Chateau Palmer has always had an air of the extraordinary about it. Officially classified a Third Growth, below Chateau Margaux and a bevy of Second Growths, it has always performed above its station. Most commentators and critics would place in next to Margaux, and occasionally Palmer would challenge it. In the 1950s and 1960s it was a ‘Super Second’ before the term became what it is today, referring to the Second Growth such as the Leovilles and Pichons, and of course Ducru came to being on par in quality with the First Growth. Of course the First Growths would protect their position, and only let Mouton join their ranks.
Chateau Palmer is your quintessential Margaux claret, with a personality of femininity, fragrance and beauty. But the Palmer name, being English seemed to lend the wine a little more sturdiness to befit the owner and name. So it was and remains a unique Margaux commune wine. My familiarity with the wine came with the famous 1959 and 1961, deemed great wines for their vintage. The 1966 was another fantastic wine. 1967 and then 1970 had their supporters. However it was 1978 that truly made its mark. A miracle vintage, cool through the season, saved by the Indian summer. The wine a much better result than the 1979 which appeared to have a warm and benevolent growing season.
I haven’t had the 1978 Ch. Palmer Margaux for over a decade at least. My last recollection was of a beautifully sweet-fruited wine with the structure just beginning to resolve. It was beginning to mature, and after 25+ years, so it should. So it was a total surprise when The Roaders brought this out, as they are usually Burgundy fanatics. Black-red, near impenetrable and still with years ahead, judging by the appearance. Strangely taut and unforgiving on the nose and the palate. Almost concentrated hard wood and compacted earth with little fruit or aromatics. Was this corked?
But over the course of the next hour, this opened up to reveal concentrated blackberry and blackcurrants, a hint of cassis and violets eventually. Some secondary wood-earth complexity on the edge. Not sweet, but refined and firm. This has the structure for another 40 years ahead. A glorious claret for the intellect rather than the soul, for sure. A great bottle, still in fabulous condition from a great and nearly mis-understood year, showing that Palmer is one of the greats of the wine world.