A Very Solid Value Play for Pauillac

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Bages Libéral

Château Haut-Bages Libéral is a Fifth Growth (Cinquième Cru) Bordeaux wine estate located in the Left Bank appellation of Pauillac. Established by the Libéral family who were négociants and vineyard owners in the early 1700s, Haut-Bages Libéral is named for its position on the Bages plateau and in homage to its founding family. The Libéral family created a solid reputation for their wines, ultimately earning classification as a Fifth Growth in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Though the estate fell to a lower quality and state of somewhat disrepair during the wars and financial crises of the early 1900s, the Cruse family (owners of Château Pontet-Canet at the time) purchased Haut-Bages Libéral in 1960. The Cruse family engaged in widespread replanting of the vineyards and started to improve quality once again, though they sold the estate to the Villars-Merlaut family in 1982. Haut-Bages Libéral reached new heights under the Villars-Merlaut family, and Claire Villars-Lurton continues to run the estate today.

Today, Château Haut-Bages Libéral consists of about 30 hectares of vineyards planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The holdings are in great company within Pauillac, with the larger vineyard area neighboring Château Latour and a smaller vineyard area neighboring Château Pichon Baron. There is a third holding situated more inland as well. Haut-Bages Libéral practices organic viticulture as they work toward certification, though they include many biodynamic practices with an eventual goal of achieving biodynamic certification as well. Château Haut-Bages Libéral produces roughly 10,000 cases of wine per vintage, including the Grand Vin and their second wine (labeled as either Le Pauillac de Haut-Bages Libéral, La Chapelle de Bages, or La Fleur de Haut-Bages Libéral).

Today’s Wine: 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral

70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot; 13% ABV

The 2005 Château Haut-Bages Libéral is translucent deep ruby in color, which is still rather youthful and showing absolutely no bricking at this point. After about an hour decanting, this blossomed to showcase classic Pauillac aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, redcurrant, pencil shavings, cigar box, tilled earth, mushroom, gravel, green herbs, and cedar spill. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of blackberry, crème de cassis, black cherry, tobacco, graphite, eucalyptus, black truffle, cracked pepper, and iron. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. Drinks beautifully right now, but has the ability to go for at least another 5 years.

Price: $80 (paid $60 a few years ago). This was a very nice value surprise, especially having paid $60 for it a few years ago. It doesn’t have the power or depth like some of the higher-end 2005 Pauillac I’ve enjoyed, but it’s a very solid wine.

Outstanding Bordeaux Blanc From a Sauternes Legend

Today’s Story: Château d’Yquem

Château d’Yquem is a very special estate, one whose Sauternes are coveted the world over and whose wines are some of my favorites to have tasted. I previously wrote about the 2001 Château d’Yquem, and am excited to return with their Y (Ygrec) bottling today.

Château d’Yquem has a very long, mysterious history that traces its roots back to the 15th Century. One of the most interesting snippets of this history, for instance, is that the estate belonged to the King of England during the Middle Ages! In 1593, however, southwest France again came under control of the French crown by Charles VII and has remained as such since. It was also this year that the d’Yquem estate came under control of Jacques de Sauvage, a descendant of a local noble family. Though some winegrowing practices and late harvesting existed at this time, the Sauvage family did not start building the château for several more years and then began the long process of assembling land for the current estate plot by plot.

Jumping forward in time, it wasn’t until 1711 that the Sauvage family fully owned the estate under Léon de Sauvage d’Yquem. Furthermore, under the rule of Louis XIV, Château d’Yquem received noble status. The magnificent estate switched hands yet again, however, in 1785 when Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem married Count Louis Amédée de Lur-Saluces, a godson of Louis XV. Sadly, three years later in 1788, the Count died in a riding accident but his widow took over management of the estate and quickly displayed her acumen by sustaining and improving d’Yquem. One of the most notable practices at d’Yquem was established under Françoise Joséphine de Sauvage d’Yquem, for instance, which is picking over several passes (sometimes picking one grape at a time). Another notable feat under this young widow is the admiration noble figures around the globe felt toward d’Yquem, including Thomas Jefferson who reportedly purchased 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage for himself and additional bottles for George Washington.

