I was privileged to attend the Domaines Barons de Rothschild vertical tasting held in London recently. Organised by The Institute of Masters of Wine and hosted by my good friend Charles Chevallier, Wine Director of Château Lafite-Rothschild, on the agenda were 6 vintages of Lafite-Rothschild, along with additional vintages of Carruades de Lafite and Château Duhart-Milon for good measure.
Moderated by Master of Wine Mark Bingley and with an enlightening introduction by fellow Master of Wine John Salvi (who has served as AWC’s consultant in Bordeaux for the past 20 years), the tasting provided some superb insight into the history, viticulture and winemaking practices of Château Lafite-Rothschild and various Bordeaux estates under the management of Domaines Barons de Rothschild. It is difficult to express just how exquisite these wines always prove themselves to be – concentration, structure, fruit and tannin, all in perfect harmony - and this occasion was certainly no different.
Above: Our moderators. (l-r) John Salvi, MW, Charles Chevallier, Mark Bingley, MW
Key discussion points covered by Mark and Charles during the introduction and opening remarks:
- During the harvest, the pickers do no selection whatsoever. They pick absolutely everything and the fruit is then triaged by hand in the chai just before it is crushed. Optical sorters have been experimented with in the past but they have not been implemented thus far as they remain somewhat cost-prohibitive. If necessary, green harvesting is conducted in July, however it is not done to reduce the crop size (this is achieved through careful pruning during the winter months) or for the purposes of increasing concentration, but is instead relied upon to increase intra-row aeration and to adjust sun exposure. Today, all of the fruit for Lafite-Rothschild, Carruades de Lafite and Duhart-Milon can be processed in as few as 8 days, a remarkable feat. Up until the early 1990s, harvest was a 3-week long, non-stop operation.- All of the red wines are fined in the traditional manner, by hand, with fresh egg whites. Filtration prior to bottling is utilised, but only to, as Charles noted with a wink, “Remove the mosquitoes.” - Following success of certain estates and the fact that the trend is growing globally, Lafite-Rothschild has already experimented with both organic and biodynamic practices. Charles stated however, that, at the end of the day, the goal is, “Not just to have a ‘bio label’. We want to help the vineyards be protected, but we want to do it with minimal intervention and with the minimum quantity of chemicals necessary.”
- Between the Grand Vin, Carruades de Lafite and Duhart-Milon, there is almost no technical difference in production techniques, with the exception of the oak treatment and the ageing processes. Lafite-Rothschild receives 100% new oak in each vintage, whereas Carruades de Lafite is held in 10% new oak and 90% second year/used barrels which are recycled from the Grand Vin. Duhart-Milon receives 50% new wood and 50% second or third year barrels from both Lafite and Carruades. Starting from the 2011 vintage, some pyramidal, concrete vats will be used for certain Merlot parcels. These vats are fairly small in size and their use is purely experimental at this point.
- Domaines Barons de Rothschild owns and operates their own cooperage with 5, full time coopers who build, toast and maintain all of the barrels that the various estates use. Interestingly, when the discussion turned to the barrels, Charles commented that they have been conducting extensive research on the toast levels for each property and have come to some clear-cut conclusions. Rieussec’s barrels, for example, are toasted at low temperatures for a long period of time, whilst L’Evangile’s barrels are toasted at the exact opposite end of the spectrum – briefly, but with very high heat.
- As a rule, Carruades de Lafite is ready to drink several years earlier than Lafite-Rothschild. On average, 30% of the vineyard production from the Carruades plateau makes it into the Grand Vin and 50% is deemed of a high enough quality for production as Carruades de Lafite on its own. The remainder of the production is sold off in bulk to various (unnamed) negociants. In the many decades since its purchase, in 1845, the terroir of the Carruades vineyard has been found to be less well suited to growing Cabernet Sauvignon. So, there is now always a greater percentage of Merlot in the Carruades de Lafite blend, versus the Grand Vin of Lafite-Rothschild.
