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January 2008


WINE & SPIRITS

The Emperor of Wine

(Page 2 of 3)

Magrez, as he proudly explains, is an entirely self-made man. Thrown out of the house at age 12 and forced to work, he raised himself with an uncompromising "American" work ethic. He has little in common with the landed gentry who inherited most of the great châteaux of Bordeaux. Unlike his aristocratic compatriots, he is not too proud to market fine wine to young drinkers who don't remember the days when French wines were king. Not unexpectedly, among the chateaux set Magrez is a controversial figure.

Though he is an avowed globalist, French wines still figure prominently in the Magrez portfolio. His three Bordeaux Grand Crus include Château Pape-Clément in Graves, Château Fombrauge in Saint-Emilion and La Tour Carnet in Medoc. All three regularly garner scores in the 90s from Robert Parker, the omnipotent wine critic.

During our dinner, Magrez shared a photo-filled book of his history-laden châteaux, the oldest dating back to the 14th century. "Together there's 2,000 years of winemaking experience at these châteaux," he said. The medieval tower at Château La Tour Carnet was built in 1120. Fombrauge is the oldest châteaux in Saint-Emilion. At his flagship, Château Pape Clement, wine has been made for the last seven centuries.

Magrez is as enthused about his cuvées d'exception, the next tier of wineries, as his grand crus. These include estate-grown boutique wines from rare terroir in Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillon, Argentina, Chile, Morocco, Napa Valley, Portugal, Spain and Uruguay. He also raves about his emerging terroirs: value-priced, third-tier wines from regions that remain largely below the radar.

As I tasted a few of his remarkable and accessible lower-priced wines, many with playful, evocative names like "If My Father Only Knew," Magrez described his meticulous viticulture and ultra-refined winemaking techniques. "One of the keys," he said, "is de-stemming the vine clusters berry by berry, allowing no stems or green material in the vinification mix."

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