As you probably know if you’re reading this, we’re always on the look out for Good Wine, Real People, and Great Stories to bring to our shelves. Some regions are always easier than others in this regard, and while no wine lover would deny the fact that some of the finest wines in the world hail from Bordeaux, many of these mainly tell a story of huge swathes of vineyard all blended and homogenised into an – often delicious – anonymised whole.
Bel Air-Marquis d’Aligre is different.
This is a chateau you may not have heard of before, but it could be the most important discovery you will ever make in Bordeaux. From a bygone era, the owner, Monsieur Boyer’s energy belies his 85 years. Remarkably, he is currently embarking on his 69th vintage at this property and his methods have remained essentially unchanged over this whole period.
He owns 50 hectares in Margaux which implies he is a large scale producer. Nothing could be further from the truth. One parcel remains fallow, as he pulled the vines after the 1956 frost and never got round to replanting them! In fact, he farms less than 15 hectares, highly unusual in a region obsessed with squeezing every last drop of wine out of the vineyards. Other parcels are full of ancient gnarly vines that are over 100 years old – and some may be much older. These must be some of the oldest vines, not just in Bordeaux, but in the whole country. Unusually too, they grow on their own roots. Yields from these centenarians must be extraordinarily low, no doubt contributing to the wonderful complexity of the wines made at this property. There is a refreshing aesthetic to these vineyards and they are ill-fitting, surrounded by the neatly manicured rows of vines more commonly found in the Bordeaux establishment.
Put politely, the winery is showing its age; lots of large cement vats, a few very old wooden barrels and some bats, who may well have made their home here for as long as the proprietor! He treats the current state of Bordeaux with disdain and chooses not to enter the en-primeur market, instead opting to store the wine in his cellar until they are ready to drink. Those who like their claret with bold oaky flavours should steer clear. His wines are profound, unadulterated (no oak is used for maturation these days), remarkably pure and sappy in style, which urge you to take another sip. It is an incredible back story and it all sounds like a massive time warp to me but one I have happily contorted myself into.
Luckily, we have a small allocation of the 2000, a vintage which produced ripe flavours and lush, velvety wines. Whilst the Bel Air Marquis d’Aligre reflects the warm vintage conditions with good concentration and polish it also retains a beautiful purity, freshness and a gentle grip. All these gradually open up into something with a timeless class that shares more in common with an elegant Burgundy than most Bordeaux.