25 years of Smith Haut Lafitte: all magnum verticals

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

In late March 2015, just before the start of the barrel tasting week for Bordeaux 2014, I was very lucky to have been invited to a unique all-magnum 25-vintage vertical – in both red (15 vintages) and white (10 vintages) – of the classified growth Château Smith Haut Lafitte. The occasion was 25 years of direction under Florence and Daniel Cathiard. You can read in more detail about their direction in my wine-chronicles posting: https://wine-chronicles.com/blog/smith-haut-lafitte/.

I have known the couple since about 2002 and have always admired their initiative and veritable passion for Bordeaux. Although their wines sometimes seem a touch too modern for my “classically inclined” palate, they have been getting better in the last few years, with a trend towards greater freshness and precision – for both reds and whites – with less evident oak and a cooler aspect. Whatever your taste may be, it is undeniable that Florence and Daniel Cathiard have invested much personal attention to their passion. And they bring pleasure to wine lovers across the world.

They deserve hearty thanks from all of us.

Readying the magnum reds: 25 years of the Cathiards at Smith Haut Lafitte, photo by Laure-Marie Ducloy

Before you get to the tasting notes, please read my feature on the Cathiards – HERE – as it explains so much of the work that they have done in the last 25 years.

Tasting notes – when bold, I like very much; when red and bold, even more – when underlined, too, I love!

Reds – first flight

  • 1990 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Ripe and a touch of orange rind. But also a nail polish sensation, as the acidity seems to be overcoming the fruit. Good but do not wait much longer. This is from magnum, en plus. (89 pts.)
  • 1994 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Brick on the rim. Tannins are calm and tame if a bit rough, but this wine is à point and ready for steak au poivre. Medium plus body, medium plus flavor intensity, medium finish. Savory. (91 pts.)
  • 1995 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Riper nose. More savory and meaty. A bit drying on the finish however, was better 10 years ago I think… Interestingly, the 1994 shows more backbone and I prefer it over the 1995! (87 pts.)
Fine series of mags SHL

Focus on some of the red mags, photo by Laure-Marie Ducloy

Reds – second flight 

  • 1996 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Lower yield than the 1995 and more Cabernet Sauvignon (50% as opposed to 40%), this wine seems more aromatically interesting and yet it has just a bit of astringency to it. Overall, I could drink this with a meaty dish, but it lacks that bit of opulence and vivacity on the finish to make it exciting. (88 pts.)
  • 1999 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This has a savory character with richness and juiciness on the mid palate, and I think an underrated wine overall. OK, the finish is not super long, and the tannins are just a touch rustic – as you can feel on the finish – but overall this represents a fine deal for wine lovers and has less austerity than the 1996, which should be a “better vintage” … (91 pts.)
  • 2000 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is a wine I first encountered 12 years ago in 2003, when Robert Parker guided a tasting of 2000 vintage Bordeaux at Heart’s Delight. I loved it then, I love it now. Fruit driven yet with high acidity and delicious savory qualities. Tannin is high but tame and quite elegant. Full body without being glossy or modern. I would say indeed “terroir driven” with a lingering Old World and brambly fruit finish. Give me another sip, please.(95 pts.)
Busy noting my impressions SHL 25 years

Busy noting my impressions … Photo by Laure-Marie Ducloy

Reds – third flight

  • 2001 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Just as with the 2000, this was made from 32 hectoliters per hectare, with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, albeit 5% less Merlot (40% as opposed to 45% for 2000) and 10% Cabernet Franc. The aromatics exude a mint like freshness and the palate is more structured than the 2000, but not quite as sumptuous. Depends on what you seek. Maybe the 2001 will last longer but I tip my hat to the 2000, as I prefer its sumptuousness. Still, there is no denying the high quality of the 2001! (93 pts.)
  • 2004 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This reminds me of the 2001, with structure yet freshness. Not as opulent as the 2000, which has turned out to be excellent in its invitational exuberance. There is a seriousness to the tannins here that reassures, that this wine need time yet to be fully ready to drink. (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is richer than the 2004 but somewhat similar in style. For once, we have a 2006 Bordeaux that does not seem too closed in. At this stage – and coming from magnum. There is juiciness. There is an opulence. But it seems to be a bit tight on the finish – I would say that that is more due to the youthful age than of the quality of the tannin, which seems finely grained for the vintage. More Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend at 60% compared to previous years. Rather full bodied with a long finish. Lacks the opulence of the 2000, which is a bit of a highlight so far, but overall, a very nice job. (93 pts.)

Reds – fourth flight 

  • 2007 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    There is no escaping the vintage here… Alas. The tannins are a bit hard and the overall sensation is burly. OK, I will give to the juicy mid palate and tip my hat off to the estate for doing what they could but the finish is abrupt and drying… What can you do? C’est la nature. (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Here we have a very low yield vintage for the estate – at 24 hectoliters per hectare (the 2000 was 32, the 2006 was 33, the 1995 was 39). I sense the concentration, the aromatics are black fruit and rich. The attack is enveloping and even rich, but the finish is a touch austere. Another situation where the vintage character “prendre le dessus” … And yet, an improvement over 2007 to be sure. Give it time in bottle and I bet it will yield pleasure. (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is almost as good as the 2000. I would say that perhaps there is this 09 solar quality that prevents me from scoring it higher. I suppose. Maybe I am nit picking. While the 2008 may be a bit overrated, perhaps I am underrating the 2009! Rich red and black fruit ooze from the nose to the initial attack indeed and the mid palate is opulent, with high tannin, alcohol and intensity of flavor. I just wonder if the level is going to 11 – to paraphrase the famous line from the movie Spinal Tap. For some tasters, this merits 100 points I suppose. For others who seek more subtle pleasures, it may not be as good as 2000 :-). Give this baby time in bottle and perhaps one might see that I have underrated it. (94 pts.)
Busy tasters SHL 25 years

