Day Six, First Stop: Chateau Haut Brion

We tore out of our beautiful apartment on Monday morning and wound our way through town to our first destination. I was very much looking forward to visiting this Chateau, and was actually surprised to find it nestled just on the outskirts of town.

Chateau Haut Brion.
Chateau Haut Brion.
Bob and Christina Watt at Chateau Haut Brion.
Bob and Christina Watt at Chateau Haut Brion.

Out of all the First Growth Chateaux in Bordeaux, the wines of Chateau Haut Brion in Pessac-Leognan are some of my favorites.  I feel the wines of Ch. Haut Brion are more singular and unique in style than the other First Growths, it is also more geographically separated than the others as well.

We were first greeted by our wonderful hostess, Barbara, and we started things off with a short film about the history of the Chateau.  Chateau Haut Brion is the oldest of the First Growths from the 1855 classification and the vineyards were fully planted a century before the other First Growths.  Jean de Pontac married Jeanne de Bellon in 1525, from which part of the land of Haut Brion was brought in as a dowry.  Jean de Pontac bought the title to the Domaine of Haut Brion in 1533 and built the stone Chateau in 1549.  There is even evidence that the first vines planted around the property of Haut Brion date back to the first century A.D.  Chateau Haut Brion and neighboring Chateau La Mission Haut Brion are both owned by the Dillon family.  Clarence Dillon, an American financier, first purchased Ch. Haut Brion in 1935.  Today, Prince Robert of Luxembourg is President of Domaine Clarence Dillon and the fourth generation of the Dillon family to manage this First Growth Estate.

The beautiful estate.
A building on the estate.

After the film, Barbara gave us a tour around the Chateau.  Haut Brion makes great Bordeaux wines by combining the use of modern technology with their traditional winemaking.  Haut Brion uses large stainless steel vats that are split into two compartments each (one above and one below), so they can ferment two separate grape lots in one large cylindrical vat. Three generations of the Delmas family have been making the wines for the estate in turn since 1923, with Jean-Phillipe Delmas as the General Manager today.  Haut Brion is also one of the very few Chateaux that has their own fulltime cooper making French oak barrels.  This Monday morning the cooper was already hard at work making barrels and the smell of French oak filled the air.

The vats.
The beautiful vat room.
It was fun to see the cooper at work.
It was fun to see the cooper at work.
The cellar.
The cellar.

We walked around the property a bit on the way to our tasting, it was just beautiful.  The second we set foot in the orangery, Christina exclaimed that she wished she could throw a party there.  I’m certain that it has housed many a distinguished event.

Another part of the chateau.
Another part of the chateau.
The grounds.
The grounds.
More of the property.
More of the property.
I can't remember what this room was original - I think perhaps a cellar room, but it looks like it could host a killer party now.
The former orangery is used today as a tasting room and looks like it could host a great party now.
Bordeaux 2013 188
Another view of the room.
If only...
The smallest bottles are regular 750ml bottles.  I think the larger bottles would look good in my cellar!

It was a little early to start the serious tasting, but we were up for the challenge.  We were able to taste the 2007 vintages of La Mission Haut Brion and Haut Brion.  Here are my notes:

2007 La Mission Haut Brion – Absolutely beautiful floral nose of red/black fruits and spices, very delicate.  In the mouth the wine is medium-full bodied with a core of black fruit flavors complicated with baking spices.  There is very good acidity with fine tannins following through to a very nice long sweet fruit filled finish.  It is almost like lace in the way that it is very detailed and delicate.  This is a beautiful wine that is all about the subtle details.

2007 Haut Brion – Bigger, darker black fruit nose with huge spice.  Full bodied ripe blackberry fruit combined with loads of baking spices, gravel and burning embers.  The wine has very good acidity, extremely fine but noticeable tannins and a beautifully long spicy fruit finish.  This is an absolutely gorgeous wine that is drinking well now, but will age gracefully over the next decade or even two.  The 2007 Haut Brion will be a great wine to drink while you are waiting for the 2000, 2005 and 2006 vintages to come to maturity.

