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Four decades of Lafite Rothschild

Inside the sell-out masterclass with Christophe Salin....

Four decades of Lafite Rothschild

This vertical, held with Domaines Barons de Rothschild CEO Christophe Salin and featuring wines from four decades of Château Lafite Rothschild, was as you might expect the hot ticket of the Shanghai Fine Wine Encounter, sold out within a week of release.

I was sat beside a reader who had flown in from Beijing especially for the event, and brief conversations revealed attendees from at least five other cities across China among the 90 tasters in the room. By the time it was finished, bottles were being taken to Salin to be signed, a gaggle forming for photographs.

Salin opened by sharing his memories of more than 30 years of travel to China, watching Shanghai’s evolution from a city dominated by bicycles to the luxury cars of today, and the evolution in the drinks he has been offered there from baiju to fine wines.

‘It’s not a brand, it’s a place, like your own house’

He then took the tasters through the history and background of Lafite (‘It’s not a brand, it’s a place, like your own house’), peppered with stories of the family, such as the increasing role of Baron Eric de Rothschild’s daughter, Saskia, and the wryly accurate observation from Baron Eric that the secret of Lafite is how ‘it offers absolutely no resistance to being drunk’.

He also gave an overview of recent changes, most notably the new technical director Eric Kohler, who has taken over from Charles Chevallier.

‘The technical director when I joined in 1985 was Gilbert Rokvam,’ said Salin.

‘He was old enough to be my father. Then he retired in 1994 and the role fell to Charles Chevallier, who was old enough to be my brother. It has now passed on to Eric Kohler, who is almost young enough to be my son. But through it all, Lafite remains Lafite.’

The wines chosen were exceptional, spread out over 24 years from 2012 back to 1988, showcasing mainly younger wines including both the stellar 2009 and 2010 but setting them in context by lining them up against older years that clearly highlighted the rewards of patience.

The vertical showed, as Salin said, how ‘some years the estate signature takes precedence, while in other years it’s the vintage that is more important. And sometimes the two match up and you get a perfect wine – like in 2009 and 2010.’

  • Scroll down to see Jane Anson’s tasting notes

The standouts of the eight vintages on display, at least to my palate, were the 2011 (tasting exceptionally supple and floral, underestimated on release), 2001 (truffles, cedar and violets, almost ready to drink) and the 1988 (the one being opened at château dinners right now, if you happen to be heading to Pauillac).

This last one Salin says he chose because of the importance of the number 8 to the Chinese, to which someone asked, to laughter, ‘so why not the 1888?’.

The wines tasted were:

Château Lafite Rothschild AOC Pauillac 2012
Château Lafite Rothschild AOC Pauillac 2011
Château Lafite Rothschild AOC Pauillac 2010
Château Lafite Rothschild AOC Pauillac 2009
Château Lafite Rothschild AOC Pauillac 2008
Château Lafite Rothschild AOC Pauillac 2001
Château Lafite Rothschild AOC Pauillac 1998
Château Lafite Rothschild AOC Pauillac 1988

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