Château Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre

Although it is not the most famous or familiar château I will ever write about, Bel-Air Marquis d’Aligre constitutes one of the most important. It might be the last or the only time that I will meet bygone Bordeaux face-to-face ... The wines were cut from a totally different cloth to any Bordeaux I had tasted. They evoked a fast-disappearing era of Bordeaux. They were remarkably consistent, and their backstory made them intermittently profound, extraordinarily pure, almost Saint Julien-like in style with sappy finishes that urged another sip ... They are expressions of terroir in its most unadulterated and unmasked form.Neal Martin, Vinous

Château Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre is the last remnant of a vanished era for Bordeaux. Its owner, the truly remarkable Jean-Pierre Boyer, has been in charge since 1950 (that's more than 70 vintages ago at the time of writing). He can still remember helping his father produce the legendary 1947. But what is truly extraordinary is that in all that time, almost nothing has changed here. This is Bordeaux as it once was. 

The estate consists of fifty hectares in Margaux, but only thirteen are planted, and eight of those are leased to illustrious neighbours. That leaves five to be worked by Jean-Pierre and one trusted employee. The vines are old. The youngest are 50 years old, the oldest over 100 and on their own rootstocks. Jean-Pierre thinks some may date back to the 1870s. 

The winemaking is also a world away from the hi-tech, corporate culture of Jean-Pierre's neighbours. For a start, no oak is used. The wine is aged for three years in old cement vats. It is then bottled and consigned to the cellar for extended bottle ageing. It will not be sold until Jean-Pierre deems it ready, usually 10-15 years after the vintage.

Perhaps there was a time when all Bordeaux was like Château Bel Air-Marquis d'Aligre, but not now. Jancis Robinson has described the wines as 'completely outside the Bordeaux norm...burgundian in their build and lusciousness, but with a certain stony quality'. They never exceed 12.5% alcohol, are built for long ageing and released late. As a result, they reveal complexities and subtleties of flavour that can no longer find elsewhere. Enjoy them while you can.

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