Château d’Issan is a property and winery located in the Margaux appellation. It is without a doubt one of the very oldest wine-producing estates in the Médoc area, North of Bordeaux, and in the whole of the Bordeaux region probably as well.
The estate was classified as a Third Growth in Napoleon’s 1855 Imperial classification of the wines of Médoc and Graves. Perhaps Château d’Issan’s location explains part of the quality of its wines. It is located just to the south of Château Margaux, and next door to Château Palmer.
But d’Issan’s fame is, more importantly, related to its heritage from a long History, combined with modern efforts to produce the best possible wine.
Let’s explore together Château d’Issan’s universe…
Château d’Issan Long History, in Brief
It all starts some 950+ years ago, in the 12th century, when the property was a fiefdom under the name La Mothe-Cantenac, before becoming Théobon Manor when a female heir married a lord with the same name.
On 18th May 1152, La Mothe-Cantenac wine is said to have been served at the wedding between Eleanor of Aquitaine ruler of the Bordeaux region at the time, and Henri Plantagenet, future King of England on 18th May 1152. This makes Chateau d’Issan one of the oldest wineries in Bordeaux that has continually produced Bordeaux wine.
From there, the history of Château d’Issan is made from a long list of property transmissions and legacies. By inheritance and marriage, the estate was handed down from owner to owner, each of them contributing in their own way to the property’s current character.
Over a period of nearly three centuries, the estate was passed down along a line involving such names as Noailhan, Meyrac, Ségur, Salignac, de la Vergne, Escodeca de Boisse.
From 1575 onwards, the property was owned by five generations of the Essenault family, who contracted their name into “Issan” and renamed the estate to Château d’Issan.
The 1855 classification of Médoc, ranking Château d’Issan as a Troisième Grand Cru Classé (third Classified Growth) confirmed and strengthened the estate’s already long-established reputation.
D’Issan in the 20th Century to Today
During the period between the two World Wars, the estate was left to deteriorate. After the Cruse family became owners in 1945, under the management of Lionel Cruse, the château was restored, the winemaking facilities upgraded, and the vineyard replanted.
Since 1998, as a result of investments made by Lionel’s son Emmanuel Cruse in the vineyards and cellars, Château d’Issan wines have become even a more faithful reflection of their Margaux terroir.
In 2012, Françoise and Jacky Lorenzetti, who also own Château Lilian Ladouys in Saint-Estèphe and Château Pédesclaux in Pauillac, joined forces with the Cruse family to continue restoring and reinforcing Château d’Issan’s historic grandeur.
The Property Buildings
At the very beginning, there was the original medieval fortress from the seigneury of La Mothe-Cantenac. The 12th century building was demolished five hundred years later by Baron d’Essenault when he inherited the estate. D’Essenault (the one who named d’Issan with its current name if you’re following!) had the current buildings built. They still display some beautiful medieval features, such as its imposing gateway, its towers and its moat, relics of its former defenses.
A wall built in 1644 still surrounds the vineyard making it one of the very few ‘Clos’ (or walled vineyards) in existence in the Bordeaux region.
The chateau is still inhabited to this day, having undergone several phases of renovation. In 1970, after the Cruse family undertook some refurbishment work, the chateau was included on the French list of historical buildings.
Take a Tour of Château d’Issan in Video
Visit d’Issan property, the winery and vineyards, and witness the stunning landscapes, the old castle architecture, and how the wines are made, from harvest to ageing in the barrel room.
Find it all in the YouTube Video below. Enjoy 🙂
Vineyards and Soils
The soil at Issan is made up of mounds of gravel and 15-metre (50-foot) high alluvial hills, rounded by erosion. These soils drain well, forcing the vines to develop deep root systems in search of water and of the nutrients that make Château d’Issan wines.
The estate now has a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon at 65%, while Merlot accounts for 35%.
The vineyards of Chateau d’Issan are planted to a density of 9,000 vines per hectare, averaging about 35 years of age.
Around 59ha of the property’s 120 hectares property are under vine (145 out of 296 acres). Of that, 44ha (109 acres) fall within the Margaux appellation, with the remainder 5ha (12 acres) located in AOC Haut-Médoc and 10ha (25 acres) in AOC Bordeaux Supérieur.
Winemaking and Wines
At harvest, as soon as the grapes arrive at the winery, the bunches are carefully manually sorted, before the berries are screened and cleaned up of any undesired element a second time on a vibrating table. From there, gravity feeds the grapes into stainless steel tanks, each block being vinified separately in 37 temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks with capacities from 70 to 200 hectoliters.
The harvest is then vinified and stay in tank from 18 to 24 days depending on the vintage, before being put into oak barrels.
Château d’Issan winery makes 4 different wines, all blended from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot:
Château d’Issan, the Grand Vin,
Aged in barrels for 16 to 18 months, half of which are new. Annual production is around 100,000 bottles.
Blason d’Issan is the second wine.
Introduced in 1995, it allows the winery a stricter selection amongst its vines growing in the Margaux appellation area. Fruit from our youngest vines is used to produce the second label ‘Blason’, featuring a rounded fruitiness, and more approachability at a younger age. Blason d’Issan is also aged in barrels for 14 to 16 months, one third of which are new. Annual production is around 120,000 bottles.
Le Haut-Médoc d’Issan
Made from fruit grown on plots 5 km (3 miles) west of the estate in Arsac in the Haut-Médoc appellation, just next to vineyards of other Classified Growths. Le Haut-Médoc d’Issan has a limited annual production of about 18,000 bottles.
