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…

Warm Memories of Bordeaux

It may be rainy season in Seattle now, but our heads are still full of warm memories from our recent trip to Bordeaux. The weather was fantastic for most of our trip- sunny and hot, exactly what the growers needed (though the last few weeks have proven more challenging for them, unfortunately!). While the jury is still out on how the 2013 vintage will turn out, our 2013 trip was one for the record books.

Over 12 days, we visited 22 Chateaux, ate numerous meals lasting hours apiece, sampled many promising wines, enjoyed a few beautiful older bottles, and Christina attempted to try every possible preparation of foie gras. Our conclusion – the region of Bordeaux is an absolute gem – with a thriving metropolitan core reminiscent of a mini-Paris, with 10,000 Chateaux and 57 appelations in the surrounding area, we couldn’t stop snapping pictures and marveling over the fact that people live and work amidst this beautiful landscape every day.

We’ll be taking you through a day-by-day overview of the highlights written from our collective perspective. Here are a few quick highlights:

The captivating Pichon Baron.
The captivating Pichon Baron.
Bordeaux 2013 2779
Chateau Haut-Brion.
The town of Sauternes was a beautiful surprise.
The town of Sauternes was a sweet surprise.
Christina in Bordeaux city.  Don't let that McDonald's in the back fool you - the food in Bordeaux is fantastic!
Christina in Bordeaux city. Don’t let the Golden Arches in the back fool you – the food in Bordeaux is fantastic!

Next up, Krug makes its first appearance, and what’s up with that duck??

Duck, duck...
Duck, duck…

Bordeaux Bound

Next week, my wife and I head to Bordeaux, sans children – for a highly-anticipated trip of wine tasting (a big thank you to my in-laws for staying with our kids!).

Although those in the industry would call our tour a “death march,” we’re quite excited by the itinerary we have lined up.  The extraordinary team at Bordeaux Saveurs has helped us put together this remarkable tour, complete with a few cooking classes on estates, as well as numerous great meals.

Over roughly two weeks, we will visit:

  • Chateau Phelan Segur
  • Chateau Cos d’Estournel
  • Chateau Pontet Canet
  • Chateau Leoville Barton
  • Chateau Lascombes
  • Chateau Mouton Rothschild
  • Chateau Lynch Bages
  • Chateau Haut Brion
  • Chateau Pape Clement
  • Domaine de Chevalier
  • Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron
  • Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
  • Chateau Palmer
  • Chateau Suduiraut
  • Chateau Y’Qeum
  • Chateau Guiraud
  • Chateau Haut Bailly
  • Chateau Smith Haut Lafite
  • Chateau Troplong Mondot
  • Chateau Angelus
  • Chateau Figeac
  • Chateau Soutard

We will stay at the Cordeillan Bages hotel for the first part of the trip, then in a private apartment in Bordeaux proper over the weekend, and finish out our stay at les Sources de Caudalie, which friends tell us is heavenly.  A big thanks to dear friend and awesome travel agent Kelly Bonewitz at Woodside Travel for her assistance pulling things together – we can’t wait to give a full report on our adventure!

Speaking of which, we have never blogged remotely before, so we’ll have to see how it goes.  Given how much we’ve packed in, the updates will probably happen once we return, jet-lagged and happy…and dreaming of our return!