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Bordeaux 2016: Château Latour

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

Château Latour surely represents the pinnacle of winemaking achievement in Bordeaux. The majestic terroir beside the Gironde, the expertise of the technical and administrative team led by Frédéric Engerer as well as the general wherewithal and financial largesse of owner François Pinault all have coalesced to make Latour arguably the greatest red wine in the region. It has many rivals and is sometimes eclipsed but it is surely the benchmark to which all of Bordeaux’s [and the world’s] greatest Cabernet producers aspire. In 2016 Château Latour delivers the goods in spades but as it doesn’t do en primeur these days, you will have to slum it with their latest cellar release, Latour 2005. It is wonderful and built to last a century.

2016 was the proverbial game of two halves at Latour. The first half of the year [January to June] was the wettest for twenty years and the second half [July to October] was the driest in sixteen years. Bud break occurred close to normal, around 24 March for the Merlot and 30 March for the Cabernet. April was cool which slowed the growth cycle. Despite difficult weather that surrounded flowering, flowering itself occurred in the first week of June in ideal conditions. Still with humid and wet conditions there were problems associated with mildew that had to be dealt with.

The organic vineyards at Latour

Drier and sunnier conditions then arrived at the end of June and July was exceptionally hot and dry [temperatures above 35C and less than 5.5mm of rain]. The water reserves [built up during the wet winter months] supplied sufficient moisture for the vines to deal with the drought. Mid-veraison was around August 10 for the Merlot and August 12 for the Cabernets. Continued dry weather did start to lead to hydric stress in the vines. At this point whist the vines were accumulating sugar there was something of a gap between this and phenolic maturity. September was sunny and warm and the [35mm] of rain that arrived on September 13 helped relieve the hydric stress and allowed the grapes to ripen fully, in the sunny, dry conditions that followed.

The results are amazing. Great wine has been produced here. Less in the vein of 2009 and 2003, not obviously as dense as 2010, but perhaps more akin to 2005, 2000 and, looking further back, that great Northern Médoc year 1986 [an interesting vintage comparison which Latour technical director Hélène Génin mentioned]. The Pauillac blend benefits from a plot of Les Forts de Latour which didn’t make it into that wine. It is stylish with textured tannins and black cherry and graphite tones. Les Forts de Latour is very fine and layered. Tight at first, it unfurled nicely in the glass. It is very focused and polished with a beautiful balance between the textured tannin and the richness of the fruit. It is almost up there with the sensational 2010 Les Forts in my book. Château Latour itself is defined by the most wonderful seam of pure blackcurrant fruit in 2016. The youthful perfume is enthralling. On the palate you fall through seemingly unending layers of blackcurrant fruit. It is brilliant Latour, though it will be locked away in the cellars for a while.

The current releases are a fascinating and contrasting bunch in terms of vintages. The Pauillac 2012 is something of a crowd pleaser. It is forward, fully mature and very drinkable at present. It doesn’t have the stuffing of the best vintages [I still rate the 2009 Pauillac as high as the cru classés] but it is very enjoyable Pauillac for now. The 2011 Les Forts de Latour is certainly more intellectual if a little introspective. Nevertheless, there is plenty of extract and middle which should see it sail happily for the next decade, improving all the while. It needs a couple of hours in a decanter to do it justice now.

Then we come to Château Latour 2005 itself. Recent releases here have been absolute treats [a final tranche of 2000 last year and the remarkable 2003 the year before] and this release continues the excitement. It is fabulous Latour. There is almost astonishing depth of fruit in this wine which surely has the constitution to last another fifty years. That’s not to say it is at all tough and tannic now. Not a bit of it. The texture of the fruit is terrific and the balance wonderful. Truly majestic stuff. Hope you enjoy the notes.

The following wines were tasted on 3 April, 2017 at Château Latour.

Pauillac [de Latour], 2016

Deep and saturated; tight to the meniscus; black cherry fruit; some graphite schist; pretty quality; nice texture and grip; enveloping fruit tones; stylish; lovely; nice acidity and grip; very mannered. One plot of les Forts has gone into the blend. [54.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38.9% Merlot, 6.5% Petit Verdot, 13.2% alc, 71 IPT, 26.5% of harvest]. Tasted 3/4/17. Drink 2022-2030. 90-92+

Les Forts de Latour, Pauillac, 2016

Deep and saturated; earthy purple at the edge; fine and layered; bit tight at first but unfurls; cassis and blackcurrant tones; pencils – very focused [reminds me of Calon-Ségur]; lovely fruit on the mouth; really fine blackcurrant; cassis; some graphite; mineral tones; lovely texture and extract; long palate impressive; roundness and richness. [64.3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35.3% Merlot, 0.4% Cabernet Franc, 13.5% alc, 77 IPT, 37.5% of harvest]. Tasted 3/4/17. Drink 2024-2036. 94-96

Château Latour, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac, 2016

Deep; dark; tight to the meniscus; blackcurrants, minerals; precise; focused and deep; opens up in the glass; lovely blackcurrant fragrance and perfume; sweet fruit; very intense yet also has a supple quality; the intensity is there; but many layers; you fall through the layers of fruit; nice texture. Excellent. Super refinement. Up there with the very best Latours. [92.9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.1% Merlot, 13.5% alc, 83 IPT, 36% of harvest]. Tasted 3/4/17. Drink 2026-2050. 97-100

Current Releases 2017

Pauillac [de Latour], Pauillac, 2012

Mid depth; red at edge; lovely tobacco; beef and pencil notes; forward and ready to go; fine and elegant; nicely balanced; easy; light in the middle; great Pauillac for drinking now. [54.5% Merlot, 43.9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.6% Cabernet Franc]. Tasted 3/4/17. Drink now-2022. 88+

Les Forts de Latour, Pauillac, 2011

Mid depth; pencils; firm; some blackcurrants; nice palate; good depth; some chew to the tannins; plenty of extract and matter; much more middle; grip and tannin; chewy on the finish currently but only just entering its drinking window. Suggest another three to five years in the cellar myself. Good stuff. [61.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot]. Tasted 3/4/17. Drink now-2030. 93

Château Latour, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac, 2005

Mid depth; deep at the core; red and black; attractive savoury nose; roast meats and spicy blackcurrant tones; some tobacco; lots of fruit; lovely palate – entry has some sweetness; remarkable depth of fruit; wonderful balance here; has some hints of tobacco; cloves and spices; great texture; extremely fine texture; very long with a salt beef finish. Wonderful Pauillac. Loaded with tannin and built to last. [87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 0.5% Petit Verdot]. Tasted 3/4/17. Drink now-2045. 100

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