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Each Château has its own style. What would be, according to you, the specificities of Château Smith Haut Lafitte White?
About our style, I would say that either you love our wines or you hate them. But be careful, if you do love them, it is for life… Our style is quite special, even paradoxical.
We have 90% of Sauvignon Blanc in our blend, however this proportion is almost unidentifiable on a blind tasting because of the age of our vines, the slopes ploughed by horses for more than 14 years on which they grow, the north exposure and all these details producing late maturity that will give our wines expression and complexity.
We also have a secret weapon: 5% of Sauvignon Gris. This forgotten yet complex grape variety brings different levels of aromas: first grapefruit, then peach, apricot and flowers, and a fresh minerality at the end. This kind of grape variety helps as well the wine age beautifully, adding spicy notes on the finish.
Which vintage of your Château white wine do you prefer?
This question is indeed very difficult... We often think that the latest babies are the best... If you ask my husband Daniel, he will choose 2010 and 2011, sharp as diamonds, of great precision, with high levels of acidity and freshness, very pure fruits, faithful to our terroir of Günzian Gravel... If you ask me, I prefer 2000, 2005 and 2009, because these vintages have a rare structure with great density and roundness in the palate. On blind tastings, almost nobody can recognize its 90% of Sauvignon Blanc. I find very interesting to compare our Château Smith Haut Lafitte white with a carafe of Bâtard-Montrachet of the same vintage for instance. The 2009 is very promising; it has a lot of everything and nothing of excess…
An early, even flowering, a warm but unspectacular summer and an exceptionally hot period during the end of August and the first half of September. It was this heat that made it possible for the record harvest to not only to fully ripen, but also to concentrate the fruit. The harvest started on September 14 and was finished before heavy rains commenced on October 2. Another reason for the success of the vintage was that most châteaux had invested in their cellars and were able to work such a large and hot harvest. It was now possible to control the fermentation temperatures better than in earlier hot vintages, such as 1947. The grapes produced wines with such high natural alcohol that chaptalization became unnecessary. They showed deep colour, high and unusually soft tannin levels and a better acidity than first thought, as well as great fruit concentration. The media hype was great, particularly thanks to the advent of new wine magazines - this was the vintage that cemented Robert Parker’s reputation. The prices rose rapidly and have not looked back since. I remember all Premier Crus (including Pétrus) being offered to end consumers for around 50 euros en-primeur in 1983.
The scene when the 1990 vintage came along was quite different. There was a surplus of very good to great wine on the market – for the first time there was talk of three great vintages following one another. This lead to most châteaux lowering their prices by about 20 per cent compared to their 1989 prices, even though the quality was outstanding. There had been a steady increase in prices during the 1980s, but they were now more or less back to the opening prices of the 1982s. It was again a record harvest, but because most châteaux had by now introduced a ‘second wine’ and due to the fact they were more selective with regards to quality, there was actually less wine being bottled as ‘Grand Vin’ than in 1982.
We have been following both these vintages from a comparatively early age, as they were both precocious and easy to drink from the start. The top wines from both vintages are spectacular, but the overall quality is much higher in 1990. Here the wines were equally successful on both sides of the river, and even minor châteaux produced something special. We have always found most 1982s from the right bank to be too alcoholic and lacking in structure; indeed many are now ageing rapidly.