Romain-Bertrand de Lur-Saluces, a grandson of Françoise Joséphine, took over the estate and helped guide it through seemingly endless successes in the second half of the 19th Century. For example, d’Yquem’s wines became a necessity for the rich and powerful throughout Europe, Russia, and Asia. In 1855, Château d’Yquem was awarded Premier Cru Supérieur in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, the only Sauternes awarded this level. Times changed, however, as they always do with estates of this age when World War I came and the château transitioned into a military hospital under Eugène de Lur-Saluces (a son of Romain-Bertrand). Eugène’s son Marquis Bertrand de Lur-Saluces took over the estate following the war (he had served in the trenches) and he is responsible for much of d’Yquem’s strength to this day. For instance, Marquis Bertrand fought relentlessly to save the estate during the Great Depression, helped determine many legal aspects of the Sauternes appellation as President of the Union des Crus Classés de la Gironde for forty years, and was a leading proponent of château bottling to guarantee authenticity. His death in 1968 changed the tides once again.

Though Bertrand was childless at the time of his death, he took precautions and named his nephew Alexandre de Lur-Saluces manager of Château d’Yquem. Alexandre struggled at first through difficult vintages, a crisis in the Bordeaux wine trade, and an inheritance tax that almost forced the estate to fail, though his efforts were saved with the exceptional 1975 vintage followed by several more during the 1980s. Alexandre managed the estate exceptionally well until 1996 when a family feud exploded over his brother’s decision to sell part of his 47% ownership stake, thus in turn requiring LVMH Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton to step in and purchase 55% of the estate. Though under new ownership, Alexandre remained manager of the estate until his retirement in 2004.

Though I could go on and on about d’Yquem’s terroir, vineyards, and winemaking practices I will leave it here with the history of Château d’Yquem. I encourage you to take a deeper dive on their website here to truly appreciate what goes into a bottle of this sacred juice.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Y (Ygrec) d’Yquem

75% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Sémillon; 14% ABV

The 2014 Y d’Yquem is transparent pale yellow in color with hues of straw and water white. This absolutely sings out of the bottle, dominated by a nose of white peach, tangerine, apricot, gooseberry, tropical citrus, honeysuckle, freshly cut grass, and beeswax. Meanwhile, on the palate, I get notes of pineapple, grapefruit, peach, lime, cantaloupe, white pepper, white florals, and wet stone. This is medium-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity and a velvety smooth mouthfeel into a long, seductive finish capped off with a touch of caramel (perhaps from the used d’Yquem barrels). Very hard to not gulp this down.

Price: $145. Though very expensive for a white wine, this is a great value in my eyes compared to the top-tier Bordeaux Blancs and other Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tried. This offers incredible depth, opulence, lip-smacking drinkability, and age-ability that is tough to beat.

The King’s Wine

Today’s Story: Château Lafite Rothschild

Château Lafite Rothschild is a world-renowned First Growth Bordeaux wine estate located in the left bank appellation of Pauillac. Though the winemaking prowess of Lafite came centuries later, the estate traces its roots to the year 1234 under ownership of Gombaud de Lafite and is labeled as a medieval fief during the 14th century. Though vines certainly existed on the property by the 17th century, it was Jacques de Ségur who is credited with planting the vineyards in the 1670s and 1680s and setting Lafite on its way to producing highly regarded wines. By the early 18th century, Lafite’s wines found a loyal following in the London market and, during the 1730s, became a darling of Prime Minister Robert Walpole. During that time, Jacques’ son Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur improved the winemaking process and enhanced the quality and prestige of Lafite as he marketed it in France to the court of Versailles. By the mid-1700s, Lafite became known as “the King’s Wine” and found its place among the royal and aristocratic families of France.

Though Lafite was arguably the pinnacle of Bordeaux winemaking at the time, even becoming a darling of Thomas Jefferson following a later visit in 1787, the estate experienced some difficulties with changing ownership for a number of reasons. First, Alexandre de Ségur did not have any sons so he divided his estate (which included Château Latour) amongst four daughters. His grandson, Count Nicolas Marie Alexandre de Ségur, inherited Lafite but he was forced to sell to relative Nicolas Pierre de Pichard in 1784 due to financial difficulties. This ownership, however, was also short-lived because Nicolas Pierre was executed as part of the Reign of Terror in 1794 during the French Revolution. Lafite fell into public ownership for a few years, until Dutchman Jean de Witt purchased it in 1797 and set off a string of changing ownerships until Baron James de Rothschild purchased Lafite in 1868.

