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Each Château has its own style. / What would be, according to you, the specificities of Château Smith Haut Lafitte Red?
The style of our red wine is very classic, with a beautiful expression of our terroir of Günzian Gravel which gives unique smoky notes. We pursue elegance and structure, freshness and complexity, balance and richness.
Our majority of Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested at full maturity and softly vinified to extract only the silkiest tannins, unveils after proper aging its full potential for years long.
The other grapes variety of our vineyard, the Merlot, the Cabernet Franc and the Petit Verdot add to the Cabernet Sauvignon their own aromas and participate in the typical harmony of our Cru Classé de Graves.
Which vintage of your Château red wine do you prefer?
Such as the whites, it is very difficult to pick a vintage among others, as every occasion and every meal will enlighten a specific vintage.
In my opinion, our 2000 red is a wine I would not doubt in comparing with the greatest reds from both banks. It has everything, except maybe some more years…
Another vintage we particularly cherish is the 2003, because despite the heatwave that affected the region, our early terroir allows us to harvest grapes at perfect maturity before they “cook” over the sun. Therefore we have a charming wine, whose freshness of aromas trouble the tasters at every blind tasting.
However I must say that we reached the zenith of our great reds with two legendary vintages: 2009 and 2010, though these two vintages have very little in common! 2009, my favorite, is powerful, charming, round and very “charismatic”… 2010, my husband’s favorite, is a beautiful classic, that expresses perfectly our Gravel terroir, with notes of black fruits, mineral finish and incredible Caudalies (the unit that measures length of wine flavors in mouth).
The noble Bosq family started growing grapes here as early as 1365. The property was purchased in the 18th century by Scotsman George Smith, who gave the estate its present name. He also built the manor house and exported his – by now famous – wine to England on his own ships.
In 1842, Mr. Duffour-Dubergier, Mayor of Bordeaux and an enthusiastic winegrower, inherited Château Smith Haut Lafitte from his mother and brought the wine up to great growth status.
Impressed by Smith Haut Lafitte's excellent quality, the Louis Eschenauer company distributed the wine all over the world starting in the early 20th century, deciding to buy the estate in 1958. After the Eschenaueur period came to an end, a great deal of money has been invested in the estate, particularly on the construction of a superb underground cellar holding over 1,000 barrels.
In 1990, Daniel Cathiard fell in love with the property and joined the list of prestigious owners, firmly intending to further enhance Smith Haut Lafitte's tradition of excellence. He combined the most modern winemaking techniques and age-old methods: organic compost, small wooden vats, ageing on the lees in barrel, etc.
Famous around the world for its wonderfully elegant red wine and the sophisticated bouquet of its white wine, Smith Haut Lafitte undoubtedly deserves the special care that is lavished on it.
The 1982 vintage in Bordeaux changed the wine world as well as changed my life. It was the first vintage I tasted from barrel as a young wine writer working for the American magazine The Wine Spectator, and I was amazed how gorgeous the quality of a young red could be from barrel.
I remember the first barrel samples I tasted during the summer of 1983 at Chateau Prieure-Lichine with the late wine author and vintner Alexis Lichine. The wines were so fruity with soft and rich tannins. They seemed too drinkable for a young wine, yet Lichine who had over forty years of experience tasting young wines told me the wines were “exceptional” and “some of the greatest young wines ever produced.”
He had invited some of his winemaking pals from the Medoc to a lunch at his chateau following the tasting. And he kept telling them, which included such names as Bruno Prats (then Cos d’Estournel), Anthony Barton (Leoville-Barton) and Jean-Eugene Borie (Ducru-Beaucaillou) that young writers like myself were the future of the region and that they had to make me understand that 1982 was a great year. He was upset that the New York Times and some other magazines had come out saying that the new vintage was not outstanding do to it seemingly early drinkability.
It was also a time an American lawyer in his mid-30s began writing full time on wine, creating a newsletter called The Wine Advocate. Many say Robert Parker built his career on advocating the greatness of Bordeaux’s 1982 vintage, although he obviously did much more.
More importantly, 1982 vintage marked a big change in the way Bordeaux was produced. It underlined fruit and ripe tannins in reds as well as a slightly higher level of alcohol and lower, or less strong acidity – higher pH. This is what gave the wines such wonderful texture, or drinkability in their youth.
It was a big change from most vintages before 1982 that produced hard and tannic wines that needed years, even decades to soften. The 1982 vintage became a model vintage for red Bordeaux in the future, and arguably for the wine world at large. Think of all the fruit-forward reds that are produced today in the world – for better or for worse. Alcohols are at least two, sometimes three or four degrees higher. Tannins are stronger yet riper. And natural acidities are lower. Chapitalization – adding sugar to the fermenting grape must to increase alcohol – seems a thing of the past.
“Young wines are so drinkable now,” said Alexander Thienpont, the winemaker of Pomerol’s Vieux-Chateau-Certan and Le Pin. The latter made its reputation on early drinkability. “It’s what people expect in a modern wine today.”
I believe some of the change with the 1982 was due to the “California” like growing conditions the Bordelias spoke of at the time. The summer was extremely hot and sunny. The harvest was warm and mostly clear of precipitation. Grape yields were high with many of the best wine properties making more wine per hectare than set by French authorities. In fact, the late Jean Pierre Moueix of Chateau Petrus always told me that the 1982 vintage would have been at the same level as the 1945 or 1949 vintage if yields had been lower.
Yet, the experience of the growing season and harvest in 1982 made a whole new generation of winemakers in the region understand the importance of picking grapes later and riper. They understood early on when wine critics such as Parker and myself as well as members of the US wine trade enthused so much about the 1982 reds from barrel. This also was the beginning of the popularization of barrel scores used to purchase wines.
The US market was the biggest market to buy top notch Bordeaux with the 1982 vintage. It began a decade of intense buying of Bordeaux in the states with consumers buying first growth and second growth as well as Pomerols and St. Emilion. Americans regaled in the wine’s juiciness and beauty. They also made a shit load of money if they held on to the wines in sold them later. For example, most of the first growths sold for about $40 a bottle in 1983 as futures and some are now as much as $3,500 a bottle. Prices for 1982 are down slightly now, but the price appreciation over 30 years is impressive after 30 years.
So is the quality of the wines still for the most part. I am lucky enough to drink top 1982 on a regular basis, and the best ones never cease to amaze me with their generous and complex fruit and polished, ripe tannins. Bottle variation can be a problem because many of the top names have been bought and sold and stored all over the world, but on a whole it is a treat to drink a great 1982. And the vintage always reminds me of my beginnings in the wine world
James Suckling has been writing about and tasting wine for over 30 years. He worked for 28 years as a senior editor of the American wine magazine The WIne Spectator, and in July 2010 he left to start his own website www. jamessuckling.com and wine events company. He also is wine editor of the Asia Tatler group with luxury magazines through the region including Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, and Malaysia. His specialty is Italy and Bordeaux, but he enjoys tasting and discovering wines from all over the world. His most recent great wine adventure was tasting 57 vintages of Chateau Petrus in the Hamptons, but he also just enjoyed sharing great Barolos from Bruno Giacosa, Roberto Vorezio, and Giacomo Conterno with wine lovers in Seoul.
by James Sucking