Vertical Tasting of Chateau Giscours

Château Giscours is one of the best-known Third Growths of the 1855 Bordeaux classification, appreciated for its breed and perfume as well as its relatively low price compared to other top names of Bordeaux.  The château is one of the most beautiful in the Médoc.
The first documented evidence of the estate of Giscours goes back to 1330, when it amounted to a modest fortified post.  Records of Giscours and the wine made there begin only in 1552.  Among the many owners of Giscours were two Americans, John Gray, Jr. and Jonathan Davies of Boston, who owned Giscours briefly after the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.  It was a Parisian banker, Jean-Pierre Pescatore, who bought Giscours in 1847 from Marc Promis, who greatly embellished the property.  But it's worth noting that Promis didn't fare too badly in the transaction:  he sold the property to Pescatore for half a million francs, or ten times more than what he had paid for it only 20 years earlier! 

Pescatore called upon Pierre Skawinski to manage the estate, and by all accounts Skawinsky was one of the great viticultural minds of his epoch.   Under his tenure, which continued after the Cruse family took over from Pescatore, Giscours flourished.  He is remembered for having invented a special plough that still bears his name, and for the first attempts at fighting mildew in the early 1880s.  Most important, it was thanks to his hard work and dedication that Giscours became one of the best known of the Third Growths.

Other famous owners of Giscours include the Cruse family, which bought it only ten years after they had acquired Château Pontet-Canet.  With the sale of Giscours by the Cruses in 1913, the estate fell on hard times and only recovered with the arrival of Nicolas Tari, a grape-grower from Algeria who completed the acquisition of the estate in 1952.  Pierre Tari followed in his father's footsteps, but by the late '80s and early '90s Giscours once again fell on difficult times and it was only with the sale to current owner Erik Albada-Jelgersma in 1995 that the necessary investments in both vineyard and cellar were finally made.

Albada-Jelgersma, who also owns Château du Tertre in Margaux and the up-and-coming Caiarossa estate in Tuscany, has put a topnotch team in place to manage his properties.  The general manager of all the Albada-Jelgersma estates is Alexander Van Beek, while the winemaking manager at Giscours is Didier Forest, aided by two winemaking consultants, Eric Boissenot and Denis Dubourdieu. 

Situated in the Margaux hamlet and sub-appellation of Labarde, Giscours features a unique soil and subsoil that account for the high potential of its wines.  The soil is Garonnais gravel and glaciated sand, but noteworthy are the swaths of Günzian gravel (gravel soil that was formed during the Günz epoch of glaciation, a particularly high-quality terrain for vines) that explain the magical perfume of the best vintages of Giscours.  The estate owns 86 hectares planted to 60% cabernet sauvignon, 32% merlot, 5% cabernet franc and 3% petit verdot.  More than a third of the vines are over 25 years of age, about half are between 11 and 25, and 15% are roughly 4 to 10.   Fifty percent new oak is used every year to age the grand vin.

As I noted earlier, the wines of Giscours have not always been up to the property's potential.   While vintages such as 1966 and 1975 are standouts, many of the wines of the late '70s and '80s were less than thrilling.  In trying to bring Giscours back to its former glory, Frederic Ardouin from Latour was brought in as the new  technical director in 2008, to work with Forest.  Another step was to call upon Kees Van Leewen of Cheval Blanc, arguably the top expert on Bordeaux terroir today, to study the geology at du Tertre (completed in 2007) and at Giscours (in 2009).  "This has allowed us to be more precise in terms of identifying both the best possible harvest time and the final assemblage," Van Beek told me. 

It is therefore not by chance that the varietal composition of the final blend has changed considerably at Giscours over the last 15 years.  "Perhaps Giscours had been replanted with too much merlot by Tari," said Van Beek.  "The 2000 Giscours is essentially a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot.  Instead, the better wines from the '60s and '70s contained much more cabernet sauvignon, and our terroir is better suited to it."  At Giscours, there is little petit verdot and cabernet franc.  Winemaking manager Didier Forest adds:  "Actually, planting a lot of merlot may not have been a bad idea in the '70s or '80s, but it was a different climate then.  Today, merlot often ripens too quickly, building excessive sugar and high alcohol levels, with dubious ripeness of the polyphenols."  The work needed in the vineyards was immense.  "When we came on board in '95," said Forest, "roughly 45% of the vines were dead or missing; we undertook a huge co-planting project.  Just imagine that we replanted 130,000 vines, painstakingly filling in the gaps between old vines in each row."

The vertical tasting was conducted at the château in June of 2011, with the wines opened two hours head.

Show all the wines (sorted by vintage)

--Ian D'Agata