Though the end of the 1800s and first half of the 1900s were quite turbulent for Lafite, the Rothschild family maintained ownership of the estate and brought it back to prominence after World War II. This period included the phylloxera and mildew crises, WWI, the Great Depression, and occupation by German forces during WWII which saw ransacking of the cellars and theft of historical bottles of Lafite. When Baron Elie de Rothschild regained control at the end of 1945, Lafite was once again on the path to greatness with fantastic vintages in 1945, 1947, and 1949. As Baron Elie restored the vineyards and buildings, improved farming methods, and opened the winery to new markets including the United States, Lafite prospered and continues to do so to this day.

The vineyards of Château Lafite Rothschild today consist of 112 hectares planted in the classic, well-draining, deep gravel soils of Pauillac (though this includes 4.5 hectares in Saint Estèphe). They are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%), and Petit Verdot (2%) with an average vine age of 39 years. For the Grand Vin, however, they do not use fruit from vines younger than 10 years old so the average vine age for the Grand Vin is closer to 45 years. Lafite practices traditional viticulture based on strict yield control and manual harvests, and they use little to no chemical fertilizers and are transitioning to organic viticulture. Vines are typically re-planted when they reach an age of about 80 years.

In the cellar, Lafite practices traditional vinification methods and ferments their wines separately plot by plot. Some of the fermentation occurs in traditional large oak vats, while some occurs in stainless steel vats before the wines are tasted and drawn off into wine vats. Malolactic fermentation then occurs before the wine is transferred into barrels by batch. Blending occurs after the first racking of these barrels, and then the wines age for 18-20 months. The wines are fined with egg whites and then bottled.

Today’s 1st Wine: 1981 Château Lafite Rothschild

Bordeaux Blend (no details on Lafite’s website); 12% ABV

The 1981 Lafite is translucent medium to deep garnet in color. Keeping with the cellar master’s practices at Lafite, I double decanted this and served it 3 hours later. The nose is rather feminine and took some time to open up, showcasing aromas of redcurrant, licorice, cigar box, pencil shavings, tilled earth, earthy mushroom, graphite, gravel, and cedar. Meanwhile the palate is certainly still kicking, offering notes of blackcurrant, redcurrant, violets, tobacco, forest floor, black truffle, cracked black pepper, graphite, and cedar. This is very well-balanced and medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, well-integrated medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. I don’t see this improving, so drink up if you have any.

Price: $750 (though we acquired it years ago for much less). It is always a special occasion to drink a bottle of Lafite, and the pricing is certainly justifiable based on how perfectly balanced and complex these wines can be. This bottling, however, seems to be past its prime and I wouldn’t suggest spending the money on it at this point.

Today’s 2nd Wine: 1985 Château Lafite Rothschild

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc; 12% ABV

The 1985 Lafite is translucent deep garnet in color, definitely a shade deeper than the 1981. I also double decanted this 3 hours before serving and it really came alive in the glass. The nose showcases classic aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, black raspberry, lavender, cigar box, forest floor, black truffle, graphite, wet gravel, and grilled herbs. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of cassis, redcurrant, dried plum, violets, tobacco, pencil shavings, scorched earth, black truffle, graphite, underbrush, and crushed rock minerality. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Impeccably balanced with much more power than the 1981 vintage (no shock) tasted side-by-side.

Price: $985 (though we acquired it years ago for much less). This is perhaps the best vintage of Lafite I’ve tasted to date, and while the near four-digit price tag is seemingly outrageous I think it’s worth it for a special occasion.

The Winner Is…

This should come as no shock, but the 1985 absolutely steals the show here. The 1981 vintage is certainly alive and kicking, but is very feminine and I think past its peak in the plateau phase or start of the declining phase. The 1985 is showing its Comet Vintage pedigree, still offering incredible power and a structure that suggests there is still plenty of time to enjoy this bottling. Both wines are incredibly well-balanced and an absolute pleasure to drink, but the 1985 is simply the more perfectly wrapped package.

Aged Pauillac Striking up With the First Growths

Today’s Story: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

I previously (and somewhat recently) wrote about Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and have reviewed the 1966, 1986, 2003, and 2008 vintages on this blog. Though I’ve tasted a number of other vintages including 1979, 1996, 2005, and 2014, the 1989 vintage remained elusive…until today.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) estate based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth.