Busy tasters, photo by Laure-Marie Ducloy

Reds – fifth flight 

  • 2010 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Just as in 2009, a high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon (64%), and indeed the same blend (30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot) and virtually the same yields, at 35 hectoliters per hectare – just one more than in 2009. I find that the 2010 is somehow fresher and more bracing than the 2009, and hence may just dare to give it a … higher score than the 2000! As fellow taster Jane Anson remarked, one can notice some heat in the 2009 whereas the 2010 will probably be a long term keeper. I think I agree. Excellent work.(95 pts.)
  • 2011 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    A tough vintage. Some wines show green as well as high acidity while lacking richness. But here we have a wine that I would call an inferior version of 2008. Is that saying much? Not sure. The nose has some fine raw tobacco aspects, which is so beautiful in the Graves region, and yet the palate is a touch short on the finish with a higher acidity showing and not necessarily balanced by richness. Still, this is a great terroir and it could be a 90 as excellent, given mid palate sap… so with time in bottle, it will become more mellow no doubt. (89 pts.)
  • 2012 Château Smith Haut Lafitte – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is more rounded than 2011, tasted immediately beforehand. The aromatics are riper. While 2011 shows a touch of pyrazine, no such element comes across in 2012, which is a slightly underrated Bordeaux vintage for certain terroirs – first and foremost in Pomerol. But Merlot seemed to do well in 2012, and here we have the highest amount of Merlot in Smith Haut Lafitte since the 2000 vintage. So a sense of greater richness and even softness, although the tannins are still (very) present and this wine is young. (91 pts.)

Over dinner, we enjoyed – from magnum – the 1998 and 2005. While enjoying the wines, I did not take as careful notes. But the 1998 was very fine, with tannins now integrated and smooth, although not as precise as the 2005, which I think is a superior all around vintage at Smith Haut Lafitte.

IMG_2405

Assessing the whites

Whites – first flight 

  • 1994 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Savory, and hints of white tobacco, hay and green apple. Quite fine acidity, and full bodied Old World charm. Perhaps the finish is medium, rather than long, but there is plenty of charm. (91 pts.)
  • 1999 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is slightly sweeter than 2001. There is juiciness but not as nuanced as the 2001. Stewed pear and a touch of hazelnut. But I could envisage this easily with scallops in a cream sauce, given the acidity! Nice job.(90 pts.)
  • 2001 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    For a 2001, does this wine seem just a bit tired? Well, let’s not nitpick. It is juicy and has freshness. Perhaps going from new to old affects my tasting sense? In any case, you cannot go wrong with Smith Haut Lafitte in 2001, but it may be worth opening your bottles now. (91 pts.)
IMG_2403

Photo by Laure Marie Ducloy

Whites – second flight 

  • 2009 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Clean white peach, apricot. Citrus. I can sense some vanilla from the oak which brings us to the question: what do you want from a white wine from Bordeaux? Do you want vanilla and ripeness or do you want more verve and vivacity? While the 2009 does have medium plus acidity, it lacks the verve of the 2011! Good… but not great. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Very juicy and savory. Reductive flavors of matchstick are present but that will blow over. I like the juiciness and length. Full bodied and long finish. Biting into ripe white fruit! (93 pts.)
  • 2008 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    Overall sensation of “sufficiency” as the wine is not particularly exceptional, and yet there is fine acidity and energy. There is an overall muted feeling here, with a somewhat closed finish. Give it time. Perhaps merits a higher score. (90 pts.)
Magnum whites SHL

A nice lineup, photo by Laure-Marie Ducloy

Whites – third flight 

  • 2011 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is savory, even exotic. While the red is a touch austere, the white is more sumptuous and juicy. Could I have overrated the 2013? This wine shows perhaps more depth and richness on the palate. Certainly full bodied and long. I must say that this is a wine to seek out. Bravo! (95 pts.)
  • 2012 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    The 2013 seems to have more verve than the 2012. Interesting vintage comparison as both have same blend – 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sauvignon Gris, 5% Semillon. While there is certain yellow peach juiciness and citrus aspects, I feel a bit of heat on the finish here that does not exist with the 2013! (92 pts.)
  • 2013 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    This is brisk and savory with a lively palate. Full bodied yet vivacious. High flavor intensity. Long finish. Is it a bit New World like? Perhaps. But it has flamboyance and I can drink this with oysters. Lacks the full body of, say, 2011, but darn delicious. No denying that. (93 pts.)
  • 2010 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
    As opposed to the reds, 2011 and 2010 are both fine vintages for whites. Especially for serious wine producers in Bordeaux, like Smith Haut Lafitte. Although I like the 2010 – a lot – I feel that the 2011 has more verve and is actually superior to 2010, but only time will tell… (93 pts.)

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