- Duhart-Milon is expected to mature even earlier than Carruades. However, due to the terroir, it must be produced in a style that can seem almost stern in the first few years of its life. Charles likened the tannic seriousness of Duhart-Milon to “a young officer candidate, fresh out of the military academy, who doesn't yet know how to smile.” He also noted that, despite this youthful austerity, there are very few vintages of Duhart-Milon which will keep for more than 20 years. The fermentation temperatures for Duhart-Milon are kept purposefully lower and the number of pump-overs is reduced to prevent over-extraction and allow the wine to open up. Shockingly, prior to 2001, Duhart-Milon was a vineyard that the picking crews and Domaines Rothschild staff picked on an ad hoc, “when they had time” basis, nearly as an afterthought to Carruades and Lafite-Rothschild! Now it is a much more focused effort and has a specific team dedicated to its production. - Château Rieussec, which was purchased by Domaines Barons de Rothschild in 1985, operates under a completely different philosophy than the other estates, embracing and cohabitating with botrytis. Charles chuckled at the thought of how difficult it was for him to adapt to this alternate way of thinking when he first showed up to manage the property. Ultimately, quality control in the vineyard and the success of the wine each year is simply down to monitoring the evolution of the botrytis through the vineyards and reacting accordingly and at the appropriate times. A very specific and unique product, fermentation is done in small casks and ageing is conducted in 50-60% new oak barrels for 24 months. Charles commented that, although the estate has experimented with cryo-extraction (freezing the grapes prior to crushing), they do not believe it allows the wine to express itself in the best fashion, so cryo-extraction is never utilised with the Grand Vin.
Above: Charles discourses on the vintages of the past decade.
- Of the various, recent Lafite-Rothschild vintages, Charles noted that, “2005 is probably a ‘100 year’ wine. It is very closed down at the moment but I’m sure it will last almost indefinitely. 2004 is much more open and it is ready to drink already. It is a classic vintage. 2009 has phenomenal potential, but there is the possibility that it may head in the same direction as the 2003 in terms of its evolutionary timeline. The 1990 is very similar to what I expect the development of 2009 to resemble, actually. The exoticism that the 2009 displayed at En Primeur is now changing back to something a bit more classic. 2010 is still difficult to grasp at the moment and I cannot predict where it will head in its evolution. It is certainly a great vintage, with classic fruit flavours. The acid levels, as measured in the laboratory are exactly identical to the 2009, yet it tastes completely different. This leads me to believe that the 2010 will probably last longer.”
- On the advancements in technology, Charles further commented that, “There are no bad vintages now. The truly great vintages are the same as the great vintages of the past but new technologies in production mean there are no more bad years. 1968 was the last, truly disastrous year and it is a perfect example of what can go horribly wrong.”
- To fight counterfeiting and forgeries, Lafite-Rothschild is now using Prooftag as an additional security measure. Starting from the 2009 vintage, all new bottles of Lafite-Rothschild and Carruades de Lafite which leave the winery will be fitted with Prooftag Bubble Seals on the capsules. Each Prooftag Bubble Seal is a unique, three-dimensional, proof of authenticity which is irreproducible. Château Palmer and Domaine Ponsot are two other notable estates which are already utilising Prooftags. At Lafite-Rothschild, these seals will also now be fitted on all older bottles that are sourced and supplied directly from the vintage library.
Above: Intense concentration when tasting.
Tasting Notes and Comments –
2006 Carruades de Lafite
Dark purple colour with slight rim variance. A soft perfume. Subtle tobacco smoke and cedar aromas on the nose. This is a lighter bodied wine, which, while quite nice, is not particularly powerful. A reminiscence of incomplete lignification is overridden by pleasing cranberry and raspberry fruit. Medium acidity. Lasts on the palate. A solidly made wine, but from a vintage that was marred by heavy spring frosts. 90 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Bright purple core turning to ruby at the edges. Clean, bright, fresh nose of red fruit. Delicate and open in the mouth. A relatively light wine that is already developing well. Ready to drink at this point but will continue to last another 5 to 10 years. Plenty of fresh acidity and integrated tannins. A gracious and charming vintage rather than a powerful one.”
2006 Duhart-MilonBrighter red and with less purple at the core when held next to the Carruades – perhaps maturing a bit more rapidly. Similarly, the nose is a bit more open and expressive but has fewer nuances to it. Darker plum and black raspberry fruits in cohesion. Broad and mild in the mouth, with noticeably lower acidity than the Carruades but more primary fruit flavours. Charming. 91 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Colour a bit more mature than the Carruades, still bright and vivid though and perhaps a bit deeper. Nose is very gentle. Creamy red and black fruit aromas. Plenty of vigour on the palate with fresh, spicy acidity and firm, strong tannins. Again indicative of the vintages charm. Will last, but it is certainly approachable already.”
