Owner: Sichel and Mahler-Besse families
Classification: Third Growth
Vineyard area: 55 hectares
Average annual production: 90,000 bottles p/a
Standard blend: 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 6%
Other wines: Alter Ego Palmer
Chateau Palmer was conceived in the early 19th century when a successful and notoriously alluring English General met a wealthy young widow on a stagecoach journey across France. The chance meeting saw General Charles Palmer (who was returning from the Battle of Toulouse) purchase a portion of land from Marie de Gascq for 100,000 francs, thus laying the groundwork for what was to become one of Bordeaux’s most distinguished estates.
Despite his enthusiasm and generous investment, Palmer’s ambition recalled him to London, where he used his persuasiveness and charm to promote “Palmer’s Claret” in gentlemen’s clubs. Having expanded his property to cover 163 hectares, however, Palmer’s no-expense-spared approach to expansion and varietal experimentation eventually caught up with him, and in 1843, with his finances and marriage in disarray, the general was forced to sell the estate (though it retained his name).
In 1853, Chateau Palmer was bought by Isaac and Emile Perreire – two successful French bankers who had played a central role in Napoleon’s remodelling of Paris and in the development of the illustrious Arcachon resort near Bordeaux. With more than a small fortune in hand, the brothers quickly set about improving the vineyards, though the fruits of their labours were not fully realised until after the 1855 classification. Their efforts (which included the construction of the current chateau) eventually saw Palmer celebrated as one of Margaux’s finest wines, but disease, war and economic depression led to the sale of the property in 1938.
The Palmer estate, though largely depleted, was purchased by four prominent Bordeaux families who set up the Societe Civile de Chateau Palmer. Two of these families, Sichel and Mahler-Besse, continue to head the winery today. Over the past few decades, they have seen Palmer reclaim its former position as a leading Bordeaux chateau, aided (since 2004) by winemaker Thomas Duroux.
The 2009 vintage
The 2009 vintage is composed of 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 52% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. The wine’s alcohol is listed as 13.9%.
After a disappointing 2007 vintage, the 2008 and 2009 both serve to confirm that Chateau Palmer – currently classified as a Third Growth – sits more comfortably amongst the Super Seconds. James Molesworth in the Wine Spectator feels that the 2009 has more potential than its predecessor, rating the most recent vintage at 95 points – “dark plum, mulled currant and blackberry notes, with flashes of roasted apple wood and maduro tobacco, plus cocoa and espresso”.
Jancis calls the wine “big and glamorous – a slightly Italian note” – 18/20.
Palmer 2009 was released this year at a record high of £2,400 per 12x75cl case – well above the current price of the 2000 and the 2005 (both of which are available at around £2,000). But whilst 09 prices have remained relatively static since release, vintages 1998-2008 have seen tremendous price appreciation and are up an average of 20% year-on-year. As a result, the mean price of recent Palmer vintages is now over £1,300 per case.
This benchmark reveals a number of buying opportunities, as several high-scoring vintages are trading at under £1,000. The 2004, for example, which scores 91 points from James Suckling and 18-18.5 points from Jancis Robinson, traded today at £950 per case – less than half of the price of the 95-point (JS) 2005. The vintage was changing hands at just £680 a year ago, reflecting a rise of around 40%. The 2002 is currently bid on the exchange at £950 and is up 37% year-on-year.
The chart below shows the current prices of Palmer vintages 1998-2009.