Some Thoughts on a Pichon-Baron Tasting with Christian Seely

Christian Seeley

Some thoughts on a Pichon-Baron Tasting with Christian Seely

What’s the collective noun for a group of barons?

That was my first question entering a room filled with Château Pichon Longueville Baron. There’s no other way to describe it – the whole room smelled… expensive.

Take the classic characters of Pauillac and multiply it by ten: cigar box, blackcurrant and cedar.  It is an old Bentley of a wine that is built to last and is considered by serious claret-drinkers as more of a drinking wine rather than solely as an investment wine.

Pichon-Baron is what is called a super-second wine. Historically, this group of wines that sit under the First Growths have been a very competitive lot and, at many times, they have argued they could be a First Growth (and command the prices) if it was not for the pesky twist of fate in 1855 Classification.
Christian Seely is a natty-tie person who has taken a portfolio of top Chateaux and wineries under his wing at AXA Milliseme. Before I could say, “corporate wine” he assured us AXA has a very hands off approach to the actual wines. It has also provided huge amounts of capital to make the improvements necessary for Pichon-Baron to catch up with the other super-seconds in the 2000s. The quality has clearly improved with his investment.

That’s why at the tasting, the most interesting contrast in style was the 1996 and the 2001 Pichon-Baron. 1996 is a great year in Bordeaux but has been seen as the vintage to keep while drinking the 1995s. This was not made during Christian Seely’s time and the difference is apparent: it has a very savoury taste with more pronounced oak, what I would call “old-school claret”. Christian commented, “It’s annoyingly good!”

The 2001, in contrast, has very vibrant fruit characters with incredible length. Both very different in style: but why?

There has been a drastic reduction in production under Christian Seely. This starts in the vineyard. The approach has been of an extreme culling of grapes to find the very best fruit from every single bunch.  The average number of bottles in the 1990s per vintage was 380,000; in the new millennium, an average of 185,000 bottles.

A room full of thought

The direction of the wine is clearly one of reduced yields and increased quality. But will it start to become more of an investment wine rather than what it has always been regarded as, the choice for serious claret-drinkers who want to drink cru classe quality. Not under Christian Seely’s watch!

He told the group he had the opportunity to sell the entire production to one country but refused – for romantic and practical reasons.  Unlike other Chateaux of this level, “I refuse to sell to large investment firms – this wine is not meant to be locked up in a warehouse in Geneva, it’s meant to be drunk.”

Appropriately, the collective noun for a group of Barons is a thought of Barons. It is clear Christian Seely is thinking about the real meaning of Bordeaux.

Juel Mahoney
30th September 2011

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