With nothing short of a somewhat tumultuous history, Pichon Lalande’s ownership changed hands over the years and earned its name when the founder’s daughter Therese received it as a dowry for her marriage to Jacques de Pichon Longueville. During the 18th century, the estate was dominated by women (Therese de Rauzan, Germaine de Lajus, and Marie Branda de Terrefort) throughout the winemaking process until Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville took over for his mother. In 1850, with his death, the estate split between his two sons and three daughters and ultimately resulted in the division of Comtesse de Lalande and Pichon Baron.

With no familial heirs, Edouard Miailhe and Louis Miailhe purchased Pichon Lalande following WWI. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, took over management in 1978 and became a prominent ambassador for Bordeaux wines while dramatically increasing quality of her estate. One of her major endeavors, and possibly most famous, was growing the size of Pichon Lalande from 40 hectares of vines to 89. In 2007, however, May-Eliane sold a majority stake of the estate to the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Champagne, and management changes as well as renovations took place.

Today’s Wine: 1989 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot; 12.5% ABV

The 1989 Pichon Lalande is translucent deep ruby in color with deep garnet hues. There’s absolutely no bricking either, which is fantastic. We served this as a pop and pour and let it develop in the glass, with the nose showcasing aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry, pencil shavings, tobacco, forest floor, cedar, graphite, green pepper, and eucalyptus. Meanwhile on the palate, I get notes of redcurrant, cassis, blackberry, black cherry, cigar box, scorched earth, green underbrush, bell pepper, gravel, and clove. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. Beautifully balanced and not showing any signs of its age yet.

Price: $300 (but this was shared by a good friend). Though not nearly an inexpensive bottle of wine, if you can verify provenance and find a bottle with a great fill level, I would give this a shot. Pichon Lalande has outperformed with each of the 9 vintages I’ve tried and oftentimes these drink like the First Growths. Great value.

Another Stunning 2014 Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château Pontet-Canet

Château Pontet-Canet is a historic Bordeaux wine estate located in the Left Bank appellation of Pauillac. In 1705, Jean-François de Pontet (who was Governor of the Médoc) acquired a few acres and planted them to vine. By the 1720s, Jean-François and his descendants had expanded the estate by purchasing parcels in a place known as Canet and Château Pontet-Canet was born. For over a century, Château Pontet-Canet remained in the Pontet family hands and ultimately received classification as a Fifth Growth (Cinquième Cru) in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. A decade later, in 1865, wine merchant Herman Cruse purchased Pontet-Canet and marked the first change in ownership since its establishment.

Though the Cruse family maintained ownership of Pontet-Canet for 110 years, the estate never seemed to live up to its quality potential. This began to change, however, when Cognac merchant Guy Tesseron purchased the estate in 1975 and set about replanting the vines in desperate need of repair. The family then worked on transitioning the vineyards to sustainable farming and a more “minimally invasive” philosophy of viticulture. When Alfred Tesseron took over in 1994, this ultimately spawned into a transition to organic and then biodynamic viticulture, which Pontet-Canet moved to fully by 2005 (they were certified organic and biodynamic several years later in 2010).

This minimally invasive philosophy for the vineyards transfers into the actual winemaking process as well. Beginning with harvest, all fruit is hand-sorted before being destemmed and hand-sorted again. The wine ferments with natural yeasts and minimal intervention, with maceration lasting an average of four weeks before the wine is run off with gravity. Over time, Pontet-Canet has reduced the amount of new oak they use so as to not mask the expression of place in the wine and today the Grand Vin ages in 50% new oak, 35% dolia (concrete amphorae made specifically for Pontet-Canet), and 15% 1-year-old barrels. The 2nd wine (Hauts de Pontet-Canet), meanwhile, ages in 100% 1-year-old oak barrels.

