Stuart George

Haute Couture: Château Haut-Bailly

Even when a big rain cloud blows in from the Atlantic, there are always plenty of smiles at Haut-Bailly. They have much to smile about. It is a distinguished and very pretty Graves cru classé estate, with an enviable terroir, winery, and château, and a history stretching back 800 years and embracing both change and continuity, sometimes all at once. With Domaine de Chevalier, it is the latter-day leader of its appellation—though of course Haut-Brion remains the nec plus ultra of the region. As the wine itself so often is, general manager Véronique Sanders and her relatively small and youthful team are charm itself.

Château Haut-Bailly (all images courtesy of Château Haut-Bailly)

Château Haut-Bailly (all images courtesy of Château Haut-Bailly)

According to records, wine was being produced from the “Pujau” lieu-dit on Haut-Bailly’s croupe (ridge) as early as 1461, though vines had been planted here since the 13th century. The estate developed further under the auspices of the Basque merchants Goyanèche and Daitze, though Haut-Bailly was not formally established and recognized until it was acquired by the Parisian banker Firmin Le Bailly in the 1630s. The oldest record in the Haut-Bailly archive dates to 1653 and contains a reference to Firmin’s wife.

In 1872 it was purchased by the viticulturist Alcide Bellot des Minières, who had made his fortune in Virginia in the United States. His efforts saw him unofficially crowned as le roi des vignerons, and prices for Haut-Bailly rose to a level similar to those of the first growths, as evidenced by Nicolas catalogs of the time. Véronique Sanders has a picture of Bellot des Minières in her office “for inspiration. He looks like such a strong character.”

When phylloxera struck Bordeaux in the late 19th century, Bellot des Minières opposed the grafting of French vines on to phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks, opting instead to spray the vines with a copper ammonia pesticide (which didn’t work). Although some American-grafted stock was later planted, Haut-Bailly still has 4ha (9 acres) of what might be pre-phylloxera vines—they were planted before 1907, at any rate—that include the now atypical (though still permitted) Carmenère, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, which ripen earlier than younger vines: “The best of the best every year,” reckons Véronique. The average vine age on the estate as a whole is 35 years.

Bellot des Minières was succeeded by the editor of his magazine L’Oenophile, Frantz Malvesin, whose tenure, which included such dubious practices as the pasteurizing of the wine, marked the start of Haut-Bailly’s decline. The slump in the estate’s fortunes and reputation was later exacerbated by a run of poor vintages, depression, and war. The resurgence began when Daniel Sanders, a Barsac-based, Lille-born wine-merchant of Belgian heritage, purchased the property from George Boutémy and Jean-Emile Poitevin in 1955, two years after it had been included in the inaugural list of Graves crus classés. His son Jean took over in 1979 but was forced to sell Haut-Bailly when his sisters insisted on liquidizing their share of the estate. No investments or improvements could be made. Nobody was smiling.

Croupe de coeur

Like Haut-Brion, Haut-Bailly was “saved” by an American. Harvard-educated Robert G Wilmers, currently chairman and CEO of M&T Bank and a director of Ireland’s largest bank Allied Irish, had been searching for a suitable property for two years before finally discovering Haut-Bailly. It was the perfect match: Wilmers had spent much time in Belgium during his childhood and during his professional life. on July 30, 1998, Wilmers and his French wife Elisabeth purchased Haut-Bailly. US raids on Bordeaux estates have not always been received warmly, but Wilmers is highly regarded by everybody at Haut-Bailly and by the local community. “He’s a great person and very much involved with the estate. It’s a passion,” says Véronique; “Haut-Bailly has always had strong characters owning it.” The arrangement suited everyone. As Véronique puts it, “the château didn’t stay in the family, but the family stayed in the château!”

