What does Chateau Lafite mean to the world? For many, the name inspires instant recognition, even if the individual is aloof to the charms of red Bordeaux; for wealthy collectors and oenophiles, Lafite is the definitive symbol of luxury and grandeur. Yet the chateau takes its name from something so pedestrian and commonplace in the Medoc, that most people are shocked to learn of Lafite’s etymological origins. The Medocain word ‘fite’ simply means a mound, referring to the plateaux of the Left Bank. The mansion itself is surprisingly modest, although the Second Empire furnishings of the interior are undeniably opulent. But ultimately, it is the land surrounding the estate which is of real interest, rather than the silk wallcoverings of the chateau. The best terroir boasts deep gravel soil, lying on a bed of marl and deep limestone, which many critics believe explains the unrivaled finesse of the Grand Vin. The winemaking at Lafite is perfect in every way, but the real magic is found in the soil.
This is the exquisite paradox of Chateau Lafite. It is considered to be the seminal Pauillac chateau, and a powerful symbol of all that is elitist, luxurious and rarified. But at the core of this estate is a love of farming, terroir and preserving the wider environment. Jean-Guillaume Prats, President, and CEO of Chateau Lafite is committed to ecologically-sound viticultural practices; in 2018, the directors started to farm some of their vineyards according to biodynamic and sustainable principles as an experiment, to see if this would yield benefits. Lafite may seek formal certification in the coming years.
Of course, it will come as no surprise to learn that despite these concessions to modernity, Lafite dates back to medieval times. Historians believe that vines were planted as a commercial proposition in the 17th century; in 1691, Lafite fell into the hands of Alexandre Segur, who subsequently married Marie-Therese de Clauzel, the heiress to Chateau Latour. Thus, for a time, the two most bankable wine labels in the world were owned by the same family.
However, the two future First Growths were separated when Alexandre’s son, Nicolas-Alexandre, died in 1755, although Lafite remained in the Segur family. Unfortunately, the family was forced to sell Lafite in 1784, following some poor financial decisions on the part of Nicolas-Marie-Alexandre. Thereafter, Lafite was passed to owner and owner, including a Dutch consortium, the Scott bank and the Lemaire family. When Aime Lemaire died in 1866, Lafite was once again offered to the market. The buyer was a member of the famous Rothschild banking family – Baron James de Rothschild. He paid the then exorbitant sum of 5 Million Francs, although sadly James de Rothschild died soon after making the purchase. It has remained in the hands of the Rothschild family ever since. Winemaking continued to run (relatively) smoothly even throughout Europe’s numerous wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, the key exception being the Second World War. In 1942, the German puppet government, the Vichy Administration, seized control of Lafite. Yet they did at least focus on producing wine and did not ransack and pillage the chateau. History records that Hermann Goering had his eye on Lafite, but thankfully for us, the greedy Field Marshall never managed to acquire the estate.
In 1855, Lafite appeared at the head of the First Growths when the Bordeaux classification was devised. More than a century and a half later, it maintains this mysticism and allure which is unique across the whole of Bordeaux. The chateau has benefited enormously from the expertise of both the Rothschild family and its notable alumni of winemakers and managers, including the esteemed Charles Chevalier and, more recently, Jean-Guillaume Prats, who hails from the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. Each successive custodian has expertly undertaken a difficult and essential task – maintain Lafite’s historical legacy while concurrently embracing new approaches to marketing, technological realities and evolving viticultural practices. Prats will undoubtedly acquit himself admirably; Lafite now embraces digital track and trace technologies with the help of a tiny chip embedded in the packaging, to help combat global wine fraud.
But the Grand Vin has scarcely changed in style and quality for over a century. Lafite is the Medoc’s poster-child for finesse, rather than brute power or opulence. Undeniably lighter than Latour and Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite has never tried to outgun its rivals – instead, it lets the elegance, exquisite complexity and supple texture speak for itself. Cellar Tours has been privileged to sample several vintages of this inimitable wine – the hype, for once, is completely justified. Our tasting notes describe a glass of impeccable balance and finesse, with a sweet nose of truffles and cherry, combined with unsurpassed length and breadth on the palate.
Chateau Lafite is also a wine that ages incredibly well; it is often said to be the perfect gift for grandparents to bequeath to their grandchildren. Lucky critics speak of bottles from the 19th century that are singing. In that sense, Lafite is the most profound contradiction of all: a fascinating marriage between the timeless and intransigent, the contemporary and cutting-edge. Once a bottle is opened, you’ll never want the pleasure to end.
Chateau Lafite(Grand Vin)
(Vintage dependant) but typical blend: 80-95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5-20% Merlot, 0-5% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. After destemming and crushing, the wines are fermented in separate stainless tanks and oak vats. The wine is then aged for 18-20 months in 100% new French oak. The prestige, first wine of the property, intended for long ageing.
Carruades de Chateau Lafite
(Vintage dependant) but typical blend: 50-70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30-50% Merlot, 0-5% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. After fermentation, the wine is aged for approximately 18-20 months in 10% new French oak. The second wine of the estate, suitable for earlier drinking.
Tel +33 (0) 5 56 73 18 18
- AOC Pauillac / First Growth
- Area under vine
- 112 ha vineyards
- Oak barrel origin
- Eric Kohler and Christophe Congé
- Rothschild family
- 480,000 bottles per annum
- Grape varietals
- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot