Chateau d’Issan

As a town, Margaux is prettier than Pauillac. Pauillac is a bit of a rootie poot town, as my brother would say. The millionaire owners of Lynch-Bages must agree with Josh. They created a little village just for themselves around their chateau with “everything a French town needs,” that is, a restaurant and a boulangerie. And just like the rootie poot real town of Pauillac, everything in the makeshift Lynch-Bages village shuts down on Sundays. Pauillac on a Sunday feels post-apocalyptic.


Chateau d’Issan


In 1855, Napoleon Bonaparte blew into the wine world of France, and labeled certain wines from certain regions “grand cru classes.” There are five tiers of grand crus classes are five first tier grand crus in the Bordeaux region.  Chateau d’Issan is a third tier grand cru.  Napoleon’s rating actually came recently in Chateau d’Issan’s history.  Before Napoleon, before the beautiful chateau with its moat, before the tiny village of Issan, wine was made on Chateau d’Issan land. The wine at Henry Plantagenet’s 12th century wedding came from land that is today Chateau d’Issan.

The moat, with the windmill in the far background.



The moat is fed from water from the Gironde river. The Gironde borders the Chateau d’Issan land, which is divided into three sections: the strip next to the river, the middle strip, and the strip furthest from the river. The strip closest to the river is the richest soil. Chateau d’Issan leases this land to other farmers who grow corn and sunflowers on it. The vines have to suffer to make good wine, and any grapes grown next to the river could never be up to the standard of any Bordeaux, especially not a grand cru classe. The middle strip of land is planted in vines that are made into a Bordeaux superior, called Moulin d’Issan after a mound of crumbling bricks that was once a windmill.  Even this soil is a little too rich to properly deprive the vines, so Chateau d’Issan plants grass between the rows to compete for the low-lying nutrients.  And on the strip farthest from river, on the poorest soil, grows the Margaux appellation, the stuff Napoleon drank.  Soil affects grapes and quality, and the dirt is present in the glass.


Suffering vines.


Time is also present in the glass.  We tried a 2001 Chateau d’Issan and a 2011 Chateau d’Issan, two years with comparable weather conditions.  You can see time in the color.  An aged wine begins to develop a rich brownness.  You can smell the time.  Time smells like that sunshiny wooden floor in an old house, the image I used to attach to an aged Nebbiolo. I have revised that taste image.  The Floor Scrapers tastes of of age.


French oak barrels.


Chateau d’Issan also uses processed egg powder to clarify their wine, despite the alternatives offered by technology.  They do it because it’s expected, I guess.