Chateau Lafite Rothschild
The vineyards of Ch. Lafite are found at the northern tip of the Pauillac appellation, just below the boundary with St. Estephe. There is evidence of an estate on this site as far back as the 14th century, and of exports of wine to the UK in the early 17th century. The current owners, the Rothschilds of the famous banking dynasty, bought the property in 1866, but this is a different brand of the family from that which purchased Ch. Mouton-Rothschild. For many years the Rothschilds’ control of Lafite was very much exercised at a distance, compared to the hands-on influence of Baron Philippe at Mouton, but since the Second World War this has changed somewhat, with the current owner, Eric de Rothschild, presiding over an extensive programme of investment in both vineyard and cellar.
With a base largely of gravel the vineyard is unsurprisingly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (71%) with the balance comprising Merlot (25%) Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (1%). Grapes are hand-harvested, and vinified parcel by parcel. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats, after which the wine is run off into barrels, 100% new for Lafite itself, a mixture of new and one-year-old barrels for the second wine.
The Grand Vin volume varies greatly according to the vintage, but is frequently less than half the total crop, and is usually no more than 20,000 cases. The second wine, Carruades de Lafite, has a slightly higher percentage of Merlot than Lafite and is in consequence more approachable in youth. Up to 30,000 cases are made. Wine deemed not worthy of inclusion in Carruades is sold off as generic Pauillac.
Throughout the 20th century Lafite was dogged by periods of inconsistency, often producing sublime wines but also failing to live up to its billing in other years. Since 1994, however the estate has been under the control of Charles Chevallier, and he has brought about not just an admirable level of consistency but has also been responsible for some truly brilliant wines often vying for the title of “Wine of the Vintage”.
In style the wines of Lafite are often described as having a perfumed elegance and finesse, to contrast with the more masculine power and structure of Latour or the more exotic and intense flavours of Mouton. What is sure, however, is that at its best it represents a hedonistic experience for the consumer, and has the ability to age, in great years, for minimally 50 years and often for longer.