2003 Duhart-MilonAfter a very hot August, this was an incredibly difficult vintage to manage. Many vines suffered from excessive heat stress which retarded both their production of sugars and their complete phenolic evolution. The resulting wine was quite high in alcohol and the tannins remain unusually disjointed in their presentation on the palate. Nearly a decade on, the wine is now quite uniform in its ruby colouration, with lots of remaining particulate – the use of minimal filtration is readily apparent. Roasted fruits, baking spices, and mild Christmas cake aromas all swirl in the glass. This presents as having great width in the mouth with broad, soft tannins. For better or worse, along with the remaining cassis flavours, this has the subtle taste of roast Arabica coffee beans. Soft and round, with understated yet integrated fruit. Begin drinking it now. 93 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Young, bright colour which does not appear appreciably different than the 2006. Core has slightly more depth. Nose is full of power and youth. Restrained and spicy. This is a deeply concentrated and solidly constructed wine, yet is almost austere at present. Needs time still but is developing at a rapid pace. Surprisingly well balanced given the vintage’s heat.”
Picked 5 days before the Duhart-Milon. Interestingly, and despite the severe heat, Charles noted that the fruit from the Grand Vin blocks was quite regular and required less triage than the berries from either Duhart-Milon or the Carruades plain. He chalked this up to the fact that the Grand Vin vines have roots which penetrate nearly 7m into the gravel subsoil. Additionally, as they are older vines, they are prone to fewer problems and the heat has markedly less effect on them. This has a similar colour but darker core when held up next to the Duhart-Milon. Softer and somewhat tighter on the nose as well. Smells quite ‘smart’. Whiff of pine grove and cedar, hint of charcoal dust, and slight baking spice aromas. You can sense the hidden, explosive power in this. Toes the line in terms of balance, yet just holds back. Impressive. Expansive. A really lovely wine but one which is developing rapidly. Lasting, lasting, lasting in mouth. 97 Points
John Salvi, MW - “The ‘jump-up’ out of the glass on this is impressive. The 2003 Duhart-Milon pales next to it. There is just more of everything here and it is clearly at an entirely different (and much higher) level. Colour is still young with traces of purple around the edges. Nose is powerful, intense and resplendent with black fruits. Perfume is exotic and clearly has further development ahead of it. Palate follows the nose, with concentration and intensity. Spicy tannins. Needs to sit for a few more years, but will last for some time still. Skilful winemaking was definitely vital here in order to counteract the effects of the vintage. This has retained a fine level of acidity and will live on into a graceful maturity. The grand terroir of Lafite is undeniable!”
2000 Lafite-RothschildUpon tasting this, Charles commented that, “In 2000, the weather was really great. Maturity was complete. It is a real pleasure to enjoy this today and I expect that it will be nearly impossible to destroy this wine. This is an indestructible wine that people can keep in their cellars for many, many, many years.” The wine is a dark, consistent, reddish-purple colour. The nose is pure. Black cassis in spades. An absolute beauty. Fruit aromas are still presenting themselves as being quite young. On the palate, the fruit, tannins, and medium acidity are all in perfect balance. This is so hard to achieve. An incredibly difficult and applause-worthy performance. Truly exceptional. Tannins are unbelievably fine and you can really taste the primary essence of the Cabernet Sauvignon skins, in a fantastic and pure expression. Alcohol is nominal and completely unapparent. 98 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Colour still hinting at youth – ruby and surprisingly fine and bright. Generous, ripe and heavily fruited. Now this is really beginning to show what it’s made of. Tannins are powerful and quite severe. Palate remains less developed than the nose and the tannins need further time to soften. Eventually these will blend with the remaining fruit and all the fine flavours will be revealed. This still needs time in spite of its ripeness and superior phenolic maturity. A very complex and complete wine.”
1999 Lafite-Rothschild“This is a great expression of a [still] young, drinkable Lafite,” commented Charles. This had slight bricking near the edges - a similar colour to the 2003, in fact. Sublime nose, yet a bit shy. Cigar box, but you have to work at finding it. Silky, delicate and seductive. Has a confidence and certainty to it that is enviable. Very fresh in the mouth, it dances across the palate. Incredibly difficult to spit out! Lasts and lasts and lasts. The additional Merlot in this particular cuvée is readily apparent. Drinking now. 98 PointsJohn Salvi, MW - “Maturing, with a ruby/browning edge. Unsurprisingly, more developed and less concentrated than the 2000 on both the nose and palate. However, the nose remains showy and delightful, fresh and fragrant, with lots of pure fruit aromas. Open and juicy in the mouth, the tannins are totally integrated. This is wonderfully expressive and attractive.”