Next up, Chateau Pape-Clement…

The Morning of Day Three: Chateau Lynch Bages

We kicked off the weekend by checking out of our hotel to head into the city of Bordeaux.  But first, we headed to Chateau Lynch Bages to take a tour and participate in a blending session.

One of the very first Bordeaux wines that I ever had was a 1985 vintage of Chateau Lynch Bages from Pauillac.  I don’t remember the specifics of having that particular wine 22 years ago, but I became hooked on Bordeaux and Lynch Bages from that point on.  I have been a long time fan of Lynch Bages and have really enjoyed getting to know Jean-Charles Cazes over the last six years.  Chateau Lynch Bages makes big muscular cabernet dominant wines that become elegant with age and are classic Pauillac in style.

The stainless vats.
The stainless steel vats.
A barrel room.
The barrel room.

The wine style of the Chateau may be very traditional, but it uses state of the art technology (stainless steel vats, optical sorting) to help produce their wines, which is a real asset to ensure consistency.  Chateau Lynch Bages is one of the few Chateaux in Bordeaux to have their own bottling machines, as most rent bottling trucks – talk about a crazy business during the crush!

Lynch Bages is one of a few Chateau that has its own bottling equipment.
Lynch Bages is one of a few Chateau that has its own bottling equipment.

We also saw where they are producing their whites – the Blanc de Lynch Bages that we had enjoyed at a previous Bordeaux Fete wine dinner in Seattle.  It’s a wonderful wine – crisp, floral, bright fruit with juicy acidity and minerality – we bought a bottle on our way out of the Chateau – and happily drank it a few days later, wishing we could get more at home.

The tanks for the Blanc de Lynch Bages.
The tanks for the Blanc de Lynch Bages.

The Chateau also houses a small wine museum, where they keep old winemaking equipment as a nod to the not-so-far-off techniques of their winemaking past.  They joked that in a pinch, they could also roll out this equipment to help with a harvest should technology ever fail them!  The more rustic equipment was juxtaposed with very contemporary art, combining to make it a hip and cool viewing experience.

The old wooden vats.
The old wooden vats.
The wine making and art museum.
The wine making and art museum.  They say no one has fallen through the floor yet!

While we were at Chateau Lynch Bages, we had the opportunity to take part in a blending session.  We were given four wines of a single grape varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot, all from the 2008 vintage and without any oak influence. These were the component parts of the 2008 Chateau Lynch Bages, and it was really interesting to taste them in their “raw” state, pre-blending.  Each varietal brings it’s own flavor profile and characteristics, from the mellow Merlot to the more wild Cab Franc.

The blending session.
The blending session.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon – Deep red/black sweet dark cherry fruit, dry and very tannic.

2008 Cabernet Franc – Darker black fruit, wild, brambley, slightly sour and more acidic, very tannic.

2008 Merlot – Sweeter red fruit, rounded in the mouth, tannic but not dry.

2008 Petite Verdot – Darkest of the four, wild blackberry and spice, hint of tobacco, powerful, very dry and very tannic.

The four varietals - and the finished product!
The four varietals – and the finished product!

At the end of the blending session, we were given a taste of the 2008 Lynch Bages – the blend was made up of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petite Verdot, with aging in 75% new French oak barrels. The blend was so much better than any of the individual parts – and it gives you a real appreciation for the subtleties the winemakers are working with.  Here’s my review of that wine:

2008 Chateau Lynch Bages – Sweet dark blackberries, with a little bit of red pie cherries, rich spicy fruit flavors that were slightly dry and very tannic on the medium-long finish.  This is a very nice wine, but it’s still just a baby.

A few of us were then given the opportunity to try our own blends.  I decided to reduce the Cabernet Sauvignon, and pump up the Cabernet Franc, so I made a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petite Verdot.  The results were a very dark wine of sweet black berries that were spicy, rounder in the mouth and with a smoother tannic finish.  Who knows how my wine would’ve aged, but you could definitely taste the difference a few small percentages in one direction or another makes – it’s certainly fun to experiment!

Next up, exploring Bordeaux city…