It is not every day that you get to try a First Growth vertical, and certainly not in such charming company as Serena Sutcliffe MW. But on 15th June 2012 there I was at the Decanter Masterclass surrounded by 6 glasses of that most enigmatic of Bordeaux First Growths: Château Haut-Brion.
My tasting notes are in the order of presentation, which was determined by Jean-Philippe Delmas – the Manager of this famed estate. So without further ado, how did they show?
Château Haut-Brion 2003 – This is not especially dense in the glass: a translucent edge, with a pleasing garnet core. The primary nose is quite red berry dominated. Sniffing again the bright red fruits give way (or are supplemented by) dried herbs, dusty earth and white truffles. With time in the glass a denser and more floral nose was evident with opulent violets and wood smoke. Despite the reputation of this ‘heat wave’ vintage, nothing jammy or stewed was evident on the nose. On the palate the first taste is mouth-coating but ever so slightly flabby. The tannins are highly resolved and silky. This is an extremely smooth presentation, but on the palate the wine is not a blockbuster – lacking a little backbone and structure. The finish is good but not overly special. Still pretty darn pleasing though, and scoring additional points for the lovely nose. 93 points
Château Haut-Brion 1995 – This shows a dense garnet core but still looks bright and youthful. It has a wonderfully aristocratic nose; aromatic, complex and evolved. Black cassis fruit is evident, alongside dried herbs and lots of trademark Haut-Brion cigar smoke. After a while the smoke really dominates the nose – which is lifted and wonderfully enticing. The palate has serious ‘wow’ factor, most notably around the finish – which is seriously long, dense, and complex. The mid palate is lighter and a little less structured than one would ideally like, and I found the wine surprisingly dry in style (you feel like you can almost taste the smoke). But this is splitting hairs really because the 1995 is just so resolved and complete. 96 points
Château Haut-Brion 1998 – The 1998 shows a deep purple core, with some bricking around the rim. Like the 1995, it offers a delightful dried, dusty nose with traces of scorched rocks, earth and wood smoke. The sumptuous palate oozes dark black fruits with a delicious back note of Indian ink and herbs. There is something surprisingly voluptuous and almost ‘exotic’ about this wine. It is smooth and resolved, with sweet fine-grained tannins, and surprisingly racy acidity. It has a lifted finish which is not quite as long as the 1995. Beautiful claret, aging gracefully. 95 points
Château Haut-Brion 2008 – This is a sparkling bright purple colour in the glass. The nose is less evolved than the older Haut-Brions in the flight. It is fresh and elevated, and intriguing, with some cassis and ripe black fruits. The wine has a relatively high Cabernet Sauvignon content and it shows. The palate is characterised by a strong tannic backbone, with plenty of mouth grip and lots of presence. But the fruit falls away a touch towards the finish and this holds it back a touch. Lovely slurp for sure, but not in the class of 1995 or 1998. 93 points
Château Haut-Brion 2000 – Lovely purple colour to the wine, which looks much younger than its 12 years. The nose is deep and voluptuous, superbly seductive, deeply smoky and full of intrigue. In the mouth this is classic, fine-textured First Growth claret at the very top of its game. The core is so precise and integrated, graceful but with hidden depth and power. The other words I wrote down in my childish excitement were “seductive”, “elegant” and “aristocratic”. I think those give you the general idea. Of the vertical of 1995, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2008 this was my favourite. Oh to have a case of case of these in the old Liebherr at home! 97 points
Château Haut-Brion 2006 – Looking like the 2008, this is a dense purple colour in the glass. The nose is certainly very ripe, with a big, alcoholic aroma. The palate is much to my taste. Much better than the 2008, which preceded it in the flight. For Haut-Brion, this is a pretty structured, backward and masculine wine – almost gritty. The palate is earthy, with smoky black fruit and backbone of dark coffee grinds. Certainly not the fine-textured Haut-Brion of 1995 / 1998, and lacking the silky appeal of the 2000, but I loved it. 95 points