1990 Lafite-RothschildHigh temperatures in this vintage resulted in the final assemblage being nearly all Cabernet Sauvignon. Only 3% Merlot made it into this cuvée due to the heat damage the vines suffered. Much more bricking than the 1999, although the colour is still uniform. Powerful nose. Wild herbs and a bits of dried bramble coming out, along with dust and tea leaves. Tertiary aromas and flavours really coming out now. A true older Bordeaux that is really starting to expressing itself. Wow. Exceptional stuff. Has now aged enough to be really interesting. Sweeter than expected. Bruised plum flesh. A fabulous winner. 99 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Magnificent. Bright, classic maturity. A fragrant, elegant nose of first class cassis fruit and loads of spice. Palate is wonderfully pure. Mouth-filling dark berry flavours and sublime acidity. Long. This is now a wonder to behold and an honour to drink. Will still keep for many more years due to the fine, silky tannins. A lovely and finely bred Lafite of great beauty, opulence and expression.”
1989 Lafite-RothschildNoticeably lighter colour than the 1990. Very brick. Really quite focused and Cabernet Sauvignon-centric on the nose. A sweet, kind, gentle wine. Pleasant pepper aromas and on the finish. An exceptional Cabernet expression. Nuanced. Medium acidity still. Lasting. Tannins still present but absolutely at their finest. “This is definitely what you expect in a great Pauillac,” said Charles. 96 Points
John Salvi, MW - “A visibly denser wine than the 1990, however the colour around the rim is a little more evolved. Truly a perfect example of what a Lafite is and can be. A great wine. Fruit-driven fragrance that is rich but also classical and restrained. Palate is deep, structured, lengthy, powerful, and complete. Breeding and elegance. This wine can be kept for many, many more years and is still far from its best or its peak. This will outlast the 1990 and reach great heights.”
1988 Lafite-RothschildSimilar colour to the 1989. Subtle, attractive, complex perfume. Soft and drinkable. Medium high acid and certainly more present than in the 1989. Tension continues across the palate. Another good expression of ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon, but somewhat less interesting than the 1989. 94 Points
John Salvi, MW - “Not quite the same power or body as the 1989, yet it is a pure, classical Pauillac at its very finest. Perfect balance and structure but less opulence or richness when set against the prior two wines. Wonderfully pure fruit on the nose with a delicious spicy fragrance. Expressive, bright acidity on the palate. A wine of great beauty, elegance, finesse and harmony. Will last as long as the 1989, but longer than the 1990.”
The tasting concluded with a selection from what is, undoubtedly, the top Sauternes vintage of the past 20+ years, the supremely elegant 2001.
2001 RieussecThis is the only possible threat to Chateau d’Yquem’s reign over the 2001s. Absolutely leaps from glass. A religious experience. Spicy, botrytis nose. Just cut button mushrooms and chopped sultanas. Fresh. Beautiful. Brings a tear to your eye. Candied apricots for days and days on the palate. Long, long, long. Hint of an espresso crème tinge on the finish brings the whole package together. Lovely acid and sugar in complete balance. 99 PointsJohn Salvi, MW - “Brilliant golden hue. Pure, bright and crisp. Powerful demerera sugar, pungent botrytis and lemon pith bouquet. Toasty and opulent. Very long and mouth-filling. Lingers beautifully in the aftertaste. Liqueur-esq nectar. Sweet and sultry yet spectacularly fresh and airy due to the acidity. A superlative Sauternes of unmatched grace and style.”
On their global brand strength and the legendary history of their flagship estate, the properties and wines of Domaines Barons de Rothschild remain incomparable in the fine wine world. What a pleasure it was to enjoy these fabulous examples and reflect on the remarkable capacity of great Bordeaux to age, develop and evolve.
Contact us to enquire about our current availability of Château Lafite-Rothschild, Carruades de Lafite, Château Duhart-Milon, and Château Rieussec.
Tags: Lafite Rothschild, lafite, Master of Wine, John Salvi, Sauternes, tasting, duhart, Chateau Duhart-Milon, Carruades de Lafite, Rieussec, Chateau Rieussec, Mark Bingley, d'Yquem, Pauillac, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Our first Master Class, focusing exclusively on Tuscan wines, was held at AWC Wine Academy recently and it was a tasting I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Clearly I was not the only one, as all of the tickets were sold out well in advance of the event. The heavy demand resulted in an extensive waitlist, so we have now scheduled an additional session for anyone unable to make the first one. Given the popularity, I recommend your register for it promptly. Understandably, with the range of impressive Tuscan wines we planned to show, there was a palpable excitement leading up to this event. Italian wines in general and Tuscan wines specifically are hot topics these days, with demand for top wines from these regions continually on the rise.Additionally, we were delighted to welcome our expert speaker for the evening, Master of Wine Michael Palij. Michael is, without question, one of the world’s leading specialists on Italian wines. In addition to writing for Decanter Magazine, he also writes all of the course material related to Italy for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.Along with his academic credentials, Michael is an engaging and charismatic presenter. He is able to add colourful insight to his lectures due to his very personal knowledge of and experience with the wines, estates and people of Tuscany. Michael was certainly able to call upon his expertise for this Master Class, conducting an extremely interactive session, which was a joy to attend.
