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08.31.2007

1970 Chateau Gazin Pomerol, Bordeaux, France

chateau_gazin.gifIt shows a particular breed of idiocy that the American public has turned its nose up at a grape as the result of a flippant line in a clever but unremarkable movie. While we have thousands of Americans who now hate Merlot, there are still thousands more who think nothing of throwing down a couple of thousand dollars for a bottle of Petrus after a winning streak in Vegas. I'm also willing to bet that there's a good portion of that latter crowd who don't even know that they're drinking Merlot.

Those of us whose wine tastes aren't easily swayed by Hollywood (both knowledgeable and novice alike) are having a field day soaking up some great wine, while a large portion of the country runs screaming after anything called Pinot waving a fistful of dollars.

In fact, I take a small bit of private pleasure these days whenever I serve and am served a bottle of Merlot. So I was particularly pleased when at a recent lunch in New York the sommelier appeared with a grin on his face and this dusty bottle on his arm.

There's something about mature Bordeaux that is magical. Half the time, I'm not so sure that this magic isn't just the amazing fact that the wine has actually even survived three or four decades, let alone the way it tastes. I'll be perfectly honest that some mature Bordeaux -- stuff from the sixties (that's as old as I've tried) -- doesn't really taste all that good. I should also say that no one has yet broken out an impeccably cellared 1950 Lafite for me. Most of what I've tasted have been wines other than the big First Growth, Premiere Grand Cru estates. And the older wine gets, the more bottle variation can mean one bottle sings, while another sours.

All this by way of saying that with these old bottles you never know what you're going to get, and even when it doesn't taste fantastic, as long as it isn't clearly spoiled, it still tastes fantastic, if you get my meaning. Tasting time is truly a gift and a luxury.

Of course, sometimes these wines do taste great, and when they do, it's hard to match them for their elegance and finesse. Yes, even when they are made from Merlot. So it was a distinct pleasure to spend an hour or two with friends over this bottle of Pomerol.

Situated on what is known as the "Right Bank" of the Gironde river that cuts through Bordeaux, Pomerol is a small, mostly flat bench of gravelly soil known for growing Merlot better than anywhere else in the world. You can judge the best site for a particular variety in a lot of ways, but there aren't many ways in which Pomerol would come up short of the top for Merlot. Home to Chateau Petrus, quite possibly the highest priced Merlot in the world, and dozens of other famous houses (and hundreds of lesser ones) that have been making Bordeaux wines with mostly or heavily Merlot for more than a century.

Pomerol is it's own animal in the constellation of Bordeaux. Smaller than many of the other appellations, less picturesque, and subdivided among hundreds of producers, none of whom make very much wine (in comparison to some of the First Growths on Bordeaux's Left Bank), Pomerol is home to some of Bordeaux's most sought after wines, including such names as Lafleur, Le Pin, La Fleur de Gay, and the aforementioned Petrus, none of whom have an official designation as First Growths (or Second Growths, for that matter) as Pomerol was never classified in the way of the Medoc or its neighbor St. Emilion.

Among Pomerol estates Chateau Gazin is often known for two things. The first, a dichotomy between status gained on the one hand and over-comparison on the other, is the fact that it is next door to Petrus. The second and related distinction is that it is managed by the same steady hand that runs Petrus and several other major Pomerol estates, Christian Moueix, whose nickname happens to be "Mr. Merlot."

Chateau Gazin farms a single plot of about 58 acres of densely packed vines in Pomerol, and makes about 8,000 cases of wine each year under its house label, which has been around since roughly the turn of the 20th Century.


A mix of carefully hand harvested grapes (90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc from vines whose average age hovers around 35 years) is fermented in small cement vats before undergoing a second fermentation and final aging for 18 months in French oak barrels (50% new). The wine is painstakingly racked by hand to separate the lees (sediments) and is fined with egg whites.

Tasting Notes:
Dark blood red in the glass, with only the hint of brick color at the edges, this wine has a gorgeously textured nose of smoked meats, cedar, and red apple skin. In the mouth it has a fine powdery quality to its texture (some of which is actual sediment) and a beautiful medley of flavors that range from leather to redcurrant to tart cherry, orange, and cloves. The finish, as is so often the case with wines like this in the peak of maturity, doesn't so much as happen as it does emerge like a shape out of the fog of flavors, and lingers for a long while before disappearing in the mist. This is a wine that seems to certainly have the ability to last another 10 years and still give pleasure, but I'm certainly glad we had it when we did. Merlot and all.

Food Pairing:
This went beautifully with a nice rack of lamb.

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: approximately $166

This wine is actually available for purchase on the internet.

Comments (15)

09.01.07 at 7:39 AM

The last time I checked the industry numbers -- admittedly a while back -- Merlot hadn't really taken much of a dip because of the movie. Pinot Noir, of course, had skyrocketed (relative to its old standing).

Did that change?

