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Château Lafite Rothschild is a prestigious wine estate in France, that has been owned by members of the Rothschild family since the nineteenth century. The name “Lafite” comes from a Gascon word that means “small hill”.

 

 

Château Lafite Rothschild

 

In the 1855 Classification of wines only four wine-producing châteaux of Bordeaux acquired First Growth (Premier Cru) status. Of those, at the top of the list stands Château Lafite Rothschild a consistent producer of one of the most expensive red wines in the world.

 

Château Lafite Rothschild

 

Lafite is world-renowned for being a Pauillac of elegant tastes: cedar-wood, cassis, tobacco, truffle and spiced earthy notes combine with a freshness of intense fruity purity. Its flavours are intense, pure and supple with tannins that are ripe, soft and well-rounded.

 

History 

Château Lafite Rothschild has a long and interesting history,dating back to the thirteenth century. Although vines were probably grown from this time, it wasn’t until Jacques de Ségur planted the majority of the vineyards, at around 1680.

 

In the early eighteenth century, wine-producing techniques were refined by Nicolas-Alexandre, Marquis de Ségur , introducing his wines to the upper echelons of European society and nobility. Before long he was referred to as the “Wine Prince”.

 

Château Lafite Rothschild

 

Baron James de Rothschild bought Château Lafite at a public sale in Paris in1868 and Lafite has remained in the hands of the Rothschild family since this time.

 

The nephew of Baron Elie, Baron Eric took over the management of Lafite in 1974 and was active in making it an exceptional estate. Baron Eric is part of the fifth Rothschild generation (together with Barons David, Edouard, Robert, Nathaniel and Benjamin de Rothschild) to inherit Château Lafite.

 

In 1987 Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill supervised the two-year construction of a new, underground, circular chai (wine cellar) that accommodates some 2200 barrels of wine.

 

Appellation

Pauillac In the 1855 Classification only four wine producing Châteaux of Bordeaux gained First Growth (Premier Cru classé) status. The first on the list is Château Lafite Rothschild, a dependable producer of one of the most expensive red wines globally.


Owner

 

Domaines Baron Rothschild (DBR). 

Manager: Baron Éric de Rothschild.

 

Planted acreage

 

 

Total: 107 hectares (264.402 acres) (Lafite: 92 hectares (227.336 acre)

Grape varieties

 

 

Cabernet Sauvignon 70%; Merlot 25%; Cabernet Franc 3% and Petit Verdot 2%

 

 

Wines produced

 

 

Lafite Rothschild (First wine): Cabernet Sauvignon 80-95%; Merlot 5-20%; Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot 0-5%.

 

Carruades de Lafite (Second wine): Cabernet Sauvignon 50-70%; Merlot 30-50%; Petit Verdot 0-5%.

Terroire

A thick layer of gravel over limestone. Elevations and water access make this one of the finest terroires in the Médoc.

 

 

Production

 

Around 35 000 cases, of which Lafite Rothschild numbers between 15 000 to 20 000 cases annually.

 

 

Top Vintages Produced

 

 

1848, 1865, 1870, 1899, 1900, 1953, 1959, 1961, 1982,

1986, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008,

2009, 2010.

 

Viticulture

Lafite is the largest of the First Growth properties in the Médoc. In total,the Lafite estate amounts to some 178 hectares ( 439.85 acres) , although of this only 103 hectares (254.5 acres )( are under vines. The varieties are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (71%), then Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and a small proportion of Petit Verdot (1%).

 

The average vine age is 30 years, although young vines (vines less than 10 years old) are not included in the grand vin, thus Lafite itself is made from the fruit of vines that exceed, on average, 40 years of age. There are a few plots of 50 and 80 year old vines, with La Gravière, the oldest plot at 115 years of age. The terroir underfoot is typically gravelly, with Aeolian sand on a bedrock of tertiary limestone. 

 

After harvesting the grapes, by hand, fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled stainless steel vessels, followed by malolactic fermentation in vats. The chai is equipped to facilitate the fermentation of grapes from separate plots. Once completed, the wine is decanted into barrels, made by Lafite-Rothschild’s own cooper, for 18-20 months. 

