The first wine I ever bought from this Chateau was the 2000 vintage a decade or so ago. It was the first full case of wine that I had bought and, as I did with all my wine then, I stored it at my friend’s house. Five years later I decided to try a bottle, and when I arrived at the cellar, I realised my chum had drunk most of the case at a party, leaving me with just one bottle. I then opened it at ten years old, and bathed in its quality, overdelivering against some big names in classed Bordeaux.
In the nine years since, I’ve experienced numerous other vintages, but all were relatively young, and then I found a bottle of 1970 at an auction just a few months ago. I bought it for very little and opened it in a tasting in the shop alongside a 2015. It was lovely, a little badly kept maybe, but still offering aged red fruit, savoury characters and, while the palate was a touch thin, it still held together nicely, just missing a little food. I wanted to try more older vintages, but where could I get them?
The answer was in Bordeaux, and a trip to Chateau La Tour de By. My group, a rag tag collection of wine merchants from as far south as Jersey, arrived for dinner at the Chateau and I was expecting to try a few reds, maybe a rosé, but the first glass in my hand was… a glass of Champagne that I have on my shelves!
Chateau La Tour de By is the sort of grand building that you’d expect from a Bordeaux chateau, but it is also very homely. You may be sitting in high ceilinged rooms with shimmering old glass windows, looking out over Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and their tower that adorns the label of the bottles, but this feels like a family home, and that is because it is one.
Marc Pages bought the property back in the mid sixties, and it was a fixer-upper. Half the vines needed replanted, the house needed work and he could have found other chateaux that would have been a lot easier to take over. However they didn’t have the one thing that Chateau La Tour de By has, it’s terroir.
The house is situated overlooking the Gironde river and even though the property is barely above sea level, it is the highest vineyard in this part of the Medoc. Its ‘altitude’ actually made it a perfect target for the occupying forces in the Second World War as a lookout over the river, and because of this, the house was taken over by the Nazis. While it might have been ideal to keep control of the waterway back in the 1940’s, in the 1960’s Pages realised that the maritime climate prevented frost from forming in the vineyards, giving the chateau its own microclimate. During the summer, this also cools the temperature a touch, resulting in a degree of consistency vintage to vintage. This is clearly seen in critics scores, with remarkable consistency year on year, even when the vintage is considered ‘less than favourable’ (wine speak for ‘a stinker’).
After a tasting of the new 2018 wines (the Heritage La Tour de By made up of 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot from 65 year old vines is superb) everyone sat down to dinner. Our hosts were Frederic Le Clerc and Benjamin Richer de Forges, grandsons of Marc Pages, and we kicked things off with the 2018 Chateau La Tour de By Rosé. Paired with crispy prawns and ginger cream, this pink wine was superb. Entirely Cabernet Sauvignon it had light raspberry fruit coming through with a very creamy texture and then flavours of raspberry leaf and a little aromatic spice on the finish. It was an ideal pairing for the food, but on its own it shows how Rosé can be a serious wine, but also an easy drinker. This was actually the first pink wine that I’d actually buy a bottle of!
Our next course of Duck Breast and Gratin Dauphinois was matched with a magnum of 2009 Chateau La Tour de By. This is a wine I’m familiar with having stocked and tasted it before. Sadly I never thought to put some away for myself (I frequently do this) and then the UK stock ran out! Revisiting it at ten years old, and from a magnum, it was showing its Cabernet dominance pretty well. Lots of vegetal aromas and flavours, mixed with a floral note and some really pure red and black berry fruit. This was such a good wine and I wish I had some left!
Our next course went back another ten years to the 1999 vintage of Chateau La Tour de By, again in magnum. I’ve looked back through my tasting notes to see if I’d tried this before and I couldn’t find anything written, so I can only assume it was a first for me. Paired with a cheese plate, this had a sweet latte coffee aroma leading onto floral perfume like notes and then the deep fruit came through. The palate had cherry stone, some earthy, mulch like flavours, mixed with a little sweet liquorice and plum skin on the finish. It was maturing nicely, and if I was to be overly critical, I’d just say it was a little bit too young as there was a little grip of tannin at the end.
Our last course was Tiramisu with a magnum of 1989 Chateau La Tour de By Prestige – now this wine was really my sort of thing. Aromas of dusty old libraries emerged from the glass, leather bound books, whiffs of old log fires and then sweet spices and a hint of espresso before the plum and sour cherries come out. The palate is tobacco, plum skin and then lots of green peppers, with dried fruit coming off. This is a delicious mature wine, for me absolutely perfect now… at thirty years old. (how the hell is 1989 three decades ago?!)
We retired, glass in hand, to the drawing room where Frederic and Benjamin lit up some cigars and offered us a digestif…. Rum and brandy were poured and we chatted until late evening. A short drive (by the designated driver) back to our home for the night Chateau La Valiere, also owned by the family, where in our rooms they had placed a gift of a bottle of the 2016 vintage. Some of our party went off to bed, but a few of us decided that it would be rude not to crack open a bottle, and we enjoyed this dark, earthy, liquorice and cassis fest into the early hours of the next day.
You may have noticed by now that I have a big soft spot for this producer, but please don’t think this bias influences my opinions on their wines. Since I came back from Bordeaux and started selling their second wine, Cailloux de By, we have been churning through this wine with customers coming back wanting second and third bottles. Chateau La Tour de By is what you really want from Bordeaux – a classic style of wine that age well, is thought highly of by critics and is delicious young and old. It just has the added advantage of being superb value for money, made by truly lovely people.