Wine Tasting | Château Haut-Bailly 1998-2017, the stuff of legends (Part 2)

At the invitation of Véronique Sanders, we had the exceptional opportunity to taste the 20 vintages produced during the era of Bob Wilmers’ running of Château Haut-Bailly, from 1998 to 2017. The first part of this article evoked the wines from 1998 to 2009, so here are the eight following vintages.

Château Haut-Bailly 2010 – “Excellence”

Haut-Bailly is one of the properties that managed a double whammy, with fantastic vintages in both 2009 and 2010.

At this point, having already tasted ten of the property’s vintages, it became second nature to recognise Haut-Bailly’s marks of excellence. And they all make an appearance in the 2010.

This vintage is evidently among the best in its class. And yet, here again we have a wine that at first seems a bit serious, a bit more distant than the 2009. Is it perhaps one of Haut-Bailly’s defining characteristics to retain a certain modesty in its finest vintages? Excellence doesn’t always need to be introduced with great pomp and ceremony. Haut-Bailly 2010 forges its path calmly, its nose of a legendary freshness, a proverbial elegance, and a perfectly pure fruit.

Its charm unfolds immediately, though discreetly. There is nothing forceful about this enticement, even if the lightly peppered notes spice things up a bit, the cause of some rosy cheeks around the table…The palate meets with an ample, concentrated, and powerful mouth feel. Though this is a muted power since the equilibrium of this wine is masterful, supported by a superb structure, bursting with freshness. Whilst we know this is a wine made to be aged, it is already delicious – surely the sign of a truly fine wine.

Its fabric: even better than a beautiful cashmere, a Vicuña coat. Simply irresistible.

Château Haut-Bailly 2011 – “The hallmark of its terroir”

The shade displayed by the 2011 is proof that we have well and truly entered a decade of younger wines that are still evolving. Intense, this one is impressive to the eye with its dark ruby hue. Its light, liquorice nose precedes a gentle attack on the palate, bringing with it an ample mouthfeel, full of energy and carried by a lovely acidity. The well-ripened fruits have a strong presence throughout, rounded off by a fruity firework of a finish. Overall it is dense with a superb structure and a soothing texture. This wine will be a delight served at the table, this much is certain.

Its fabric: a silky, enveloping pashmina

Château Haut-Bailly 2012 – “Virtuoso”

With a rainy spring followed by delicate weather conditions until the end of July, 2012 won’t have been an especially restful year for the team at the estate. Yet it is undoubtedly in moments like this that we can most appreciate Haut-Bailly’s sophistication: nothing of the arduous effort made to surmount these obstacles can be discerned. They put on a brave face and deal with it. This wine is particularly bright in the glass, and crimson in colour. The nose is joyful, indulgent and bursting with fruit. In this complex bouquet bloom aromas of liquorice, floral notes, and delicately smoky and oaky flavours. The tannins, whilst already nicely softened, are still perceptible, bringing a bit of structure to all the exuberance. The finish is lively, brilliant… A wine with remarkable energy, playing to a tune not unlike a Mendelssohn violin concerto.

Its fabric: for the finesse of its thread, an organza

Château Haut-Bailly 2013 – “Miraculous”

You might wonder why this vintage was dubbed ‘miraculous’. The Haut-Bailly team had to be particularly patient in 2013, caring meticulously for a vineyard attacked by humidity just before harvesting, after having already suffered a lack of sunshine during the first half of the year. A delicate vintage, therefore, which will have required rigorous and tenacious sorting in order to keep only the best of the harvest. Whilst the nose is classic, the attack surprises by its suppleness and its velvety character. However, its structure is solid, presenting a certain vigour and tannic character. Powerful, it energetically lines the palate. And what can be said of its persistence! This is an assuredly racy wine.

Its fabric: a new wool, that warms and reinvigorates

Château Haut-Bailly 2014 – “Intensity and energy”

This 2014 is a demonstration of perfectly mastered elegance and power. Power and density in colour, intensely charming aromas, a great purity on the nose, and irresistible indulgence in its fruit. The elegance is found in its attack, precisely crafted so as not to bring everything at once and risk saturating the palate. It has an intense and vibrant character, expressing the ideal ripeness of the fruit when it was harvested. This is a superb, gastronomic wine that can be served with noble dishes. You might equally serve it with a cantata by Bach, this wine’s partner in structure, in energy, and in genius as well.

Its fabric: a cashmere scarf

Château Haut-Bailly 2015 – “Fulfilment”

I remember Véronique saying how 2015 provided everything that could bring a smile to a winemaker’s face. She showed us a joyful photo taken on the back of a tractor during the harvest – Véronique looks radiant alongside Denis Dubourdieu. A wonderfully serene year that was to produce a fine vintage.

This 2015 wine has a fresh nose, bursting with intense fruit and remarkable purity. The bouquet also offers some elegant notes of smoke, spices, and truffle. And then there is such a gentle and delicate side to this wine. It is exceptionally mellow, from attack to finish, its enveloping mouthfeel rounding off on a lightly peppery note. Its character is velvety, round, and soft.

Its fabric: a silk velvet

Château Haut-Bailly 2016 – “Contentment”

From a sunny and generous vintage, Haut-Bailly 2016 is the pinnacle of this tasting. It brings together all of the most beloved elements of this exceptional estate’s wines. The discretion of its first impression, that delicate way of holding back somewhat before making us fully welcome. The softness of its texture, the finesse of its tannins, a style etched with great purity and the remarkable precision of its aromas, a perfect expression of mature fruit. The gentle sensation of a mouthfeel born of perfectly handled grapes with their carefully extracted aromas. The finesse and concentration of a vibrant juice that delicately lines the palate with infinite elegance. Wonderful length that allows for an attentive meditation on the perfumed waves that rise from it.

Its fabric: a silk satin

Château Haut-Bailly 2017 – “The beauty of nature”

Haut-Bailly wasn’t spared the frost that ravaged some of Bordeaux’s vineyards in April. Fortunately, the terroir’s topography is favourable to the estate and the historic plots resisted well. If the harvest was weak, the wine is nevertheless well-made.

We already liked it when it was tasted en primeur: “Château Haut-Bailly’s 2017 develops discreetly, and beneath its bright hue the delicate nose retains a certain reserve. We gradually distinguish lovely aromas of flavourful red fruits like sour cherry and currants, accompanied by a floral bouquet that confers a certain elegance. The juice perceived is perfectly mature. The tannins are tight and masterful, the underscore silky. It rounds off with a precise finish. The length on the palate is superb, and the balance of the 2017 allows us to predict a promising future for this remarkable representative of the Pessac-Léognan appellation.” Its delicate, floral character complements a fruity quality that is lively and flavourful. The attack is gentle, and the wine is still a bit reserved, bringing together a certain softness with a nice acidity. The finish is fresh, notably delicate.

Its fabric: a delicate raw silk

At the conclusion of this exceptional experience, a clear style emerges from Château Haut-Bailly’s wines: elegant, precise, vibrant, and delicate. Véronique Sanders marvels at the quality of this terroir which, vintage after vintage, allows itself to be explored and discovered anew. Yet it is Véronique and her team who work with eagerness and passion to breathe into the wines of Haut-Bailly the elegance and delicacy that render them so unique.

In the same vein as the task Véronique sets herself each year to qualify the character of the vintage, might we attempt to encapsulate the spirit of Haut-Bailly: the pursuit of purity.

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