Château Haut-Brion: approaching 500 years of excellence

haut brionFor almost five centuries this premier grand cru classé has stood as a beacon of innovation and progress in the Bordelais vineyard. Château Haut-Brion’s double classification is a unique and prestigious distinction and the wines are incomparable. We tell the interesting tale of its origins…

The birth of a legend

The hugely imminent and influential Pontac family founded Château Haut-Brion in the 16th century when Jean de Pontac acquired some land in his wife’s dowry. It was his descendant Arnaud de Pontac, however, who turned the château into a tour de force thanks to innovative winemaking techniques that shaped the way Bordeaux was made. The wines are ouillé (topped up) and undergo a long maturation period that gives them excellent ageing potential. This new style of wine became very popular amongst the British who imported it and named it New French Claret.

Arnaud de Pontac was also to thank for wines having so much success in England. In 1660, he sent his son to London to set up a restaurant called The Pontack’s Head. It soon became an establishment where Enlightenment figures would convene to enjoy fine meals inspired by French gastronomy. Great writers who frequented the restaurant documented tasting the wines of Haut-Brion which helped heighten the reputation of this domaine.

The President of the United States Thomas Jefferson helped raise the image of Château Haut-Brion further when he asked his brother in law to invest in some wine for him. Being a grand connoisseur, his brother in law placed the wines of Haut-Brion in the same category as Latour, Margaux and Lafite. Had he foreseen the 1855 classification of the wines of the Gironde that would place these names at the summit?

“My diplomacy is carried out through my casseroles and my cuisine!”. The famous philosophy of Monsieur Talleyrand did much to boost the success of Château Haut-Brion at an international level. With the help of his talented chef Marie-Antoine Carême, Talleyrand served the wines of Haut-Brion in the company of princes and world leaders at his eminent dinners.

1836 saw the domain change hands. When the Parisian banker Joseph-Eugene Larrieu bought the property, he oversaw a huge expansion project. 19 years later his efforts paid off when the château was awarded the sacred Premier Grand Cru Classé in the 1855 classification of Gironde wines handed out by the Syndicat des Courtiers en Vin de Bordeaux as requested by the Chambre de Commere in preparation for the Exposition Universelle in Paris that same year.

Just before the Second World War the property was bought by Clarence Dillon, an American banker and Francophile. It was passed down through his family who preserved Dillon’s ambitious and innovative attitude towards the domaine. The combined hard work of the château’s various owners  over time has enabled it to maintain its outstanding reputation and in 1959 and it was included in the Graves classification system, making Haut-Brion the only Bordeax château to enjoy a double classification.

In 1983, the family bought Château La Mission Haut-Brion and in 2007 Haut-Brion’s second wine, known as “Château Bahans Haut-Brion” was rechristened “Le Clarence de Haut-Brion” in honour of Clarence Dillon, the great grandfather of the château’s current owner Robert of Luxembourg.

The key to success

The red wines of this distinguished domaine are universally recognisable thanks to their pronounced empyreumatic aromas and silky tannins. The white wines from Haut-Brion are hard to find and lauded for their atypical flavour profile.

Sustainable agriculture is at the heart of cultivation. 48 hectares of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit-Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris as well as Sémillon vines grow in clay and sand rich terroir located in Pessac.

The legend lives on

Centuries go by and Château Haut-Brion retains its prestige. In fact, in 2017 the 1989 cuvée from this domaine, which carries a 100/100 Parker score was one of the highest priced lots to go on the iDealwine auction platform. Their finest vintages continue to appreciate and are coveted by wine lovers the world over.

The wines from Château Haut-Brion currently on sale:

Château Haut Brion 1er Grand Cru Classé 

Selective harvesting, limited yields and long and caring aging (22 months in new barrels) contribute to producing a magnificent wine. Earlier than the other grands crus, Haut-Brion develops very fine velvety ripe blackcurrant and mineral notes. In great vintages, it is perfectly able to age for several decades. Some vintages, such as the 1961 or 1989, show the incredible potential of Château Haut-Brion, one of the greatest red wines in the world.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion Cru Classé de Graves

Mission Haut-Brion’s wines offer intensity, body and richness. They have exceptional ageing potential, becoming truly magnificent in the 1988 and 1989 vintages in particular. The chapel built in the 18th century by Lazarist monks gives its name to the property’s second wine, made from young vines whose grapes are not used in the grand vin until they have produced at least six harvests.

Château Clarence (Bahans) de Haut-Brion Second Vin

The production of a second wine goes back to the 17th century. The name Château Bahans Haut Brion dates from the beginning of the 20th century and was the name of the château and the family who used to own an area that has since been incorporated into Haut Brion’s vineyard. A few years from the 75th anniversary of the property’s acquisition by Clarence Dillon’s family, the owners decided to rename the second wine and to bottle it in the same bottles as the first wine. Since 2007 vintage it became known as Clarence de Haut Brion. The result of rigorous vinification, Château Haut Brion’s second wine, which comes from the same terroir, is perfectly balanced, developing lovely silky flavours of red fruit and tobacco.

Château Haut Brion blanc

Haut-Brion’s red wine is classified twice. However, its white wine is not classified although it is Bordeaux’s greatest white wine. Featuring a very original structure, the Haut-Brion white clearly stands out from other Bordeaux dry white wines. A tribute to complexity, it combines the creaminess and mellowness of Sémillon with the fruitiness and freshness of a ripe Sauvignon. It offers an inimitable nose of freshness with dominant notes of aniseed, fresh lime blossom and verbena. It unfurls an incredibly lively fruitiness on the palate, giving way to a smooth structure. Over time, the combination of these different sensations results in aromas similar to the ones of fortified wines. A magnificent cru.

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Other things to read on the iDealwine blog:

Haut Brion | Old reliable

Why is it Château in Bordeaux and Domaine in Burgundy?

The Bordeaux En Primeur System

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