My job as a sommelier brings many opportunities to visit some of the world’s greatest wine producers. Recently on a trade trip with 11 sommeliers from NYC, I visited Bordeaux, France. The trip was action packed with visits to the greatest Chateaux in the region. This included visits to Ch Marguax, Ch La Mission Haut Brion, Ch Latour, Ch Mouton Rothchild, Ch Cos Estournel, and Ch Ducru Beaucaillou.
Many of the names above are widely renowned throughout the world, offering few surprises as to high degree of quality in the wine. I could praise them in great detail as many have done throughout history, however, I have chosen a lesser-known property that really caught my eye. Château Haut-Bailly in Pessac-Léognan, not widely known here in the U.S., but one chateau that should be on peoples’ radar.
Arriving at Château Haut-Bailly we were greeted by the lovely Veronique Sanders. She is the granddaughter of the former owner Jean Saunders. Her family sold the property to New York Banker, Robert G. Wilmers who appointed her as Commercial Director in 1998 and General Manager in 2000.
She manages Haut-Bailly with a continued family spirit but also with renewed dynamism from the significant investment made by the new owner. Her goal: to enable Haut-Bailly wines to achieve excellence and perpetuate their elegance.
She quickly guided us to the Old Vines parcel just behind the chateau’s terrace. These vines are the backbone and sole of the property. The vines in this section are more than 100 years old and are the treasure of Haut-Bailly! This vineyard site constitutes a mix of six different grape varieties. It’s mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest being Cabernet Franc, Carmenère, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, all having been planted at the beginning of the 20th century.
The old vines are planted together side by side in the row and not in separate blocks making it very difficult to harvest as the ripening stages differ for each varietal. They have been harvesting each varietal separately since 2000. In total they have about 30 hectares (70 acres) of planted vines on one piece of land, with a density of 10,000 vines per hectare.
From there we were taken on a tour of the brand new facilities. State of the art equipment on every level as Mr. Wilmers has spared no expense updating the property since his acquisition of it in 1998.
After our tour of the state of the art facility, we were then engaged in a tasting of both the 2009 and 2010 Ch Haut Bailly as well as their second label wine, the 2009 and 2010 La Parde de Haut Bailly. As to be expected, both vintages of Ch Haut Bailly were phenomenal.
What impressed me the most about this tasting was the quality of the second label wines. They were truly textbook second label wines, meaning that the grapes that were used came from younger vines and hadn’t quite reached the maturity level required for the top bottling. The La Parde de Haut Bailly is truly a great value for its quality.
“Private dining at our estate,” says Veronique Sanders, director of Château Haut-Bailly in Pessac Léognan, “is a natural extension of our winemaking. We want to be able to welcome our clients and friends in a personal way — many of whom we have met while travelling abroad — and want them to understand our wines more fully.”
With this philosophy in mind, Ch Haut Bailly has recently renovated the kitchen area this past year in the chateau itself, and hired a professional chef. Personal touches throughout, enhance the guest’s experience when they visit. For example, guests are free to take a leisurely drink on the terrace or watch the chef tend to his herb garden.
Chef Laviale is representative of the new type of chef you can expect to meet in Bordeaux estate kitchens these days. Having previously worked at the Michelin-starred Lasserre in Paris, he was tempted out of the French capital by the possibility of experimenting with his own style and developing the concept of food-and-wine pairings with some of the best wines in the world.
He creates the menu according to what’s available in the market that morning or according to the vintages of wine that are going to be served. According to Veronique, the chef “is a natural extension of our winemaking”.
The meal was brilliant from the canapés that were passed on the terrace with Champagne to the carefully selected menu accompanying the wines. Mr. and Mrs. Wilmers joined us on the terrace and later for dinner. This was by far the best meal we had on our trip.
The culmination of hard work and dedication to detail shines through on every level of the operation from vineyard management to winemaking to the gracious hospitality. Not only do the wines speak elegance and class, the team that represents this Estate is their mirror image.
La Parde de Haut-Bailly AC Pessac-Leognan
2010 Very complex and precise. Love the tension on this wine. Notes of cassis, black raspberry, mineral, spice, and mocha. Great acidity and lots of fine tannins. This wine is very concentrated, but balanced. $40
2009 Beautiful and pure, with aromas of mineral, raspberry, violets, and spice. Very concentrated, great mid palate. This will drink earlier than the 2010. More fruit forward. $40
Chateau Haut-Bailly AC Pessac-Leognan
2010 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc $150-$200
Very concentrated and powerful. Aromas of black cherry, cassis, lead pencil, and tobacco. Very aromatic. Ripe and tight on the palate with a silky texture and fine tannins. Very long finish. Love this. Classic Bordeaux. Needs time
2009 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc $175-$200
This is much riper then the 2010. Nose of cassis, minerals and floral tones. Very concentrated. Full bodied but still has not lost that elegance edge. This is more open than the 2010.
Served with Quail, violin zucchini & smoked bacon emulsion $150
2005 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc
Very dense, pure and elegant nose. Very aromatic. A richer style on the palate. Structured, but balanced. Very seductive. Well done.
Served With Roasted Veal, tomato confit & grenaille potato. $100
2003 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 6% Caberent Franc
Currants and pencil notes aromatically. Simple but easy to drink now wine. A little monolithic but given the vintage this is fine effort.
2002 62% Cabernet Sauvoignon, 35% Merlot, 3 Cabernet Franc $85
Scents of black currents, smoke, and mocha. Medium body, refined wine with great balance of acidity and soave tannins. This will be an earlier drinker.
Served with Aged Cheeses
2000 50% Caberent Sauvignon, 50% Merlot $100
This was more elegant than expected for the vintage. Nose of tobacco, smoke, and currants. A pure wine never the less. Great balance and purity.
1999 61% Cabernet Sauvingon, 33% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc $85
Classic Bordeaux with age. Pleasant minerality on the nose with notes of black fruits, tobacco, and cherries. Nice balance, good fruit and complexity in the mouth. This was perfect match for the cheese.