Cast aside any preconceptions you have of this brand and its dominance in the Chinese market - this is a very grand vin. Along with the magnificent Latour, the 2011 Lafite Rothschild is the most impressive of the First Growths (a similar story to 2010). As with all great young vintages of Lafite, there is an impenetrability to this wine. Initially it is stubborn and challenging, but with coaxing it unveils a deeply complex aromatic profile of crushed rocks, crème de mûre, violets and a graphity minerality. Cool, composed and complex; the palate is profound with lashings of black and blue fruit and gravelly notes. Intense, sinewy, athletic, this becomes more and more perfumed with aeration; it has such impressive concentration, but the structure is very fine, with elegant, lacy Pauillac tannins; uber refined and finished with sweet complex dark berry fruits. A tremendously focussed Lafite that will reward patience.
Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Première Cru Classé, is revered throughout the wine-drinking world: a modern-day phenomenon, a super-brand, one of the best investment vehicles over the past decade. And lest we forget, maker of some of the modern day era's most distinguished, impressive, classic wines, anywhere on the planet.
Lafite was well-loved in the British market throughout the 17th century and a favourite amongst many notable dignitaries including Robert Walpole. Through this time the estate belonged to the Ségur family, who also owned Calon Ségur, Phelan Ségur and for a short time Mouton. With such a wine-making dynasty at the helm it is no surprise that the reputation of the estate grew.
By the time of the revolution, the estate was in the hands of a Ségur descendant, Nicolas Pierre de Pichard; however, the guillotine cut short his reign and ended the family's involvement. A string of owners followed, and at the time of the 1855 Classification, Lafite was owned by a Dutch family and under the management an English bank. The Vanlerberghe descendants elected to sell their holding in 1866 to a rather more famous banking empire, the Rothschilds, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The estate today comprises 103 hectares of vines at the northern tip of the Pauillac commune and even a few vines in the commune of St Estèphe. Baron Eric de Rothschild also acquired neighbouring estate, Duhart Milon in 1962. This 4th growth had been in a state of decline for decades; the vineyards had been devastated by phylloxera and oidium, whilst war and depression had hindered any attempts to encourage much needed investment. Now under the Domaine Baron Rothschild banner, Duhart Milon enjoys an elevated position amongst the classified wines on the Medoc, both by association with Lafite and Carruades, but also by a new-found reputation as one of the top performers in Pauillac.
So what is the appeal of these wines? In truth, we will probably never know. This is not meant as a snub, far from it, the wines are exceptional, but what makes Lafite the most sought after First Growth? Why does Carruades frequently trade for more than Haut Brion? Why have most vintages of Duhart Milon trebled in price in the last year? Well, the answer is demand. We can't explain why Lafite is so popular in China, it just is. This formidable trio have and continue to lead the way and there are no signs that their dominance will be threatened.
The Cabernet Sauvignon domanates the appellation, in fact some might justifiably call Pauillac the most classical expression there is of Cabernet based Claret. It is sandwiched between St-Julien to the south and St-Estèphe to the north, a stone’s throw from the Gironde Estuary. The excellent drainage of the intensely gravely soils are the key to quality, producing some of the world’s most long-lived wines. The First Growths of Latour, Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild are found here, while other great Châteaux include Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande, Pontet Canet, Lynch-Bages and Grand-Puy-Lacoste.