Alder wrote:
09.01.07 at 8:18 AM

Derrick,

That's not my understanding based on several data points, one of which is a 20 state survey of restaurant wine sales that I posted about awhile back. Merlot used to be the #2 most sold red variety in the US by volume, now it is #3 behind Pinot (and King Cab, of course). Add to that the many many wine directors I have spoken with that say their merlot sales have dropped, and the many growers who say that in some cases they can't give the stuff away.

Sad, but true, the movie has had a real impact.

09.01.07 at 8:51 AM

Well, that's unfortunate, happy as I am to see Pinot Noir gain some traction in the marketplace, though I'm less fond of the heavy style of Pinot Noir that has gained so many fans.

Guess I need to look at market data more often!

Carl wrote:
09.02.07 at 5:29 AM

Alder,

I'm thick-headed. Do you mean to say that Pomerol has been ignored by the American wine-buying public because it is primarily Merlot, which is currently out of favor?

Last year I was in San Francisco for a couple weeks and I stopped in at a small wine shop near Sutter and Montgomery. They're pretty knowledgeable there and since I hadn't been in the U.S. much since that infamous movie had been released, I asked if the popularity of Pinot Noir had pumped up the price of red Burgundies in the U.S. The proprietor replied that he hadn't noticed any change in Burgundy sales.

Later on that same I trip I was tasting some Pinot at a winery in Sonoma and commented about the dichotomy of Pinot Noir sales going through the roof in the U.S., while Burgundy sales hadn't seemed to follow. The winery employee who was pouring and, of course, describing the wine in flowery details, was astonished to learn that red Burgundy was made from Pinot Noir grapes. She even casually tried to confirm the fact with a coworker, who responded "uh, yeah... I think so."

I have no statistics, but my intuitive guess is that most American wine drinkers have never heard of Pomerol and that at least 95% of them have no idea what cepages are used to produce it.

09.02.07 at 10:26 AM

Hi - new to reading your blog and I have found it extremely rewarding already! Thank you! I can tell you anecdotally that, yes, it has made a difference at the various wine events I've attended. I have been to numerous wine tastings and listening to what others are saying tells me that yes, the reputation of merlot has definitely changed since before the movie. I think that in the world of wine drinkers, there are those few who are willing to follow their taste the the many who follow someone else's. Unfortunately, they are easily led. And yes I've been able to find great buys lately.
Cheers!

Alder wrote:
09.02.07 at 10:37 AM

Carl,

Oh, no. I'm not implying sales of Pomerol or Burgundy have been affected at all. I don't think the average American wine drinker has ever had a Pomerol or Burgundy, let alone knows what's in them (unfortunately). My understanding from anecdotal evidence is that Burgundy prices have not been affected by the film. Sonoma County Pinot noir is another story. From the price of the grapes to the popularity (and to a certain extent the price) of the bottled wine, there is definitely a Sideways effect.

Paul Harvey wrote:
09.03.07 at 7:36 AM

Whether Americans know or drink Pomerol, Burgundy, Merlot or Pinot Noir is their choice as each American pays for the bottle of wine each drinks. I believe it is safe to say that Americans enjoy wine but are not interested in learning about wine only tasting/drinking it. Also, it is always easier to buy both Merlot and Pinot Noir than it is to buy Pomerol or Burgundy. More American stores and wineries display/sell the former than the latter. Lastly, it has been my experience that Pomerol and Burgundy are produced in tiny quantities, display confusing labels to comprehend, and almost double the price when compared to Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Carl wrote:
09.03.07 at 9:59 AM

Mr. Harvey,

Well, sorta.

Here in France, the only American wines I can find at the local grocery store, (I live in a rural area, but it's a very large grocery store), are Turning Leaf Merlot and E&J Gallo Cabernet Sauvignon. They sell for about 6 to 7 euros a bottle, or about $8.00 to $9.50. That probably puts it in the most expensive 20% of the wines in the store. Imagine judging American wines based on those two samples. Kinda like judging French wines based on Louis Jadot Beaujolais.

As Americans, our impression of French wines is that they are expensive relative to all other countries. Ironically, in my experience, comparing apples to apples, or grapes to grapes, California wines are the most overpriced in the world, (not including marginal producers like China, Japan, Israel, etc.).

To really get a feel for that, you have to go the wine-producing countries and go wine shopping in each of them, (sounds like hard work, eh?). The fact is, in places like Spain, France, and Italy, you can buy drinkable wine for less than two dollars a bottle -- wine that puts two-buck-chuck to shame. The problem is we Americans don't know they exist. The first time I went wine shopping in France I didn't recognize 99% of the wines, and at the time I had been drinking French wines for 20 years!

But you're right. The only thing that matters is enjoying the wine. Why should we have to know anything about it? The answer to that, of course, is that the more ignorant the consumer is, the easier it is for the wine industry to dictate to us what to drink, what to pay, and, (apologies to Mr. Parker), what to like. The more informed we are, the more the industry must give us the best wine possible, the best variety possible, at the best price possible. If American wine consumers continue to eschew Merlot because a movie told them to, wine producers and wholesalers will stop making and importing it, and that's simply not good for us winos.

