Vertical Tasting of Chateau du Tertre

Château du Tertre is a little-known but excellent Margaux wine from an estate listed as a Fifth Growth in the famous Bordeaux Classification of 1855.  It has never really garnered the media attention it deserves.  The only classified growth in the sub-area of Arsac in Margaux, it sits atop a hill (Tertre is an ancient French word that means "hill" or "rise in the ground"), at a whopping 38 meters above sea level, the highest point of the Margaux appellation.  Amazingly enough, du Tertre's vineyards, all in one lot surrounding the main building, still cover the original surface area from the time of the 1855 classification, a rarity in modern-day Bordeaux.

The history of the estate goes back to the 17th century, when it was bought by Irishman Pierre Mitchell, who was the leading bottle manufacturer of the Bordeaux region, but the present-day château was built in the 18th century in the Regency style.  After having been the property of the Ségur family (owners of Calon-Ségur and many other Bordeaux estates), and later of the Gasqueton family (the current owners of Calon-Ségur), it was sold in November 1997 to Erik Albada-Jelgersma, owner of Giscours.  The estate is blessed with real talent at all levels, beginning with Alexander Van Beek, the general manager of all the properties owned by Albada-Jelgersma (including Giscours and Tuscany's Caiarossa), and Frédéric Ardouin, formerly at Latour and now acting technical director of du Tertre.  Furthermore, both Denis Dubourdieu and Eric Boissenot, winemaking consultants to many of the best properties in Bordeaux, also consult here.

Today, du Tertre owns 80 hectares of land, with about 52 of them planted to vine:  43% cabernet sauvignon, 32% merlot, 20% cabernet franc and 5% petit verdot.  The vines average 40 years of age, with the oldest dating back to 1961 and 1965.  The wine is aged 45% in new French oak barrels and the rest in one-year old barrels.  The soil and subsoil at du Tertre help explain the high potential here.  Strewn with pebbles visible everywhere to the naked eye, du Tertre's terroir features deep gravelly outcrops that allow the estate's old vines and their very long roots to dig deep, making du Tertre one of the few Margaux properties that usually does well even in hot vintages.  

Located farther away from the river than some of the more famous properties of Margaux, du Tertre tends to produce wines that are flattering and approachable in their youth.  Giscours, which is located closer to the Gironde, has more compact soils, while du Tertre's gravelly terrain allows for optimal, quick ripening of the grapes, and so the wine tends to be readier to drink when young.  General manager Van Beek sums it up in this way:  "Du Tertre is a more sexy wine when young, while Giscours often proves the more intellectual wine in the long run."

I have long found du Tertre to be a very good but underrated wine.  (One well-known European wine critic recently insisted that Marquis de Terme and du Tertre are one and the same, which tells you something about the visibility challenge du Tertre faces.)  Du Tertre's blend is almost unique for the Left bank, especially as it often contains high proportions of very old-vine cabernet franc, which is rare anywhere else in the Médoc.  "The blend depends on the characteristics of the vintage," Van Beek told me.  "Some vintages have been 33% cabernet franc, 33% cabernet sauvignon and 33% merlot, while others had as much as 20% cabernet franc, which is still a high percentage for a Left Bank wine.  On the other hand, in the 2010 vintage we chose not to use the cabernet franc at all because the cabernet sauvignon was magnificent; we didn't want to lose the precision cabernet sauvignon conferred to the final blend."  The 2010 vintage is also atypical in that it contains 10% petit verdot, a very high percentage not just for the property but for Bordeaux.  "In 2010 the petit verdot ripened so well we were very happy with it," Van Beek pointed out.  "We feel cabernet franc gives a unique freshness to our wines, as in 2003 and 2009, so we plan to use it a lot."

I was impressed by the high quality of most of the wines in this vertical tasting, and actually found that du Tertre stole the show from the more famous Giscours, a vertical collection of which I tasted on the same day.  Many vintages of du Tertre impressed me with their aromatic complexity, impeccable balance and sneaky concentration, and the consistency of quality over the years is also worthy of note.  However, I'm not in favor of the decision to do without the cabernet franc in the final blend, such as was done in 2010 (even if that wine turns out to be excellent), for these old cab franc vines at du Tertre really do add an unmistakable aromatic floral touch that is both unique and captivating.  IWC readers will undoubtedly realize that my comments and scores on the vintages I tasted in this vertical tasting show just how good du Tertre can be--more food for thought for those of us who prefer to drink wines rather than labels.

This tasting was conducted last June at the estate, in the presence of general manager Van Beek and acting technical director Ardouin, whom I would like to thank for their generosity in pouring the wines, answering questions, and providing all the technical data that accompany my notes.  The wines were opened an hour before the tasting began, with only the 2009 and 2010 samples poured into decanters.  Virtually all of the wines except for the two that were not yet bottled offer considerable pleasure already.
Show all the wines (sorted by vintage)

--Ian D'Agata