Robert G. Wilmers

Robert G. Wilmers

Having previously studied at the Sorbonne and worked for the haute couture house of Nina ricci, Jean Sanders’s granddaughter Véronique was in enology school when Haut-Bailly was sold in 1998. She proposed to Wilmers that she run the estate, and he accepted. Though still quite rare in Bordeaux as a whole, there have been female managers at Haut-Bailly before Véronique, including Bellot des Minières’s wife Fanny Olivari and her daughter by another marriage, Valentine Heirweg. Today, Véronique is responsible for the management of the estate, with Pauillac-born Gabriel Vialard in charge of the winemaking.

Véronique Sanders

Véronique Sanders

Faluns gong

Haut-Bailly fulfills the ideal, though not always typical, Bordeaux image of a single, contiguous estate. of its 33ha (82 acres), 30ha (74 acres) are planted to vines, mainly on the croupe 158ft (48m) above sea level that overlooks the speeding cars on the road between Léognan and Cadaujac, its size unchanged since Bellot des Minières’s time.

The vines are planted on slopes that fall away from the croupe, which ensures excellent drainage. The soils are largely sandy, but with some gravel, too, and rest squarely on a Faluns de Léognan subsoil of sandstone petrified with prehistoric fossil shells; part of the cuvier’s 18th-century wall is built from this stone. “We have the Merlots mostly on clay soils, where they don’t suffer from dryness even in very dry years such as 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2005, when the wines were excellent,” says Véronique. “The Cabernets are mostly located on the top part of the vineyard, which is great for natural drainage, especially in wet years. We like to harvest Merlot early for freshness, but the Cabernet is harvested later.”

The estate is currently planted with 64 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Merlot, and 6 percent Cabernet Franc. The density of the plantings is now exceptionally high for Pessac-Léognan (where the minimum density is 6,000 vines per hectare and the average 6,500–8,000) at 10,000 vines per hectare, with 3ft (1 meter) between the vines. A typical yield of 45hl/ha equates to only four or five bunches per plant from the 300,000 vines. Vineyard parcels are harvested individually. A new plot was planted in 2005 on former forest land.

The real hard work is done in the vineyard, with well over a dozen processes throughout the year for each of the 300,000 vines, plus plowing and other jobs, explains Gabriel: “If you give Paul Bocuse unripe strawberries, he cannot do anything special.” But he also acknowledges the human element in making fine wine, defining terroir as le sol, le climat, et le travail de l’homme.

The vines are trained higher than they used to be, and there are 20 percent more leaves than ten years ago, permitting greater photosynthesis and therefore more sugar and tannin in the grapes. Rather than resorting to weedkillers, grass is planted between the vines.

No Peynaud, no gain

Emile Peynaud was the consultant enologist at Haut-Bailly from 1956 to 1990, when he was succeeded by Pascal ribéreau-Gayon, whose grandfather worked with Pasteur, and he was joined in 1998 by Denis Dubourdieu, known for his pursuit of aromatic freshness and purity. Dubourdieu was commissioned by Wilmers to study Haut-Bailly’s terroir, which took two years. “We checked the compatibility between the soil (and subsoil), the rootstocks, and the grape varieties,” explains Véronique. “The results were fine, showing that everything was planted at the right place. But we discovered that Haut-Bailly is not made of a single and unique terroir but rather of a mosaic of soils and subsoils, which explains the regularity of our wines in every kind of vintage.”

In 2004, Jean Delmas, formerly of Haut-Brion, joined Haut-Bailly’s winemaking team. Gabriel Vialard worked at Smith Haut-Lafitte before joining Haut-Bailly in 2002. With the support of robert Wilmers and Véronique Sanders, he has perhaps brought Haut-Bailly to its apotheosis and the most authentic expression of its terroir.

The consultants bring “objectivity” to the job, believes Gabriel, but ultimately they all pursue the same style of wine. From separate blind tastings, 90 percent of the final blend will have been agreed by the three consultants.

