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Chateau Pichon Lalande
 

Sometimes being number one isn’t all that it is cracked up to be; there is the constant need to defend your position from others who are vying for the top slot, and eventually the only way is down. There is little chance of this happening formally in the world of Bordeaux crus, however, where the cru classe system was determined in the middle of the 19th century and has remained, with only a few exceptions, rigidly adhered to since. Wine aficionados may argue about the relative quality of the Grand Premier Cru wines, but the fact remains that, on paper, at least, the very top wines (with one exception) are exactly the same today as when the system was devised in 1855.
 

Spare a thought, then, for the great clarets that for a variety of reasons narrowly failed to make it to Premier Grand Cru status and have had to suffer the relative ignominy of a lifelong Deuxieme Grand Cru rating. Over the years a group of these wines that are particularly consistent in their quality, has emerged, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘super seconds’. Of these, Chateau Pichon Lalande is, arguably, one of the best.
 

The chateau itself has a long and convoluted history, eventually passing out of the hands of the Lalande family in the early twentieth century. Today it is owned by the Rozard family, famous for their ownership of the Roederer champagne house, during whose stewardship it has attained an enviable reputation amongst the ‘best of the rest’ clarets.
 

The grand vin, Chateau Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande, is composed of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot, in proportions typical of a left bank claret. In style, it is similar to its neighbouring Premier Grand Cru Pauillacs, with a well balanced, elegant finish and fine complexity that is very different, and somewhat more refined than some of the more in-your-face New World cabernets.
 

There is fruit in there, of course, but it does not define the wine; there are far too many other flavours in abundance for fruit to be the defining characteristic. Which vintage you choose, will, of course affect the balance of these flavours, but the our recommended vintage - the 1996 - provides notes of cassis, fine chocolate and the faintest aroma of Cuban cigars, held together with subtle tannins. The finish is long, but not in a showing off kind of way. Pichon Lalande is just not like that.
 

Of course, it does not quite possess the sheer strength and character of, say, La Tour or Lafite, but it also does not inhabit quite the same price bracket, and cases of the grand vin from decent vintages are available at relatively reasonable prices. It is therefore less overtly flashy than the premier grand cru set, and is less likely to be perceived as a display of ostentation, should you serve it to guests at a party.
 

Ultimately, Pichon Lalande is all about understatement, and like a good bespoke suit, it will not be so vulgar as to shout its status to all and sundry. Serve to special guests, with the firm knowledge that you possess not only taste and sophistication, but also the art of restraint.





 
 

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