Pontet-Canet is a pretty large estate, today consisting of 120 hectares with 81 hectares planted to vine. The breakdown by variety is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. To learn more about Château Pontet-Canet, I recommend visiting their website here for, at the very least, some great pictures.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château Pontet-Canet

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Pontet-Canet is opaque deep ruby in color. I know this is young, but in an effort to continue my tasting of various 2014 Bordeaux wines I cracked into it early. With that in mind, I decanted this bottle for 6 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. Once this opens up, the nose showcases classic Pauillac aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, plum, redcurrant, lavender, cigar box, pencil shavings, loamy earth, graphite, green herbs, cedar spill, and mild oaky spice. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of crème de cassis, blackberry, plum, black cherry, violet, anise, tobacco, wet earth, dried coffee grounds, chocolate truffle, black pepper, clove, and a hint of oak. This is full-bodied with beautiful high acidity, high grippy tannins, and a long finish of 45+ seconds. This has plenty of elegance right now, though it is still pure power and should surely develop into an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Price: $120. I think this is a very nice value, as I’m finding with a lot of 2014 Left Bank Bordeaux. Particularly when overshadowed by the 2015 and 2016 vintages, wines like this provide great quality for the price and are just starting to come into their own. I highly recommend adding this Pontet-Canet to your 2014 collections.

Very Pleasant Surprise With an Aged Pauillac

Today’s Story: Château Mouton Baronne Philippe (Château d’Armailhac)

Château Mouton Baronne Philippe, or Château d’Armailhac as it is known today, is a historic Fifth Growth Bordeaux estate located in Pauillac. Though the estate traces its roots to at least 1680 and brothers Dominique and Guilhem Armailhacq, the first solid record of vines on the property came later in 1750 and included 15 to 16 hectares of vineyards. By the end of the 1700s, the estate (called Mouton d’Armailhacq) benefited from the rapid growth of vineyards in the Médoc and grew to 52 hectares under vine, though the wines were not very highly regarded. The team spent the next several decades working tirelessly on improving the quality of the wines and were ultimately rewarded with higher prices and classification as a Fifth Growth in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Later, in 1931, Baron Philippe de Rothschild became a minority owner in the estate and took full ownership in 1933. Mouton d’Armailhacq is tightly woven together with Château Mouton Rothschild, with the former holding all technical and agricultural equipment of the latter in their outbuildings. In 1956 the estate was renamed Mouton Baron Philippe, then Mouton Baronne Philippe, and finally Château d’Armailhac in 1989 when Baroness Philippine de Rothschild elected to restore the estate’s original name.

Today, Château d’Armailhac’s vineyards total 70 hectares in northern Pauillac and they are planted to roughly 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The estate’s vineyards are made up of the appellation’s famous deep, gravelly soil which is perfect for producing wines of character and elegance. Come harvest, the process begins when the same team of Château Mouton Rothschild deems the fruit ready and all picking is done completely by hand. Each variety and each parcel moves to the winery separately, the grapes are entirely destemmed, and young vine fruit is vinified separately from old vine fruit. The wines age in 25% new oak barrels, with some coming from the Grand Chai of Château Mouton Rothschild, and they are run off every three months until fining with egg whites. Each vintage is only bottled when the winemakers and cellar master deem the wine is ready, so there is no strict formula or timeline for barrel aging.

Today’s Wine: 1978 Château Mouton Baronne Philippe

Unknown blend; 11.5% ABV

The 1978 Château Mouton Baronne Philippe is translucent medium garnet in color with no significant signs of bricking yet. I drank this as a pop and pour, though the nose did develop in the glass to showcase aromas of worn leather, tobacco, pencil shavings, graphite, bell pepper, eucalyptus, forest floor, truffle, menthol, and cedar with a backdrop of redcurrant and dried cherry clinging on. The palate is about as complex as the nose but not as expressive, with notes of cherry, brambly strawberry, redcurrant, cigar box, sous bois, dried green herbs, dried gravel, cracked pepper, and earthy mushroom. This is holding up well with medium body, medium acidity, fully integrated medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $75. Provenance is absolutely key here, like most older wines, and I was very lucky to get this from a wine store that sourced from the estate itself in OWC. This wine was absolutely singing and the $75 I paid for it is certainly a great value.

The Underrated 2008 Bordeaux Vintage Showing Just Fine at Pichon Lalande

Today’s Story: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

I previously wrote about Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande when I tasted the 1966, 1986, and 2003 vintages. Though I’ve had this wine many times and from vintages not written about (including 2014 which is showing very nicely now), I wanted to revisit them today for the 2008 vintage. Regularly I hear great things about the often “underrated” 2008 vintage for Bordeaux, so I figured it’s time to check for myself.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) estate based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Pichon Lalande is considered by many to be a classic example of Pauillac, known for its deep, concentrated layers of ripe fruit accompanied by notes of cassis, tobacco, and earth.