Red-roof army

The winery was renovated during 1999–2000, with production and administration facilities kept separate. Previously, wine was pumped across the forecourt. There are two vinification cellars: one with concrete vats and the other with steel. Before Peynaud’s arrival, everything was fermented in wood, but he changed that in 1956. “We never had any problems with concrete in 50 years,” says Véronique, so they have always been retained, and some new concrete tanks were added, too. Although they all have the same external dimensions, the concrete tanks are of varying sizes, enabling microvinification of individual parcels.

Grapes are hand-picked and then sorted before destemming, with a third and final selection made after destemming. Vineyard parcels are vinified individually (as pioneered by Peynaud) in thermoregulated vats for up to ten days, with cuvaison typically lasting three weeks. Malolactic fermentation is done in barrel in a bespoke malolactic cellar. Barrel aging is usually for 15–16 months, with the percentage of new oak varying according to the vintage but typically 50–65 percent. Medium-toast Allier is the oak of choice here, though six or seven different coopers are trialed for each vintage. Véronique sums up the viticultural and winemaking process as “everything being done gently—not too much extraction or overripeness.”

Clearly, Wilmers has invested a great deal of money in Haut-Bailly. The Bellot des Minières-built château itself has been renovated to a sumptuous level, including the replacement in 2001 of the red roof, so well known to pilots flying in to and out of Bordeaux (including Daniel Sanders). But it is not simply a matter of an open checkbook. “Mr Wilmers doesn’t speak a lot, but he asks many questions!” says Gabriel. “He always asks, ‘Why, how, how much?’”

L’Air du Temps

Old vintages of Haut-Bailly are hard to find, with very little retained at the château itself because, explains Véronique, “during my grandfather’s time, an empty cellar was better than a full cellar!” Today, the château tries to retain some 10 percent of its production each year, but, depending on the economic situation, this is not always possible. All the wine is sold through the Bordeaux trade.

White wine was apparently made at Haut-Bailly in the 18th century—in the archives there is a record of a white wine press. Some old white vines remain, but “by tradition, Haut-Bailly is known for its red wines,” says Véronique. The second wine was first produced in 1967 as Domaine de la Parde, and then renamed in 1979 as La Parde de Haut-Bailly. It is made from younger vines than those used for the grand vin, though in the cellar it receives the same treatment, and it is only selected after the grand vin has been blended. Since 1987, a third wine has also been produced and sold as a generic Pessac-Léognan “in order to make a lovely La Parde de Haut-Bailly. Everything should be Haut-Bailly,” insists Véronique.

Rosé de Haut-Bailly is sold only at the cellar door. It was made in 2004, 2006, and 2007 from Cabernet fermented in 100 percent new oak. The wine is a saignée extraction to concentrate the grand vin. Production has varied between 6,000 and 12,000 bottles per year, with overall production at Haut-Bailly averaging 160,000 bottles.

Even if modern Bordeaux is becoming a question of the survival of the fittest, the Wilmers’ philosophy of evolution rather than radical change, of improving something each year, is not quite Darwinism. “Haut-Bailly needs eight to ten years to develop,” says Gabriel of his wine. “It is slow to come and slow to pass.” Among the Haut-Bailly team’s many virtues is patience. No wonder they all keep on smiling.

The wines

On February 20, 2009, Véronique Sanders presented 14 vintages of Château Haut-Bailly at the Institute of Directors in london. The tasting was organized by linden and Aiko Wilkie of the Fine Wine Experience. The vintages from 2005 to 1985 were from the château, but the others had been sourced by Linden at auction over the previous three years.

The 2008, 2007, 2006, 2003, 2002, 1999, and 1996 vintages were tasted at Château Haut-Bailly with Véronique Sanders and Gabriel Vialard on May 11, 2009.

2008 (unfined barrel sample)

The Indian summer in September and October meant that the grapes showed high degrees of potential alcohol: 13.5–14.2% for the Merlots, and 12.5% for the Cabernets—equal to both 2005 and 2006. Spread across five weeks, the harvest was one of the longest and latest of the decade, beginning on September 25 for the youngest Merlots, while the last Cabernet Sauvignons (70% of the blend) were brought in from 0ctober 17 to 23.