Forty years ago, ‘great’ was not a word that was generally associated with Tuscan wines. At the time, the category of very fine wine barely even existed in the region. So what has changed? According to Michael, many of the advances can be traced back to the dramatic establishment of the Super Tuscan movement. Led by the likes of Piero Antinori and Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta, these Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines were controversial, glamorous and most importantly, different. Crucially, they were also of an extraordinarily high quality. These wines helped establish Tuscany’s fine wine credentials at a time when they were sadly lacking. Interestingly and perhaps more significantly, the Super Tuscan movement also spurred a revivalist ‘Risorgimento’ with Tuscany’s native Sangiovese, which Michael described as, “an underrated but truly world-class grape variety.” “The key to the success of Sangiovese comes down to where and how high it is planted. While the French have terroir and attitude,” Michael told us, “Tuscany’s secret is that they have terroir and altitude. In Tuscany, how high up you plant is often the critical factor.”“You also have to remember that Italian wines are primarily meant to be enjoyed with food. Sangiovese is no exception,” he added. “As a variety, it has a lot of tannin and quite a kick of natural acidity. These wines have a real heft to them. They will certainly age and improve, but ultimately they are meant for the dining table.”
Above: Master of Wine Michael Palij lectures on the finer points of fine Tuscan wines.
We began our tour of Tuscany’s greatest wines in the southerly coastal region of Morellino di Scansano. Morellino became a DOC in 1979 and a DOCG as recently as 2009, largely because of the pioneering work done by Elisabetta Gepetti at Fattoria Le Pupille. The wine we started with was her single vineyard, Poggio Valente from the 2005 vintage. This is a Riserva which is only made in great vintages. According to Michael it is also, “without doubt, the top wine of Morellino.”The Poggio Valente is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Alicante, a variety which adds more depth of colour. At seven years of age, this was showing lovely black fruits and a touch of earthy tomato leaf. There’s plenty of grip, weight and acidity, with excellent integration and balance. “This is what Morellino should be all about,” Michael pointed out. “This is not a vin de garde though, it is really a wine for early or medium term drinking. This is probably at its best now and will be for the next five years.”
Above: Account Manager Annabel Dent takes careful tasting notes.
The next wine was one of Michael’s professed favourites, Fontodi’s 2006 Vigna del Sorbo, a Chianti Classico Riserva from Panzano. At 500m in elevation, Panzano is right in the heart of Chianti Classico, often making it too cold to completely ripen Sangiovese. However, in exceptional years such as 2006, it matures to perfection. Giovanni Manetti’s magnificent wine proved a prime example.A blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, there were more red fruit expressions in this wine than in the previous, including raspberries and redcurrants, on both the nose and palate. It had a lovely elegance and lift to it as well, with more refined, silky tannins and an abundance of refreshing acidity. Michael informed us that he had actually tasted the 1990 Vigna del Sorbo the day before and thought that this wine would age just as well, if not better. “This is brilliant today, but you should really wait another 20 years before you open this wine.”
If we wanted certain proof of Tuscany’s ability to age, we got it with our next wine, the 1995 Vigneta Bellavista from Castello di Ama. Owner Marco Pallanti was one of the pioneers of the single vineyard, ‘cru’ concept in Tuscany back in 1978. This 22 hectare vineyard now produces one of his finest wines. Selection is extremely strict and Pallanti only makes Bellavista in the best vintages.
Above: Account Manager Lucy McMillan quizzes a taster on his thoughts.
Beautifully constructed, this wine had great finesse, complexity and elegance. The primary fruit was still there but is now giving way to tertiary, bottle age flavours of sous bois and minerals. Also interesting to note was the alcohol level. As Michael pointed out, this bottle was 12.5%. “Now, ten years later on and with global warming, the current release is listed at more like 14.5%.”
