Saturday, November 10, 2018

Domaine de L'Ile Margaux

Domaine de L'Ile Margaux






Yesterday afternoon, I went to the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Trade fair for a few hours. Toward the end of the day, after having visited and tasted wines from Germany and Spain, then indulged a little in the Japan Sake Pavillon and the Mauritius Rums Pavillon, I was wandering around the French wines section to try to find one last wine before leaving the fair (as it was already nearly 6pm and I had to go shortly after). 

It will have been easy for me to go taste some wines I already knew, as many booths bared names I'm very familiar with, but I wanted to discover something new. Probably bored for some and almost annoyed for some others (or both), some people behind their booth were looking at me, while I was passing by, and more especially at my badge stating in big letters "BUYER". 





"Buyer" means "Business" for them, as most participants are here, at the fair, to find new opportunities to place their wines (and spirits), but I'm not easy to convince and the eyes' language says it all: look at me with an inviting smile and I might come to taste your wines (whether I will like them or not is a different matter), but continue to look at me with these bored, almost annoyed eyes, and you can be sure I will keep on walking and totally ignore you, your booth and your wines. 

It might be mean, but how will you react yourself when having to choose between someone happy to promote his/her wine(s) with a smiley face and someone with a frowny face, obviously unhappy or tired to be here?  To me, a smile goes a long way...   

So, I was walking the aisles, looking at the booth's names, when suddenly my eyes stumbled upon "Domaine de l'Ile Margaux". I recently discovered this Domaine via Facebook and Instagram and even started to follow them, yet I never tried their wines. In fact, I started to follow them, not because of their wines, but because of their photos and posts, which are usually good and often intriguing, artistic in a way and triggered my interest more than once. And now, I was standing in front of their booth, a good opportunity to taste their wines.  

Funny is the fact to realize that most people befriend other people on social media without knowing them and will so rarely, or even never, meet them in real life. Well, this was a good occasion to contradict that fact, get more acquainted with this particular Domaine and meet with a member of the family who runs it.     

Behind the booth stood a tall, thin, blondish, mid-long haired, bearded, smiley and seemingly sympathetic young man, Pierre Favarel, that I recognized immediately from pictures and posts I saw previously. We introduced each other, exchanged cards and the conversation went on. 


Pierre Favarel of Domaine de l'Ile Margaux
at the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits
Photo by ©LeDomduVin 2018



Pierre's Parents bought the whole Island of Margaux back in 2001 and Pierre has gradually invested his time and himself ever since to promote and market the wines of his family all around the world. And although Pierre lives in Paris, he is nowadays going to the family's estate more frequently. Not having studied agriculture nor viticulture or oenology, Pierre is slowly learning by watching the "vignerons" and participating as often as he can to the main events (harvest, fermentation, aging in barrels, etc...).   

I don't know about you, but frankly, prior to this impromptu tasting, and despite having read a little about it and saw some pictures on the internet and social media, I knew nothing about "Domaine de l'Ile Margaux". In fact, Pierre told me that this Domaine had always been very discreet and was never heavily promoted. On his wife's suggestion, Pierre has recently opened a few pages on several Social Media to build a follow-up and increase the visibility of the brand along with the tastings and events he participates to. And although more and more efforts are made for the name (or brand) to be known and recognized,  I don't even think that many people know the Domaine exists (even in Bordeaux). 



Satellite view of the Gironde Estuary Islands courtesy of www.google.com/maps/
with Island names added by 
©LeDomduVin 2018


Take a guy like me for example, born in Bordeaux, grandson of a winemaker from the Cotes de Bourg, who has lived his childhood in a small village called "Comps", only a few kilometers away from the Gironde and roughly facing right across the Island of Margaux on the other side of the Gironde (see map above), and although I looked at this island from far away countless times in my life (especially when I was young), I never realized wine was produced on it. And I never heard of the name of this Domaine in my 27 years working in the wine and spirits world on 3 continents, prior a few months ago.   

So, let's discover this Domaine together... 


L'Ile Margaux 



L'Ile Margaux - Photo Courtesy of www.estuaire-gironde.fr


Location


Part of the commune of Margaux, "L'île Margaux", commonly called that way in the wine world, but officially called "île de la Tour-de-Mons" (or even "île de la Tour du Mont"), is one of the islands of the Gironde Estuary, located between the left river bank of the Gironde (near the vines of Chateau Margaux) and a very long island formed of several Islands attached to each other ("Ile de Macau", "Ile du Nord", "Ile Verte", etc... see maps below), forming a river arm called the "Macau Arm", prolonging the Garonne estuary and giving into the Gironde. 


Satellite view of "L'Ile de Margaux" and surrounding Islands courtesy of www.google.com/maps/
with Island names added by 
©LeDomduVin 2018


History


Vines have been planted on the Island since the XVIIIth Century, and back in 1855, during the Bordeaux Classification, the vineyard of Ile Margaux was part of the property of Chateau Margaux.   

