Wines of Chateau Pavie

Fast Facts

Commune : Saint Emilion
Classification : Premier Grand Cru Classe B
Vineyard area : 37 hectares
Grapes planted : Merlot (70%), Cabernet Franc (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%)
Annual production : About 20,000 bottles
Owner : Gerard Perse (also owns Pavie-Decesse & Monbousquet)

Chateau Pavie Selection

About The Wine

Just in case the dinner conversation becomes stale, this controversial wine should liven up proceedings. Before we head into the controversy, a bit of background :-

Pavie is located to the east of the town of Saint Emilion. This picturesque town is some 45 kilometers east of the city of Bordeaux and across the Dordogne River (part of the Gironde estuary). It is part of the famous Right Bank. For centuries, this area was, literally, a backwater.

When the 1855 Classification was drawn up, their wines were not considered worthy of consideration. As their wine gained traction in the market in the 1950s, the winemakers lobbied for their own separate classification. Under the aegis of the French authorities, the first classification was published in 1954. It was to be revised every 10 years but was in fact revised in 1969, 1985 and 1996. The classification (hence promotion as well as demotion) was to be based on a tasting of vintages from the preceding 10 years and not just market value. This was a perfect recipe for disaster and ensured a feast for lawyers. The latest attempt at re-classification in 2006 is still in a legal quagmire.

There are 4 categories in this classification, premiers grands crus classes (itself subdivided into A and B), grands crus classes, grands crus and plain or generic Saint Emilion. Ausone and Cheval Blanc are the only 2 in Classes A. There are 11 including Pavie in Classes B.

Whereas the Left Bank is the home of vast estates, Saint Emilion is dotted by small holdings where the winemaker is also the owner. The prevalence of small plots of land presents a low entry barrier for new producers and encourages experimentation with new styles and techniques. This became the birthplace of the “garage movement” in the 1990s, literally, a wine made in a space no bigger than a one-car garage. These wines were made in miniscule amounts with the utmost meticulousness and infused with the personality of the winemaker (for example, La Mondotte, Valandraud).

The other contrast with the Left Bank is the predominance of merlot and cabernet franc to the almost total exclusion of cabernet sauvignon, the backbone of Medoc wines.

Pavie is the largest of the premiers grands crus with an area of about 37 hectares (compared to Lafite’s 100 hectares). 70% is planted in merlot, 20% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon. Ownership has changed a number of times since 1855 and in 1998, it was sold to the present owner, Gerard Perse. Perse made considerable investments in Pavie and drastically reduced yields. He brought in Michel Rolland as his wine guru and changed the style of the wine. Since 1998, Robert Parker has given stellar scores to each vintage (no less than 95 in each with the exception of 94 for 2002).

This was the nub of the controversy. The change in his style has not sat well with the traditionalists. England’s Clive Coates complained of an over-extracted wine and lamented the loss of elegance. England’s other top critic, Jancis Robinson, also disliked the new style and things came to a head when she gave the 2003 vintage a 12/20 rating in a supposed blind-tasting. She called it a “ridiculous” wine and said it resembled a port and not a Bordeaux. This was in contrast to a score of 95+ from Parker and sparked the great Atlantic debate (which quickly descended into a catfight).

Everyone waded in. James Suckling of Wine Spectator gave it an initial rating of 95-100 (now reduced to 96). Decanter, an English wine publication, gave it 4 out of 5 stars. The French critics described it as a “superb” wine and suggested that the wine was being judged by its owner who had many enemies. Parker repeatedly questioned Robinson’s impartiality.

Many felt that this argument has hurt Pavie because it became the symbol of “parkerized” wine (full-bodied wine allegedly made to garner high scores from Mr. Parker). It became us (the understated continental style) against them (American brashness). Prior to the 2006 re-classification, it was rumored that Pavie would join the dynamic duo of Cheval Blanc and Ausone in the top flight. When this did not come about, many attributed it to the effect of the continuing feud between Parker and Robinson. Some also felt that Parker has subconsciously become more conservative with his scores for Pavie after this episode (no more perfect scores since the 2000 vintage although Wine Spectator awarded this score to the 2005 vintage).

Drink it and pick a side!


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