre Boyer makes Margaux that resemble the wines of the distant past. His 2000 shows a slightly maturing red/black color with bright aromas of red currant, cassis and raspberry with cedar, rose, citrus and earthy sous-bois notes, really lovely and complex. Relatively light for a Margaux, the palate is deep and velvety with firm tannins under lovely blackberry and cassis fruit with earth, licorice and mineral flavors. It's delicate and powerful at the same time and very long. Delicious now with three to four hours in carafe or after another ten to twenty years in the cellar. David Lillie
(Five hour decant) The 1998 is a complex and unusual Bordeaux in mid-life, showing more secondary and mineral qualities than the riper 2000. The wine shows a light, slightly browning garnet color; the aromas are quite floral and earthy with spicy black currant, clove, graphite and citrus peel. The palate shows dark earth and mineral flavors yielding to bright black currant and cassis fruit with dark spice and sous-bois flavors backed by very firm acidity. The wine held up well with an additional few hours open and will obviously benefit from another ten to twenty years of aging. David Lillie
The 1996 Bel Air - Marquis d'Aligre is a completely different style of wine than modern Margaux, especially in this rather cool vintage. On opening the aromas are quite subtle, slightly musty, with bright, sweet red-currant fruit with violet, earth and mineral flavors, a bit austere, but lovely. The palate is deep, firm and earthy with red currant, black cherry and mineral flavors, with brown spice, cedar and licorice. We would suggest decanting six to eight hour in advance, or cellar for ten to fifteen more years. David Lillie