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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”.
NEWS: BORDEAUX 2021 VINTAGE by Pros:What Critics Thinks?
Antonio Galloni, Vinous : "The 2021 Bordeaux have turned out to be such a surprise. Weather conditions were challenging, and yet the top properties turned out gorgeous, classically built wines that will absolutely thrill readers who appreciate freshness and energy. Restrained alcohols and mid-weight structures will remind readers of Bordeaux pre-2000s. The best wines offer a striking combination of old-school classicism with modern-day precision. Quality is inconsistent though, so choosing carefully is essential. Even so, there is much to like in the 2021s."
At the Wine Advocate, William Kelley has been one of the first out with his report on the vintage, with largely positive feedback on the top estates of the region. He underlines his thoughts by reminding his readers, “We may have lost the habit of tasting wines with moderate alcohol levels and classic pH en primeur, but anyone who enjoys the great benchmark Bordeaux wines of the 1980s and 1990s should seriously reflect on what the 2021s may have to offer in 10 to 15 years’ time. It’s a style of wine that could come from nowhere else.”
Matthew Jukes:"In many cases, they can rightly say that they triumphed over Mother Nature thanks to their tenacity, experience and tireless work ethic, and the finest wines are singular in their purity, freshness and uncommon resonance... If a château has noble terroir, an entirely dedicated team, state-of-the-art technology (to sort out the clean, pure, ripe fruit from the weaker berries) and a slice of luck, then there is no excuse for not making fabulous wine... this is a classic example of a vintage where every single wine must be tasted individually... Suffice to say that I found some exquisite wines in 2021, and they are all pure, long, refreshing, pristinely elegant and refined, and the epitome of the plots of vines from which they were harvested."
Georgie Hindle at Decanter also notes the marked contrasts to the recent blockbuster vintages, “This isn’t a big, opulent, plush year […] the heat and sunlight simply did not avail enough to produce the sun-kissed fruit, high alcohol and uber glamour on show in grand vintages like 2016 and 2018. However, what we get instead is freshness and elegance, racy acidity, lower alcohols, balance where successful, and a true sense of terroir and grape signatures in the glass.” She also reminds us of the benefit of this more restrained style, “It’s likely that they will present earlier opportunities to be consumed compared to the more robust and plush vintages.”
Jane Anson (who has the benefit of being based full-time in Bordeaux) had several insights as to who was inevitably the most successful in 2021. The first came down to the resources of the estate, “This is undoubtedly a vintage that rewarded estates that have a talented team of full-time employees who work in the vineyards throughout the year, and who know their terroir. It rewarded skilled and timely decision making. Those who sub-contract vineyard work were at a disadvantage.” The best wines of the vintage in her opinion revealed, “Classical balance and lower alcohols. Malic acid levels were high at harvest but after malolactic fermentation ph and acidity levels were in the main classically balanced, giving wines that are fruity, and supple in texture.” And finally, unlike vintages where all the hard work could be achieved in the vineyard, the complex work in 2021 only continued in the winery, “Skilful winemaking. We have got used to repeating that wine is made in the vineyard. This is of course still true, but in 2021 it was abundantly clear that the best wines are also sometimes made in the cellar.”
Honest Grapes: Let’s not forget about the whites either. The quality here is more consistent than the reds, and Jancis Robinson proclaims that “in general the dry whites are brilliantly crisp, aromatic and well defined with quite enough fruit, while the sweet whites are some of the best ever, albeit most of them produced in catastrophically tiny quantities”. Haut Brion & La Mission produced sensational whites, among the “finest set of dry whites since 2017” for William Kelley. Meanwhile Georgie Hindle reports “The whites are excellent and maybe more consistent across the board with ample freshness, drive and clarity on the palate as well as an astounding aromatic complexity”. Sauternes has managed the tragic feat of producing some of the all-time greatest sweet whites in the history of Bordeaux, yet in some of the smallest quantities we’ve ever seen. If you can find some sweet whites, we highly recommend piling in!
WHAT THE CHÂTEUX THINKS:
Marielle Cazaux, Winemaker, Château Conseillante “You needed three things this year. The first is the soil. If you have good terroir, you have a chance to make great wine. The second is a good team, you need to have people by your side to help with the frost and the mildew and with green harvest. The third is luck, forecast for rain but multiple times, it was never as bad and warmer than expected. Chances were taken, but they paid off.”
Pierre Olivier Clouet, Technical Director, Cheval Blanc: How would I describe the vintage? It is Academique - for me the wines have rigidity, in a good way. The tannins are ripe, but just ripe - almost al dente. Actually it was (oenologist) Thomas Duclos who described it best, classical but also contemporary…Contemporary Classic”
Hervé Gouin, Commercial Director, Mouton Rothschild “Our biggest challenge was needing to work on the weekend, it’s funny because it’s true, but it made all the difference, especially with the mildew pressure in June and July. The same was true with the harvest.“