The Successful Collector June 25th – By Julian Hitner ~ Château Margaux – An evening with Corinne Mentzelopoulos
A luxurious Château Margaux tasting and dinner: a liquid lesson on how to celebrate a special occasion in style, in this case the twentieth anniversary of Fine Wine events hosted by the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee. Held on 26 April 2011 at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Toronto, owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos of the illustrious Château Margaux played presenter and moderator to a sold-out master class of local, well-healed wine lovers, eager to take in every word of this luminous individual. Her first visit to Toronto in twenty years, it might very well have taken another twenty years to lure Madam Corinne from her beloved estate, had it not been for the efforts of the TSO Volunteer Committee.
Indeed, this was as much an evening for indulging in the fine wines of Château Margaux as it was for paying tribute to the resourcefulness of the charitable arm of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sitting next to Committee President Heather Oda during the dinner that followed the tasting, it only took a few moments to learn of the great pride that goes with being a part of the workings of one of Canada’s finest orchestral institutions. For Oda and Co-Chairs Marianne Oundjian and Nazeli Clausen, there can be no mistaking the fact that, like the uncompromising goings-on that make the ‘Grand Vin’ of Château Margaux what it is, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra could not possibly function without the efforts of the Volunteer Committee – so markedly illustrated by Madame Corrine’s presence and the wines (and foods) of the evening. “Whatever you write, be sure to mention that this is all the result of [the efforts of] the Volunteer Committee,” said Clausen at the start of the event. In the end, such recognition proved perfectly warranted, for I could not recall a more agreeable way to spend a Tuesday evening in a very long time.
Indeed, the wines of Château Margaux, as well as the dinner pairings that followed, were nothing short of spectacular. Of the actual tasting, Madame Corinne was well advised to let the wines speak for themselves, for such offerings rarely require neither grandiose speeches nor personal soliloquies to confirm their magnificence. For her part, Madam Corrine simply remarks: “Château Margaux is a heritage that you just cannot let down.” One of only five estates granted the exalted status of ‘First Growth’ in the 1855 Classification, Château Margaux is often considered to represent the pinnacle of sophistication and elegance of super-premium claret. Situated in the appellation of the same name and comprising 78 hectares, plus 12 hectares dedicated to 100% Sauvignon Blanc, the estate is administered by world-renowned general manager (winemaker) Paul Pontallier, of whom Madam Corinne often most credits for the success of her institution. The vineyards are planted with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Such vines are planted on soils comprised principally of heavy, ridge-based gravel deposits, among the thinnest throughout the entire Médoc, allowing the vines to extend themselves deep into the ground.
At the very top, the ‘Grand Vin’ of the estate is the Château Margaux bottling, made from only the finest batches of wine, which have been assembled in the cellar. Typically, the wine will be aged for up to 18 months, sometimes more, in almost 100% new French oak barriques (225 litres), at which point the wine will be then bottled and shipped. In the finest vintages, the Grand Vin, though nowadays often delectable when young, is capable of aging for decades. The ‘second wine’ of the estate goes by the name of ‘Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux’, and often represents incredible value for money when considering its quality. The wine is typically crafted from younger vines and batches in the cellar that are not deemed suitable for the Grand Vin. This said, Pavillon Rouge can be easily aged for well over a decade. Finally, there is the beloved white wine of the estate: Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux, easily the finest white wine to be had throughout the entire Médoc, and one that is also capable of decades-long aging. Crafted from 100% Sauvignon Blanc and drawn from a separate twelve-hectare vineyard, Pavillon Blanc is fermented and aged for about 7 or 8 months in French oak barrels. A stupendous ‘white Médoc’ year after year.
Suffice it say, tasting such wines extending back to the ’83 vintage was a rather humbling experience. As a central theme to each of the wines – both the reds and whites – what consistently stood out was their unparalleled level of vigour and finesse. Quite truly, these were wines that, crafted in the ‘intellectual’ style, each told a story. But this was nothing compared to the dinner that followed, for such wines, while brilliant on their own, were immeasurably enhanced when purposefully paired with the customized dishes that had been planned and brilliantly executed for the evening.
Comprising a superlative four-course affair that began with Atlantic butter poached lobster, tomato savarin, and a hint of Tahitian vanilla nage; such a dish was paired with the wonderfully lively, complex ’95 Pavillon Blanc. Truly, the contrast of liveliness and delicacy could not be more poignant. The main course: Ontario slow roasted venison loin noisette, accompanied by organic carrot mousseline, spring peas, and truffle jus; paired with the incredibly deep, rich ’00 Pavillon Rouge, the awesome flavour of the venison was kept finely in check by one of my favourite vintages of Margaux’s stupendous ‘second wine.’ The last two courses were both fashioned in the style of desserts: brillat-savarin cheese with walnut and raisin bread croutons, candied walnuts, grapes, poached pears, and fig marmalade; the other mignardises (small cakes), pâté de fruit, chocolate truffles, Florentine, macaroons, and tuile agrumes (dried citrus fruits). Paired with the monumental ’89 Margaux, the underlying suggestion of sweetness of an aged First Growth, not to mention its profound complexity and depth, was the perfect accompaniment to all these edible digestifs. The perfect way to end off a perfect evening.