Viscous purple. Very closed and still very oak-dry on the palate, with plenty of acidity, but it exhibits the characteristic Haut-Bailly balance and elegance. “Silky tannins, power, and softness,” in Véronique’s opinion. At least as good as 2007 and probably superior to 2006.

2007 (unfined barrel sample)

A long growing season of 130 days (compared to the usual 100) compensated for an unusually chilly August. Harvest conditions were ideal, beginning on September 21 in a plot of young Merlot vines, with more senior parcels being picked from September 27 to October 2. the Cabernet Sauvignon was not ready until the second week of October.

A shade deeper than the 2006. Very youthful, closed, slightly jammy fruit on the nose, with Cabernet very much to the fore (70% of the blend). More concentrated than 2006, with firmer acidity, especially on the finish. The tannins, however, are less appealing than those of 2006, dry and charmless at the moment. Well structured and ageworthy, though. Véronique reassured, “Fining will soften it.” Drink 2012–22+?

2006

Analyses of the grapes after two fine weeks in early September suggested alcoholic potential and polyphenol content identical to 2004 and 2005. Picking began with young Merlot on September 13, with the greater part harvested September 18–23, followed by Cabernet Franc on the 25th and Cabernet Sauvignon on the 27th, concluding on October 5.

Not unexpectedly deeper in color than the La Parde. Overall, a much finer, softer take on the second wine—or rather, la Parde is a less polished version of the grand vin. This is more tightly furled on the nose, similarly medium-bodied but much denser, giving an impression of greater richness. Plenty of tannin on the finish but not at all heavy or sullen, and clearly superior length to La Parde. It does feel a bit lighter than 2005 or 2007, though it has Haut-Bailly’s calling card of lovely balance and elegance. “More classic than 2005,” reckons Véronique.

2006 La Parde de Haut-Bailly

Purple. A ballerina-like balance of oak and fruit on the nose, and a hint of tobacco emerging with aeration. Bright, ripe fruit, but a little bit rustic by comparison with the grand vin: there is a good deal more Merlot and Cabernet Franc here. Medium-bodied, with chewy tannins on the finish. Still quite young, but as with the grand vin, well structured and ageworthy. Age to 2015?

2005

An exceptional combination of hot days and cool nights was enjoyed right through the harvest of this famous vintage, which began on September 14 and concluded on October 11. The degree of ripeness was unprecedented for Haut-Bailly, with Merlot reaching 14 degrees and Cabernet Sauvignon 13. A low yield (by Bordeaux standards) of 41hl/ha was also indicative of a wine that was likely to be imposing.

Deep ruby-purple. Oak is apparent on the nose, but so also is the earthy Graves fruit. Very young and secondary at the moment. Medium-full-bodied, not massive by any means, with a potent tannin structure that is perhaps largely oak-derived (63% new oak in this vintage). Brisk acidity keeps everything refreshing. Excellent length, and overall a restrained expression of a big vintage. Once mature, this should be delicious, but still it needs plenty of time. Drink 2015–25+?

2004

The Merlots were picked between September 27 and October 4, a much later start than in 2005. For the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, picking continued until the second week of October. at 50hl/ha, volume was the highest for three years. “The yield of the Pessac-léognan appellation is around 52–56hl/ha every year,” explains Véronique. “We are always producing much less than what is authorized. And you also have to know that we are the only one (with la Mission Haut-Brion) planted at 10,000 vines per hectare. So haut-Bailly has always had quite severe yields. But we do consider, as does Jean Delmas, that a great terroir should be able to produce 50hl/ha.”

