Les Vins et les Vélos
Healthy cycling might be undermined by the sheer temptation of sampling the delights of Château Pichon Baron and the Pauillac region. C’est la vie…
Article by Catherine Ferguson
For many years, I’ve subscribed to the school of thought that believes there are a few things in life more pleasurable than riding bikes and drinking great wine. In the heart of the Médoc Peninsula, Château Pichon Baron in Pauillac, is the perfect place to set up your starting blocks for both activities.
Château Pichon Baron, a ‘Super Second’ growth producer, is the home of the quintessential Médoc château. With its stunning Renaissance-inspired façade and elegant turrets overlooking the blue mirror lake, it really is the castle that every Disney princess should aspire to. On taking a closer look at the ornamental pond, you may even spot the portholes at the bottom, revealing the underground barrel cellar below, housing some of Pauillac’s finest wines.
For the ardent road cyclist, I’d recommend taking your own two wheels, as the hiring options are limited. However, for those who feel that pedalling around the vineyards should be a gentler affair, Fun Bike Location de Vélos is at the Village de Bages, little more than a stone’s throw from Pichon Baron. They offer hybrids, mountain bikes, kids’ trailers and even electric bikes. I briefly dabbled with the notion of hiring a tandem, but was prepared to concede that the 11 inch height difference between my companion and me alongside my propensity to sample the local tipple en route might suggest that the wisdom of such an idea was fairly limited.
Rolling out from Pichon Baron, there are routes to suit every rider, with guaranteed vineyards en route, whether you opt for 5km or 55km. The longer routes take in Vignobles de Pauillac, Saint Estèphe, Haut-Médoc and Saint-Julien. Don’t be surprised by the industrial nature of the initial stages of the routes as they hug the left bank of the Gironde, the largest Estuary in Western Europe. If truth be told, the straight, flat roads with little traffic gave us a good opportunity to get used to riding what felt, at times, like a Boris Bike with gears. Once you turn inland, that’s when the real adventure starts, with winding roads through traditional villages and rugged paths through never-ending rows of vines. A great many of the châteaux are open to the public, so don’t forget to stop en-route and try to avoid the pitfall we fell into of arriving on one of many early summer bank holidays.
When in Rome, or in this case, Bordeaux, a day on vélo must, of course, be topped off by an evening tasting les vins. We kicked off with a horizontal tasting of the 2014 Château Pibran and Les Tourelles de Longueville.
Château Pibran’s 17 hectares of vineyards sit to the North of Pauillac and their wines are made by the Pichon Baron technical team and are vinified there, but return to Pibran for aging in 50 per cent new French oak barrels. 70 per cent Merlot and 30 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, the much-lauded ‘cigar box’ aroma immediately hits the nose, followed by black cherry, chocolate and even a hint of black coffee to taste.
Les Tourelles de Longueville takes its name from the Château’s tourelles (turrets) and is a much lighter, easier drinking introduction to the wines of Pichon Baron. Again Merlot dominated, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and 5 per cent Petit Verdot also add to the structure of this fresh, fruity and slightly minerally, floral wine. Both wines would be wonderful with lamb and I took particular delight in the tale of the lambs of the region tasting particularly salty and minerally, since they feed on grass from the same terroir with the Marine climate of the left bank of the Gironde. Both available for between £35 and £45 in the UK, they’re ready for drinking now or can be laid down for up to 15 years.
At Château Pichon Baron, their grand vin packs a real punch. With approximately 80 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 20 per cent Merlot, we tasted the 2011 and 2014 vintages. With its powerful fruit and spice and long finish, the benefits of the 2014 Indian summer were clear, whilst the equally rich, if a little less fruity 2011 was evidence of their ability to perform, even in strangest of weather conditions, when 2011 saw the earliest flowering ever recorded, followed by a positively wintery summer. Classified as a second Grand Cru Classé in 1855, it’s made from grapes from the estate’s oldest vines and can age for more than 40 years. Both vintages were incredibly well balanced with a perfect equilibrium of rich black fruits, tannins and acidity and a delightful creaminess.
For those lucky enough to find themselves in Pauillac (by bike or otherwise!) can arrange visits and tastings at www.pichonbaron.com/en/visit-pichon-baron/ or they can be purchased online or in the UK at a variety of outlets, including Berry Bros. & Rudd and Fine & Rare Wines.