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Lafite Rothschild 2019 has been released this morning, becoming the first of the First Growths to come out this year. Volumes coming to the market are reportedly down 50% on last year.
The wine was released at €396 per bottle ex-negociant, down 15.7% on the 2018 release (€470). It is being offered by the trade at £5,112 per 12×75, a decrease of 14.8% in sterling terms on the 2018 release of £6,000 per case.
Lafite Rothschild was among James Suckling’s top-scoring Bordeaux 2019 wines, with a barrel range of 99-100 points. The critic called it “stunning” and noted that “it’s full-bodied, yet shows such harmony and polish. Elegance and complexity with finesse.”
Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW (Wine Advocate) also released her assessment today, awarding Lafite 97-99 points. In her tasting note, she revealed: “In terms of flavor profile, this is a surprisingly (atypically) hedonic, forward expression, with notably lower acidity/higher pH (the pH is 3.9). The alcohol is 13.4%, just a tick higher than the 2018 (13.3%). And yet, the tannins here are unmistakably Lafite, featuring all the tannic grace, finesse and densely pixilated poise fans will expect. What an exciting paradox for the palate—bravo!”
According to Jeff Leve (The Wine Cellar Insider, 98-100), “this is a beautiful example of what Chateau Lafite Rothschild does best”.
Based on today’s release price, a score of 93+ would already make the 2019 sit on the ‘Fair Value’ line as the chart below shows.
For followers of Suckling, Leve and Perrotti-Brown, therefore, today’s release appears of very good value, sitting well below the regression line.
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”.
BORDEAUX 2019 VINTAGE
When I was visiting Bordeaux early March, Corona was a threat on the horizon and France has been more concerned by a strike of the air traffic control. However, I was travelling to Bordeaux and had the chance to get some first insights to the 2019 vintage. I was very much looking forward to the “en primeur tastings” which were scheduled for March 26, 2020 but the tastings were cancelled mid-March. Immediately I contacted the different associations and wineries in Bordeaux and asked for samples.
The result was a small number of wines which arrived in Essen before the shutdown of France made shipments rather difficult. These first samples of the vintage 2019 were tasted under pristine conditions to assure a fair and equal assessment of all qualities. In fact, the samples proved right the opinion of some of Bordeaux’ leading figures. Bruno-Eugène Borie from Château Ducru-Beaucaillou sees 2019 in a line with the excellent vintages of 2016, 2010, 2009 und 2005.
Henri Lurton talks about his best vintage, along with 2016, he has ever vinified at Château Brane-Cantenac. Philippe Dhalluin from Château Mouton-Rothschild asses the vintage as rich and abundant in quality and also in quantity. After some smaller crops they came back to an average production.
Emmanuel Cruse from Château d’Issan sees that 2019 has a lot in common with 2016 yet preserving more freshness. It is a very good vintage but appearing at a very difficult time on the market. In fact, the start of this vintage was very positive. Enough precipitations during winter were retained by soils like chalk and clay. Vineyards on these water retaining soils had a huge advantage in the future growing period. With exception of a wet June, the vintage has taken advantage of a rather dry climatic condition, which prevented diseases in the vineyards to a huge extend. No chance for powdery or downy mildew. Even the heat waves were not really harming the vines as rain set in, always at the last moment but still early enough to prevent massive water stress and a slow-down of the maturity. The late physiological maturity brought a lot of alcohol, but the wines show more freshness as in the previous years.
Fabien Teitgen, Winemaker of Smith-Haut-Lafitte relates this freshness to the good acidity “due to cool night temperatures during the ripening period”. This fact is also good news for white wines. „They are the big surprise “, says Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier.
At Château Coutet in Barsac, Philippe and Aline Baly were harvesting in three passes with a total of 19 harvesting days. They judge the conditions as rather ideal: “These climatic conditions have generated a harvest whose quality is indisputably present.” Same samples made their way to Essen and I have tasted them. Some more samples are announced and will hopefully arrive during the current week. There will be a weekly update of my tasting notes, whenever samples will arrive.
Unfortunately, 2019 arrives in a difficult time, the Corona virus puts the world in fear and makes trade more and more difficult. Trade berries and new customs duties create a difficult frame for this vintage. However, we should not forget one thing: there are wonderful 2019s waiting for us, wines with ageing potential and charm which will survive every crisis.