Laithwaite's has had a long and friendly relationship with Château de Pressac. I myself helped with a rather frantic tasting here four years ago when the Bordeaux Summer rain spoiled the outdoor tasting down the riverside for some 160 Chai customers. Château de Pressac came to the rescue and we swiftly changed venue before heading back down to Le Chai for a sit-down lunch for all 160 keyholders, plus the kind Pressac owner Jean-Francois Quenin. During the tasting I spent the whole one and a half hours talking to the keyholders and serving before racing back to the Chai. Manic, but I do remember I always wanted to return to the château for a proper visit. And yesterday I did just that.
The turreted Château de Pressac is unmistakeable as it sits high on the hill on the eastern side of the St.Emilion plateau. I drive past almost daily as it is, in fact, only a stone’s throw from Tony’s own Château La Clarière-Laithwaite and newly purchased Château du Bois.
Pressac has a long and fascinating history. It has existed as a ‘manor house’ since the Middle Ages, and as a vineyard since the 18th century. The building has shrunk somewhat in size but still boasts towers from this period.
A couple of interesting facts about the château are that one Vassel de Montviel planted Auxerrois vines from the Quercy (Cahors) which then became known in the area as the Noir de Pressac. Later, Sieur Malbek took the variety to the Médoc and it became known as Malbec as it still is today. A second fact is that at this very site on the 20th of July 1453, the official surrender of the Battle of Castillon was signed, putting an end to the Hundred Years’ War.
The Château is now owned by Jean-Francois Quenin who, along with his black Labrador, greeted us at the huge château gates and gave as a tour of the vineyards from the top terrace that encompasses the château and cellars.
Château de Pressac is perched on the edge of the Saint Emilion limestone plateau at 80m above the Dordogne river. It’s surrounded by its 36ha vineyards and has three distinctly different soil types: the limestone plateau; the clay limestone ‘coteaux’ slopes; and the south-facing warm ‘pieds de coteaux’ foot of the slopes. The grape varietals are planted accordingly, Merlot and Malbec on the plateau and you find the late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Camenere on the warm southern-facing areas.
The view is quite spectacular and you can see the beautiful Dordogne valley for miles in both a westerly and easterly direction.
We followed Jean-Francois into the brand new cellars where cement fermentation tanks are the choice over stainless steel and then onto the busy old cellar and barrel room before emerging into the giant courtyard and the tasting room.
I was lucky enough to taste some wines and here are some brief notes that I made:
2007: fresh cassis, plum and bramble nose, fine open red fruits with nice acidity, long and elegant with soft tannins.
2008: rounder, riper but retaining elegance, more oak showing, blackberry, leafy, some chocolate, once again good acidity, fine tannins and long.
2012: a blend however individual varietals are aged apart.
Very rich, spice, good wood but early days, lots of weight and body, a big wine, perfumed. Very modern style.
2012: Malbec or Noir de Pressac (1st harvest since planting 3 years ago)
Deep colour, lots of herbs on the nose with perfumed violets and ripe blueberry, dense, lots of structure and for the moment oak on the finish.
2004: pure Malbec
Perfumed violets, velvet textured mid palate, a little farmyard and rustic on finish.
2004: pure Carmenere
Peppermint! Gentle tannins, blackberry and spice, weight and structure.
The quality of Château de Pressac wines are well known and last year they were awarded for their work by being promoted to "Grand cru classé" status’ I know well the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages from this estate which are wines with such elegance and finesse. They do need time to reach their best but retain a sense of authority and wisdom when drunk five or six years later. With the meticulous vineyard work and the new cellar the château has a great future to continue making fantastic wines.
We were accompanied back to the car by the very hospitable Jean-Francois, said our goodbyes and headed off leaving the fairytale château behind.