If you are a particular sort of wine merchant there are certain wines that you are not supposed to like. Nor are you supposed to encourage your customers to buy them. It’s a strange sales technique though makes perfect sense to those that employ it.
These wines are not exclusive to any particular region. What they tend to have in common is new ownership and a change in style. A paradigm example would be Château Pavie, modern vintages of which (1998 onward) still split opinion. For those unfamiliar with the château and its recent history, a brief précis would be this: Mr Gerard Perse bought St Emilion estate Château Pavie in 1998, got himself a consultant who knew how to get good scores, toshed up the buildings, and started making St Emilion Turbojuice.
An alternative summary would be this: in 1998 Mr Gerard Perse bought Pavie, an under-performing estate with arguably some of the best terroir in St Emilion, and (a) set about restoring both vineyards and buildings and, concurrently, (b) started to see what sort of wine they could get from this rather special spot. Winemaking for the newcomer, even with a fancy consultant or two, is a bit hit and miss. And you get just one crack at it every year. And the weather is your master. It’s not easy. It might take a while to work it all out.
I first visited Pavie in 2004 to taste the 2003 vintage. This was back in the day of 200% new oak and the 2003 was one of the property’s most controversial offerings. I last visited Pavie in 2015 to taste the 2014 vintage. I mostly remember not the wine, but the Bulgari handwipes in the Gents’, the lovely motor car outside (see below; I think it’s a Citroen), the regal interior – it’s like being inside a very grand hotel – and the furnishings: I very nearly spat my 2014 Pavie into an avant-garde table lamp, thinking that said avant-garde table lamp was an avant-garde spittoon.
And the last time I tasted Pavie was last week at Berrys’, at a dinner that simply wouldn’t have happened back in the old days. Because you were not supposed to like Pavie and you certainly wouldn’t encourage others to do so (though spoofulated Pauillac was obviously fine).
In the company of the impossibly charming and mild-mannered Philippe Develay, who has run the show at Pavie since 2016 I tasted two trios of Pavie: 1998, 2000 & 2010 followed by 2014, 2015 & 2016. Herewith some notes:
1998 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Very punchy nose. The aroma comes from the glass like warmth from a fire. Raisins. Ripe. Very inviting. In the mouth this is ripe and rich and very curranty. At first the mouth doesn’t quite match the nose, though over the course of an hour or two it broadens and fleshes out. This is very tarty, and very big. But I do rather like it.
2000 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
This is much more restrained and elegant on the nose, with a touch of that gentle graphite minerality that you get on 2000s. It opens up gently, and is almost left-bankish. Quite lovely. Clean, gentle and pure. All here and no jam to this. Intense but not heavy. Really lovely.
2010 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Dark – you can’t see through it. Sweet, cool, pure and minty. Cassis. Very clean. Lots of power. Massively intense in the mouth with a pin-sharp structure. Very 2010 in that there is the hint of perfection to come at some stage, but when will that be?
I thoroughly enjoyed these. I think I liked the 1998 more than my neighbours, but the 2000 – I think – seduced the room. The 2010, as with many 2010s, was technically brilliant though I do wonder where these wines are going to go and just how long we’ll have to wait for them. This is a wine for your kids.
2014 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Cool, sweet pure and restrained. Almost floral on the nose. And open. This doesn’t have the intensity or the class of the 2010, but it’s not far behind. This is rather good.
2015 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Darker fruit, and a touch of bubble gum on the nose. An almost tangible – think plasticine – depth to the nose. There is a thickness to this. This follows in the mouth with a similar intensity. A lift underneath, still. A little too rich for me.
2016 Ch. Pavie, St Emilion
Back up there. Freshness, lift. The intensity here is more ballet than sumo. This is a cask sample, so not quite the finished article, but quite lovely and quite complete nonetheless. Mr Perse apparently reckons that he has found the essence of Pavie in this vintage.
There was a definite change in style to these three, with the possible exception of the 2015. I don’t know 2015s as well as I should but I remain unconvinced by the vintage for the moment.
What was convincing was the wine. I’ve tasted every vintage of Pavie since Mr Perse took over in 1998, though I have never, to my shame, actually drunk it. Which is wot wine is for. And which is maybe why it was so easy to denigrate what I didn’t understand back when I was one of those merchants.