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1985 Chateaux Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac (Bordeax), France

There's something remarkable about the generosity of wine lovers and collectors. Their willingness to share a bottle, even the most expensive bottle that they have cared for and stored sometimes for decades, often with complete strangers never ceases to fill me with wonder, admiration, and pride. I have the same tendency. We're good folk, us wine lovers. Even the biggest snobs I've met, ones that I can barely stand to be in a room with are perfectly willing, and even excited to pop open a dusty bottle and share it with people they know will appreciate it.

I got invited, through a friend, to a nice dinner the other night at the house of some folks I didn't know. It was a small dinner party, just 5 couples, but I knew only my friend and her husband. When we got a handmade invite in the mail and the request to bring a special bottle of wine, I knew we were in for a treat. The hosts also happened to mention they were breaking out a bottle of their 1966 Lafite-Rothschild.

The dinner was fantastic, and the company lovely, though people seemed to want to talk a lot about my blog and started asking my Lalande.label.jpgopinion on all sorts of things wine, and to be honest I got a little embarrassed.

The 66 Lafite was great, definitely in good shape for its age (older than me!) but the star of the night for me was this Pichon-Lalande (the more common truncated name for the wine which is just a bit too much of a mouthful to insert into normal conversation). The wine is also sometimes known as Pichon-Comtesse. Both of these truncations are for brevity, but also to distinguish the wine from Pichon-Longueville Baron (aka Pichon-Longueville, but formerly Pichon-Baron -- confused yet?), which is the other half of the estate. Pichon-Longueville was a single property when it was ranked as a second growth during the famous 1855 classification, but was split up in subsequent years, apparently as part of an inheritance battle. One half of the estate went to a Baron, and the other half, to his sister the Comtesse, and in a remarkable and probably careful and deliberate turn of events, Pichon Lalande has been run by women ever since.

Pichon Lalande is in the Pauillac region of Bordeaux, on the left (west) bank of the Gironde river estuary and is one of the northernmost appellations of the Medoc region of Bordeaux (just south of St.-Estephe which is the northernmost, and farthest downstream on the Gironde, which runs north/northwest at this point). Pauillac is a small appellation, but has the unusual distinction of hosting three lalande.ext.shot.sm.jpgof the five ranked First Growths (Lafite, Latour, and Mouton-Rothschild) according to the aforementioned 1855 classification.

Pichon Lalande sits at the southern end of the Pauillac, where the well draining gravelly soils play host to some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon growing conditions in the world. My fellow blogger Bertrand of Wine Terroirs just visited Pichon-Lalande, and has some gorgeous photos of their operation, including the lovely one over there on the left of the chateau and gardens that I stole from his site (hope he doesn't mind).

The winery currently has about 180 acres of vines under cultivation mixed with about the same varietal proportions as their wine: 45% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Petit Verdot. After harvest, the wine is sorted into small varietal lots and crushed and fermented separately in large steel and occasionally cement vats. It is then partially blended and aged in various French Oak barrels for 18 months, after which the final blend is made and the wine is bottled.

1985 was the coldest winter in nearly 100 years with lots of snow in the region, and a very cold and rainy spring that pushed into June. Once into July, temperatures increased dramatically and the grapes apparently developed well, through August which was somewhat overcast. Harvest took place in September under perfect (very dry and very hot) conditions. The year is generally thought to have been a good one, and according to both the Chateau and various critics, this wine is at its peak of drinkability.

Tasting Notes:
A medium ruby color in the glass with very little hints of aging in the color, this wine has a meaty, sausagy nose with aromas of cherry, wet blackboard, and tobacco. In the mouth it still has a lovely acid backbone and lush flavors of cherry, redcurrant, as well as a nice minerality. The mouthfeel is gorgeous and some peachfuzz-soft tannins are still in evidence. The wine finishes with some notes of tobacco, and just goes on, and on, and on.

Food Pairing:
This wine would be a lovely accompaniment to a beef tenderloin with roasted shallots, bacon, and port.

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: $150 - $220

This wine is readily available on the Internet.

Comments (10)

matt wrote:
08.08.05 at 10:01 AM

"wet blackboard"- that made me laugh for some reason

Alder wrote:
08.08.05 at 10:27 AM


Yeah. Technically it should be wet slate, which I've used before, but it's a little more pretentious. Do you remember washing down blackboards in school? Very distinct smell...

matt wrote:
08.08.05 at 1:51 PM

ive washed many blackboards in my day...how cool was the vacumn machine thing for the erasers?

08.11.05 at 12:36 AM

Just tell me I'm not one of the people you can't stand to be in a room with!

Did you have the Pichon-Lalande with your meal or by itself? I almost bought a bottle of '85 Lynch-Bages a few weeks back, but decided against it because I read the '85s were a little more austere than the '86s. But your tasting note may convince me to reconsider.

Alder wrote:
08.15.05 at 9:50 AM


You certainly don't fall into that category ! I had the Lalande with my meal. It's an excellent wine, and certainly one to drink if you've got it in your cellar. I'm not sure that it's worth paying a big premium at auction for it.

seth wrote:
06.03.06 at 10:37 AM

Thanks for the story. I have a bottle of the 85 pichon comtesse, and I am trying to figure out how much longer I should sit on it. My impression is that it should be drunk soon, any thoughts?
Take Care,

Alder wrote:
06.03.06 at 4:09 PM


I thought this wine was drinking beautifully now, and was probably just past its peak for my palate, but I tend to like wines a tad younger than most serious Bordeaux-heads. There are people who would probably leave this wine for another 10 years without a problem, especially if it has been cellared well.

Not sure if that helps. I'd always prefer to drink a wine a couple years too young than to have it over the hill.

ron wrote:
05.28.07 at 8:47 PM

I bought two bottles of 1985 Ch. Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande at the winery in July 1997 for US$24 each. I shipped the wine to California through the Panama Canal in May'98 with our household goods in an unconditioned container, stored it in the house for about 2 years, then in a wine cellar under more or less ideal conditions.
We opened the second bottle this evening (May'07) to enjoy with a leg of lamb dinner. I decanted the wine about 1-1/2 hours before dinner and swirled it a lot in the decanter, then poured it into oversized wine glasses ay dinnertime. I've found older wines are best when allowed to open up with this treatment. The cork was solid, wet in the lower 1/3. This cork would easily last about another 10 years.
The wine was a grand choice for the evening.
The nose was pleasant yet had a distinctive earthy-musty sense with a hint of wet leather. This declined somewhat after 30 minutes in the glass. The nose was not apparent in the taste nor did it affect our enjoyment of the wine.
In the taste, the wine had a velvet smooth texture perfectly supported by moderate acid and tannic levels. The flavors were complex with a slight hint of blackcurrant, though one had to search hard for any remaining fruit flavors, and a suptle sense of fine tobbacco and similar smooth aromas. Just what one looks for in an older wine. It had a long finish with an interesting pop at the end with the nose aromas reappearing.
This wine is at its peak. Depending on storage conditions, I estimate it will continue to be an excellent wine for 5 to 10 more years. Enjoy anytime!

Glyn Celyn wrote:
02.23.10 at 3:16 AM

Has anyone tasted this wine recently pse?
Tks, Glyn

Alex Ber wrote:
10.16.14 at 2:10 AM

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combined with legal guidelines on how exactly to finish them.

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