Similar depth of color to 2005 but not as purple. Lovely nose—very classical, fine Graves, earthy and savory. More developed than the 2005—or perhaps less enclosed by oak (60% in 2004)?—albeit relatively closed still. Medium-weight again, with less powerful tannins, though these are still distinctive on the finish. Less sweet fruit and less oak-driven than the 2005, a cooler expression of its terroir, and for many tasters better for it. Excellent length again, perhaps a bit less than 2005. An unfashionable Left Bank vintage but rightly a very well regarded Haut-Bailly. “In 2004 all the investments we had made showed in the wine,” believes Véronique. Drink 2012–22+?

2003

The growth cycle of this atypical vintage began during the first week of the now notorious heatwave during Vinexpo in late June. After a simple échardage, there was no further leaf-thinning, so as to give the grapes maximum protection from the fierce sun. The exceptionally hot weather in early August meant that the harvest began three weeks earlier than usual. the young Merlot vines were harvested September 3–4 and the older Merlots on September 10–11. The Cabernet Francs were picked in two days the following week and then finally the Cabernet Sauvignon on September 22–27.

The low acidity caused by such a hot summer led to some concerns about stabilizing the wine. But, as Véronique explains, the acid levels corrected themselves during fermentation, redistributing themselves throughout maceration. This meant that haut-Bailly, unlike some other estates, did not need (or choose) to acidify.

Relatively evolved color, more so than the 2002 or 2004. A hint of tar on the nose suggests the vintage rather than the terroir, as does the uncharacteristic (for Haut-Bailly) warm finish. “It wasn’t easy to make a good vintage,” admits Véronique, and its difficulties show here. Still, a fine effort. Age to 2015?

Château Haut-Bailly 2003

2002

A dull summer preceded an unexpectedly dry and sunny late season that delayed the ripening of the grapes. the first Merlots were picked on September 20 and the last Cabernets came in on October 15.

A less evolved color than the 2003, and distinctly leaner and fresher, with noticeably high acidity. Fine and elegant, with good length. A very good Haut-Bailly from a deeply unfashionable but underestimated vintage. Age to 2015+?

Château Haut-Bailly 2002

2001

Draconian green-harvesting was done in July, so that by the end of the summer there were only six bunches left per vine and the crop was reduced to 39hl/ha. It rained on September 22–23 but picking began on September 24, with the parcels of young Merlots. the Cabernets were begun in early October and finished on October 11.

Purple core, turning to garnet at the rim. Still quite closed, though with a similar earthy character to the 2004, albeit leaner and “cooler.” Christmas-cake flavors suggest Merlot to the fore on the palate. Juicy acidity but less potent tannin than the 2005 or 2004, and overall much lighter and finer—welterweight rather than middleweight. “The finish is more precise than 2000,” said Véronique. Certainly it has more tannic grip than 2000, though with less persistence on the finish. It is less opulent and sexy than the previous wines, but is a very nice, supple-textured, relatively light claret. Very highly regarded by Linden, which is usually a good sign. Drink now–2015+?

2000

The harvest started at Haut-Bailly on September 13, with a plot of young Merlot. Picking the Cabernet commenced on October 3 and was finished on October 11. The yield was 49hl/ha, with only 50% of the crop ending up in the grand vin.

Noticeably deeper in color than the 2001. Quite closed, but some sexy aromas of chocolate and truffles already apparent. More savory on the palate, its goût de terroir more apparent here than on the nose. Very silky tannins, with a fleshy and lush texture in the mouth. already drinkable, and very sexy and modern by Haut-Bailly’s standards. Drink now to 2020+?

1999

The first vintage of the Wilmers regime. The warm and wet conditions led to the risk of rot and “kept us on tenterhooks,” remembers Véronique. Picking took place between September 22 and October 5 during mixed weather.

Purple core, turning to garnet at the rim. A “cool” character pervades this wine. It has developed flavors and is not especially long or concentrated but is typically balanced and elegant. Drink now to 2015? “A very pleasant wine, very charming” is Véronique’s assessment. after Mr Parker’s first judgment it was awarded 78 points but, after bottling, was finally upgraded to 88! The initial score caused some soul searching at Haut-Bailly, but Robert Wilmers insisted that no radical changes be made and opted to retain the estate’s “classic style.” As Gabriel Vialard puts it, “the owner changed, but the style didn’t.”