The fourth wine was the 2005 Brunello di Montalcino from La Fiorita, owned and run by one of Italy’s best known ‘flying winemakers’, Roberto Cipresso. Heading over to Montalcino and moving forward a decade, we were now seeing a completely different style and expression of pure Sangiovese. This was a big wine at 14.5%, but it holds it together very nicely. Quite modern in style, with a bold, rich and forward expression, this wine had spice, intense black cherry flavours, firm tannins and superb acidity. Ultimately, this was a beautifully balanced and utterly beguiling example of Brunello di Montalcino.I have to confess that I did struggle slightly with the tannic structure of the next wine, Soldera’s 1999 Case Basse. This was also a Brunello di Montalcino, but it is produced in the southwest of the region. Michael has visited this estate many times and regaled us with stories about the beauty of the gardens and vineyards. The property owner, Gianfranco Soldera, is something of a legend in Tuscany. His interests are not geared towards chasing ratings or critical acclaim. “He just makes wines that he personally likes to drink,” Michael told us. Though this wasn’t my personal favourite of the night, many, including Michael, absolutely raved about it, describing it as, “one of the greatest Brunellos ever made.”
Fortunately, nearly everyone in attendance agreed on the next wine, Piero Antinori’s 2004 Tignanello. This is, of course, the original Super Tuscan and the wine which caused all the fuss and brouhaha back in the 1970s. It was the first Sangiovese to be aged in small oak barrels and also the first wine in modern times to use Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Today, the blend is roughly 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet.This was a huge pleasure to drink. It is wonderfully lush, plump, and fleshy and it is absolutely brimming with creamy, plum fruit flavours and baking spices. As Michael noted, “it is a very generous, ‘come hither’ sort of wine, largely because it gets a complete, new oak treatment. Significantly, Antinori only utilizes 50% new oak with [neighbouring property] Solaia, but Tignanello gets a full 100%.”Following the Tignanello, we tasted the current latest release of Ornellaia, another Super Tuscan legend, which was founded by Piero Antinori’s brother, Lodovico. Michael explained that this estate was really born out of an internal family feud between Piero and Lodovico. However, this initial conflict was only the beginning of the drama that has befallen Ornellaia in recent years.
In 1999, the Mondavis of California became serious shareholders in the estate. When the Mondavi Company was subsequently taken over by Constellation Brands, the corporation felt that Ornellaia did not fit within their portfolio of global properties. In a subsequent, bizarre twist, Constellation then sold Ornellaia to the Antinori’s arch-enemies, the Frescobaldi family. It all sounds a bit like something out of an Italian opera performance. In spite of all the management changes though, the estate and the quality of its wines have remained very much intact.This particular Tignanello was the 2008, which is admittedly a bit too young to drink still, yet was fascinating to taste due to its ripe, modernist style. The mix is a classic Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest comprised of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a bit of Petit Verdot.
As is our tradition here at AWC Wine Academy, we always like to liven up our tastings at the finish to make them as interesting as possible. Therefore, the last three wines were all tasted blind. The first was definitely my wine of the night – an absolutely fabulous 1997 Solaia which was a complete tour de force. The wine showed extraordinary class, elegance, complexity and length. Michael agreed, pointing out that you could put this alongside a really good First Growth Bordeaux and it would not look out of place.
Just to prove the point, that is exactly what we did! The next wine was an equally superb 1996 Château Mouton Rothschild. Last, but by no means least, the third wine in the trio was Nicolo Incisa della Rochetta’s 1997 Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri.
Personally, I felt that the Château Mouton Rothschild and the Solaia just edged the Sassicaia. Ultimately though, the line between these three extraordinary, Cabernet-based wines was incredibly thin. Interestingly, when Michael asked for a show of hands, almost everyone picked the Mouton as the mystery First Growth – an impressive feat. Yet, for the evening’s preferred wine, it was much more evenly spread out. Although the greatest number of people (11) voted for the Mouton Rothschild, both the Solaia and the Sassicaia were just behind it in the popularity poll. Indeed, talking to people after the event, it was clear that the Mouton Rothschild did stand out. This was not because it was necessarily better than the two Tuscans. Simply that it was noticeably different. In other words, the concept of terroir is alive and well, as is the future of great Tuscan wine. Below is the complete list of wines tasted on the evening. All wines are currently available on request from The Antique Wine Company and prices quoted are in bond.
To join us for a tasting or to reserve AWC Wine Academy for yourself, please visit - http://www.awcwineacademy.com - or contact Deborah Ives via email or on +44 (0) 20 3219 5560.
Tags: Mouton Rothschild, Wine Tasting, wine academy, wine education, wine school, poggio valente reserva, fattoria le pupille, vigna del sorbo, chianti classico, chianti classico riserva, michael palij, master of wine, vigneta bellavista, castello de ama, brunello di montalcino, la fiorita, case basse, soldera, tignanello, antinori, ornellaia, tenuta dell'ornellaia, solaia, sassicaia, tenuta san guido, tuscany, tuscan wine, italian wine
Education | Wine tasting
Last Thursday I was privileged to have been invited to attend the Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion vertical tasting hosted by HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg and Jean-Philippe Delmas at The Institute of Masters of Wine in London. On the docket were 7 vintages of La Mission, along with additional vintages of La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion and Laville Haut-Brion (aka La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc) thrown in for good measure.
