Despite being classified as mere third-growth Bordeaux, Château Palmer has produced some of the world's most spectacular vintages (the 1961, with its plummy flavors and perfume of violets, comes to mind). But in recent decades this estate in the French commune of Margaux has been overshadowed by the town's namesake vineyard, Château Margaux. Now that's about to change. Château Palmer has undergone a major revitalization, with the appointment last year of winemaker Thomas Duroux and the introduction of a second label, Alter Ego de Palmer.
Duroux, whose Merlot at the Tuscan vineyard Tenuta dell'Ornellaia was awarded 100 points (a perfect score) by Wine Spectator, was a natural choice to take on Palmer, a wine with a high proportion of Merlot. Château Palmer had, in fact, already begun an ambitious project of soil analysis in order to precisely calibrate the blend of that grape with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Throughout the 128 acres, dozens of holes—up to 12 feet deep—have been drilled, allowing for better data collection. The result: 42 distinct parcels, all vinified separately.
What this means for Bordeaux lovers, among other things, is that they now have a shortcut: The new Alter Ego is vinified for early drinking (a Palmer vintage typically takes a decade to age properly). The 2001 and 2002 vintages are ready to uncork now; the former is the superior bottle, retaining much of the poise of the senior wine. For those intent on sampling the wonders of the grand vin, the Palmer '61 is on the list for $1,850 at San Francisco's Restaurant Gary Danko (800 North Point; 415-749-2060). Alter Ego de Palmer 2001, $55; www.chateaupalmer.com.