1998

As in 1989 and 1990, very hot weather was experienced in the summer, with no rain at all in July and August. But in September, with the harvest imminent, the skies opened. At Haut-Bailly, a sorting table was set up between the destemmer and the crusher so that the grapes could be sorted between the two machines. Harvesting took place from September 23 to October 13. The yield was 48hl/ha. This vintage contained 43% Merlot, which was “maybe the finest Merlot haut-Bailly has ever produced. Wines from the vieilles vignes parcel showed exceptional color and tannin richness,” said Véronique.

Purple, turning to garnet at the rim. Very closed, but the nose is certainly different than the vintages above. A hint of tobacco. Medium weight again. Savory, Merlot flavors on the finish. Juicy, refreshing acidity again—seemingly a hallmark of Haut-Bailly. Some tannin still apparent, but not hard or spiky. Just about drinkable now but not yet fully unfurled. Good length. S great year for Merlot in Bordeaux, even in Graves! A very good Haut-Bailly. Age to 2020?

1996

Everything went well until mid-September, when heavy rain caused some concern and meant that all the Merlot was relegated to the second wine. The weather was exceptionally fine through October, however, and produced fine Cabernet.

Atypical, opulent Cabernet on the nose, with a more characteristic Haut-Bailly cigar aroma also emerging over time. Lovely structure, fine tannins, and a rich finish. Very good. Age to 2016+?

1995

After two hours of aeration, this wine indicated a change in maturity and style, with less of the plush fruit of the younger wines. Medium-plus garnet color, turning to mahogany toward the rim. leaf, cigar, and cedarwood aromas. The tannins seem to be the least impressive of those tasted so far, somewhat charmless and hard. The acidity is noticeable on the finish, too. Age to 2015?

1990

This year was even warmer than 1989 and was one of those relatively rare Bordeaux vintages that combine high quality with high volume, though Haut-Bailly thinned out 50% of its bunches in June and July to restrict yields. The harvest began on September 17 and was completed by October 4. The élevage used 65% new oak, more even than in 2005.

Garnet color. Not yet fully open, but it already has developed and exotic aromas of cedarwood and truffles, as well as retaining a floral freshness. Certainly a step up in concentration from the 1995, with a lush, opulent, and supple texture. The tannins are just about mature now, though there is still plenty of that defining, refreshing acidity. A decadent style that evokes its warm origins. Not yet fully blooming on the finish, but easy and enjoyable to drink now. Age to 2020?

1989

A very hot and dry summer, with grapes harvested between September 20 and October 8. A relatively cool fermentation (maximum 81°F [27°C]) was pursued.

Garnet color. More closed than the 1990, and with a firmer texture, too. Surprisingly different from the previous wine, considering that 1989 and 1990 were both “hot” vintages. Véronique offered a very French metaphor: “With 1990, what you get is what you see. With 1989, you have to chat it up more.” For her, the 1989 is “more complex” than the 1990. It is less decadent than 1990 but perhaps a better bet in the long run. Drink now to 2020?

1986

Like the 1996, this is another atypical Haut-Bailly made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon. The run-in to the harvest went well but there was heavy rain in mid-September, before the fine weather returned in October.

Garnet/mahogany. a developed nose of cedarwood, with fresher floral notes. The Cabernet character is very strong, particularly in the tannins, and the wine has a leanness that is revealed in the absence of the plumpening Merlot. Good and surprisingly subtle length, with plenty of fruit, acid, and tannin. True to its vintage and will keep going for some time yet. Currently it needs food to counterpoint the tannin. Some tasters found the wine slightly funky, so a second bottle was opened. It was totally different. With the (Brett?) veil removed, the 1986 was much more open and aromatic. Spicy and minty on the palate. Very good. Age to 2020?

