1870 Chateau Lafite Rothschild:
5* Michael Broadbent
Ch Lafite One of the all time greats and, at its best, a powerhouse, massively endowed with every conceivable component. In fact, such a powerful and tannic wine that it was virtually undrinkable for half a century. Nevertheless, bottlings varied, and, as always, provenance plays a part. I have had the opportunity to taste, and drink the 1870 Lafite on sixteen occasions starting, however, with an untypical pale and astringent bottle which nevertheless, as if it was conscious of letting the side down, emitted a sweet bouquet which lingered in the glass long after it had been emptied. This was in 1966.
Unquestionably the most magnificent were (and still can be), the Coningham-bottled magnums from Glamis Castle. Of the 48 originally binned in 1878,41 magnums had remained undisturbed until I and a friendly wine merchant in Perth packed them up for a great sale at Christie’s in 1971. Naturally. to make sure that the wine was all right, I opened one at a dinner in the boardroom before the sale attended by a dozen or so wine luminaries. The cork was sound, the level high, the color so impressively deep that it could have been mistaken for a 1970; nose flawless, the bouquet blossoming in the glass. Perfect on the palate too. A lovely drink. Thank goodness the i3th Earl of Strathmore, who had originally bought it, didn’t take to it; it must have been swingingly tannic. Like the 1928 Latour, it took 50 years to become drinkable, It was in 1934 that his lunchtime host asked André Simon, the founder of the Wine and Food Society, for his first reactions to the wines. They ‘evoked memories of Berkshire’, the 1870 Lafite ‘of the Majesty of the Royal Oak’. That’s wine writing for you! No toasty new oak; no gobs of glycerin, oodles of sweet black fruits; awesome...
Then there was a bottle I opened in Sir John Thompson’s cellar at Woodperry House to see if the cork was branded. It was: ‘Pfungst 1870’. A fabulous color, still tannic (in rr,6). Later, also Bordeaux-bottled, this time by Cruse, five bottles 6mm the Ten Broeck mansion in Albany (New York), noted at Heublein pre—sale tastings in 5978 and ‘979. Purchased in 1870), the wine was still in original cases, wrapped in tissue paper on which was printed Cnsse et PUs Fthrs. Each bottle had a glass button on the shoulder embossed Chateau Lafite Grand Vin. They varied, the best being superb. Even those with mid-shoulder levels (caused by cork shrinkage) were surprisingly good. Low-shoulder: oxidised of course. Around the same time a perfect magnum from Woodperry served by Lenoir Jose at a great wine dinner in Houston, and an equally delectable bottle despite being mid-shoulder at the Overton Lafite tasting. Not all were good: an oxidised Day & Watson London bottling, another ullaged and poor Cruse bottling, and even two below-standard magnums at Rodenstock’s Raritaten Weinprobe as recently as 1996. Even the Glamis magnum was high-toned and over the top, its twin better, though with a sour/cheesy tannic finish. Most recently, rising to the occasion, a bottle recorked In 1980: still fairly deep with a fine mahogany-mature edge. Just after decanting, it emitted a deliciously Mouton-like spicy scent. After 30 minutes in the glass it reminded me of Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet: pure eucalyptus on the palate; dqc its fine flavour matching the bouquet, wonderful length, still buoyed up by its original tannins. Last noted at Wilfred Jaeger’s in the hills south of San Francisco, June 2001-
The Château Lafite estate run by the Rothschilds is, with its 100 hectares of cultivated land, the largest of the main Pauillac vineyards.
It is located in the highest part of the area and the view from its château, with its conical towers that appear on the label, takes in the banks of the River Gironde, which flows nearby. The wines are a blend of four different varieties of grape – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Lafite matures slightly earlier than other Premier Cru wines in the region on account of the generous amounts of Merlot used, and it is this that also makes the wine more delicate and subtle than those wines which are completely dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Lafite has a soul, a beautiful, generous, kindly soul. Lafite turns bare earth into heaven. Lafite is harmony, a harmony between man and nature, because without our magnificent winegrowers, nothing would be accomplished.”
Baron Eric de Rothschild
Of the five Premier Cru wines in the region, Château Lafite to my mind has managed to produce the year’s best wine in many of the top years in 1900th centrury. The times I have spent in the company of a 1934, 1953, 1959, 1982 and 1986 have been unforgettable. And it was then that I always remembered how many wine critics fondly describe Lafite as ‘the perfection of elegance’.
Vineyard soil: fine gravel mixed with aeolien sands on a bedrock of tertiary limestone
Production area: 103 ha
Grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon (71%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (1%)
Average age of vines: 30 years
Harvest method: hand picked
Winemaking: the vinification is nowadays done with all the sophisticated instruments which modern oenology has created. Fermentation takes place in large oak vats in which the musts remain for 18 to 25 days.
Ageing: the wines are aged entirely in new barrels for 18 to 24 months. During this time,the wine is racked 7 times and is fined with the whites of 6 eggs per barrel. Only certain vats are selected to make the Grand Vin, Lafite. The others are used to make the second wine of Lafite, the “Carruades de Lafite”.
1870 Château Lafite-Rothschild 100 points / This wine was out of this world – an immortal wine as I then said. My friend had acquired the 1870 Lafite in 1979 at auction for about nine hundred pounds. It was one of 41 famous bottles that had laid untouched in the cellars of Glamis Castle for nearly a decade. The wine had in its time been bottled in Scotland by Coningham and had come to public sale for the first time at Cristie´s auction on June 24th 1971. The selling price was then eighty three pounds.
My notes were then: This Lafite must have been nearly black when it was born, since it still was deep dark red. Nose was most intoxicating – spicy, pure and strongly seductive. A grand tannin was still present, well balanced with the feel of berries and fruits. A very pleasant, majestic and deeply multidimensional wine. I could feel the soft aftertaste in my mouth next morning – and it still lingers in my memory.
Though it sometimes takes more than 50 years for a wine to become drinkable, it was worth the wait at least on this occasion. I´m no longer amazed at all those harsh statements that this wine and vintage still received in the early 20th century. But I wonder what a truly magnificent wine Lafite must have been in the middle of the last century, for it is still one of the very best wines I have encountered – even at the age of 140!
Recommended glass shape
Average Bottle Price
|16 850€ +27.7%||13 200€ +26.3%||10 455€ -18.0%||12 754€ +16.3%||10 965€ +39.8%||7 845€ +72.0%||4 560€ +30.7%||3 490€|