Last week we were honoured to host a tasting dinner with the owners of Château Smith Haut Lafitte. The couple were in a celebratory mood as late the night before Robert Parker released his verdict on the 2010 vintage, awarding Smith Haut Lafitte red 2010 its highest ever score (95-97/100). Mr Parker praised the couple on their achievements since 1990, both for restoring the reputation of the chateau and for their roles as ambassadors for Bordeaux.
This elegant engaging couple are far from the traditional image of reserved and rather distant Bordeaux proprietiares. They bought Smith Haut Lafitte in 1990 as a family home, they live on the estate and their children are involved in the business too.
Before the meal we tasted cask samples of the white and red wines from the 2010 vintage.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte blanc 2010
The white is made from 100% Sauvignon grapes (both blanc and gris) showed intense Sauvignon aromas with some creamy new oak , on the palate flinty, crisp and bone dry, with minerals, flowers and citrus on the finish.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte rouge 2010
The red (64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) is firm, dense and brooding, typically quite closed at this point, really dense in texture but with blackberries and other ripe black fruits, plus coffee beans and some spice from the barrels – clearly a real tour de force and destined to be long lived and a great Smith Haut Lafitte.
Between courses Daniel and Florence introduced the wines and described how they came to own Smith Haut Lafitte. One of the reasons they selected this property was because its superb location on the terraces of Gunzian gravel, a glacial deposit which forms a terroir shared with some of Pessac-Léognan’s finest chateaux.
First course – Octopus carpaccio, tomato capers and black olives
Château Smith Haut Lafitte blanc 2007
Fresh, crisp with hints of green peas, great acidity and length, a great match with the octopus
Château Smith Haut Lafitte rouge 2007
Red fruits and coffee bean aromas on the nose, light to medium bodied with fresh crisp but juicy fruit.
The Cathiards care passionately about the health of the vineyard. From early on they banned pesticides, introduced organic cultivation and composting, their approach is thoughtful and sensitive to the estate’s terroirs: As the sauvignon vines that produce the white wine grow on a sloping terroir of lighter sandy soils where the soil is easily compacted they work these soils with a team of three horses, using tractors on the harder quartz gravel soils elsewhere.
Second course – Rump of lamb, aubergine caponata and rocket
Château Smith Haut Lafitte rouge 2008
Warm but closed nose of dense and complex red and black fruits, some smoky wood. Palate is firm but there’s plenty of body just quite tightly wrapped. Dense and chewy with red and black fruits, smoky oak.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte rouge 2006
A more developed wine, classic Cabernet nose, fresh aromatic aromas of wood, blackcurrant and redcurrant , the palate is still firm and classic, possibly needs some more time to mellow but was great with the lamb.
In search of quality Daniel and Florence are always open to new ideas and are quick to grasp the possibilities of new technologies from outside the wine industry – they use satellite technology to assess the health of their vines and the state of ripening, and recently the entire vineyard has been mapped in half-metre blocks using soil resistivity, to identify the complex soil variations of the estate vineyard. Since 2009 the grapes are sorted using the most up to date technology on a sorting table fitted with optical sensors that identify broken or unripe grapes, separating them from the ripe fruit with jets of air.
Still young colour, nose shows some development (decanted 3 hours before), lifted classic Cabernet nose with red fruits and wood spice. Velvet texture, mellowing with redcurrants, blackcurrant, good body and grip, fine fruity finish.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 1994 (from magnum)
Rich straw yellow, with greenish hints, initially damp stones and cheese rind, then opens up hints of sauvignon leafiness, but much more besides – quite ripe, fresh, stones and minerals gloriously complex.
The cheeses were a perfect end to the meal and complimented the last two wines very well, Florence even announcing that the (English) cheeses were a revelation!
Report and tasting notes by Neil Stewart, Coe Vintners