1985

This was the final Haut-Bailly to print “Cru Exceptionnel” on the label. It was a year of extreme temperatures: –4°F (–20°C) in winter and 95°F (35°C) in September and October. There was frost in winter and rain in May and June.

Mahogany color. attractive, earthy nose, with less of the cedarwood evident in the 1986. Much softer and more supple, naturally, but perhaps less complex in its flavors and probably not for the long haul. Enjoyable and comely now. awarded five stars by Michael Broadbent MW in his Vintage Wines, but on the basis of this bottle it does not seem to merit quite such a high rating today. Drink now to 2015?

1970

Medium-depth mahogany, lighter in color than any of the previous wines. Fully mature, with cedarwood and leather on the nose. Linden detected a tiny bit of Brett, but it contributes to the savory character rather than detracting from the sweet fruit that remains on the soft and gentle palate. Mellow, quite moreish, and holding up well, but not for keeping much longer. It falls short on the finish compared to the other wines tasted here. A lovely old wine, but undistinguished.

1964

There were 14 days of rain during the 1964 harvest, but those who picked before the rain did well. This haut-Bailly does not appear to have had wet feet, as its color, deeper than the 1970, suggests, but the nose was a bit animal, with a Band-aid smell indicating Brett, perhaps. This wine seemed to polarize opinion, with the majority praising it but a minority troubled by that Brett. It was still quite lively on the palate, though, with some tannin on the finish. Very good for its vintage and age, and certainly more distinguished than the 1970, though lacking the harmony of some of the other vintages. Much improved with aeration, with the animal note disappearing, but increasingly woody on the nose. Nonetheless, a very good wine.

1961

A deeper color than the 1964—bright and luminous. A distinctly minty nose, even more so than the 1986, perhaps suggesting a high Cabernet content. The mint and eucalyptus aromas evoke Pauillac rather than Graves. This is a very unlikely haut-Bailly! Véronique did not recall the minty character from when she had tasted the wine previously, which led a fellow taster to ask brazenly, “Do you think it’s genuine?” It was a château bottling, with a correct and fully-branded château cork, from Nicolas’ cellars. “I have no doubt this was a genuine château-bottled example,” said Linden.

Despite is atypicity, this is quite delicious—sweet, concentrated, and harmonious—and certainly representative of the 1961 Bordeaux vintage, if not of Haut-Bailly as an estate. Lovely stuff, in very good condition, and arguably the best wine of the tasting. It was later voted wine of the evening. After two hours in the glass, it was still going strong, unlike the more fragile 1964. There are only three bottles of the 1961 left at the château, lamented Véronique.

Château Haut-Bailly 1961 (photo courtesy of Linden and Aiko Wilkie)

1929

“A hard-won bottle from the Graham lyons collection,” according to Linden, and “in fantastic condition.” For the record, it was lot 208 at Zachys’ New york sale of April 25, 2008. Estimated at $240–400, it was eventually sold to Linden’s winning bid of $650.

Unlike all the other wines, which were decanted beforehand (except for the second bottle of 1986), this was pulled and poured without ceremony. Mahogany brown. leathery, fairly fecal nose that became cleaner and brighter with aeration, like turning up a dimmer switch in a dark room. Although the nose showed its age, the palate was in very good condition for an 80-year-old wine, still sweet and juicy. The aromas eventually descended gently into oxidation. Still a fascinating and charming wine but not particularly distinguished by the highest standards.

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  1. Excellent! You write really well. Hope to see much more flowing from your end.

  2. ‘there have been female managers at Haut-Bailly before Véronique, including Bellot des Minières’s wife Fanny oliveri and her daughter by another marriage, Valentine Heirweg.’

    My great, great aunt Fanny Olivari, not Oliveri!! She was originally born on the Island of Mauritius where her parents were sugar-cane land-owners before settling in Bordeaux. She was a formidable cook I have been told!

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