I don't mean this in a bad way, but your ignorance of foreign wines, (and mine), is because of the lack of exposure to foreign wines. That lack of exposure is due to our lack of demand for foreign wine, which, in turn, is due to our ignorance of foreign wines. Until recently, my mother only drank white zinfandel, much like a great percentage of American wine drinkers. Did that make her stupid? Wasn't she enjoying her wine? Why should she know about anything else? Why should she learn anything about any of those other wines on the shelf? But, if everybody thinks that way, there will only white zinfandel on the shelf, (biting my tongue).

If your favorite varietal, let's say maybe Pinot Noir, suddenly doubles in price, is there any advantage in knowing that Burgundy, which hasn't increased at all, is actually Pinot Noir? I guess only if your money supply is unlimited.
Right about now, you've probably got a look on your face that's similar to the one my wife had the first time I tried to explain the infield fly rule to her. That's the look that says "why in the hell should I care about this?" Well, you're either a Baseball fan and you want to know, or you're not. Likewise, you're either a wine fan and you want to know, or... you're not. And that's the Rest of the story, (sorry, couldn't help myself).

Paul Harvey wrote:
09.03.07 at 9:21 PM

Both Turning Leaf and Gallo are California wines and they are definitely not overpriced as they sell several million bottles every year.
The wine industry does not dictate what to drink, you buy because you choose too. The retailer prices the wine not the wine industry. I never let anyone in the wine industry tell me what to like.
if you choose to drink cheap wine from around the world that is your perogative.

Carl wrote:
09.04.07 at 4:00 AM

Mr. Harvey,

OK, I'll play along. Budweiser is the largest selling beer in the world, so it must be the best. McDonald's has more sales and more locations than any other restaurant chain, so they obviously provide the best product available at the best price. Why would we need any other type of restaurant?

The fact that Gallo and Turning Leaf are two of the largest wine producers in the world does not mean they are not over-priced. California wines are relatively over-priced because costs, primarily land and labor, are higher. Of course, value is relative. If you like Turning Leaf, then for you it is a bargain.

Retailers generally apply a fairly consistent multiple to wholesale prices, so they do not control prices as much as producers do. I assure you that Silver Oak and Charles Shaw have very different wholesale prices.

The wine industry "controls" what you drink by "denying" you 90% of the wines in the world, and "tells" you what to like by not allowing you to try something you might like better. Of course, I'm not talking about some giant conspiracy, it's just the limitations of the market. But that's what this is all about: opening minds and markets.

Carl wrote:
09.04.07 at 4:04 AM

Oops, lost my head. Gallo and Turning Leaf are the same thing. At ease.

Blind Muscat wrote:
09.04.07 at 6:30 PM

I know this is a few days behind the times, and on a small point, but . . . Pinot Noir has in no way overtaken Merlot in the hearts and mind of US consumers, growers, or winemakers. Alas.

It's true that at some high-end restaurants, Merlot has faded as the by-the-glass front-runner, but the USDA Crush Report tells a different tale. In 2006, California crushed 332,000 tons of Merlot, and a mere 106,000 tones of Pinot Noir. Not even close; indeed, Pinot was behind Syrah and Zinfandel, as well as Cabernet and Merlot. Varietal Merlot continues to be the leading red on supermarket shelves.

Another reason not eo believe everything you see in the movies.

WineCanine wrote:
09.09.07 at 11:18 AM

Observations from working in a wine shop: We run through our Pinot Noirs a lot faster than we do our Merlots, despite the fact the Pinots cost more.

It's a lot easier to sell a Domaine Serene or King Estate Pinot to someone buying a gift for a "wine connoisseur friend" than it is a Twomey Merlot, though they cost roughly the same.

If a customer asks for a recommendation and a Merlot is suggested, it's not unusual to get the response "(Pause.) I don't drink Merlot." delivered in a tone and manner that leads one to expect "What do you take me for — a fool?" to be the next sentence.

Lower-priced Merlots, like the Columbia Crest Grand Estate or the Santa Ema Reserve, sell by the case. Inexpensive Pinot Noirs sell by the bottle.

Having worked in the same shop both before and after Sideways, I'd have to say that the demand for Pinot Noir has definitely increased since the movie came out, and that Merlot sales have softened a bit. And increasingly, New Zealand Pinots — Amisfield, Kim Crawford, Tohu, Vidal et al. — are filling in the holes in the shelves as Oregon and Central Coast wines sell out.

paolo wrote:
02.01.09 at 9:05 AM

Pomerole is the the best part of Bordaux ,it is on the south eath side of the river ,they make the best wine of the world merlo chatuax Petrus they go for 25000.00 dallers they use spacile oaks and the age the wine different from the other light merlot
paolo , somalier from montreal>

Frank Stout wrote:
08.27.10 at 2:05 PM

trying to determine the value of a bottle of Chateau Gazin Pomerol 1985

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