This Thursday evening I’m attending a very special tasting of classic Bordeaux wines at Wine Vault in Artarmon. Sponsored by Bordeaux Shippers, our host for the evening is The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh. Thursday’s session is sold out, but I believe tickets may still be available for a second session on Thursday 2 June.
One of the highlights of a very special lineup is the Château Latour 2001. It sells for around $1,000 a bottle, so I’m sure Thursday night will be one of my only chances to sample this great wine. In preparation I thought I would do a little research on one of the world’s most acclaimed drops. While most of us probably can’t entertain the possibility of buying a bottle of Latour, Margaux, Lafite, Mouton or Haut-Brion, these First Growths are the benchmarks for style, character and status, informing the aspirations and direction of some of their best New World competitors, who typically make wines a little gentler on the hip pocket!
Château Latour is one of Bordeaux’s five original First Growth (Premier Cru). Its elevation to First Growth status dates back to the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification that was done ahead of International Exhibition in Paris. But as early as 1787, one of the world’s greatest connoisseurs of wine, then minister to France, Thomas Jefferson, deemed La Tour de Ségur a vineyard of first quality.
Situated on the banks of the Gironde estuary, Château Latour is at the very southeastern tip of the commune of Pauillac in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. Here 78 hectares are under vine, but only the best grapes from the oldest vines of the 47 hectares surrounding the Chateau, known as L’Enclos, can be used in the production of the Grand Vin. Since 1966 the Latour has also produced a second wine, La Forts de Latour, and a third wine, named Pauillac, was first released in 1990.
Today the winery and vineyards exemplify the seamless integration of innovation with centuries of tradition. Owned by French billionare François Pinault since 1993 and under the direction of Latour president Frédéric Engerer, the gleaming winery is absolutely state-of-the art.
In the vineyard, however, many traditional practices have continued or recently been reintroduced. Since 2007, for example, horses have been used to plough the vineyards, as their cultivation of the soil was found to be softer and more precise than tractors. Irrigation is banned by French law, and only organic fertilisers, combined with composted vine cuttings, plant matter and manure are used to feed the soil. Biodynamic farming practices have also been recently trialled to great success. But sophisticated monitoring techniques like infrared analysis of canopies to show ripening levels or water stress are employed to insure that vineyard care and harvest timing are as precise as possible.
In the winery, the hand-picked grapes are transported to the highest level of the building where they gently descend by gravity to the top of the water-cooled stainless steel vats for an initial three week fermentation. The run-off is then transferred to clean vats for a second, malolactic, fermentation. The remaining marc or solids are pressed in pneumatic press and sometimes the press wine is reincorporated into the blend.
The Grand Vin is matured for up to a year in new French oak barrels that are loosely stopped with a glass bung to facilitate a gentle evaporation. During this time, the wine is topped up twice a week in an operation called ouillage. In the second year, the barrels are hermetically sealed and moved down to the second year cellar where they are matured for a further 10 to 13 months. Egg whites are used to clarify the wines and a final rack about 45 days after fining separates the bright clear wine from the lees. The wine is regularly sampled for optimal bottling time.
Most high quality Bordeaux wines are typically sold en primeur, and the world’s great wine critics travel to Bordeaux to barrel sample the wines before bottling. Whether the barrel samples are the best indicator of quality and longevity of the vintage is debatable as wines like Latour are renowned for their ageing ability and evolution over time. The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker, who scored the 2001 Latour 95 points, for example, gave it a drinking window of 2007 to 2025. Can’t wait to try it! (Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate #153 June 2004)