With nothing short of a somewhat tumultuous history, Pichon Lalande’s ownership changed hands over the years and earned its name when the founder’s daughter Therese received it as a dowry for her marriage to Jacques de Pichon Longueville. During the 18th century, the estate was dominated by women (Therese de Rauzan, Germaine de Lajus, and Marie Branda de Terrefort) throughout the winemaking process until Baron Joseph de Pichon Longueville took over for his mother. In 1850, with his death, the estate split between his two sons and three daughters and ultimately resulted in the division of Comtesse de Lalande and Pichon Baron.

With no familial heirs, Edouard Miailhe and Louis Miailhe purchased Pichon Lalande following WWI. Edouard’s daughter, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, took over management in 1978 and became a prominent ambassador for Bordeaux wines while dramatically increasing quality of her estate. One of her major endeavors, and possibly most famous, was growing the size of Pichon Lalande from 40 hectares of vines to 89. In 2007, however, May-Eliane sold a majority stake of the estate to the Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer Champagne, and management changes as well as renovations took place.

Today’s Wine: 2008 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc; 13% ABV

The 2008 Pichon Lalande is opaque medium to deep ruby in color. After 4 hours or so in the decanter, the wine seems perfectly open and the nose showcases classic aromas of blackcurrant, redcurrant, cassis, pencil shavings, cigar box, scorched earth, gravel, cracked pepper, green herbs, and mild oak. Moving onto the palate, I get more classic notes of cassis, black cherry, plum, licorice, violet, tobacco, graphite, loamy earth, underbrush, and chocolate. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) dusty tannins, and a long finish. Gorgeous wine from an underrated vintage, and I think this has a very long life still ahead of it.

Price: $140 ($180 average online). Relative to vintages around this such as 2005, 2009, or 2010, this is a great value play particularly at the price I found it for. While it doesn’t have the power some of these stronger vintages possess, it is a gorgeous wine nonetheless that is really starting to come into its own.

Breathtaking 2nd Wine From a First Growth Estate

Today’s Story: Château Haut-Brion

Château Haut-Brion is a historic Bordeaux wine estate that traces back to at least 1521, and it was awarded First Growth (Premier Grand Cru) status in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. In 1533, Jean de Pontac acquired the land that would become Château Haut-Brion and he immediately set about renovating the vineyards and expanding the estate. He is also the owner who, in 1549, started building the château. Jean de Pontac was instrumental in each vintage under his ownership until he passed away in 1589 at the age of 101, though the estate remained in the Pontac family by passing to his son Arnaud II and then Arnaud II’s nephew Geoffroy. Geoffroy’s son Arnaud III took over during the early 17th century and expanded the château itself while doubling the size of the vineyards. He also used his political influence to extend the fame and reputation of Haut-Brion, particularly in England.

As the influence of Haut-Brion grew, particularly amongst nobility and the intellects of the time (including John Locke), Joseph de Fumel inherited the estate from his father in 1749. The estate’s influence took another leap when, in 1787, Thomas Jefferson visited the château and wrote with great admiration about the soils and wines of Haut-Brion. The rosiness ended during the French Revolution, however, as Joseph de Fumel was beheaded by guillotine and his holdings were divided. Over the next four decades or so, the estate changed hands several times.

In 1836, Joseph Eugène Larrieu purchased the estate and worked tirelessly to improve on the exceptional wines it was known for. His efforts were rewarded when Haut-Brion was awarded Premier Grand Cru status in 1855, though pain struck again through disease and political upheavals within the region in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1859, Amédée took over upon his father’s death and replanted the vineyards over time to deal with mildew. By 1873 when his son Eugène took over Haut-Brion, there was optimism which unfortunately proved futile when phylloxera struck with a vengeance in 1880. Eugène spearheaded a massive replanting of the vineyards yet again, this time using rootstock from North America that was resistant to the disease.

