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Five Decades of Château Lafleur Wine Dinner Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong, 4th November 2015 © Linden Wilkie, November 2015

THE FINE WINE EXPERIENCE | 85 Queen’s Road West, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Office:+852 2803 0753 | Email: sales@finewineexperience.com | Website: www.finewineexperience.com

Five Decades of Château Lafleur Wine Dinner

Introduction Not all wines evolve in the cellar in a linear fashion. Some dip in an out – they are heading in a direction that might be predictable in the long term, but the journey can be more like that of a dolphin skimming the surface playfully It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Eight years ago I attended an event hosted by Lafleur’s Guinaudeau family and Christie’s in London. A hundred or so lucky tasters enjoyed a vertical of magnums direct from Lafleur’s cellar. A smaller group were invited up to the boardroom to share the post-tasting euphoric glow and some dinner. This group thinned out to a couple of others and me. There was still Lafleur in some magnums and we couldn’t bear the thought of any going to waste (noble of us I know). It was only then, around midnight, that the 1986 had built up texturally and aromatically into a wine that became the centre of our conversation. ’86 was a tricky, wet vintage, and can’t have been an easy wine to make. It lacks real obvious charm, it’s a bit tannic and surly, and not at all immediately aromatic. But it had come out of its shell with real complexity and we were, at last, enthralled by it. So on a November Hong Kong evening, with 16 tasters assembled to sample 15 vintages of Lafleur over dinner – vintages spanning 50 years – how do you decant, and how on earth do you capture the true essence of each vintage, when attention is naturally divided between so many glasses? The answer, inevitably, is that the task will fall somewhat short of the objective of understanding each wine, but that hopefully some sort of Lafleur DNA road map might emerge. That far I think, at least, we got. What could I say to sum up? At its core Lafleur is a wine of natural concentration, and concentration of the best kind


– not cooked up in the winery. This is naturally low yielding old vines that produce grapes capable of giving the wine a very deep, grippy, yet physiologically ripe sort of tannin, which in turn is buffered by levels of glycerin and extract that are extraordinary to find in claret. The fragrance is also there, every time. But it is not obvious to notice this in a vertical, because in mature ripe vintages that fragrance is out there with all the power and atmosphere one could imagine of a Brazilian carnival. The reserved whispering vintage in the next glass will seem positively mute. But it’s not. It’s just that the aromatic volume can be switched high, low, and can change a lot in the glass. Even with good advance double-decanting (90 minutes or so, with the cork put back in), and those tasting-friendly flat-bottomed Zalto Bordeaux glasses that really aerate the wine once it is poured, some wines took the whole dinner to really open up. Lafleur sits in personality somewhere between two illustrious neighbours. The sheer tensile strength and intensity of Lafleur it shares with Petrus, and that distinctive fragrance it shares with Cheval Blanc. It lies just across the road from the former on the Pomerol plateau, but like the latter, is a 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The vintage line-up provided a pretty solid representation of the first twenty years effort of Sylvie and Jacques Guinaudeau who took over in the mid-eighties. The two oldest wines – ’75 and ’55 – represented the Robin sisters who had built the estate’s reputation. In between, the ’82, made by Moueix’s man Jean-Claude Berrouet, who made over 40 vintages of Petrus. I decided to divide these into four flights to pair with four dishes artfully prepared by the Grand Hyatt. My tasting notes follow, in the order we tasted.

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“Power and Youth” Pigeon breast and foie gras crepinette, glazed salsify, Brussels sprouts, Cognac cream sauce. All tasters were invited to choose their two top wines of the night.

2005 Château Lafleur

95+ Points

Deep still, but transparent; lovely cherry-led aromas, ripe, sweet, perfumed nose; real concentration on the palate and an attractive bitter-sweetness. Ripe, fine-textured but monumental structure, tannin-laden and reserved Lafleur, still impossibly youthful in 2015. Difficult to penetrate, and in a way I felt this wine the odd man out for its hint more alcohol (the only vintage in which I felt this component distinctly). Probably another 15 to 20 years cellaring required, but may prove ultimately to deliver the greatness of its lofty reputation.