In 1999, after the storm, the Island was flooded and it was believed to be lost. But thanks to its owner Gérard Favarel (Pierre's father), who bought it in 2001, she survived.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, L'Ile Margaux has been engaged in an ambitious sustainable development of the estuary, coastal agriculture based on environmental quality. (*)  

The organic certification (AB - Agriculture Biologique) process was initiated in 2011 and it is certified organic since 2015. (*)



Domaine de l'Ile Margaux Vineyard and Cellars - Photo courtesy of www.bordeaux-tourism.co.uk


Geography, Climate, and Vineyard


The Margaux island is about one kilometer long and 300 meters wide (at the widest). It has a surface of about 20 hectares (roughly 50 acres), of which 14 hectares are planted with vines at about 1.5 meters below sea level, protected by the trees and also the levees/dikes surrounding the island.

The island encompasses about 365 different varieties of fruit trees, forming a natural barrier, protecting the embankment from the passing Garonne who lends its rhythm to this natural oasis. 

Benefiting from a micro-climate regulated and tempered by the mass of water of both the Garonne and Gironde estuaries,  and from a location allowing for plenty of winds favorable to dry up the vineyard from the constant humidity in the air,  the island is unfortunately also subject to the tidal range of the river, which can sometimes exceed about 4 meters (between the low tide and high tide) and overflow the levees (or dikes) surrounding the island, thus occasionally flooding the vineyard planted about 1.5 meters below sea level.

The vineyard is about 35 years old on average, planted with a density of 5,000 to 6,200 vines per hectare, depending on the area on the island.

The Favarel family does not live on the island all year long, yet spend quite some time a year on the island to take part in the main phases of the wine production and assist on most major events. The work in the vineyard and at the cellar is done by a local, a "vigneron" tending the vineyard and helping with the winemaking, who lives on the island.

Pierre (and his wife) live in Paris and are in charge of the marketing and promotion of the wines, yet, as stated earlier, not having studied agriculture nor viticulture or oenology, Pierre has to leave the French capital more frequently nowadays to go to the island, where he is slowly learning by watching the "vigneron" and participating as often as he can to the main events (harvest, fermentation, aging in barrels, etc...).

Type of Soil


Ile Margaux has a special hydrogeological structure: a gradual sedimentation of blue clay and sand layers, alternatively hydrated and drained 4 times a day, following the tides rhythm and providing a permanent protection to the vines against heat and water stress or excess.

Grape Varieties


The vineyard of Domaine de l'Ile Margaux is planted with 5 grape varieties, which confers complexity, texture, and structure to the wines:

  • Merlot (45%)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (20%)
  • Petit Verdot (15%)
  • Cabernet Franc (10%)
  • Malbec (10%)

Vinification, Ageing, and Production


After the manual harvest, the wines are vinified according to traditional Bordeaux methods, with the gradual incorporation of modern oenology technologies  (temperature management, cold maceration, etc...). The wine is then aged between 12 to 18 months in oak barrels (depending on the quality of the vintage and the time the wine will need to arrive at desired taste and style), with a third being new barrels and two third mix of 1 and 2 years barrels. Bottling is done on site and the annual production varies between 80 to 90000 bottles a year. Certified organic since 2015.   

Oenotourism


To encourage people to better know the wines of the Domaine as well as the Domaine itself, a guided tour of the estate, the cellar and a walk around the whole island among the vineyard and fruit trees, followed by a tasting of the wines, is available. Send an email to Pierre Favarel at p.favarel@bordemer.net for more details. I guess the short boat trip from the river bank on the Margaux side to Margaux Island can only add for a thrilling and adventurous experience.


 -------------------------------------------------------


So, here you are, now you can say that you too know a little more about Domaine de l'Ile Margaux. Well, knowing about the Domaine is a good thing, but how did the wines taste? (I can hear you say...). 


Pierre was now boasting a Taxi Driver's Robert De Niro face-like ("You talkin' to me?"), and personally, I could not wait to taste his wines.  



Pierre Favarel of Domaine de l'Ile Margaux
at the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits
Photo by ©LeDomduVin 2018




Tasting Domaine de L'Ile Margaux Wines


Pierre had 3 vintages to taste: 2015, 2007 and 2000. He explained to me that he and his family were very proud of the 2015 vintage as it is a good vintage first, but more importantly because it is their first vintage certified organic. And he made me taste it first.


Domaine de l'Ile Margaux "Bordeaux des Iles" (AB - Agriculture Biologique), AOC Bordeaux Superieur, 2015

Estimated Retail price between 185 - 235 HKD (20-26 Euros)

My god, what a very pleasant surprise!!! The robe was bright, medium to deep with good intensity. The nose was quite expressive, fragrant, delicate and inviting. The palate was impressive, harmonious, balanced, soft, well rounded and textured, fairly long and well structured. Nothing over the top, but just very pleasant and satisfying, gentle and inoffensive nor aggressive. Everything in this wine was quite suave and integrated already despite its youth, and yet it showed good potential to be cellared for a few more years prior being fully mature and delivering its true flavors. Highly recommended.

It was so good to my palate and felt so much like a Margaux wine, that a few questions immediately came to my mind:

  • First, how come I never really heard about or even tasted this wine before? 
  • Secondly, how come a wine made on an island surrounded by muddy waters and constantly exposed to humidity in the soil and in the air could be so good?
  • Thirdly, is it me or is this wine an undiscovered fantastic value for money?