Jumping forward through multiple new ownerships, the Dillon family came into the picture during the early 1900s. The owner at the time, André Gibert, faced the need to find a proper owner for Haut-Brion with no heirs of his own. Clarence Dillon, a banker from New York, visited in 1934 and received notice on his way back to America he could buy the estate. The purchase was finalized in 1935 and the Dillon family remains the owner of Château Haut Brion to this day. This purchase by the Dillon family helped bring Haut-Brion to the modern age, with them first installing electricity, new plumbing, and renovating the cellars. Over the decades that followed leading up to current times, the family continued to improve the estate, modernized the winemaking process with a high tech vat room, and completely renovated the château with utmost attention to detail.

Château Haut-Brion today consists of 51 hectares of vineyards located in the Pessac-Léognan appellation of Bordeaux. Of the 51 hectares, 48 are planted to red varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot while the remaining 3 hectares are planted to white varieties of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Situated across from Château La Mission Haut-Brion (which I wrote about two days ago), Château Haut-Brion shares the same gravelly soil of small quartz stones above a subsoil of clay, sand, and limestone. Following the same practices of their neighbor, all fruit is harvested by hand and then sorted before transferral to temperature controlled vats for fermentation. After two weeks, the vats are drained and the wine moves to barrel where it spends 20-24 months before bottling. Château Haut-Brion produces four wines: Château Haut-Brion, Château Haut-Brion Blanc, and two 2nd wines named Le Clarence de Haut-Brion (red) and La Clarté de Haut-Brion (white).

To read more of the history of Château Haut-Brion, view images of the beautiful château, or explore vintages of wines, visit the website here (also the source of the information above).

Today’s Wine: 2014 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion

80% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2014 Le Clarence de Haut-Brion is medium to deep ruby in color and almost opaque. I decanted this wine for 4 hours, though it did really start opening up around the 2 hour mark and only improved from there. On the nose, this gorgeous wine showcases aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, cigar box, violet, forest floor, gravel, graphite, and thyme. Moving to the palate, I get notes of black cherry, cassis, pomegranate, tobacco, pepper, tilled earth, crushed rock, and a hint of charred oak. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. Superb effort and the best 2nd wine from the 2014 vintage I’ve had to date.

Price: $100 (though many bottles are priced closer to $130 online). Though not an inexpensive bottle of wine, I find this to be a very strong value play particularly given the vintage (often undervalued) and relative value to the Grand Vin. This has everything you want out of a great Bordeaux, punching well above its price point.

Great Value From a Historic Bordeaux 2nd Wine

Today’s Story: Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Château La Mission Haut-Brion is a highly regarded Bordeaux wine estate with history dating back to 1540. That year, merchant Arnaud de Lestonnac purchased the land that would become La Mission Haut-Brion and he married Marie, sister of Jean de Pontac of neighboring Château Haut-Brion. By the time of his death in 1548, the estate produced great wines and management fell to his son Pierre who set about enhancing the reputation further. A century later, in 1682, Pierre’s daughter Olive de Lestonnac (who had devoted her life to charitable works and had no children) gifted the estate by annuity in her will to the Lazarists of Bordeaux and La Mission became property of the Catholic Church.

The Lazarists quickly set about developing the vineyards further, with great emphasis on improving farming practices, quality of the wines, and reputation. By the early 1700s, La Mission produced 24 barrels of wine annually and, by the mid 1700s, became recognized by French nobility for the immense quality of these wines. The incredible improvement and quality under the Lazarists shifted hands, however, in 1792 when the property was confiscated by the state during the French Revolution. Businessman Martial-Victor Vaillant purchased the estate in auction, however his family’s ownership was short-lived when his daughter sold it to Célestin Coudrin-Chiapella in 1821. As its first American owner, Chiapella continued to improve La Mission and set about retiring there one day. Having come from New Orleans, the family also stressed the importance of trade and Old World/New World ties which catapulted the estate to high regard throughout France, the UK, and the US.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion shifted ownership again in 1919 when Frédéric Otto Woltner, another Bordeaux merchant, purchased it. The Woltner family helped bring the estate into the modern era, in part by implementing the use of stainless steel vats to better control fermentation and, since 1927, producing a white wine. Frédéric passed away in 1933 and passed the estate to his three children, with Henri leading management. During WWII, the family was forced to house German officers at the château but miraculously kept them from raiding the cellars by demanding respect from their “guests.” Following the war, the Woltner family regained complete control until Henri passed away in 1974.

