Polished Pauillac

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bages Libéral

Château Haut-Bages Libéral is a winery in the Pauillac AOC of Bordeaux, and one of eighteen wineries classified as a fifth-growth in 1855 (5ème Grand Cru Classé en 1855). The classification came about when Napoleon III, the emperor of France, organized a Universal Exposition in Paris and wanted French wines in an exhibit. The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce enlisted wine merchants to develop a list of 1er through 5ème wines only, to not overrun the exhibit with wines, and the designations are present on bottles to this day. Some of you may be familiar with the Premier Grand Crus of Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton Rothschild (this was 2nd-growth until 1973), however these wines start at the $100s of dollars and move upward of $1,000 per bottle.

Anyway, Château Haut-Bages Libéral operated under the Libéral family beginning in the early 18th Century and their wine was shared throughout various social and political circles. For the classification of 1855, half of the winery’s vines are next to Château Latour, with the other half being behind Château Pichon Baron. Running forward to 1960, the family behind Château Pontet-Canet, another 5th-growth in Pauillac, purchased Château Haut-Bages Libéral and replanted much of the vines. Ownership changed again, however, in 1982 when the Villars-Merlaut family stepped in and they have been running the winery since then.

Today’s Wine: 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot; 13% ABV

2005 was an outstanding vintage for Bordeaux, with the growing season hot and dry as a whole. Though vines struggled at times, rain came at opportune moments, particularly in August and September, to help sustain the vines. Today’s wine shows this vintage in stride and the notes demonstrate classic Pauillac. In the glass, we have deep ruby with not much color variation toward the rim. I let this open up in the glass and decanter for about 30 minutes, which it needed, and drank over the following couple hours. The nose showcases notes of blackberry, cigar box, spice, dried soil, green herbs, and pencil shavings. Moving to the palate, our wine displays blackberry, blueberry, charred earth, ground pepper, and a touch of coffee. Overall not entirely complex and easy-drinking, this Bordeaux is medium-bodied and shows medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $75. I think this is great value for Pauillac, an AOC where wines can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per bottle. Pair this with filet mignon, potatoes, and veggies and you can’t go wrong.

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