Château Pipeau is like many small chateaus now in Bordeaux. Until a few years ago, it was producing pretty ordinary wines and paying very little attention to what it was doing in its vineyards or cellar.
“It wasn’t until about 2000 that we began to manage our vineyards well and use better winemaking methods,” said Richard Mestreguilhem, one of the owners of the St.-Emilion Grand Cru. His 2004 was our No. 83 wine in our Top 100 this year. “I understood that we needed to follow a path towards quality.”
I visited Pipeau yesterday afternoon, checked out some of the vineyards and the cellar, and tasted some of the recent vintages. Pipeau produces about 190,000 bottles but the production will be cut to about 100,000 as part of the estate is transferred to the production of Château Pindefleurs, Richard's sister’s property. The change is due to worries about inheritance. Anyway, that still leaves plenty of Pipeau for everyone.
What excited me about the visit was the thought that many less-expensive wine producers in Bordeaux, like the Mestreguilhems, have moved towards quality winemaking in the last few years, which means more good-quality Bordeaux wines at good prices for all of us. The Pipeau 2004 retails for about $20 a bottle. And at 91 points, it’s one good bottle of claret. The 2005 should be even better.
Most of Pipeau is sold in France – up to 60 percent. And they sell directly to consumers through their mail list. They have about 12,000 people on their list.
For St. Emilion, Pipeau is a rarity, producing red from about 90 percent Merlot and the rest in Cabernet Franc. Perhaps that’s why I love the juicy, soft and fruity character of the wine when it’s young.
I asked Richard if he would pour an older vintage of Pipeau, to show the change in winemaking, and he opened a 1995. It was a good wine, but slightly herbal and acidic. It was very typical of the type of red Bordeaux that doesn’t go down very well outside of France. This said, however, he decided to pour a bottle of his 1961 and the wine was a revelation.
It was rich and fresh still, with lots of ripe berry and licorice character and a long silky textured finish. Who would ever thought that a Pipeau more than 46 years old would still be so good?
Richard, his wife Brigitte, and his sister Dominique all had smiles on their faces after tasting the wine – check out my video.
“They may not have known much about winemaking in 1961, but they still made an extraordinary wine,” said Richard. “There was a spring frost and it cut yields by half.”
Pipeau makes excellent, modern wines now, but it also has a pedigree in view of the high quality of the 1961. That’s what is going to be exciting about all the good quality 2005s at reasonable prices from Bordeaux this year. Many small estates have made their best wines ever but they have a strong history of serious winemaking behind them!
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