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Chateau Lafite Rothschild

A bit about Chateau Lafite Rothschild:
In the opinion of many winelovers and certainly in the opinion of the public at large, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild is the greatest red Bordeaux as well as the greatest red wine vineyard in the world. The history of the property is certainly as interesting as the wine itself and is too long and complicated to recount in the short space at hand.

Nevertheless, the high points bear repeating. As with most wines of the Médoc, the fame of Lafite first dates from the eighteenth century. During the reign of Louis XV, Lafite was owned by the very powerful and wealthy Marquis de Ségur, who also owned Latour, Mouton, and Calon Ségur. Upon Ségur's death in 1755, the estate became embroiled in a long and complex battle among the heirs. Over the course of the next one hundred years, it was auctioned twice - the second time in 1868 to the scion of a famous Paris banking family, Baron James de Rothschild. The selling price was an astounding 4,400,000 francs. To properly appreciate the significance of this sum, the equally prestigious Mouton-Rothschild had sold a little more than a decade earlier for one quarter of that sum. The lofty price paid for Lafite was due in no small part to the enormous prestige the property enjoyed as a result of the famous 1855 Grand Cru Classification. At the Paris Exposition in that year, Bordeaux brokers and merchants compiled a list of the top sixty Médoc chateaux and ranked them in five groups. Lafite was placed at the very top of the first group - first of the firsts. Also shortly after the sale to the Rothschilds in 1868, a famous auction of some of the chateau's wonderful old vintages was held. This was a remarkable event, for the wines fetched hitherto unheard of prices - with the 1811, the great Comet vintage, commanding the highest price of all. It was without doubt the greatest wine auction that had ever been seen up to that time. Over the years to the Second World War various Rothschilds ran the chateau, but after the war it seemed that Lafite was just one of many jewels owned by the family - an interest and concern to be visited and supervised when necessary. The period after 1945 was not one of neglect, but the property certainly did not get the care and attention that cousin Baron Philippe fostered on his beloved Mouton-Rothschild. As a result many felt that Lafite gradually began to lose its place of preeminence during the postwar years and that the last great Lafite was produced in the 1959 vintage. In fact, another vintage the equal of the 1959 was not seen for nearly two decades. That was in 1975, the same year that year that the chateau hired a new winemaker, Jean Crete, formerly of Leoville Las Cases and also engaged the consulting services of Emile Peynaud, the famed University of Bordeaux enologist. In 1977 a new generation Rothschild, Eric de Rothschild, arrived to oversee the property and become a hands-on proprietor. The stage was set for Lafite's return to greatness, and the 1975 vintage proved that Lafite still had the stuff.

With nearly 200 acres under vines and an average annual production of 20,000 cases, Lafite is the largest of the first growths both in terms of area and production. The vineyards lie on slopes in the northern end of the commune of Pauillac. Across a meadow on its northern border lies the commune of St. Estèphe and the imposing Chinese Gothic architecture of Chateau Cos D'Estournel. On the Pauillac side, Lafite adjoins Mouton at many points. The chateau itself is a pleasing compendium of medieval turrets and seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings standing among a row of trees on a hill above the famous Routes des Chateaux. The chaise (the cellars where the new wine is aged in barrels) are quite impressive, but even more awesome is the magnificent underground cellar where Lafite's unique collection of old wines goes back to the 1797 vintage. If any one spot on earth is Mecca to the winelover, it is here at Lafite - the one place that connoisseurs the world over must visit once in their lifetime.

And what is one to say of the wines of Lafite that has not already been expressed with all the gloriously extravagant rhetorical fantasies of bygone days? Without attempting to outdo the embellishments of some of the greatest writers of wine lore, we will say only that, at its best, Lafite is the quintessential claret - a wine that combines finesse, breed, depth, and longevity. It certainly is a softer wine than Mouton and Latour, the other two great Pauillacs. This is due no doubt to the high percentage of Merlot used in the blend. And what about recent vintages of Lafite? It is true that Lafite went through spotty times. However, Lafite has recently made great wines in 1975, 1976 (the best wine in Bordeaux in that vintage), 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 (a monumental year for Lafite), 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2005.

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