The wines of Château Lafite-Rothschild are the essence of elegance. Sophisticated classics of left bank Bordeaux, they excel their peers in the subtlety of their bouquet, the graceful evolution of the wines in bottle, and the distinctive stamp of their heritage.
Lafite is not showy or ostentatious. Rather, it is understated in an almost debonair way, yet it lacks nothing of the power or longevity that one would hope for in a top-flight claret.
Lafite is also, however, something of an enigma. It is a wine that excites such enthusiasm among its devotees that the uninitiated wonder if it could ever live up to its billing. According to some of the most knowledgeable palates, it does.
Lafite was long the favoured claret of renowned connoisseur Michael Broadbent MW. Broadbent has many quotable thoughts on Lafite, but among my favourites comes from his book Vintage Wine, apropos of the 1985 vintage: ‘It is a wine that does a sort of slow striptease, revealing more each time one sniffs and sips.’
Broadbent was neither the first nor last to extoll its virtues. The praise was already raised to a high level in the 18th century by the Maréchal de Richelieu, who reportedly told Louis XV in 1755 that ‘I have found Château Lafite’s wine to be a delicious, generous cordial, comparable to the ambrosia of the Gods of Olympus.’
To do justice to such a wine requires reflection, and a vertical tasting provides a perfect occasion, since a well-constructed vertical illuminates a château’s wines as well as the strengths of each vintage.