Second-growth Château Pichon Baron is one of the great vineyard terroirs in Bordeaux. Located in Pauillac, just opposite Latour, it boasts three of the five Médoc first growths as near neighbours.
Christian Seely was in London to present an extensive vertical of the modern era of Pichon Baron. ‘Pichon is capable of making wines that are among the greatest in the world,’ he declared enthusiastically. Previously resident of the Douro, where he looked after the AXA-owned Quinta do Noval (having turned it around from its dismal underperformance of the 1980s into one of the top properties in the Douro), Seely was invited to come to Bordeaux to head up all of AXA’s vineyard interests in 2000. Previous boss Jean Michel Cazes had done a good job with Pichon since AXA’s purchase in 1987, but Seely wanted to take it next level. And the market was ready to pay more for the very top wines: Seely was smart enough to see that by reducing quantity and raising quality, Pichon had the potential to be one of the elite group, rather than an also-ran. But he’s also aware that perceptions take time to change. I once asked him: if you start making first-growth quality wines, how long will it take for the market to realise it? His reply: a generation.
Seedy believes that Pichon shares some of the world’s greatest terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon with its near neighbours Latour and Las Cases. The vineyards are undulating, not flat, and there are some deep beds of gravel under these undulations: perfect for old vine Cabernet to thrive. When he arrived Pichon were using the entire Pichon vineyard area for Grand Vin, and made 395 000 bottles. Seely’s proposal to the board was to make Grand Vin only from the best vineyard block: the terroir shared with these illustrious neighbours. By not diluting this terroir, he believed he could take Pichon to its full potential. But this comes at a cost in terms of volume. Now the Grand Vin production is less than half what it was, with around 175 000 bottles each year.
A note on names: here I’m using the name the Château has been using since the 2012 vintage: simply, Pichon Baron. Before then, it was referred to as Château Pichon Longueville Baron. This led to some confusion with Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.
Chateau Pichon Baron 2014 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This is a perfect example of the best that Bordeaux can do in a cooler year. June, July and August saw lower than average sunshine and temperatures. But September and October were wonderful and so Seely could wait quite late to pick. They started Merlot on 20 September, then interrupted harvest in October for 8 days before picking the rest of the grapes. This is fine, fresh and expressive with a sweet core of floral blackcurrant fruit. It’s very fresh with good concentration and great finesse. Really lovely freshenss and mouthfeel here. It’s full and generous yet still has precision. 96/100
Château Pichon Baron 2013 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Not part of the vertical, but I thought I’d include it here, tasted the same week. Widely regarded as one of the weakest recent Bordeaux vintages, but still a nice wine. This is really fresh and balanced. Lovely blackcurrant fruit with some raspberry freshness, and savoury notes of gravel and spice. It’s definitely a lighter expression of Pichon, but it’s perfectly proportioned and drinking very well now, and will carry on drinking well for a decade, I reckon. Lovely focus and definition here. Classic Claret with nice structure and acidity. 93/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2012 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This was a cooler year with a nice September, but it doesn’t have the richness of 2014. Elegant and supple with fresh, gravelly blackcurrant fruit. Quite elegant with nice finesse. Lovely gravel and chalk notes and some tannic structure. Has elegance and purity. 94/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2010 Pauillac, Bordeaux
‘Concerning the great duo of 2010 and 2009, the jury is still out as to which of these is the greater, but they are two very good examples of great Bordeaux,’ says Christian Seely. ‘They are both years when we didn’t have too much to complain about. They are both years when we had all the sunshine we wanted, but average temperatures in 2009 were 2 C higher, and rainfall in 2010 was on the low side resulting in smaller grapes.’ This is very fine and concentrated with ripe, sweetly fruited blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, as well as a hint of raspberry. Pure and structured with lovely tannins and some warmth on the finish. Straight and fine. 97/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2009 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Ripe, sweet, pure and dense with rounded sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, and just a hint of olive and even tar. Some fine herbal notes, too. Lovely ripeness and density are coupled with good structure and some generosity as well as finesse. 95/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2008 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Quite a poor summer but a lovely end of season, with a wonderful September and October. ‘We were quite euphoric,’ recalls Seely. ‘It enabled us to get the grapes right.’ This is lovely: there’s great structure with some tar and cedar notes under the sleek blackcurrant fruit. Olives, tar and herbs lurk under the fruit, and there’s nice structure and fruit. Just starting to develop nicely. 94/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2007 Pauillac, Bordeaux
2007 and 2008 were both years with poor summers, but 2008 was saved more by a warm end of season than 2007 was. There wasn’t quite enough sunshine to make the wine as ripe as it should have been. Gravelly, chalky nose with some developments: savoury, stony notes and nice balance. Blackcurrant fruit with some iodine/earth hints. Drinking beautifully now and for the next few years; showing maturity but also freshness. 93/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2006 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Christian Seely thinks it’s wrong to think of 2006 as not a good vintage. ‘The best 2006s are great wines,’ he says. ‘Pichon was bad tempered when we tried to show it as a baby, with high acidity, and it was tannic and reserved. But I have always believed in it enormously.’ This is lovely: taut with nice focus to the blackcurrant fruit. Structured with real finesse and good acidity. Some dry tannins on the finish, but this really has lovely purity and finesse. 94/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2005 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This has a reputation for being a great year. ‘I believe this was one of the very great years of Pichon,’ says Christian Seely. ‘It was important for me because it got me off the ejector seat.’ Refined nose with sweet herbs and brooding blackcurrant fruit. This has dense structure and fruit. It’s all perfectly proportioned. There’s a hint of mint and some iodine but the core is silky sweet blackcurrant fruit meshing with lovely structure. 96/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2004 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This is another cooler year that was saved by a fine September. Still tightwound with lovely purity of fruit. Quite sleek and silky with primary blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. This shows freshness and purity coupled with subtle hints of olive, chalk and gravel. Lovely finesse and brightness. 95/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2003 Pauillac, Bordeaux
A year famed for being incredibly hot and dry. ‘This was a deeply worrying year for us,’ recalls Christian Seely. ‘I’ve seen drought in the Douro, but that is with varieties selected to deal with it.’ But on the grand plateau in Pichon the leaves stayed green: an illustration of the importance of terroir. Consultant winemaker Jacques Boissenot advised them against acidifying: don’t think about acidifying, he said, this wine is balanced, you will see. This is concentrated, fresh and structured with raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Linear and ripe with nice freshness. Very pure: it doesn’t taste too ripe. The terroir has asserted itself over the vintage. 94/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2002 Pauillac, Bordeaux
‘I love this vintage,’ says Christian Seely. ‘Unfortunately, peoples’ perception of this year is not good, for good reasons. It was an irregular vintage.’ Smoky, gravelly and a bit tarry and ashy. Nice dense blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Juicy with a savoury, earthy twist. Supple. 93/100
Chateau Pichon Baron 2001 Pauillac, Bordeaux
The 2000 was the first vintage made with more selection in the cellar, but 2001 was the first made with lower yields. This is showing lovely development with cedar, tar and fine herbs. Nice grip under the ripe but balanced blackcurrant fruit. Nice weight and focus to this wine. 94/100
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