Moderated by Richard Bampfield, MW and with an enlightening introduction by John Salvi, MW (who has served as The Antique Wine Company’s consultant in Bordeaux for the past 20 years), the tasting offered some superb insight into the history, viticulture and winemaking practices of the La Mission estate. Among Bordeaux enthusiasts and experts La Mission is often regarded as the, ‘6th Great Growth’. On this occasion the wines continued to live up to their reputation, providing nearly 3 hours of pure tasting pleasure!
[Photo: (L-R) Richard Bampfield, MW, HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg and Jean-Philippe Delmas]
A few salient points from the discussion and introduction:
- 2010 marked the 75th Anniversary of Clarence Dillon acquiring neighbouring property Chateau Haut-Brion in 1935. At the time of the purchase, Georges Delmas had already been director of the estate for 14 years and Seymour Weller (the newly appointed president of the company which would later became Domaine Clarence Dillon SA) retained him in that role. Today, along with HRH Prince Robert, the Delmas family is still part of the Haut-Brion legacy as embodied by estate manager Jean-Philippe, who is Georges’ grandson. When Clarence Dillon SA purchased La Mission Haut-Brion in 1983, the Delmas family also became integral to the success of the new estate, where Jean-Philippe additionally serves as manager. It certainly was a privilege to enjoy such wines in the presence of both the owner and winemaker of the chateau. - Production levels are much lower than those of similar top properties. At only 26 ha in size, La Mission’s vineyard area is less than 50% of the size of Haut-Brion’s (which in turn is less than half the size of Lafite’s). La Mission’s vines average 26 years of age, whereas Haut-Brion’s average 36 years old.
- Some discussion took place regarding the micro-climate at the estate. Urban sprawl is taking a toll as spreading development means that new pavement absorbs and radiates heat back into the surrounding environment. Average temperatures in Bordeaux continue to get warmer and warmer each year and the average level of precipitation is also dropping. This is making it more difficult to find balance in the blending process and means that Cabernet Sauvignon is becoming consistently more prevalent than Merlot. Petit Verdot may become a variety which is also used more often because of these climate changes. Temperatures at Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion are routinely 1-2˚C higher than at Lafite. Additionally, until 1990 chapitalization was almost always necessary and now it is hardly ever practiced.
[Photo: The Tasting Panel (L-R) - John Salvi, MW, Jean-Philippe Delmas, HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg, and Richard Bampfield, MW]
- In order to maintain quality and control alcohol, extensive measures are taken in the vineyard including the use of special clones bred for the local ecosystem. The vineyard managers follow the individual progress of as many as 5000 vines at a time. Despite the estate’s best efforts (and to their dismay), alcohol levels continue to creep up each vintage. It was hinted that 2010 may be as high as 15% ABV.- The barrel programme for the Grand Vin is never 100% new oak, but instead hovers around the 75% level in order to improve the fine tannin integration. By owning a cooperage, the estate also ensures that the correct level of barrel toast is properly managed.
Tasting Notes -
2006 La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion (2nd Wine)“Touch of cinnamon on the aroma. Slight clarity at the rim. Great fruit. Mineral characteristics persist on the palate.”
John Salvi, MW - “Brilliant colour, but not deep. Clean, fresh gentle fruit on nose. Bright acidity. Very ripe. Long and mouth-filling. Rich finish. Growing and expanding. Lingering. Long, ripe aftertaste. Rich and delicious.”
2005 La Mission Haut-Brion“Nose a bit closed but completely clean. Solid acid on the palate with liquorice, coffee and excellent texture. Long finish. How is this freshness attained despite the high (but still balanced) alcohol levels? Amazing.” Note: Prince Robert commented here, “We have never sought wines with over-extraction at the expense of sacrificing acidity.”
John Salvi, MW - “Deep vivid colour. Powerful nose, still integrating steadily and smoothly. Bright, crisp, slightly lemony acidity. Lovely balance. Nowhere near ready but will last a long time. A very dry year giving a very concentrated taste.”
2003 La Mission Haut-Brion“Colour a bit more faded than the 2005 but with more red fruit present. Fairly ripe tannins and a slightly fading finish. More Cabernet in the blend at approx. 52%.”
John Salvi, MW - “Powerful wine. Deep concentration. Excessively hot year but brilliant winemaking has preserved freshness and crisp acidities. Rich, deep fruit. Totally Cabernet Sauvignon dominated. Solid structure, long finish. Wonderful huge wine. May not last as long as originally expected.”