A Bordeaux Superieur wine grown in an area known for its variety of soil types and sub-soils. To the right of the historic path that leads to Château d’Issan are our Bordeaux Supérieur AOC plots. They are the closest to the Gironde Estuary on colder and weter soils composed mainly of clayey limestone and therefore particularly suited to the Merlot grape variety. Merlot therefore makes up to 90% of the final blend, which is unusual in Medoc. The ruins of the old 17th century windmill that gave its name to the wine (moulin being French for windmill) are still in the middle of the vineyard today. Moulin d’Issan has been on the market since 1988. About 40,000 bottles of it are made annually.
Château d’Issan Wine Reviews & Tasting Notes
2014 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux
2014 Tasting Notes: This Margaux wine comes in a rather deep and intense red color, very dark to the core, a clean and vibrant red to the rim.
The nose feels, straight away, deep and profound. At first sniff, and without even tasting it, you know you are with a serious wine here. It feels and smells mysterious and dark, filled with a wealth of dark chocolate notes, almost coffee-like. Although, elegant vanilla provides hints of sweetness to the aromatic profile. The fruity elements are well present too, featuring ripe strawberry and dark cherry. They provide richness and power, somewhat liqueur-like. Plenty of spices, clove and nutmeg, a hint of black pepper, all both lifting the overall aroma, and intensifying it. Add touches of discrete earthiness and you understand this is very complex to smell at.
The palate feels rich and luscious, bursting with powerful flavors in all directions. The wine tastes like a firework of shiny and precise flavors shooting in all direction: intense oaky notes of vanilla and caramel, some smokiness, the dark cocoa notes hit your senses hard here again, juicy ripe red berries, minty white pepper. There’s a lot going on.
Solid acidity is matched by dense velvety tannins, the whole feeling elegant and smooth. Warm and very long finish.
A ripe and opulent vintage, packed-full of flavors. This 2014 is already approachable and enjoyable to drink from such lifted flavors. But it promises to age beautifully, and integrate its oaky element even more harmoniously in the future. Drink between 10 and 30 years from now.
2012 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux
2012 Tasting Notes: Just like 2014, the wine boasts an intense color, perhaps a little lighter in its appearance, but you wouldn’t really tell the difference, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s still a clean dark red in color, no signs of evolution.
The nose is very delicate, filled with floral aromas of violet, fresh strawberry and raspberry, cassis bud (or blackcurrant bud) as we say in Bordeaux. It feels fresh, fruity, and vibrant. Of course, like in vintage 2014, there is also a wealth of dark oaky and spicy notes: dark chocolate and cocoa, vanilla, burnt caramel and wood smoke. But the spices here feel more on herbal notes, somewhat smelling like Provencal herbs.
The palate is precise, sharp and elegant, fine, refined, and extremely elegant in a typical Margaux fashion. It starts opulent and rich at first, before the acidity kicks in and tightens things up with stunningly precise tension.
Dense and silky tannins, with an oily body provide an ideal balance. The whole allows an enormous number of detailed flavors to be expressed, one after the other. You can literally spend minutes trying to analyze it, and more importantly, enjoy it more and more at every sip.
A stunningly precise and vibrant vintage, offering a spectacular combination of power, concentration and complexity, with finesse and freshness from what appears to be perfectly-ripe grapes.
2010 Chateau d’Issan, Margaux
2010 Tasting Notes: The color on vintage 2010 appears very dense, perhaps more intense than 2012, looking more evolved obviously than 2014. Hints of orange hues to the rim is probably what gives this wine’s appearance even more depth, together with obviously an important concentration.
The nose also somehow feels deeper and more profound, perhaps because this is the eldest vintage in this line up showing discrete hints of evolution. The oak element is powerful, yet extremely well-integrated here. So much so it is hard to distinguish it from the myriad of sweet spices and peppery notes. The fruity aspect, represented by dark and ripe blackberry, fresh blackcurrant jam, and raisin notes are powerful and provide richness and appeal. Yet, the wine feels so harmonious on the aromatic profile, that no note seems to dominate the others and form and opulent and super-complex whole.
Like the nose, the palate is very opulent, probably even more actually. It’s oily, rich and mouth-filling. Again, an extreme concentration of flavors like for 2012 and 2014, we can see the signature of d’Issan here, but with 2010, the winery has delivered a wine with spectacular roundness and body.
All flavors work in harmony, pepper and sweet spices, toasted hazelnut, bourbon vanilla, and sweet caramel, marry black cherry liqueur and ripe blackberry.
An exceptional vintage for d’Issan, that is now just starting to show its potential and come together in harmony. Give it another 5 years and it should truly start to shine with absolute greatness, gaining in earthy and savory notes to further balance the opulence of its fruit character.
Conclusions over this vertical tasting
As you can see from my tasting notes, Chateau d’Issan shows a great consistency between the reviewed vintages 2010, 2012, and 2014. There is clear signature style made of power and concentration, a wealth of spices and dark oaky notes, all delivered in a smooth and elegant texture.
2010 is the bigger vintage here, having also the advantage of a few additional years of ageing. But I loved 2012’s acidic tension and its more marked floral violet characters, giving a very enjoyable fresher personality. A wine to watch the evolution of, should become splendid. 2014 is still obviously a little young for drinking at the time of tasting. But a very consistent vintage perfectly in line with Chateau d’Issan standards of quality and refinement, an excellent classic vintage.