2004 Château Lafleur

95 Points

A touch less colour saturation than the ’05, just a hint of development at the rim; beautiful nose showing fine aromatics and freshness, gorgeous Lafleur perfume, and a nice tension provided by a subtle herbal counterpoint; supple, refined, with real inner-mouth fragrance, sweetness of fruit, complexity and layering, long silky finish. This is – quite surprisingly – already attractive and openly fragrant. Delicious to drink now in other words. But easily 20 years ahead of it too. Top choice for a young wine to drink now, and given the price, the smart buy too. Four votes for wine of the night.

1998 Château Lafleur

87+ Points

This has always been a perplexing Lafleur, and was controversial at the Guinaudeau/Christie’s tasting in 2007. Some colour development at the rim; the aromatics are a mixed bag. On the one hand some really attractively sweet perfumed fruit. But on the other hand a green streak that tips between something acceptably cool and herbal and wet-bark like in one moment, and the distinctly decay / compost-like unattractive expression the next. It’s awkward on the palate too, a little disjointed, dusty, and with notes of decay, and all the while some beautiful, delicious fruit trying to push through. Concentrated, intense Lafleur, but I’m not confident about where it is going. Perplexing given the spectacular job done at Petrus, VCC and Cheval Blanc in ’98.

1995 Château Lafleur

96 Points

Still a deep colour with a more narrow evolved rim; this has a very particular Lafleur nose - which we later saw on the ’55 especially – of candied charries, fine milk chocolate, and new leather. The only other wine I know of that delivers this aroma this way is Cheval Blanc in its greatest vintages. The immediate appeal of the nose is continued on the rich, glycerin and ripe tannin laden palate. This is a Lafleur that feels more like it is melting onto the palate than flowing across it. Spices, perfume, and lokhum pervade, and linger on the long finish. In terms of delivery versus expectation, this one exceeded what I anticipated, and comes recommended.


Five Decades of Château Lafleur Wine Dinner

“Difficult years” Slow braised Iberico pork cheeks, confit San Marzano cherry tomato, poricini mushrooms, pea sprouts, white wine butter foam.

1999 Château Lafleur

93 Points

Still a healthy fresh colour; lovely sweet forthcoming nose, fragrant, open, floral and a touch medicinal; lovely fruit and zippy fresh lively acidity, the tannins are a little lighter, and overall there is a bit less of the sheer depth of the great years, but there is plenty of delicious fruit and complexity. Delicious to drink now and a safer bet than the more highly regarded 1998 vintage. Surely one of the top 3 or 4 red Bordeaux of 1999.

1996 Château Lafleur

92 Points

Mid colour, some bricking; after the ’99, less youth, less overt fruitiness in this ’96, but more complexity, and more Franc-related exotic aromas. Low key. On the palate there is real pedigree, fine-boned texture, length and elegance. The expression is low key, and if anything, it perhaps lacks a bit of fruitiness and upholstery. Not a Lafleur to serve in the company of other Bordeaux, it needs us to calibrate to its quieter voice. That might sound like making excuses for it, but I actually thought this was quietly attractive, and I’d love to focus on drinking a whole bottle!

1993 Château Lafleur

89 Points

Fresh, mid-depth colour; the nose was quite low key, a touch leathery (tannin), with some nice cherry-led fruit aromas, but ultimately a bit low key and simple in expression; on the palate too, this is a little attenuated, straightforward, but it is attractive, and lacks any obvious fault or unripe character. But it also lacks flesh, is a little short an dry on the finish. Decent though.

1986 Château Lafleur

90 Points

Still some colour depth, mature rim; the nose seems a bit dull, tired now, with ripe, almost pruney fruit, leather and a touch of mushroom coming through on the nose; better on the palate with spicy, wild fruit, spices, and Franc-led exotic notes, this is actually fairly rich, sinewy Lafleur, with good length. A bit gangly and awkward in its expression. The mushroomy notes might have indicated that this sample was going to fall over a bit in the glass, but it didn’t. Surprisingly it seemed to freshen up a bit over two hours later. This bottle certainly seemed ‘older’ than the magnum I drank in 2007, but its little trick of opening up so late in the evening seemed an echo of that perplexing experience 8 years ago. If you drink a bottle of this vintage, be patient and drink it over the course of a long evening.


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“Prime in Sunshine” Poached venison loin wrapped in black winter truffle crepe, Jerusalem artichoke mousseline, La Ratte potato croquette, baby carrot, blackberry jus.

