There is a whopping 62% of Merlot in the blend with the balance being Cabernet Sauvignon. At this stage one would expect La Mission to be the more exuberant and flashy of the two big wines from the Clarence Dillon stable, however, the 2012 is somewhat introverted and subdued. It is a massively powerful, large scale, alcoholic wine that is undoubtedly serious, but it is not displaying the classic hallmarks of La Mission at this early stage. Intensely mineral, fine herbs, some cooked meats and savoury notes. There is huge concentration; this is a big step up from Clarence de Haut Brion. There are pure, regal flavours here: plum, sandalwood, red cherries, bitter sweet fruit, blood orange, and cassis. As one would expect from a La Mission, there are beautiful ripe fruit tannins, which firm up the wine and cover the top gums. Refined and somewhat reserved.
Haut Brion’s sister property has a habit of trumping its more illustrious sibling. Owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon S.A., La Mission’s vineyards lie in the same suburbs as those of Haut Brion on deep gravel croupes interspersed with clay. The cepage is not dissimilar in the red wine (48% Cabernet, 45% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc) although the Haut Brion Blanc (formally Laville Haut Brion) has a lot more Semillon in the blend than Haut Brion Blanc.
Stylistically, La Mission Haut Brion rouges is more accessible and open than the deeply mineral and slightly introverted Haut Brion when young, but given time the Haut Brion will begin to show its power. Both wines reward long term aging to be at their best.
The region has one first growth, Château Haut-Brion, whilst other renowned Chateaux currently doing well are La Mission-Haut-Brion, Pape-Clément, Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Haut-Bailly. Soils are gravely and well-drained and the plantations are similar in proportion to those of the Médoc, consisting mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The region is also well known for its long-lived whites that can be varying blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon oaked or unoaked. The most lauded are Domaine de Chevalier, Haut-Brion, Pape-Clement, De Fieuzal, and Laville-Haut-Brion.