Visiting Pichon Comtesse

After an ill-advised choice of Cap-Ferret last year, we returned to our usual haunt, Soulac-Sur-Mer, a slightly rundown, unfashionable “resort” at the tip of the Médoc. One of the great advantages of Soulac is its relative proximity to Médoc château country: Pauillac, Saint Estèphe and Saint Julien are about an hour’s drive, Margaux an extra 15 minutes, so easy to get to.

Firstly, if you are a Bordeaux fan but have always been intimidated by the prospect of visiting your favourite châteaux, don’t be. It is much easier than it was twenty years ago and although speaking French is an obvious advantage, it isn’t necessary anymore. I quite understand those that prefer to use a local guide, but if you have your own transport, it is simple to set up appointments by phone or preferably by mail.

The châteaux have (mostly) evolved towards wine tourism packages, whereby you pay more or less according to the type of visit you want and the number (and type) of wines you want to taste.

However, as shown by my experiences this year, it is best to ignore the websites and write directly to the château, explaining who you are and what you would like to do.

Whichever château you visit, the absolute must is simply to drive along the “Route des Châteaux” between Margaux in the south and Saint Estèphe in the north - the best bit for me being the short stretch of road between Beychevelle and Pauillac, where the great names appear one after the other, the highlight being the little hill, where Pichon Baron faces Pichon Comtesse, with Latour in the background on the right, with Léoville Las Cases’ famous Clos vineyard just before them, on the other side of the Juillac stream that separates Pauillac and Saint Julien. The following video is in French and is far from perfect, but if you pause at 0.36 you will see what I mean, with Baron on the left and Comtesse on the right.

I also did a screenshot:

We had always wanted to visit Pichon Comtesse but for one reason or another, had never got round to it, so this year, it was top of our list (Barton would have been, but they are still building their new cellar). I phoned first, then wrote a standard mail, giving our preferred day and time. A couple of days later, I received a short reply telling me they had no availability. After thinking about it, I decided “Bollocks to that!” - and wrote again, this time explaining that I had been a faithful client since 1982 (which is true)…and that I would be posting a report of my visit on the well-known website WB…!

Lo and behold, the gates opened and we had an appointment with Charles Fournier, the Sales and Marketing Manager.

In the middle of a heatwave, we were lucky enough to choose a cloudy morning:

Charles was extremely kind and welcoming when we met, telling me how right I had been to insist! For some reason I’ve forgotten, we began by discussing the short way of saying Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - should it be Pichon Comtesse or Pichon Lalande? He confirmed that the one they prefer is Pichon Comtesse, which would explain why the second wine is now called Pichon Comtesse Réserve (instead of Réserve de la Comtesse).

We began outside, walking to the terrace, while Charles told us about the history of the château.

Imgur: The magic of the Internet

This is the chateau, seen from the terrace:

This is the view, looking towards the river, with Latour on the righthand side (the vines are those of Latour):

On the other side you can see Haut-Bages Libéral:

Here you can see the winemaking and tasting facilities:

Then we moved inside to see the cuvier and cellar:

Built in 2012, the facilities are, as you can see, very much what you would expect to find at Pichon Comtesse: elegant, modern without being flashy, streamlined and efficient.

We then looked at the map of the vineyard, which had changed since they had done it - some plots had been acquired, others had been exchanged with Pichon Baron. There are still a few shared with PB, sometimes causing confusion during the harvests - it is rare but not unknown for pickers to pick the fruit from the wrong vines! Charles cleared up a query we had - what about the vines in Saint Julien? He confirmed that there were indeed some vines which were not on Pauillac land - and that the wine produced is now for the staff. Also, they are indeed going to produce a white wine, the blend probably containing Gros Manseng, Chardonnay, possibly Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, but it was very much in development.

He confirmed that Pichon Comtesse was going organic - with the first certified vintage scheduled to be 2024, and I think I remember that they wanted to go biodynamic as well. 2021 was complicated because of mildew, but no such problems in 2022. This year, as in every other château, the problem is the lack of rain. Until yesterday when it finally rained a little, there had, I believe, been no rain since late June. He didn’t look too worried at the time, but that was on July 26th.

We then went back upstairs to the tasting room, looking towards the river:


We each had a nice little booklet explaining the 2019 vintage conditions, with a postcard to take home as a souvenir.

We tasted the two 2019s - Pichon Comtesse Réserve and the Grand Vin. I cannot remember either in great detail, but suffice to say I was very impressed by both.

