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.

Finding Value in Fifth Growth Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château d’Armailhac

Château d’Armailhac 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. Château d’Armailhac is tightly woven together with Château Mouton Rothschild, with the former holding all technical and agricultural equipment for both estates 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.

Previously, I wrote about Château d’Armailhac when I reviewed the 1978 Château Mouton Baronne Philippe. If you care to read about how these wines can age, I encourage you to check out the tasting notes at the link above.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château d’Armailhac

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Château d’Armailhac is opaque deep ruby in color, showcasing its youth. When I first pulled the cork, I was nervous this wine was an off bottle showcasing some pronounced nutty and oaky characteristics. However, given three hours to decant my worries were unwarranted and the wine blossomed beautifully. On the nose, which is of medium intensity, I get aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, black plum, violet, leather, graphite, cigar box, black pepper, clove, and cedar. Meanwhile the palate, which is deeper and more pronounced in intensity, showcases notes of redcurrant, blackcurrant, black cherry, red plum, licorice, tobacco, dried green herbs, green pepper, vanilla, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $60 (I paid 49). I think this wine offers decent value for Pauillac and the greater Left Bank, especially at the sub-$50 price I found it for. While I would like a bit more intensity out of the nose, I still get all the classic Pauillac aromas and the overall balance of the wine is quite good. 2014 Bordeaux is really starting to show well, and I think this is a great effort from d’Armailhac.

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.

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.

Unbelievably Youthful Bordeaux From the 1966 Vintage

Today’s Story: Chateau Pichon Lalande

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is a historic estate that traces its routes to the late 1600s and ranks as a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) based on the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. I previously wrote about Pichon Lalande when reviewing their 1986 vintage in Bordeaux Battle and the 2003 vintage in Decidedly Opulent Pauillac. To save myself (and yours as a reader) the hassle of reproducing (or reading) such a detailed and lengthy history, I will copy my short previous write-up below.

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: 1966 Chateau Pichon Lalande

45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot; 13% ABV

The 1966 Pichon Lalande is medium garnet in color and moderately transparent. This wine is singing as a pop-and-pour, with the nose showcasing aromas of graphite, cigar box, forest floor, truffle, and peppercorn followed by faint redcurrant, cranberry, dried violet, and green herbs in the background. On the palate, I get notes of pencil shavings, dried tobacco leaf, leather, black tea leaf, underbrush, gravel, and mushroom with cassis and redcurrant poking through. This is still medium-bodied with lively medium acidity, medium (-) dusty tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Best during the first 1-1.5 hours, but honestly didn’t fall apart too much slightly beyond hour 2 (when it was gone).

Price: $350. Provenance is key here, but if proven and you can find this for sale it is absolutely worth the tag. My bottle threw almost zero sediment, the color and structure were both profound, and this drank incredibly youthful given its age. I would’ve pegged this as 1980s if I tasted it blind. Pair this with wagyu filet mignon, earthy mushrooms and/or truffle, or mild cheese.

Left Bank Elegance

Today’s Story: Château Palmer

Château Palmer is a historic winery in the Margaux appellation of Bordeaux with roots back to 1748. Once part of Château d’Issan, 50 hectares of vines came to the Gascq family through division of d’Issan by the estate’s heirs in 1748. The Gascq family took this land and started producing wine under Château de Gascq, quickly becoming a well-known winery who served the court of Versailles under Louis XV.

In 1814, however, Madame Marie Bumet de Ferrière (the widow of the last remaining Gascq heir) sold the estate to English Lieutenant Colonel Charles Palmer (later a Major General in the British Army). Palmer spent decades enlarging the estate and modernizing its winery, with Château Palmer spanning 163 hectares with 82 hectares under vine by 1831. Unfortunately for this great estate, Charles Palmer faced some financial issues that forced a sale and the estate fell under control of an agricultural mortgage corporation.

Several years later, Château Palmer returned to private hands when Émile and Isaac Péreire purchased it in 1853. The Péreire brothers previously built an empire spanning railways, real estate, and banking (they were rivals of the Rothschild family) but wanted to add a winery having grown up in Bordeaux. Unfortunately for the estate given its recent turmoil, Château Palmer received the Troisième Cru (Third Growth) designation in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. I say this is unfortunate only because Palmer used to have a reputation similar to Château Margaux and Château Beychevelle.

Though Palmer eventually grew to 177 hectares with 102 hectares under vine, the estate as it exists today came about in 1938. Owners had to sell land parcels thanks to World War I and the Great Depression, though the Mähler-Besse family from the Netherlands and the Sichel family took over and descendants helped rebuild the estate following World War II. Though the two families are still involved, they have entrusted management of Château Palmer with Thomas Duroux, a former winemaker at Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia.

I would like to end this post with some comments on the values of Château Palmer. Like many great historic estates, Palmer believes they must respect their soils and vineyards to achieve the greatest expression in their wines. To this end, they explored biodynamic farming in 2008 and the practice soon became a necessity in the eyes of those running the estate. Sheep graze on the land and in the vineyards, grass and flowers grow naturally, and the estate stopped using agrochemicals. These efforts are so far greatly rewarded, with Palmer producing some of the greatest Third Growth wines.

Today’s Wine: 1996 Château Palmer

55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; 12.5% ABV

The 1996 Palmer is medium to deep ruby in appearance and moderately transparent as you edge toward the rim of the glass. Once this wine opens up in a decanter, the complex nose showcases aromas of blackcurrant, blueberry, black plum, violet, pencil shavings, forest floor, tobacco, truffle, black pepper, green underbrush, and coffee grounds. In the mouth, the wine offers notes of blackberry, blackcurrant, anise, cigar box, sweet tobacco, graphite, crushed rock, chalky minerality, and a hint of oak. The wine is full-bodied with high acidity, medium but elegant tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $250. A nice bottle of wine for a celebration with family, though this is not one of Palmer’s greatest vintages. I had a 1995 not too long ago that showed very well and was a bit more powerful, a nice surprise given it’s also not one of the greatest vintages. Pair this with high quality steaks or lamb.