iDealwine update: No Mean ’fite

One of the greatest names in wine, few clarets command more global demand and attention than Lafite. It is no surprise, therefore, that the château’s wines are hotly sought after on release, and in the secondary market.

A FLAG-bearer for Pauillac, this illustrious cru is one of the most sought-after wines in the world. The first reference to Lafite dates back to 1,234AD, the name deriving from the historic term ‘fite’, meaning hillock, which describes the plateau on which the château is built – one of the highest parts of the appellation.

The majority of the vineyard was planted in 1680 by Jacques Ségur. The château then changed hands several times between the Revolution and the second half of the 19th century, when it was bought by Baron James de Rothschild, in 1868; it has remained in his family ever since. Lafite was famously the wine of choice of renowned figures including Maréchal de Richelieu and Madame de Pompadour, and the first sales records of Lafite in the UK date back as far as 1706. Its crowning as one of the original first growths in the 1855 classification confirmed Lafite’s place in the highest echelon of Bordeaux fine wine.

Spanning 107 hectares, Château Lafite-Rothschild has one of the largest vineyards in the Médoc. It consists of three main areas: the slopes around the château at the northern tip of the Pauillac appellation, the adjacent Carruades plateau and a 4.5ha parcel in neighbouring Saint Estèphe, the grapes from which have historically been allowed into Lafite.

Planted on welldrained soils of fine deep gravel on marl with a limestone subsoil, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape in the vineyard (70%), completed by Merlot (25%) and small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The final blend of the grand vin has much higher proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, between 80% and 95%, with between 5% and 20% Merlot and up to 3% Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. On average, the vines are 40 years old.

Despite its distinguished history, Lafite had periods of inconsistency in the 20th century, with lower-quality wines resulting from less stringent methods employed in vineyard and winery alike. Extensive investment in all aspects of the château brought about a change in the second half of that century, as great efforts were made to rehabilitate the vineyards and improve vinification techniques.

Charles Chevallier arrived at the estate in 1982, and under his auspices a brilliant level of consistency has been achieved in the estate’s releases. The past four years have seen a generational handover take place at Château Lafite-Rothschild, with Eric Kohler taking over from Chevallier as technical director, having worked in his shadow since 1994. In 2018, after 30 years at the helm, Baron Eric de Rothschild handed over the reins to his daughter, Saskia de Rothschild, while CEO Christophe Salin made way for Jean-Guillaume Prats of LVMH.

Responsible agriculture is now favoured, and organic fertilisers used. The Barons de Rothschild domaines also invested in their own cooperage, which produces 2,000 barrels used by the estates. Grapes from the low-yielding vines are harvested by hand, with rigorous selection before being vinified parcel by parcel. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats, and the wine is then run off into barrels. The château uses
100% new oak for the grand vin and a mixture of new and one-year-old barrels for Carruades de Lafite.

Lafite’s style is often described as boasting fragrant elegance and finesse, rather than the power and structure of Latour or the exotic intensity of Mouton. Its typical bouquet of pencil lead, cedar and spices embody Bordeaux hedonism at its finest, with a cellaring potential to rival all others, often exceeding 50 years, thanks to its acidity and firm tannic structure. Carruades de Lafite – which makes up a third of production – has a
higher percentage of Merlot, making it more approachable in youth.

About iDealwine.com

> iDealwine is an international finewine e-merchant with offices in Paris, Hong Kong and London. Specialising in online auctions and fixed-price sales, iDealwine was launched in France in 2000, and is now the online auction leader in Europe, supplying to 50 countries in Europe, Asia and the US.
> Wine is sourced from private European cellars and directly from the wineries, with a large range that includes rare bottles and vintages.
> iDealwine provides wine-market data and analysis, with more than 60,000 price estimates based on more than three million auction prices.
> Contact: Arthur de Lencquesaing – arthur@idealwine.com

THE FINEST REPUTATION
Of the five first growths, Lafite has possibly the finest reputation for quality and longevity, and commands correspondingly elevated prices: the subject of investment is therefore significant. Lafite has, in the past, been the subject of intense speculation. Prices both for the grand vin and second wine thus rose dramatically around 15 years ago following increased demand from the Chinese market. Following ever increasing prices across the board for many years, 2011 marked a peak in prices for Lafite.

This stationary point was undoubtedly linked to both the anticorruption policies of premier Xi Jinping and the presence of counterfeit wines on the secondary market; the price drop can be seen as a cleaning of the market before another period of much healthier increases. The château’s adoption of the Prooftag authentication system in 2012
did much to combat this. Lafite was one of the first domaines to address the problem of counterfeit bottles, very much a taboo subject until then.

As well as the authentication system and continued improvements in the vineyard and winery, the estate’s board of directors have made real efforts to promote Lafite as a wine to be opened and enjoyed, not solely to be hoarded for investment purposes. Following a price dip after 2011, iDealwine has noted an upward trend in auction results for Lafite since 2016. Once a synonym for easy, profitable investment, the Lafite name has been restored to its former splendour. All vintages now frequently go under the hammer for just under €1,000 (£899), with landmark vintages such as the 1961 and 2000 vintages reaching over €1,200 and €1,100 respectively.

Carruades de Lafite is also coveted by a growing audience, reflecting also a toptier second wines trend. All vintages sell for between €200 and €250, with the 2015 passing the €300 mark this year. In all vintages, Lafite is one of the most expensive wines in the world, and a stalwart cornerstone of the fine wine auction market. As well as representing a significant feature in the platform’s auctions, iDealwine works directly with
the estate, enabling us to make their most recent vintages available for sale at a fixed price. The extent of demand both at auction and fixed price is almost unparalleled by other wines. In 2019, 1,220 bottles of Lafite sold at auction for total sales of over €547,000, making it the fifth best-selling domaine at auction.

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