2001 La Mission Haut-Brion“Quite good colour and no faults. Much lighter weight and thinning a touch on the finish. Unusually high percentage of Merlot (62%).”
John Salvi, MW - “Above all, has charm. This is a gracious, elegant, pure wine of great finesse. Drink now with pleasure or keep for many more years. Silky, integrated tannins. A joy to taste.”
2000 La Mission Haut-Brion“Huge difference from the 2001. Deep colour, solid to the rim. Sweet and dense. Chewy tannins which dominate but are fully integrated. A big wine with a long finish and an extended life ahead of it. Bravo!”
John Salvi, MW - “Deep fine colour. Gorgeous, deep focused nose. A very big, deep wine still relatively closed today on nose. Acids however are fresh and bright. Powerful flavours. Long in mouth and lingering on the aftertaste. Wait patiently and this will be a stunning wine. Flavours are intense but will smooth out to show great beauty.”
1998 La Mission Haut-Brion“Another Merlot dominated blend. Very elegant and expressive aroma. Nose is complex rather than powerful. Raisins and dried fruits on the palate, lovely sweet taste. Typically elegant Bordeaux. Classical. Perfect maturity to drink today.”
John Salvi, MW - “The first wine beginning to show maturity. Deep rich colour. Lovely pure fruit nose of Cabernet Sauvignon. Great finesse and purity. Smooth yet powerful. Gracious, long, balanced and elegant. Perfect example of an iron fist in a velvet glove. Will last for many more years.”
1990 La Mission Haut-Brion“Mushrooms and forest floor on the nose. A pleasing gamey note adds complexity. Lovely nutty oloroso colour. Low alcohol. Leather, sweet raisins, pencil lead and cedar. Brilliant wine!”
John Salvi, MW - “Possibly my favourite wine today. Combines ripeness and richness with delicacy, freshness, purity and elegance. A rare work of art. Strong flavours with voluminous tannins perfectly integrated. Total individuality. It is coming out now from the shadow of the ultra-concentrated 1989. Will last many years.”
1985 La Mission Haut-Brion“Nose not so expressive, but has a clean aroma with a touch of thyme and wild herbs. Orange tinged colour. Delightful texture on the palate with mineral notes. Medium weight, not jammy. Very elegant with a long finish.”
John Salvi, MW - “Wonderful youthful colour and freshness. This is a great wine and today many preferred it to the 1990 (but not me!). Smooth, gentle, mature yet vigorous and vital with bright, clean, young-tasting acids. Silky soft yet with the intense energy of a younger wine. A great lesson on how to mature gracefully. Wine will be good for another 30 years.”
2006 Laville Haut-Brion (aka La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc)
“Lime and lemongrass on the nose. Bright straw gold colour. Sauvignon gooseberry fruit comes to the fore and is more present than the Semillon. High acidity, delightfully youthful.”
John Salvi, MW - “Cask fermented. Matured on lees with stirring for 10 months. No malolactic. Sauvignon fresh with lemon/lime crisp acids. Mineral and fresh energy. Drinks as of now and is hugely satisfying.”
Note: This wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lie in 55% new oak. It did not undergo malolactic fermentation during the 10 months it spent in barrel but was subjected to regular battonage. Between 200 and 800 cases of this wine are produced each year from a 3.5 ha parcel which is 85% Semillon (although the blend varies from year to year).
During the post-tasting discussion, many questions were asked regarding the status of the 2010 vintage. All of the tasters wanted to know what to expect during our forthcoming annual pilgrimage to taste the wines in April. It was revealed that at both Haut Brion and La Mission, the final Grand Vin blends are assembled before the wines go into to cask, not afterwards. This is unusual and is not the practice at most chateaux. Consequentially, the wines we taste at Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion during en primeur week are not special ‘one off’ samples but are instead tastes of the actual wine that will be bottled. For the 2010 Grand Vin, the estate conducted between 20 and 30 different blending trials in order to pinpoint exactly what they wanted the final blend to be.
Of course the 2010 vintage is yet to be tasted, but the talk is that the vintage has proven to be another great year, and La Mission and has the potential to be even better than 2009.
Chateau La Mission Haut Brion remains one of my favourite estates. The wines are comparable to those of any other top chateau in Bordeaux and they continue to show an exceptional capacity for ageing.
Contact us to enquire about our current availability of La Mission Haut Brion.
Tags: La Mission Haut Brion, Institute of Masters of Wine, Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion Blanc, Laville Haut Brion, John Salvi, Master of Wine, Richard Bampfield
En primeur | Wine tasting
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
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