 

The wine undergoes a fining process prior to bottling, but is not significantly filtered .

 

For the barrels, oak is selected from the Allier and Nivernais forests, then left to dry in the open air for two years at the château, before being coopered. This allows  the origin of the wood to be geographically controlled, the quality of its drying, as well as its toasting during assembly, to add to and confer a specific taste to the wine, depending on its quality. 

 

In addition to the first growth, about a third of the wine produced by the estate (up to 30000 cases per annum) is released as a second wine under the label of ‘Carruades de Lafite’, which is made up of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a greater proportion of Merlot, which because of its name and association with the Grand Cru, is much sought after and has also become very collectable. It takes its name from a part of the vineyard located near to Mouton Rothschild

 

Château Lafite Rothschild

Lafite in the news

  • Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the American “Declaration of Independence” (1776) visited the estate and became a lifelong customer. 

 

  • Until quite recently, the record price at auction for a bottle of wine ($156,000) was for a 1787 Château Lafite, once thought to be owned by US president Thomas Jefferson. The authenticity of the bottle was challenged and the controversy surrounding it, which is still without resolution, is the theme explored in the 2008 book “The Billionaire’s Vinegar”, by Benjamin Wallace. 

 

  • The wine of Lafite had been exported to the UK, since the early 17th century, where it was popular at public auctions; much discussed in the press of the day and was a favoured beverage of Prime Minster Robert Walpole among many other notable worthies of the time.

 

  • Starting with the 2000 vintage, Chateau Lafite became the most collectible wine from Bordeaux. Prices appeared to undergo a rapid expansion as a result of a seemingly ever increasing demand from China. Lafite had become the status symbol of choice.

 

  • There are many theories as to why this occurred. One widely accepted reason is that Lafite paid for product placement on the number one rated Chinese soap opera on television. Characters in that show were pictured enjoying life drinking bottles of Lafite and since that time, prices for its vintage produce have shot up and continue to climb.

 

  • 2005 LAFITE 2005 : A vintage of exceptional quality. Following a third consecutive year of drought in Europe, the temperatures in 2005 remained reasonable and ripening was slow, uneventful and complete. The result satisfied the most demanding winegrowers with small quantities of grapes; high degrees of alcohol and perfect plant health. As a result, a truly superb harvest produced very concentrated wines with very rich tannins. The 2005 vintage has seduced hundreds of wine lovers, becoming a very distinguished vintage for laying down.

 

  • October 2010. Three bottles of Châteaux Lafite-Rothschild 1869 were sold on the 29th October, 2010 at a Hong Kong auction held by Sotheby’s. The hammer price of $232,692 a bottle set a record for the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction. It may well be the most expensive bottle ever sold, though there are no records of private sales. 

 

  • October 2011. The particularly hot, dry spring of 2011 suggested that the harvest would be early and of exceptional quality.

 

Contact details:

Address: Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, 33250 Pauillac
Telephone: +33 (0) 5 53 89 78 00
Fax: +33 (0) 5 53 89 78 01
Internet:  www.lafite.com 

 

References:

  • Lichine, Alexis (1967).Alexis Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits. London: Cassell & Company Ltd.

 

  • “Wine makers crack open hi-tech tricks”.BBC.  “The record auction price for a single bottle of wine is £96,000 ($156,000) for a 1787 Château Lafite, which was reputedly once owned by America’s third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.”

 

  • Oliver Gearing – WineInvestment.org

 

  • www.lafite.com

 

  • Decanter.com (12/04/2010) Gordon Ramsay opens newest London restaurant: Pétrus.

 

  • The Antique Wine Company: Château Lafite Rothschild (http://www.antique-wine.com)

 

  • Wikipedia: Château Lafite Rothschild

 

Acknowledgement

Escapement.uk.com wishes to thank Andrew Napier of DBR Wines for his kind assistance with providing advice and images for this article.

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