Dining at Château Haut Brion with Prince Robert of Luxembourg
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
13 May 2014
Prince Robert of Luxembourg – owner of Château Haut Brion – loves history.
Last year, the estate awarded several cases of Haut Brion 1989 to art historian Laurent Chavier, who won a contest to find the earliest mention of Haut Brion as a wine.
“I launched the competition, as Haut Brion is famous for being the oldest, if you will, of the great names of Bordeaux, and, until last year, the oldest written mention was 1660,” he said as we sipped on Bollinger Champagne in a supremely elegant living room, not far from a just as elegant and elaborate dining room, where I later enjoyed dinner with employees of Alain Ducasse restaurants from around the world.
Yes, dear readers, this was becoming quite the #winelover’s delight.
For Prince Robert, who dropped out of Georgetown University to discover the world – as he explained in this interview I did with him for wine-searcher.com – history and culture are top interests.
“History is so amazing, so we launched a competition that ran for one year and a half for academics, historians and others who wanted to participate,” he explained.
He also talked about a recently established library at the estate and how the chateau is working with a historian to build up the archives.
“We have 2000 years of history of making wine in the soils here,” he said. As he explained in my wine-searcher interview, Prince Robert’s screenwriting background inspires his love for telling a tale, for uncovering fact to excite #winelovers with wine lore.
In any case, this was my first dinner ever at the chateau. It was amazing. And not only that, but I met a wonderful person in Paris-based Caroline Siri, who works for Alain Ducasse, and who kindly invited me to another culinary dreamy delight: a visit to the cellars of Louis XV in Monte Carlo and lunch there. I will soon be posting about that culinary adventure too!
But before I post about that mesmerizingly fabulous dream of a lunch, here notes on the Haut Brion dinner, with special thanks to Mark Wessels for inviting me to join him there.
First off, the food was superb. It had to be. I mean, 26 of the 40 or so invited guests represented Alain Ducasse restaurants around the world. So we started things off with subtle perfumed and in season white asparagus and utterly delectable morel mushrooms. This first course was accompanied by two superlative whites: La Clarté de Haut Brion 2013, which was mainly Semillon. Very smooth and vivacious. And yet it had concentration too. It was outgunned by an incredibly refined and full bodied Haut Brion 2009 from magnum. I was a bit worried that this was a 2009, thinking that it could be a bit warm. But no. This was fresh and full bodied, and the 14% alcohol very well integrated. It reminded me a bit of the 1999 white, tasted in 2001 at Mouton Rothschild for the Fete de la Fleur. That, too, was 14% alcohol. The 2009 was a 50-50 split between Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Certainly the Sauvignon Blanc lended much energy to the vintage.
I know what you may be thinking. Asparagus? Well, dear readers, it worked. Perhaps the morel mushroom did the trick. But for both whites, it was more a textural experience. The energy of the whites matched the savory richness of the mushrooms. From memory, I do believe that the asparagus had some butter based sauce, so that crunchy texture was made smooth by the sauce so the white wines – both rather creamy in texture – complemented the dish.
Then came the reds. And the superb filet de boeuf with a poêlée printanière de légumes et pommes de terre. It is said that with great wines, simple high quality foods go best. And such was the case. No elaborate sauces. No fireworks or special effects. But high quality beef and vegetables cooked perfectly. And matching wonderfully the next two wines, particularly the latter…
I had only tried the La Mission Haut Brion 2004 from barrel and recall liking its energy as a prenatal barrel sample. So it was great to drink it as a young wine. The texture was of smooth and polished tannin, with a red fruit aspect along with some telltale Graves smokiness. More medium bodied than full, the wine was of moderate flavor intensity and actually lost some of that intensity with time in glass.
My impression of the wine when tasted last year at Bordeaux Index was more positive. But I think that goes to show how wines can be appreciated over time in a dining setting as opposed to a strictly tasting setting.
How happy I was to appreciate the Haut Brion 1998. This is a superb vintage from the Graves region. I own one bottle and there is no rush to open it. The fragrance was more tobacco leaf combined with black fruits, a mix of tertiary and primary aromatics – the wine is evolving at a pleasingly glacial pace. Indeed, with time in glass, the high flavor intensity and sense of full body only increased, leading to a long and still tannic finish. Ripe and smooth tannins but quite present and reminding the drinker that the Haut Brion 1998 is perhaps just leaving adolescence.
I could not stay for the entire evening, and missed the dessert, since I had to get up early for more tastings and I was staying in the northern Medoc. But I did enjoy the cheeses. And it was important to note that – as much as I like the delectable Quintus Saint Emilion that is being made by the owners – I preferred going back to the whites for the cheese servings. Too often I have learned that corpulent and vivacious whites go better with rich cheeses. And this time was no exception.
In any case, what a marvelous evening!