We’d all like to drink like Kings but most of the French Premier Crus are so expensive they are far out of reach for most of us. However, savvy wine lovers can steal a trick or two on the chateaux and bag a superb wine for a fraction of the price. I’ll tell you how . . .
Keeping a beady eye on chateaux purchases may seem overzealous but there is a good reason to watch who is doing the buying and selling. Most of the prestigious Premier Cru chateaux producing Grand Vins have great demand for their wines but no room for expansion. Their production is limited as they can’t enlarge their vineyards to make more wine. Strict AOC rules govern vineyard acreage and the Premier Crus are either boxed in by their neighbours, hemmed in by dwellings or surrounded by land deemed unsuitable by the AOC. Patches of premium land in Bordeaux are astronomically expensive and are difficult to find.
‘Often, the only way a chateaux can increase their acreage is by buying up their neighbours – and if those neighbours are sitting on premium land then they are sitting on a little gold mine.’
Usually the Premier Cru chateaux will devour their latest acquisitions, adding their prime acres to those of the Grand Vin. Very occasionally you’ll spot a small chateau, full of sleeping potential, being purchased by a member of a Premier Cru wine making dynasty as a project. This small chateau will be pumped full of investment; the chateau buildings renovated, vineyards resurrected and the wines brought up to high quality by the same wine making team employed at the Premier Cru. These are the little gold mines to watch out for.
‘La Tour du Pin is a case in point.’
This little chateaux was a remnant from the great Figeac estate in Saint Emilion. This is premium land, having perfect terroir for great wine production. The Figeac estate dates back to the 2nd century AD and sits over a Roman villa once owned by the Roman Consul Figeacus. Down the centuries the estate fragmented into a patchwork of smaller enterprises. Today, both Chateau Figeac and Cheval Blanc lie on part of the old estate and both are Premier Crus. In 2006 the owners of Cheval Blanc, Bernard Arnault and Albert Frère, bought La Tour du Pin. Investment followed, the Premier Cru wine making team stepped in and the wine took off into the stratosphere.
A few vintages later Arnault and Frère did the maths and La Tour du Pin’s fate was sealed. Their little project could never command the astronomic price of Cheval Blanc and business was booming. If La Tour du Pin’s vineyards could be absorbed into those of Cheval Blanc they could up their production of the Grand Vin and make a fortune. And that’s precisely what happened.
‘So, what’s the difference between the wines of Cheval Blanc and La Tour du Pin you may ask? Not a lot.’
They are made by the same wine making experts, on the same land from the same grapes. The only difference is in the price. A bottle of Cheval Blanc can be 10 times the price of La Tour du Pin.
There is a problem. Bottles of La Tour du Pin are a rarity. This small chateau is now effectively extinct thanks to its Premier Cru neighbour. Not many vintages of La Tour du Pin were produced and what was marketed, was quickly snapped up. I made sure I was one of the merchants who snapped them up. Both the 2006 and 2007 vintages of La Tour du Pin are available at Bordeaux-Undiscovered, both are beautiful wines and both are an absolute bargain.
Unusually, Bordeaux-Undiscovered offers La Tour du Pin (and many other fine wines) as single bottles so you have the added advantage of not being tied to purchasing 12 bottles of a specific wine in a case, as you would with other wine merchants. This means that it is easy to make up the cases of your choice that reflect your own personal taste and budget. Our minimum order is a 6 bottle case (mixed wines, or otherwise – your choice). There are no hidden charges either – typically you will see other merchants showing prices for fine wines without duty, VAT and delivery charges. Our prices are inclusive so that you know exactly what you are paying out and have no nasty shocks at the end of the checkout. Nor do we stipulate a minimum spend of £200 as other fine wine merchants do; you can spend as much or as little as you want and delivery is free of charge on purchases over £99.99.