Sleeper Vintage From a Storied Bordeaux Estate

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bailly

Château Haut-Bailly is a historic Bordeaux wine estate, established during the 1530s by the Goyanèche and Daitze families in the Left Bank appellation of Pessac-Léognan. Haut-Bailly remained in the Daitze family until 1630, when it was purchased by Firmin Le Bailly and Nicolas de Leuvarde who were two wealthy Parisian bankers. It was Firmin Le Bailly who provided the estate with its name, still in use to this day. The Le Bailly family invested significantly in the improvement of the estate and its wines, passing it from generation to generation until 1736 when Thomas Barton came along. Barton, who was an Irishman, used his business savvy and connections to trumpet the quality of Haut-Bailly wines and helped spread them to England and Ireland where they became highly regarded. In 1872, Alcide Bellot des Minières purchased the Haut-Bailly estate and constructed the château which remains to this day. des Minières was also a gifted winemaker, adhering to precise and science-backed philosophies that further improved the wines and, in pricing terms, put them up with Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux, and Château Haut-Brion. Unfortunately, phylloxera took its toll on the estate during the very late 1800s and Haut-Bailly entered the 20th century under a sense of turmoil.

During the first half of the 20th century, Haut-Bailly changed hands multiple times, new and questionable winemaking practices occurred, and the reputation faltered. In 1955, however, Belgian négociant Daniel Sanders purchased the estate and commenced a renaissance for both quality and reputation. Daniel and his son Jean renovated the vineyards and the winery, while also increasing the rigorous quality standards set in place to select fruit for the Grand Vin. By this point Haut-Bailly was a classified Cru Classé in the Classification of Graves in 1953 and 1959, and the wines certainly lived up to it. During the 1970s, however, the wines did take a slight dip once again as Daniel remained reluctant in his old age to give up control to his son Jean. With Daniel’s death in 1980, however, Jean fully took the helm and resumed the rise in quality. Haut-Bailly shifted into the hands of its current owners in 1988, when American banker Robert G. Wilmers purchased the estate. Jean Sanders remained on the team which later included fourth generation Véronique Sanders in a general manager capacity. Though Robert unfortunately passed away in 2017, Haut-Bailly remains in his family’s care with the same dedication and passion to this great and historic estate.

Château Haut-Bailly today consists of 30 hectares of vineyards situated in prime sandy and gravelly soils in the heart of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. The vineyards are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc, with the plots undulating and at times reaching 20 meters higher than other plots around them. Haut-Bailly also maintains 4 hectares of century-old vines planted by Alcide Bellot des Minières, and while largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon these special vineyards have plots of Carmenère, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot as well.

Harvest and winemaking at Haut-Bailly follow the philosophy of gentleness and minimal intervention. All plots are harvested individually by hand so fruit is picked at optimal ripeness for each variety. After initial sorting in the vineyards, the fruit is destemmed and sorted by hand again before transferring directly into vats for fermentation. Each plot is vinified separately as well, allowing the winemaking team a plethora of blending options to showcase the varieties and terroir in the best sense possible vintage to vintage. Following time in concrete vats, the wines age in French oak barrels for 16-18 months before they are bottled.

To view the source of the information above, please check out the Château Haut-Bailly website here. You can also view pictures of the estate and peruse their portfolio which interestingly includes a Rosé.

Today’s Wine: 2001 Château Haut-Bailly

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2001 Château Haut-Bailly is opaque deep ruby in color with deep garnet variation at the rim. This required a good 1.5 to 2 hours to decant, but it blossomed beautifully. The nose is of pronounced intensity, showcasing classic aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, violet, cigar box, black truffle, scorched earth, graphite, pencil shavings, black pepper, gravel, and a touch of vanilla. Meanwhile on the palate I get flavors of pronounced intensity including blackberry, black plum, cassis, licorice, violet, dried tobacco, mushroom, a hint of green bell pepper, dried green herbs, clove, and charred cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high but very fine-grained and luxurious tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Gorgeous right now but certainly has the stuffing to develop further for at least another decade.

Price: $120. 2001 is a sleeper vintage in Bordeaux, and selection can sometimes be difficult. However, this 2001 Haut-Bailly is firing on all cylinders and offers very solid value in my opinion given its complexity, performance, age, and promise for the future. Well done.

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