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”.
The very wet, cold winter resulted in work in the vineyard being considerably delayed; bud break was late, and flowering was three weeks later than the average for the last 50 years; the changeable weather resulted in some flower abortion and uneven grape size, and therefore in lower potential yields than usual. Then at the end of June, the weather suddenly changed, and it was if we were in the middle of the summer with no transitional period; there were however several localized storms (on 27 July and 2 August, depending on location).
The situation became somewhat challenging from 15 September: there was rain, sun and a long wait for the grapes to fully ripen, even though they had partially caught up from the late start; things then became more delicate at the end of September, when it became clear there was a risk of “explosive” growth of botrytis! It was like a race with no time to warm up, and we had to find all the pickers we could to go as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the sorting teams were very efficient despite the difficult harvest. The usual picking sequence for the red wine grapes had to be adjusted in order to minimize the impact of the botrytis and to take into account the potential to make the first or second wine.
TASTING NOTES (AT BOTTLING)
Tasting a great wine so soon after bottling is always a challenge.
The nose is very closed, verging on austere. On the palate, its solidity quickly becomes apparent, then volume on the mid-palate, before reaching a long, pleasantly fruity finish, still with traces of the barrel. Patience will be required!