After two days of fine wine and brilliant cuisine, there were understandably a few groggy faces as we entered into our final day in Bordeaux.
Enthusiasm returned as we made the short journey to Chateau Haut Brion which sits directly opposite La Mission, also owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon. Both properties are surrounded by vines of youth and age, each with a liberal sprinkling of pebbles from which the commune’s original name, Graves, is derived.
There are few hangover cures that really work, but one that comes close is a First Growth. We were incredibly fortunate to be treated to not only a glass of both 2007 Haut Brion and La Mission, but also the two white wines of the estates: 2008 Haut Brion Blanc and Laville Haut Brion. These two whites have attained mythical status – regularly lauded by the critics, there is seldom enough made to go around and back vintages are notoriously hard to find. Whilst recent vintages have not been kind to the reds of Bordeaux, the whites have flourished which will likely heighten the demand for these wonderful wines.
The two we tried were flat-out incredible – the Laville was perhaps closer to a fine Riesling than theHaut Brion Blanc, which was a touch more honeyed. Both have time on their side, and those lucky enough to own, and patient enough to cellar, will be rewarded with time.
Not to be outdone, both the La Mission and Haut Brion Rouge also stood out. Perhaps it was the challenge of their vintage that has made them a little more forward at this stage, but I felt that they were both still young – an encouraging sign considering they already had the capacity to touch every nuance of the mouth. There’s an old saying cooked up by a smart marketer no doubt, which goes that ‘God created two hands – one for La Mission and one for Haut Brion.’ From our visit I’d say he should have created another pair to hold the whites as well…
Our trip ended just down the road at Smith Haut Lafitte – a chateau on the up following its first 100 point score from Robert Parker in 2009. The physical chateau itself is somewhat idiosyncratic: lots of wooden beams all covered in vines, it’s certainly a striking structure after all of the grand palaces we were used to by now. After a tour of the grounds, designed for visitors with a spa and a secret hidden crypt containing a bottle of every vintage of Smith Haut Lafitte ever made, we kicked off an extensive tasting. Firstly the 2011 Les Hauts Lafitte Blanc which was drinking very cleanly. Similar to Haut Brion and La Mission, Smith Haut Lafitte is famous for making the most of the gravelly grounds of Pessac for which Sauvignon and Semillon are so well suited. The 2011 vintage is a superior year for whites and it will be interesting to try this in the future to see if the precision now present, has given way to more developed flavours. Slightly more ahead of its curve was the 2007 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge, a lovely wine with a touch of malt on the nose and a quilted texture.
The wines served at lunch were a step up – starting with the 2010 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, there’s a great deal more concentration here than on its little brother, it was thicker but without being heavy nor overbearing. It is hard to resist now. The nose was screaming 2009 on the Petit Haut Lafitte which was served next – the opulence of the vintage is abundantly clear. We sold a huge number of cases of this last year and we’re pleased to report that it still looks like an absolute must buy.
Two vintages of Smith Haut Lafitte followed: a 1998 magnum and a 2001. The 1998 vintage predates the take over by the Cathiards, the couple who turned the estate into one of the great names of the region. It was pure pleasure and any remaining scratchy tannin actually offered to give it more character, reminding us of a time when claret really was claret. Despite only a couple of years older, the 2001 was hugely enjoyable with juicy, fleshy blueberries sliding across the palette. This was another effort that seemed to be showing incredibly well now.
Thoughts and conversation turned to the future as we pondered where this Chateau could go following its dramatic rise in the past decade. As a generous treat one of our guests purchased a bottle of the perfect 100 point scoring 2009 Smith Haut Lafitte from the on-site shop for us all to sample. One of the running themes of the trip was the aromatic recognition of the 2009 vintage and this was immediately evident again. Everything on this was totally ramped up without being obtrusive. There were a lot of characteristics in this wine, including the usual hallmarks of Pessac and Smith Haut Lafitte – mint and eucalyptus. This was a staggering wine and a fitting conclusion to an epic trip.
Our thanks go out to the Chateaux owners and their hosts, as well as the tour organisers, Arblaster and Clarke, for their attentiveness and hard work behind the scenes in making this once-in-a-lifetime trip happen. Of course, the trip could not have happened without our guests, each of whom was reverent and engaged throughout – highlighting that Bordeaux really does remain at the centre of the fine wine world.
2007 La Mission Haut Brion 95pts
2007 Haut Brion 95-96pts
2008 Laville Haut Brion 95pts
2008 Haut Brion Blanc 97pts
2011 Les Hauts Blanc 91-92pts
2007 Smith Haut Lafitte 93-94pts
2010 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 95-97pts
2009 Petit Haut Lafitte 94-95pts
1998 Smith Haut Lafitte 92pts
2001 Smith Haut Lafitte 93pts
2009 Smith Haut Lafitte 96-98pts
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