Message on a Bottle
If you haven’t heard, fans of Chateau Margaux all around the globe have been busy. Busy getting their hands on the brand’s latest release. The estate has unveiled a glitzy – and one-off – bottle design for its 2015 Grand Vin (approximately £1,000, RM5,420).
The vintage was the last to be made by Paul Pontallier, the estate’s managing director and a respected figure in Bordeaux. Pontallier died at the age of 59 in March 2016 after 33 years at Margaux. He is remembered in the new design, which also celebrates the bicentenary of Margaux’s architecture and the new chai designed by Norman Foster.
“For us it’s a really special thing, the first time we’ve ever done a special bottle. It will probably never be done again," says Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos, daughter of Corinne Mentzelopoulos, who has owned the Chateau Margaux estate since 1977.
“We wanted to wait to see if the vintage would be exceptional, and it is, because it needed to be a good one to celebrate this great person who for three and a half decades made Chateau Margaux what it is today."
Pontallier was one of the great names in wine. He arrived at Margaux in 1983, at the age of just 27. He then rapidly developed an excellent working relationship with its proprietor. Together they revitalised the chateau, never losing sight of the elegance of Margaux’s style. One willing to experiment, but never implementing change for the sake of novelty or faddishness.
The family spirit has continued with the next generation. Petit-Mentzelopoulos works in the family business as deputy general manager. She was later joined at the London launch of the commemorative bottle by Thibault Pontallier, Paul’s son from his first marriage.
The two have not just worked together for years, they grew up together too. “Margaux was my playground," says. “I used to go see the coopers and they’d make weapons for me, and I would scare my parents by hiding from them in the cellars and vineyard."
Thibault first moved away from Bordeaux, working stints at the UN, in an orphanage in Vietnam. Then, as a sales assistant in a New York wine shop, “my father said, ‘wait a minute, if you’re really interested in wine, we’re looking for someone to look after Asia.’" He then moved to Hong Kong to represent Margaux in Asia, returning every year to Bordeaux for the en primeur tastings.
He describes his father as, “like the wine, very elegant, always reading a different book every day. The greatest man on earth. A great winemaker, but an even better father. I loved working with him. The Mentzelopolous family was very beautiful to put his name on the 2015 bottle. But yes, I do think his name deserves to be there."
The newly launched bottle is decorated with a grey and gold silk screen print of the chateau and its cellars. On it, the words, “Hommage a Paul Pontallier" are picked out in gold.
Perhaps, though, it’s the wine that pays the best tribute of all to the man.
The 2015 Chateau Margaux is a stand-out wine even for a first growth. Poised but also compact with fierce energy that will take years to unfurl, it was given a score of 98-100 by Neal Martin when tasted en primeur.
“Beg for a bottle and worry about the cost later," he wrote.