The wine world lost one of its greatest ambassadors this week with the passing of Paul Pontallier the passionate managing director of Ch. Margaux. For the full obituary on Mr. Pontallier see Decanter.com
Just this last Saturday right before leaving work I emailed Paul to ask him, for about the hundredth time, to request a visit to Ch. Margaux for a special customer of mine on his first trip to Bordeaux for his 50th birthday. At the end of that request I wrote…Thank you as always for your consideration. I look very much forward to see you on April 5th at 3:30 to shake your hand and hear you speak about the wine which is always a great pleasure… while I get to taste it!
That is so true! I first met Paul in early April of 1990 on my first visit ever to France and then Bordeaux to evaluate the 1989 vintage for K&L Wine Merchants. To say I was excited is the understatement of the year. I had worked here at that time for 12 years and I recognized that I had a deep attraction to the taste of Bordeaux wine and was intrigued with its long history. During this time as a bachelor I studied and tasted Bordeaux every chance I got. I even carried wine books in my “bat bag” and there were always bottles of Bordeaux packed in my luggage all wrapped up in white sox’s as I traveled around the western United States playing baseball. So I was definitely more than ready when I approached “The Queen of the first growths” Ch. Margaux for the first time. To be able to taste the great wine of Ch. Margaux at five months of age is a real privilege, but to hear Paul speak about his wine took the experience to another level. As the years progressed we always would look forward to his smile, warm welcome and passionate speech about his three new wines. Between sips of the wine I would write down almost everything he said so I could relate his exact thoughts to my customers.
Here are a few of his comments I wrote down as the years went by…
“2005 Ch. Margaux is air light”
“When I tasted Ch. 2005 Ch. Margaux, I thought I would never see such a vintage again…and now 2009! Wow, now who knows?”
Speaking about Ch. Margaux 2003, the hottest vintage in the history of recorded records, he say’s “the wine is amazingly classic and I can’t figure out why, but it proves again that the great plots of land produce great grapes in every vintage”
“The great vintages are always Cabernet” April 2001
On the 2000 vintage: “I did not expect it to be this great! It has the density of 1986 and the purity of 1996 and is a new benchmark for Ch. Margaux”
As the years passed and I started bringing customers to the estate Paul was very generous with his time we had more time to talk about the “benchmark” vintages that we have both had experienced at Ch. Margaux and how that benchmark kept moving upward. 1981, 82 and 83 were very good vintages at Ch. Margaux and I considered them “the comeback vintages” after decades of good but not great wines. Then came a great 1985 and the spectacular 1986, followed by fantastic 1989’s and 1990 and by this time Ch. Margaux was firmly back in the mix with the other great Medoc first growths. The vintages of 1995, 1996 and 2000 cemented that fact, and the mind-blowing 2005, 2009 and 2010 will be considered legendary.
It was during these relaxing times that I understood how much Paul loved Ch. Margaux as he reflected on those great years as well as the difficult ones. Paul was very proud of the work he, owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos and their team had accomplished during their time as the caretakers of this iconic estate while returning the wine to greatness, he was also well aware that they were leaving a great legacy.
Warm, friendly, classy, passionate, intense and innovative are all words that come to mind when thinking of Paul. I could never consider myself a close friend as he was the famous face of Ch. Margaux and he was nice to everyone, but I will personally really miss him. Last year as I was walking thru the Hong Kong airport for a midnight flight I ran into Paul and introduced myself. He firmly told me to stop introducing myself because we have known each other 25 years. Believe me, the pleasure was all mine. Paul Pontallier was 59.