Bordeaux 2014: Château Smith Haut Lafitte
Château Smith Haut Lafitte is one of the most impressive set-ups in Bordeaux. The terroir in Pessac-Léognan is fabulous; the vines immediately surrounding the property are beautifully mature; the cellar is state of the art and eco-friendly. In my experience, the past half dozen vintages here, both red and white, are qualitatively at the very highest level. This is true once again in 2014. Throw in the smart hotel that adjoins the property, with its spa and two Michelin star restaurant and it adds up to a level of sophistication and consumer awareness that would turn the owner of even the most ambitious Napa Valley boutique operation green with envy. And as for Bordeaux, it puts almost all of the grand crus classés to shame.
What a difference a year makes. The contrast between the 2013 harvest here [hurried, performed in 23 days] and 2014 [unhurried, stretching across 46 days] is marked, though perhaps qualitatively things might have been on par had the weather not lifted magnificently with the Indian summer that began in late August. Bud break was certainly early in 2014, though a cool May slowed down growth. The property reported a sunny but wet June, followed by a cool and exceptionally rainy July [16 days of rain]. August was cool too, but helpfully drier which did allow for better ripening, preserving acidity in the grapes. Sunny weather was needed if the vintage was going to succeed, but nobody could have dreamed of the long spell of dry hot weather that arrived at the end of the month and spanned September and October. There was twice as little rain in this period than average, with temperatures up in to 30C [86F] in the day, yet 16C [60F] at night, perfecting phenolic maturation, whilst preserving acidity.
The results speak for themselves and of this fascinating vintage. Smith Haut Lafitte’s white, a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc, the remainder equal portions Sémillon and Sauvignon Gris, was pressed under nitrogen and fermented in oak. It will spend a year on its lees, stirred occasionally. It has gorgeous aromatics and is beautifully textured on the palate, with significant weight and breadth without being fat. There is also fresh, lively acidity on the finish. Mâitre de Chais Yann Laudeho compares the 2014 white with the 2010 in terms of body, and the 2008 in terms of acidity.
The red is excellent, the product of its long gestation. The August veraison [colour change in the grapes] was especially extended in 2014 and the fine sunny weather allowed for a wide picking period, which began on 24 September for the young vine Merlots, and closed on 18 October with the final Cabernet Franc. The conditions allowed for plot by plot picking at optimum ripeness. There is plenty of aromatic charm here in the 2014 red at Smith Haut Lafitte. The palate is packed tight with fruit and fresh acidity. The tannins are round and supple. I’d expect this to fill out further during elévage.
Daniel and Florence Cathiard are the two over-achievers who have put Smith-Haut-Lafitte at the top of its game, investing their fortune [retail and advertising] into the renaissance of the property since they took over in 1990. Clearly this heavy long-term investment has paid off. With the couple’s recent deal to manage Château Bastor-Lamontagne in Sauternes, you wonder if their Midas touch might even help lift that region out of the doldrums.
The following wines were tasted at Château Smith Haut Lafitte on Wednesday, 1st April, 2015.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan, 2014 Blanc
Pale straw/silver; full and gorgeous aromatics – white flowers; some melon; white peach; very seductive; taut at the same time; palate has more grapefruit and zesty tones; some lanolin and wax; real breadth to the palate; great texture and acid on the finish. Balanced. Length and texture. Fascinating combination. Smith Haut Lafitte white once again up with the very best of the appellation. [90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon Gris, 50% new oak]. Drink 2018-2028. 94-96+
Château Smith Haut Lafitte, Pessac-Léognan, 2014 Rouge
Deep and saturated; ripe cassis; some strawberry notes; blackcurrants; tight palate, jam packed with fruit; clean and precise; very attractive fruit tones; nice freshness and acidity on the finish. Plenty of matter on the chewy finish. Will be very good. Impressive length on the end. Freshness and ripeness reflects the fascinating vintage. [62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 65% new oak]. Drink 2020-2032. 92-94+
Tags: Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2014, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, Daniel Cathiard, Florence Cathiard, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, Yann Laudeho