2016 Chateau Beychevelle Grand Bateau
To many casual wine drinkers, and certainly to me in my imbibing history, when you start to learn about Bordeaux, Chateau Beychevelle, the famous Fourth Growth located on the Left Bank in Saint Julien, immediately draws attention. And probably not for the best of reasons – it’s got a really cool, memorable label. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Chinese, where this wine, “The Grand Dragon Boat Bordeaux” is so popular that it sells out every year.
What is the label? It’s actually the tradition of a sailing ship paying homage to the admiral in what is known as baisse voile – lowering of the sails.
Beychevelle’s history dates back to the ancient mists of the early 15th century, but it’s really in the mid 16th century when the first Duke of Epernon took over the estate that its legend began. This first Duke was not only a Duke, but also a great French Admiral, and such was the respect for his Admiralty that all ships that passed the estate would give the baisse voile. He in turn commissioned a great statue of a sailing ship at half-mast with a lengendary griffin on the prow. This in turn became the label of storied Beychevelle.
As befitting a great Duke, you need not only a winery, but lots of vineyards through the rolling Medoc hillside, a garden in the size and style of Versailles, a chai large enough to store all the wine you could ever want and party with, a chateau on top of the chai and well, eventually, an extra entire “Louisiana Wing” added onto the Chateau, so your American belle doesn’t get homesick.
All of this is to say—and it becomes perfectly clear when you visit Beychevelle – it’s absolutely huge. Why does this matter to us? For two reasons.
First, at its size, polish and posture, keeping up Beychevelle takes a lot of money. Which means that over the centuries Beychevelle did experience a slow and steady decline, at least in facilities as well as reputation. For us, this means that even today, memories of Beychevelle laid-low 100 years ago still depress its price.
Second, at its size, Beychevelle has a lot of vineyards. In fact, it has so many vineyards that in Saint Julien alone there are 80 separate plots scattered across the appellation. And then there are 22 more hectares of historic vineyards in the Haut-Medoc that are grandfathered in as Saint Julien. And then 14 more blocks next to Second Growth Giruard Larose, and 20 additional right next to Ducru Beaucaillou. And then finally some in Cussac, which is Haut-Medoc, and aren’t grandfathered in as Saint Julien. Whew!
So what does this all mean to you? That we got a great deal, of course. And it’s worth a bit more explanation.
Beychevelle in the past has made excellent wines. Take the 1982, a 94-point Parker, that was made from ALL of their various vineyards, with the Grand Vin getting 95% of “selection”, if you can even call it a selection at that level, and the second wine being 5%.
Beychevelle, now, is still making excellent wines. Take the 98-point 2016 rating cited below. Of the entire estate, only 50% of the grapes went into the Grand Vin in 2016. 25% went into the second wine. The remaining 25%? – into today’s Big Boat on feature today.
So, this Big Boat is still 100% Beychevelle. And look, some of that 2016 juice is 98 points. Sure, they’ve got a lot of land, but they always have. Nowadays, they are just making better selections. Selections for wines that need 20 years, and wines that drink great right now. Which is exactly what our Bevvie of a Big Boat is:
This wine unfurls with a beautiful, and classic expression of black fruits on the nose, anise, cedar, a bit of minerality, seaspray and just a touch of toast. The palate moves us forward with an open expression of cherry fruit, cassis, and just a touch of black pepper. The finish is clean and fresh, befitting of a spritely Bordeaux, leaving your palate wanting more. At five years old this wine is drinking in perfect form now, but will go at least four years further.
Beychevelle may win your curiosity for its label, but the wine inside the bottle will win your heart.
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