2003 Château Lafleur

93 Points

Deep colour, but more evolution than 2000; some cherry pits on the nose, rich, sweet, earthy, plush, wild nose; rich, fleshy, with admirable freshness in this tumultuously hot vintage, ripe, glycerin-laden, concentrated Lafleur. It’s intensity and sweetness a great foil for the earthy/savoury venison dish.

2000 Château Lafleur

95+ Points

This is in an especially awkward phase. The was initially a fine seductive fragrance and flavor, even if this was a little mute. But rather than open up in the glass, it seemed to hunker down even more. Very tightly wrapped fruit/tannin/extract/glycerin. Conventional wisdom is that the 2000s are spectacular and the Lafleur a star amongst stars. I still think agree with that sentiment, and I think all the constituent parts are there and in harmony in this wine, and that it will emerge from its chrysalis in another decade or so, but my neighbour at the dinner disagrees, and thinks this won’t work out. When a wine is this shut, you could argue either way. Time will tell.

1990 Château Lafleur

98 Points

This is so fragrant and seductive and amplified that it is shocking. A Wow! Wine as soon as you get your nose anywhere near the glass. Now a fully evolved colour, very fragrant, Chinese red dates, sweet Morello cherries, and Wuyi oolong tea aromas and flavours, the palate so buoyed up with glycerin that you have to consiciously look for the tannin to acknowledge it is there. Long finish. The sort of wine I don’t really want to allow food to interfere with – just sit there and sip it, gobsmacked. Two votes for wine of the night.

1989 Château Lafleur

95 Points

The hot summer ‘vintage pair’ to the 1990, but they are very different in personality. Easy to overlook the ’89 when the ’90 is so exuberant, but the ’89 is a compelling and complete Lafleur. A deeper fresher colour is followed by a more low key, leathery, sweet spicy dark fruit nose, a bit of earth too; the tannin has immediately present grip, structure, glycerin, good fruit concentration and complexity. An archetype Lafleur perhaps, and drinking very well now. Three votes for wine of the night.


Five Decades of Château Lafleur Wine Dinner

“Maturity” Slow roasted lamb carre, mustard-herb crust, smoky eggplant caviar, grilled zucchini parmagiana, red wine sauce.

1982 Château Lafleur

100 Points

Still a good depth of colour, mature tone and rim; lovely sublte low key fragrance that ebbs, flows and show great complexity, sweet fruit, a very alluring perfume and spice profile, still showing freshness and vitality; superb effortless texture and flow on the palate, the mouth is filled with gorgeously flavoured fruit, spice, earthy bark/brush notes, fine acidity, and glycerin that leaves the palate fully coated long after you have swallowed a sip, amplifying the long fragrant finish. It is in its apogee and it is hard to imagine decline for this amazing wine. Still amongst the very greatest wines I have ever tasted. Ten votes for wine of the night.

1975 Château Lafleur

93 Points

Bright and clear advanced colour, some depth to the core; this took quite a while to open up and get going. Initially it had a dry papery, dusty nose; immediately obviously quite rich, tannin and ripe extract-laden on the palate, the flavours were at first a bit dusty. But it slowly emerged fragrantly, a distinctly more earthy expression of Lafleur and more rustic too. Very good, but not in the same league as, say, 1989. Three votes for wine of the night.

1955 Château Lafleur

97 Points

Healthy and deep still, holding colour well; sweet nose of milk chocolate, candied cherries, spices, lovely nose; luscious on the palate, packed with fruit still, lots of fragrance, glycerin and depth, fantastic lively acidity, still tannin-laden but there is so much fruit and extract it feels effortless and without edges. A hint of mushroom the only clue to its age. Quite an extraordinary bottle that had the room enthralled. Eight votes for wine of the night.


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Conclusion Perhaps more than any other Bordeaux tasting I’ve hosted in Hong Kong, these wines showed such dynamism in the glass, as if different windows into the wines were being opened and closed on each visit back to the glass. I think this is one of the fascinations with Lafleur. It is not usually a wine of easy charm, but its natural power, depth and complexity make it such a compelling choice, if you are patient by personality.


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In Review: Five Decades of Chateau Lafleur Dinner  

Review of The Fine Wine Experience - Château Lafleur Dinner at Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong, 4th November 2015 © Linden Wilkie

In Review: Five Decades of Chateau Lafleur Dinner  

Review of The Fine Wine Experience - Château Lafleur Dinner at Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong, 4th November 2015 © Linden Wilkie