Definition: Chateau, Chateaux and Chateau-Bottling
This term, used in a French wine context. means some kind of specific estate producing wine. It is not allowed to be used for a wine that does not come from the property named. In many New World wineries, however, where grapes and wine may be bought in from regions outside the pa-ticular estate, the term Chateau is sometimes used both for the installations and for the wines put out under their label, so that here the word need not indicate that there is any sort of chateau responsible.
The word is capable of wide interpretations in France, however: the chateau may be some form of country house, even the remains of a castle, it may be a modest building – or not even a building at all. There is, for example, no chateau at Leoville-Barton; the vineyard is separate from the vineyard of Langoa-Barton, but only the latter exists as a chateau in the form of a building. Some French wine chateaux are beautiful and historic buildings but an imposing mansion does not necessarily mean that a correspondingly fine wine will be made at the estate. The expression ‘a chateau wine’ may be translated as ‘an estate wine’ – that is, wholly produced on the property. Petits chateaux is a term for small-scale estate wines, often referring to the bourgeois growths of Bordeaux, because the term chateau is so widely (but not exclusively) used in this region. There are Chateaux in the wine regions of the Loire, in the south of France, in Alsace and in Burgundy.
(This section also covers estate-bottling and domaine-bottling.) At one time bottling by a reputable and experienced wine merchant was accepted as satisfactory for even the greatest wines. Today, modern technological advances have made it difficult for small firms to enjoy the resources enabling the finest and most delicate wines to be handled so as to be in prime condition in even the most remote export markets. Therefore – and because of increased demand and improvements in communications – there is an overall tendency for all fine wines to be bottled either at the estate where they are made, or at least in the country where they are made.
It is usual for chateau-bottled wines to be slightly slower to come to their prime than those bottled where they are sold; and the general opinion is that, if a comparison is made, the chateau-bottled wine will be slightly, but definitely, superior in quality and clarity of character than the wine bottled elsewhere. But there can be, of course, indifferent chateau-bottlings! The assumption that a chateau-bottled wine is absolutely genuine is fair to make – but if someone is going to be unscrupulous, they are capable of tampering with wine at any stage. It is also true to say that the best bottlings of firms with reputations as high as those of the great properties are in no way inferior to the chateau-bottlings. The infinitesimal difference appears to come from the fact that the wine is moved, in cask, away from its home, and subjected to travel and variations of temperature before finally going into bottle.
In recent years some of the great estates of Bordeaux experimented with producing non-vintage chateau-bottled wines, so as to provide fine wines of standard quality which will not vary, even if a succession of vintages are not good. There is much to be said on both sides of thisquestion, but the traditional lover of claret usually thinks that it is precisely the variations from year to year that make this wine so fascinating. Most great properties have, or can have, a brand name on a non-vintage wine label, under which a wine not quite – Chateau label can be sold. Improvements in winemaking have included wine of moderate quality in years which, formerly, were complete disasters. The person who wants to ‘drink the label’w ill not risk the variations of a vintage, is often depriving himself of seeing the wine at its best. The non-vintage chateau-bottling was not successful in Boreaux and was mostly discontinued.