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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…
Early, uniform flowering, a hot but unspectacular summer and an exceptionally hot period at the end of August 1990 and the first half of September. It was this heat that allowed the record harvest not only to fully ripen, but also to concentrate the fruit. Harvesting began on September 14 and was completed before the start of heavy rains 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 with such a large and hot harvest. It was now possible to control fermentation temperatures better than in previous warm vintages, such as 1947. The grapes produced wines with such a high level of natural alcohol that chaptalization became unnecessary. They showed deep color, high and unusually sweet tannin levels and better acidity than expected, as well as great concentration of fruit. The hype was great, particularly thanks to the advent of new wine magazines - this was the vintage that cemented Robert Parker's reputation. Prices rose quickly and haven't looked back since. I remember that all Premiers Crus (including Pétrus) were offered to end consumers for around 50 euros en primeur in 1983.
The scene of the arrival of the 1990 vintage 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 in succession. This led most châteaux to drop their prices by around 20% from their 1989 prices, even though the quality was exceptional. There had been a steady increase in prices during the 1980s, but they had now more or less returned to the opening prices of the 1982s. This was again a record harvest, but as most châteaux had already introduced a "second wine" and were more selective regarding quality, there was actually less wine bottled under the name "Grand Vin" than in 1982.
We have been following these two vintages since they were young, as they were both precocious and easy to drink from the start. The best wines from both vintages are spectacular, but the overall quality is much higher in 1990. Here, the wines have been equally successful on both sides of the river, and even the small châteaux have produced something special. We always found most Right Bank 1982s to be overly alcoholic and lacking in structure; Indeed, many age quickly.