I guess its proximity to Chateau Margaux, its soil composition of layers of Peebles, clay, and sand as well as the interesting blend of grape varieties including the unusually high percentage of Petit Verdot (about 15%), which normally never exceeding 5% wherever it still exists and whenever it is still used in other Chateaux, must have something to do with it. (***)



Domaine de l'Ile Margaux "Bordeaux des Iles" (AB - Agriculture Biologique), AOC Bordeaux Superieur, 2000

Estimated Retail price between 210 - 250 HKD (24-28 Euros)

The 2000 vintage shows evolved aromas on the nose, more autumnal notes like mushroom, underbrush, earth, and slightly toasted nuances. The palate was still alive, soft and supple, lighter and less extracted than the 2015 vintage (which is perfectly normal with 18 years of age), yet showed good concentration and structure still, in a soft and delicate way, but still present and fairly long somehow. To be honest, I was not expecting much and was even thinking that it could have been gone by now, but I was wrong, it was still alive and kicking. Another very pleasant surprise, more especially when one thinks of an 18 years old Bordeaux Superieur from a rather unknown vineyard planted on an island. Definitely recommended.

Pierre told me that his family and himself were very proud of this wine, as it is their first vintage (they bought the property in 2001), and although they did not participate in doing the harvest, they did part of the vinification and supervised the aging of the wine in oak barrels. The fist vintage is always sentimental.


Domaine de l'Ile Margaux "Bordeaux des Iles" (AB - Agriculture Biologique), AOC Bordeaux Superieur, 2007

Estimated Retail price between 220 - 235 HKD (24-26 Euros)

I tasted the 2007 vintage last and was definitely not expecting anything from this particular wine, as 2007 was a difficult vintage overall in Bordeaux, which I did not like in its youth. Yet, I recently tasted some 2007 which have evolved and aged quite well in the bottle, rounding some tannins that were rough and even slightly green in their youth and getting more harmonious as time passed by. And it happens that this particular 2007 was probably one of those, as it confused me by its softness and easy drinkability. Nothing of the harshness I was anticipating. The fruit was still present and really enjoyable. The palate felt a little short compared to the 2000, and more especially the 2015 vintage, but not by far.


Conclusion


Tasting these 3 vintages side by side, I could see a pattern, a style, the Domaine's footprint was definitely showing. And to my surprise (again..?!?), they all had this elegance and delicate softness often associated with Margaux wines as well as this undescribable Margaux taste and feel in the palate. In fact, they tasted so good and so Margaux-like to my palate that if tasted blind, in a Margaux wine tasting, I'm sure that one could definitely mistake them with more glorious Margaux Chateaux, which, at 20-25 Euros a bottle, makes them an even greater value for money in my opinion (more especially that the Domaine de l'Ile Margaux wines are "only" AOC Bordeaux Superieur, not AOC Margaux, but from what I tasted, they have nothing to envy their neighbor (**). I will definitely recommend you to discover and keep an eye on this up-and-coming Domaine producing elegant, structured and textured wines, which were already good but can only get better now that they are certified organic. A very pleasant discovery.



And this how I ended up discovering Domaine de l'Ile Margaux, a Bordeaux Superieur that taste like a Margaux with a very good ratio value for money (in my opinion) and definitely a winery to keep an eye on.



Pierre Favarel of Domaine de l'Ile Margaux and
LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel
at the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits
Photo by ©LeDomduVin 2018


That's all folks!!! for today... hope you will try to find these wines and buy a bottle to taste them and make your own opinion about them, and maybe you can leave me your comments below and let me know if I was right or wrong on the quality of these wines.

Sante! Cheers!

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel


(*) Info taken and/or partly taken from www.bordemer.net (BORDEMER was created in 2003, to promote the valuation and trading of the best products of the coastal agriculture, and in particular the wine from the Margaux island.

Most info provided during my discussion with and by Pierre Favarel and/or sourced mainly from www.bordemer.net, and/or www.bordeaux-tourism.co.uk  and/or www.estuaire-gironde.fr


(**) Personally, I have always thought that Margaux is a difficult appellation as there is a huge gap in quality and inconsistencies in between the Chateaux' styles and tastes. And among the 5 most prestigious Appellations of the Haut-Médoc (Margaux, Moulis-Listrac, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estephe), despite a few usual suspects like Chateau Margaux (and I hear you say ..."...but of course"... yet again not every vintage) as well as Chateau Palmer (definitely Palmer...), and maybe Giscours and Du Tertre (and there again, not every vintage for both), I must admit that Margaux is usually my least favorite, as it always feels to me like the less homogeneous. (Once again, I'm not going to make friends by writing things like this....sigh...but I can't deny my feelings and I have never been an "ass-kisser" either... so there it is, I have said it!)


(***) Most Chateaux in Bordeaux do not possess Petit Verdot anymore as it is an awkward, late ripening grape variety with low yield, and therefore difficult to grow and maintain and not commercial or lucrative enough... (too bad, as it is a good addition for the texture and structure of the wine generally...)


©LeDomduVin 2018


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