With La Mission up for sale yet again in 1983, Domaine Clarence Dillon came in and purchased the estate through a very natural transition. The Dillon family immediately started improving the estate even further, beginning in the vineyards and progressing through renovations to construction of new buildings and cellars. Though the estate has lived through a somewhat tumultuous history due to ownership changes and wars, they released highly revered wines over the centuries known for quality and consistency that is largely unmatched anywhere in the world.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion consists of 29 hectares of vineyards in the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Situated on an elevated gravel terrace, the soil of La Mission is particularly suited for growing wine grapes with a subsoil of clay, sand, and limestone. Of the 29 hectares, 25 are planted to red varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc; the remaining 4 hectares are planted to white varieties of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. All fruit is harvested by hand and sorted before fermentation in steel vats. After two weeks, the wines are drained and transferred to new oak barrels for 20-24 months before ultimately moving to bottle and aging further.

To learn more about this great estate, run through their wines over the years, or view images, I encourage you to visit the website here (also the source of the information above).

Today’s Wine: 2014 La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion

45% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14% ABV

The 2014 La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion is opaque deep ruby in color. I gave this about 3 hours to open up, and the nose showcases aromas of plum, blackcurrant, violet, tobacco, gravel, truffle, dried underbrush, pepper, and cedar. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackcurrant, black raspberry, fig, cigar box, smoke, forest floor, crushed rock, and bell pepper. The Cabernet Franc is quite evident in this one. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine grained medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $65. I think this is one of the better value Bordeaux wines, particularly for the second wine of an estate with as high stature as Château La Mission Haut-Brion. Coupled with the fact the 2014 vintage can be often overlooked, this is a very nice wine for its cost.

A Peek Into Château Latour Through Their Third Wine

Today’s Story: Château Latour

Château Latour is a First Growth wine estate located in Pauillac on the Left Bank of Bordeaux, with roots tracing back to 1331. Though not a wine estate from the outset, Château Latour gets its name from the fortified tower built there by Gaucelme de Castillon. Until the end of the 16th century, the estate was a jointly held lord’s domain rented out to farmers. Though the property was not entirely planted to vine at that time, they did produce wines and, without the necessary storage, consumed them each year. During the early 1700s, Château Latour came under ownership of Alexandre de Ségur and he (and later his son Nicolas-Alexandre) greatly expanded the family’s winegrowing holdings. By the middle of the 18th century, Château Latour actually became known for its wine and due to its quality became 20 times more expensive per bottle than the average Bordeaux wine at the time. It even became a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Over time Latour has continued to produce exceptional and long-lived wines, with the current estate producing arguably some of the greatest wines in their history.

Today Château Latour consists of 92 hectares planted to vine, with 47 hectares of the best vineyards, known as l’Enclos, surrounding the Château. The vineyards are planted to 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The deep, nutrient-poor gravel soil of the estate is perfect for forcing the vines to struggle and dig deep to a clay sublayer for water. The estate transitioned gradually to full organic farming and became certified by Ecocert, with a large percentage of l’Enclos farmed adhering to biodynamic principles as well. Château Latour produces three wines, which include the Grand Vin (typically $750-800+ per bottle), a second wine Les Forts de Latour (typically $250-300+ per bottle), and a third wine Pauillac de Latour (typically $100 per bottle).

To learn more about this historic estate and its magnificent wines, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Pauillac de Château Latour

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot; 13% ABV

The 2014 Pauillac de Château Latour is opaque deep ruby in color with purple hues. A bit funky right out of the bottle, this needed 4 hours in the decanter to really come to life and I drank it over an additional 3-4 hours. The nose showcases aromas of cassis, blackberry, redcurrant, cigar box, graphite, scorched earth, lilac, dried green herbs, gravel, and milk chocolate. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of black cherry, strawberry, plum, sweet tobacco, pencil shavings, smoke, eucalyptus, rocky earth, and a hint of bell pepper. Overall it’s somewhat medicinal in nature. The wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Needs some cellar time to fully come around.

Price: $100. I would love to see this priced closer to $75 from a value perspective. The $100 price tag is in a very competitive range, and there are quite frankly a number of other wines that punch above this one at that price. Maybe this will get better with bottle age, we shall see.