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Celebrating 180 Years of Chateau Gruaud-Larose - A Vertical Tasting Spanning 1831 to 2001

Saint-Julien Second Growth Chateau Gruaud-Larose is situated between Chateau Beychevelle and Chateau Lagrange.

Jacques BOISSENOT (right), consultant to Gruaud-Larose, and Chinese Bordeaux Guide 'Winemaker of the Decade 2010', was also present at the tasting with son Eric.

Jean MERLAUT, Proprietor of Saint-Julien Second Growth Chateau Gruaud-Larose presided at the tasting of 12 vintages all ending in the year '1', such as 1831, 1881, 1921, 1961, and 2001.



The vintages, from left, Chateau Gruaud-Larose 1831, 1841 and 1851. On the right, two glasses (from two separate bottles) of 1871, the youngest and considerably darker wine in this quartet of four vintages. Was Gruaud-Larose 1871 'Hermitaged'? Indeed, did it come from the 'Sarget' or 'Faure' estate when Chateau Gruaud-Larose was split up into two properties in 1867.



Proprietor Jean MERLAUT (extreme left) hosted a tasting of 12 vintages spanning three centuries of Chateau Gruaud-Larose on 2 April 2011. The next tasting in 2012 will feature wines that end in the year '2'.

Story And Photos By Ch'ng Poh Tiong

Hidden from view from the D2 that is the most frequently used motorway up and down the Médoc, Chateau Gruaud-Larose is, nevertheless, very easy to locate.

After you have passed Chateau Beychevelle on your right and Branaire-Ducru on your left, slow down for a very sharp (near 90 degree) bend in the road.

Before you actually snap on the brake, you will see a huge replica of a bottle to the right that announces 'Saint-Julien'. Turn left before the bus-stop into a country road (Chateau Saint-Pierre will now be on your left). This is the village of Beychevelle. Follow the gentle curve of the road and within a minute you will see Chateau Gruaud-Larose sign-posted to your left (Chateau Lagrange lies beyond).

Chateau Gruaud-Larose came to be so called, at least the first part its name, through an aristocratic family which included two brothers, a magistrate and the Abbott of Gruaud or, as in French, the L'Abbe de Gruaud. When the magistrate died in 1778, the property was deeded to his son-in-law and heir, Joseph-Sebastien de LA ROSE. The estate then became known as Gruaud-La Rose, and later as Gruaud Larose.

In 1855, Chateau Gruaud-Larose was ranked a Second Growth under the classification of the Médoc.

As with so many French properties that had to be shared among a multitude of family members (which get more numerous with succeeding generations), Gruaud-Larose was sold and split into Chateau Gruaud-Larose-Sarget (after the family of Baron SARGET) and Chateau Gruaud-Larose-Faure (after one Adrien FAURE, who married a Sophie BETHMANN, heiress to a portion of the estate) in 1867.

The two chateaux were reunited by the Cordier family, who purchased the Sarget part in 1917, and the Faure portion in 1935.

Nothing, however, stands still in Bordeaux, and between the space of a mere 10 years – 1983 to 1993 – Chateau Gruaud-Larose passed from one French corporate hand to another, namely Compagnie de Suez to Alcatel-Alsthom, before returning to more conventional wine ownership in 1997 when it was acquired by Jacques MERLAUT, proprietor also of the Taillan Group.

Today, Jean MERLAUT, his son, is responsible for Chateau Gruaud-Larose. (The extended family are also owners of Chateau Ferriere, Haut-Bages Liberal, Chasse-Spleen and Chateau Citran).

The vineyard of Chateau Gruaud-Larose covers 80 hectares and are planted to 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. The average age of the vines is 45 years. After fermentation, the wine is aged around 18 months in oak, up to half of which is new. The second wine, Sarget de Gruaud-Larose, was launched with the 1979 vintage.

Former technical director of Chateau Gruaud-Larose, Georges PAULI, and his team were among the first in Bordeaux to use organic farming, including organic compost, and to ban insecticides, pesticides and herbicides in the vineyard during the late 1990s. PAULI, who joined in 1970, retired a few years ago.

The soil at Gruaud-Larose is sandy and gravelly. Drainage is good and this is further helped by 19th Century underground pottery drains. Situated 18 metres above sea level, the highest plateau in Saint-Julien, also means the vineyard is constantly exposed to the north and west winds, nature's ventilation system that ensures the vines remain dry and healthy.

Chateau Gruaud Larose has some of the oldest vintages in Bordeaux in its cellar.

