There are two wines which show what makes Bordeaux the wine market’s benchmarks and price setters. And also what makes Bordeaux tick. They are: Château Lafite Rothschild 2003 and Château Latour 2002. They are not the best vintages, in particular 2002, but that is the whole point. Both wines were as impressive in the lesser vintages of 2002 and 2003 as they are in the great vintages, for example 2000 or 2005.
While not awesome, they are serious wines and show why Bordeaux still dominates the wine market. They were lovely to drink, each with its own personality, each commanding respect. I would not want to drink them every day – not that I can afford to. Not every day because both wines should be drunk appropriately paired with food, or savoured in quiet contemplation!
Château Lafite Rothschild Premier Cru 2003
July 16, 2017; at dinner at home
Dark red-black, not as dense as the Latour, with 2-mm clear rim. Light, fine, aromatic cedary bouquet, like a perfume floating on air. On the palate, a light texture but its purity commanded attention. Ripe fruit with great freshness, delicate blackcurrant flavour, cedary. A fine example of “the lightness of being”. The lingering taste on the palate and of the aroma in the back of the nose commanded your full attention. An aristocrat!
(RELATED: Why 2015 wines are a great vintage to buy.)
Château Latour Premier Cru 2002
July 16, 2017; at dinner, drunk side by side with the Lafite 2002
Completely opaque black-red, 1-mm clear rim. Heavier, dense mouth-filling aroma, also cedary, very ripe blackcurrant, thick texture on the palate, very complex, commanding all your attention. Just a big great wine requiring your full attention.
Both great wines, each in its own way, almost makes you think of two beauties, one blonde and one brunette!
Latour 1968 was my introduction to this great estate, way back in 1975 in Kuala Lumpur where I was then working at the University Hospital of the University of Malaya. It was drunk at dinner at home one evening in late June 1975 with my guest and old friend, GB Ong, Professor of Surgery, University of Hong Kong. We had had a tiring day conducting the orals of the MBBS examinations of the final-year medical students and it seemed a good occasion to drink that wine. It also happened to be GB’s favourite Château.
It was very impressive, dense, full of fruit, quite ready although still clearly very young. I had bought that single bottle from Caldbeck MacGregor’s, then the only importer of fine French wines. It has remained an indelible memory to this day. My introduction to the world of fine wine. It also made Latour my favourite Château.
Château Lafite is not as immediately impressive and attractive as Latour, at least to me at the beginning of my wine journey. It was not until years later, in 1999 in Bordeaux, that I finally began to understand and appreciate Lafite. It was at dinner at Château Rauzan-Segla during VinExpo in June that year. The dinner was to commemorate the 50th birthday of the ’49ers among the group of Château owners, managers and friends of the Châteaux.
As expected only 1949ers were served, so there was Lafite 1949 side by side with Latour 1949, among other 1949s. Latour in all its broad-shouldered, intense brooding cedary self could not eclipse Lafite, with its gentle, understated, light cedary-touched almost genteel texture. Both great wines in their individual ways. Both posed different challenges for the wines. But both rose magnificently to their respective challenges. Responding true to character and in no way to be found wanting. Preferences? None. Extremely happy with both, would not do without either.
The experience bore out what one could have expected – that a great Château, Domaine, Tenuta, etc can be expected (AND depended on) to produce a wine worthy of its reputation, whatever the character or quality of the vintage. It is to be found in all fields of endeavour, a matter of pride in one’s performance, a matter of integrity, the mark of a true professional. I recall still clearly in June 1999 visiting Peter Sisseck (of Pingus fame) in the Ribera del Duero. He took us barrel-tasting in his cellar after dinner, demonstrating and discussing the different vineyard characteristics of the different barrels. We wound up barrel-tasting at midnight under a clear moonlit sky. The scene could not have been more memorable. The new discovery of a rising star, Peter Sisseck and his hallmark wine, Pingus.
Finally, second wines of great Châteaux. Les Forts de Latour (Château Latour), Carruades de Lafite (Château Lafite Rothschild), Chapelle d’Ausone (Château Ausone) and so on. These are not to be scoffed at. And neither should one be apologetic to offer one of these second wines of great Château. I had one on Wednesday night, Chapelle d’Ausone 2006.
Chapelle d’Ausone 2006
Aug 2, 2017; at a Japanese Yakiniku dinner in Yazawa restaurant, Singapore
Very dark red, hardly any brown tints. Gorgeous full bouquet, aromas of lush ripe berries, complemented by a rich palate of seductive ripe fruit, full-bodied, very dense, concentrated, perfect balance, light touch of tannin, very good length.
This was just lovely. Meant to be drunk and enjoyed without fuss or bother. Amazing quality for a second-wine. Many a Château or Domaine would be complimented by a second wine of this class.
More importantly, this second wine demonstrates that one neglects or scoffs at second wines to one’s own loss. The second labels of the top Châteaux, Domaines, etc well repay more than one close look! They are produced by their owners/winemakers with great pride, as befits their integrity and professionalism.
Les Forts de Latour (Château Latour), Carruades de Lafite (Lafite Rothschild), Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux, Petit Mouton (Mouton Rothschild), Reserve de la Comtesse (Pichon Lalande) and so on all deserve close attention – and furthermore, will be budget-friendly.
For Burgundy, look at the Village level wines of the Grands Crus, e.g. Chambolle-Musigny of Domaine Christophe Roumier, Gevrey-Chambertin (Rousseau), Chambolle-Musigny (Comte de Vogue), Puligny-Montrachet (Domaine Leflaive). They can be (and are) lovely wines, simple pure representatives of the appellation and terroir and vintage. A simple Macon Village from a great Domaine can be relied on to be a great drink, a worthy representation of both Domaine, terroir and vintage. And at budget-friendly prices. Could one ask for more? Yes, one more glass of Latour!