It is difficult for even the most well-traveled sybarite not to feel a sense of awe when first approaching the entrance to Chateau Latour. This is arguably the most legendary wine in the Medoc, if not Bordeaux. Many who obsess over Latour have never actually sampled a drop, but Cellar Tours can vouch for its immense power, structure and inimitable depth of flavor. The iconic tower – which is the world’s most famous dovecote – was built in the 1600s and has seen centuries of fortune and glory, neglect, political uprisings, Two World Wars and a multitude of owners. If the tower could talk, it would have a lifetime’s worth of secrets to share.
Today, if you stand opposite the tower and gaze at the estuary, then you’ll encounter a sea of hallowed vines. The core of the estate is the 45-hectare ‘L’Enclos’, which is close to the chateau and chai – it is said to be the finest terroir in the Medoc, partly due to the moderating influence of the Gironde estuary. Incredibly, vines were planted at Latour as far back as the 14th century; the estate may have been one of the first to cultivate vineyards in Pauillac. The first key recorded moment in Latour’s history occurred in 1670 when the property was put up for sale. After the death of the buyer, Francois de Chavannes, it passed by marriage to the Clauzel family.
In the late 17th century the destinies of Lafite and Latour became intertwined when the heiress to Latour married the owner of Lafite, Alexandre de Segur. However, in the 18th century, de Segur died and the two estates were separated. During the French Revolution, the owners of Latour were noblemen married to Segur’s daughters, the latter preferring not to get involved in the day- to- day running of the chateau. Generation succeeded generation, but Latour remained in family hands – in 1842 a company was formed to ensure that the estate could not be sold off wholesale, and this company bought back some of the shares that had been sold. The descendants of Segur were determined that their legacy should not fall into rival hands; ownership of Latour was jealously coveted by many rich aristocrats in the 19th century. By this era, the Grand Vin was fetching handsome prices in Europe, creating healthy profits for its owners. Its renown was second only to Lafite – in the eyes of some wealthy buyers, Latour was the better wine. In 1864, the present chateau was built, which is surprisingly modest by the standards of Pauillac.
Yet the 20th century brought hardship and fortune in equal measure. Phylloxera arrived relatively late at Latour in the 1920s, forcing the owners to replant the entire vineyard on American rootstocks. By the 1950s the ownership of Latour was becoming increasingly fragmented, with over 65 shareholders. In 1962, British firms including Pearsons and Harveys of Bristol purchased some shares; this was to prove to be very fortuitous for Latour, as the new owners invested heavily in the estate, replanting vineyards and updating equipment.
Nevertheless, by the early 1980s, Latour was struggling. Pearsons – under the new ownership of Allied Lyons – simply did not have the necessary finance to invest in Latour and produce wines worthy of its name. In 1983, the property was bought by billionaire industrialist Francois Pinault. He remains the owner of Latour today, a man who has done a great deal for the reputation of Pauillac’s most famous wine. Hiring Frederic Engerer as general manager – now CEO – was to prove to be a masterstroke. Engerer took Latour to new heights, overseeing the construction of a new winery and performing a detailed soil analysis of 80 different plots within L’Enclos. As a result, the parcels are now handled differently according to their specific character, which has made an enormous difference to the wine quality. Indeed, Latour has always been excellent, however, vintages released over the past 15 years now vie for the title of the finest red wine on earth.
The ‘secret’ to Latour’s power and grandeur is no secret at all: the forty-five-hectare L’Enclos, which is an exceptional terroir and arguably the finest place in Europe to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, is responsible for the chateau’s global fame. Blessed with an abundance of gravel, excellent drainage and proximity to the Gironde, Latour has a monopoly on near-perfect growing conditions. The resulting wine is bottled poetry – imagine a majestic nose of fruit-cake and coffee in maturity, backed up with immense concentration, fire and spice, a silky structure and unrivaled length. The best vintages need decades to show themselves, yet even in poor years, Latour makes a reliably- excellent wine. The ability to produce great wine in dismal vintages is the reason why this estate is the most critically lauded in the Medoc. The Grand Vin is astonishingly expensive, that much is true, but there will never be a shortage of eager buyers for Chateau Latour.
Chateau Latour(Grand Vin)
(Vintage dependant) but typical blend: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5-10% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. Only the best, hand-harvested fruit is used, fermented in separate stainless steel tanks for each parcel of vines. After fermentation, malolactic fermentation occurs in vats before the Grand Vin is aged in 100% new French oak. After release, Chateau Latour can be cellared for several decades.
Les Forts de Latour (Second wine of the property)
(Vintage dependant) but typical blend: 65-70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25-30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine utilises only the best, hand-harvested fruit, taken from separate plots used to make the Grand Vin. The must is fermented in separate stainless steel tanks and aged in 50% new French oak. Les Forts de Latour is more accessible upon release, but can also age for a considerable period of time.
Pauillac de Latour (Third wine of the property)
(Vintage dependant) but typical blend: 50-60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40-45% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Hand-harvested fruit from younger vines is used to make the third wine, fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in typically 20% new French oak. Accessible upon release, the third wine offers exceptional value.
27 Route des Châteaux
Tel +33 (0) 5 56 73 19 80
Fax +33 (0) 5 56 73 19 81
- AOC Pauillac / First Growth
- 14th century (vineyards first planted)
- Area under vine
- 92 ha vineyards
- Francois Pinault
- 350,000 bottles per annum
- Grape varietals
- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot