Chateau Bel Air Marquis d'Aligre - not really for tourists...

Chateau Bel Air Marquis d'Aligre: A Margaux from the Past! (Or Perhaps the Future?)

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In January of 2013, Eben and I spent some time wandering around the Medoc, hoping to find some wine we liked among the over-extracted, over-oaked, modern wines of Bordeaux and their neatly herbicided vineyards. We were ecstatic to find "Planquette" in Saint-Yzan, Didier Michaud's two hectare organic estate - our fifth vintage of this beautiful Vin de France (2015) is arriving soon. Our most fascinating discovery, however, was the amazing Margaux of Jean-Pierre Boyer at Château Bel Air Marquis d'Aligre. It has taken almost five years, but finally some of this delicate, complex and old-fashioned Bordeaux has arrived at Chambers Streeet! Our visit began a bit inauspiciously, as we stood in the freezing rain outside what appeared to be an abandoned Château. Eventually, M. Boyer appeared with an umbrella and ushered us into the cellar, where we saw no new oak barrels, only large cement cuves and miles of bottles neatly arranged in the stock rooms. 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."  We were charmed by M. Boyer's enthusiasm and in complete agreement with his opinions and methods - we look forward to another visit this winter and to our next shipment with a mix of younger and older wines. I think that 2017 is his 68th vintage, we wish him many more!

NOTE: The wines should ideally be carafed in the early to mid-afternoon, for drinking that evening.

Stock Cellar at BAMA

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Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre 2004 Margaux Arrives mid-May

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)

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