The Pichon Comtesse Réserve 2019 had a very flowery bouquet, with an elegant mouthful of dark raspberry and cassis. I was stunned by how much better it was than any Réserve I had tasted in the past - admittedly the last time must have been at least fifteen years ago. I was struck by the precision, by the seamless elegance but also the concentration - this is haute couture winemaking. Charles reckons that the Réserve really took off in terms of quality from 2014 onwards. Anyway, for me this is on the same level - and perhaps better than HBL, GPD, HB, Pédésclaux and Batailley. Obviously, compared to Pichon Comtesse itself, this represents excellent value too.

Pichon Comtesse 2019 is simply a stunning wine. Much more black than red fruit compared to the Réserve, much less charming, but much more structured and clearly built for the long run, without any loss of elegance or finesse. Certainly one of the finest PCLs I have tried young, I’m not sure it isn’t the best PCL I have ever tasted. I haven’t tried the 2016 which William just gave the perfect score to, but it will be fascinating to compare them in years to come.

I was impressed by how both wines effortlessly dealt with the 14° ABV - I would never have guessed either was over 13°.

It was a great visit and a great experience. We had a very gracious host who gave us two hours of his valuable time and treated us like valued guests, rather than clients. As I wrote to Charles afterwards, we came away with the feeling that the team in place at Pichon Comtesse have raised the level even higher than before.

Châteaux visits are always a lottery - one can come away disappointed, but this was one which left us in no doubt as to the quality of the wines and dedication of the team.

Obviously, it isn’t a family business and doesn’t feel like one, nevertheless it does feel a lot less Wall Street than Pichon Baron across the road.

All in all, highly recommended!

As for Wineberserkers - I would never have thought about using that as a calling card, but I was wrong - all four châteaux we visited knew exactly what WB is and clearly, the name carries some clout.

Something important I forgot to mention in my first version of this - our visit was entirely free of charge.


Great trip report! My nomination for Post of The Year!

Nothing like the power of WineBerserkers to open doors, literally. Thanks for the great post. I do want to get there one day. They seem to be at the top of their game probably in large part due to Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon overseeing the operations after the Rouzaud family took control.

Definite contender for Wine POTY!

I have very fond memories of that place, was there in 1996, but did not do a tasting, just drove onto the property to admire the Chateau. We had a tasting a Mouton that was superb. One of my fave vacay pics was that windy road were you can capture Pichon Baron and Pichon lalande in one landscape shot. Back them I preferred Baron, in fact, the 89 was one of my wow wines that made me realize Bordeaux was for me. I am now more fond of Lalande.

Thanks, Julian. Your contributions to this site are always so excellent. Did you tell them your name was Todd from California?

Thanks Arv!

I think Nicolas Glumineau has overseen and initiated huge changes since he arrived in 2012. What I didn’t know was that he is a former opera singer!

Cheers Robert - you’re right, but only my youngest daughter can do a convincing Californian accent - I’m useless!

Great visit - reminds me on 27 years ago when I was there visiting, and a few other Chateaux.

Great post. I especially love the “Do you know who I am? I post on Wine Berserkers” power move.

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so that works. will give it a try as we are regular buyers of Comtesse and will be there next spring.

Beautiful post and beautiful pictures, Julian. We spent a few days in Bordeaux in 2017 and visited Pichon Baron and was able to view Pichon Comtesse from across the road. It is one of the most picturesque areas that I have visited! If we go again I will bring along my WB T-Shirt! [cheers.gif]

Terrific post, TY.

Have to say I’m just too used to calling it Pichon Lalande. I wonder if their preference for Comtesse has any think to do with Comtesse outranking a Baron? :thinking:

Ha! You’re right to call me out as the pretentious little git that I undoubtedly am!! What I meant of course was that if you don’t explain that you’re a real fan you don’t always get admitted, or else that you are treated as we were at another château I’ll post about in due course!

Hey I didn’t know there was a WB T-shirt! I was wearing my Médoc/AC/DC spoof one:
“Médoc- if you want wine, you’ve got it!”

You never got the gift bag?

My favorite swag is still the Moderators of WineBerserkers Poolside Calendar.

Sadly the only WB thing I have is a pair of Warner Bros Tom and Jerry boxer shorts.

Now I’m really jealous. We poor Europeans.

Thank you for the wonderful post and they great photos.

Yes, Julian,
Thanks for the marvelous post. I really felt like I was there owing to the time and effort you put into putting it all together. Moreover, I immediately ordered some of the 2019 Pichon Comtesse Reserve–no higher tribute :slight_smile: (I have a bunch of '16 Pichon Comtesse, but at my age I am not buying any grand growths, and even that was a splurge.)

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Gotta admit, Fu in Speedo is pretty hot.

Julian, great post about what sounds like a fabulous visit. I have only been to Bordeaux once (in 2014 and went to Pichon Baron instead of Pichon Comtesse (I doubt I will ever get used to saying this instead of Pichon Lalande)) and had a fabulous time.