Bordeaux 2023: Château Smith Haut Lafitte and L’If

10 June 2024

The King of Pessac and the Jacques Of St Emilion

Daniel and Florence Cathiard’s Smith Haut Lafitte is the toast of Pessac. Since taking the reins in 1990, their wines have been lauded with critical praise including a perfect 100 point score from Robert Parker, and to top it all, they welcomed HM King Charles III and HM Queen Camilla last September.

In these 2023s, their very talented winemaker, Fabien Teitgen has crafted a brace of brilliant, textural wines, which balance decadent fruit, gorgeous aromatics and refreshing acidity. Red and white share the same characteristics of intensity, complexity and harmony. Both will be robed in commemorative labels to mark the Royal visit.

Over in St Emilion, Jacques Thienpont, who owns the legendary Le Pin, has released his excellent L’If, his not-so-new venture neighbouring Troplong Mondot. The terroir here is very different from Le Pin, largely composed of limestone and clay, which results in naturally refreshing acidities and a low pH of 3.37. This is the most convincing example to date with an exquisite core of fruit, encased by fine grained tannins and racy acidity. Neal Martin describes this as “a very fine, cerebral L'If.”

And last, but by no means least we have Larcis Ducasse. Occupying one of the finest terroirs in St Emilion, next to Pavie, and made by Nicolas Thienpont, we often feel like this could do better, however, the 2023 marks a return to form. Tasted at the UGC St Emilion, this was one of the most successful wines on show with more reserve and control than normal, a good attack of dark, liqueur fruit and plenty of energy. A more relaxed and refreshing style of Larcis.

Smith Haut Lafitte (Rouge)

“The 2023 Smith Haut Lafitte is a powerhouse. In recent years, the Grand Vin has shifted toward a bit more nuance than in the past, but in 2023, small yields and thick skins yielded a somber, explosive Grand Vin. It will need many years to be at its most expressive. Blackberry, gravel, licorice, spice, plum and chocolate are some of the many notes that emerge from the glass. Readers will find a wine of real substance and textural intensity, framed by vibrant acids. A touch of air works wonders here. 2030-2053”95-97/100, Antonio Galloni,

Smith Haut Lafitte (Blanc)

“The 2023 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc was picked from August 23 to September 9 at 36hL/ha and matured in 50% new oak. It has a reticent bouquet at first, requiring a few swirls of the glass to reveal touches of orange pith, peach skin, wild fennel and light pressed white flower scents. The palate is very well balanced with a lovely creamy texture, counterbalanced by the taut line of acidity. Very poised and focused, it's somehow almost Corton-Charlemagne-inspired on the finish (perhaps due to the umami). This is a seriously fine white Pessac-Léognan.”95-97/100, Neal Martin,


“The 2023 L'If was picked from September 18 to 27 for the Merlot. The Cabernet Franc was picked on October 2. The wine aged for 12 to 16 months in 50% new oak, the first time in the new cellar in concrete vats instead of stainless steel. It has quite an exuberant bouquet with ripe red cherry and wild strawberry fruit, a hint of blood orange and iris flower. It is very focused and beautifully defined, the limestone terroir percolating through. The palate is medium-bodied with the Cabernet Franc shaping the entry—a little peppery in style. The tannins are quite strict at the moment (which came as some surprise to the Thienponts), framing the dark berry and graphite-tinged fruit. Linear toward the finish, reflecting the slightly cooler growing season, this is a very fine, cerebral L'If.”93-95/100, Neal Martin,, April 2024

Larcis Ducasse

“The 2023 Larcis Ducasse is elegant, powerful and wonderfully expressive. In other words, classic Larcis. Plum, blood orange, spice, menthol, mocha and gravel infuse the 2023 with layers of dimension that only grow with time in the glass. This will need some time to shed its considerable baby fat. Superb. Tasted four times. 2033-2063”94-96/100, Antonio Galloni,

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