Since 2010, Jean MERLAUT has organised two vertical tastings for journalists of 12 vintages, including from the 19th Century. The most recent tasting took place on Saturday 2 April 2011. All 12 vintages tasted ended at '1', for example, 1831, 1881, 1921, 1961, and 2001. Ranging from 1831 to 2001, the vintages represent 180 years in the life of Chateau Gruaud-Larose.


This tasting took place on Saturday 2 April 2011 at Chateau Gruaud-Larose. The 12 vintages all land in the year '1'. The oldest is 1831 and the youngest 2001. Between them, the 12 wines celebrate 180 years of the Saint-Julien Second Growth. The tasting was presided by Gruaud-Larose Proprietor Jean MERLAUT. Also in attendance was father and son wine consultant team, Jacques and Eric BOISSENOT.

CHATEAU GRUAUD-LAROSE 1831 ★★★1/2 to ★★★★
Pale, evolved ruby/rosé/partridge eye complexion. Old sandalwood/Chinese joss sticks and whiff of dried prunes. Additionally, a spiced element on the palate. With some intensity. Very fresh. Middle-weight.

Colour a shade paler than above wine. But very bright, crystalline. Whiffs of sandalwood, leather, mint, ginseng and Chinese medicinal herbs. Fresh. Light.

Colour a bit more dull than 1841. And with an orange tinge. Quite ginseng/Chinese medicinal herbs/sandalwood with a dried lemon peel lift on the finish. Persistent. Fresh. Medium-plus-ish bodied.

Dark complexioned and cloudy. The unusually deep colour is surprising given that the older wines – 1831, 1841 and 1851 – are so very light in complexion. The question whether 1871 was 'Hermitaged' or 'Ermitaged' (referring to the addition of Rhone Hermitage red wine from the Syrah grape), could not be definitively answered since no one, who is still alive, knows for sure. In fact, in 1867, just four years before this wine was produced, Chateau Gruaud-Larose was sold to two families, and split into Chateau Gruaud-Larose-Sarget and Chateau Gruaud-Larose-Faure. It's also not clear if this bottle is from the Sarget or Faure property. Two bottles were served. First Bottle: Some bottle odour. The palate (reminding of driftwood) is thin and short. Second Bottle: Colour is less dark and also clearer. Palate is richer than first bottle. Whiff of sandalwood, mushroom and autumn/winter undergrowth. The finish is a bit austere.

The colour is back to the lighter shade of the first three 19th Century vintages. Bright pale ruby. Although not as fresh as 1851, the fruit – dash of blackcurrants and wood spice – is quite substantial. Medium-plus-ish bodied.

Whiff of sulphur. (Eric BOISSENOT thinks it's more minerally/silex than sulpur). Pale bright ruby/rosé (a shade brighter than 1881). Quite sour, acid and green. Dilute. No star.

Dull ruby with an orange rim. Blackcurrant/cassis fruit with a hint of mint. The tannins are still firm and robust. Medium-plus bodied.

Ruby and slightly cloudy. Sunshine and fruit – mint and cassis-ish – on the nose. Elegant sweet fruit. Balanced and harmonious. Fresh. Lovely. Classy. (Two bottles were opened for comparison, both equally good). Deserves an extra half star over our maximum 5-star rating system. The face featured on the bottle is that of Désiré CORDIER, then owner of Chateau Gruaud-Larose. This bottle shape was also changed to the more conventional Bordeaux shape after the 1978 vintage.

Bright mid-ruby. Whiff of ginseng/Chinese medicinal herbs and mint. The fruit is considerably lighter than 1961 and the tannins more crisp. Freshness on the finish. Medium-ish bodied.

Cloudy mid-red with a light orange rim. Ripe sweet, elegant, spiced, minty fruit. Quite fresh. Balanced and very enjoyable. (1981 is a forgotten vintage but which almost always gives a very pleasant surprise. Chateau Haut-Brion 1981 and Chateau Margaux 1981, for example, are delicious wines).

CHATEAU GRUAUD-LAROSE 1991 ★★★1/2 to ★★★★
Light bright red. Mushrooms and autumnal smells. With some intensity. Crisp tannins and freshness on the finish. 1991 was, of course, the year of a very severe spring frost which wiped out up to 80% of the usual production in many chateaux. There is, for example, no Cheval Blanc 1991. What survives, though, is Nature's very own selection of the fittest. Even so, the wines are not overly concentrated or full-bodied, but rather very refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable, medium-bodied wines.

After tasting so many old, even ancient, wines, the blueberry fruit of this 10-year old seems almost primary. The nature and texture of the fruit is also very elegant. The wine is wonderfully balanced and lifted, including of crisp tannins, with lots of freshness on the finish.

★★★★★ Outstanding ★★★★ Excellent ★★★ Good ★★ Average ★ Acceptable 1/2 Half Star

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