First Growth Focus: Château Latour

Fourth in our series on the First Growths, Adrian Heaven, Fine Wine Advisor at Lay & Wheeler, discusses Château Latour.

Château Latour had established its reputation as a very fine wine by the early 1700s, along with Lafite, Margaux and Pontac (the historical name for Haut-Brion),  some 150 years before the famous 1855 classification.  In 1714,  a barrel of Latour was worth four to five times more than a barrel of typical Bordeaux.  By 1767 this had risen to twenty times the value.  And today?  Some 250 times the value of generic Bordeaux!

The iconic fortified tower of Château Latour offers a strong sense of tradition,  history,  Bordeaux aristocracy and breeding. Underlying this stolid,  reassuring exterior lies innovation and new technology: the pursuit of excellence.

In 1993 Latour was purchased outright by billionaire François Pinault, who also owns Gucci & Yves Saint Laurent. Latour as a luxury good? Possibly, but Latour is also the unique reflection of a specific place and of the weather of a growing season. Something a luxury handbag will never have! Monsieur Pinault, with the talented leadership of Frédéric Engerer, has brought investment, continuous improvement and a strong desire to make the greatest wine. 

For example, in the 1960s the vines were harvested by variety. Today, a greater and more detailed understanding of the terroir means that grapes are harvested by individual plot, which are matched to specifically sized fermentation tanks in the vat room (which was totally renovated in 2001). Indeed, Latour was one of the first châteaux to introduce stainless steel tanks in the early 1960s. Since 2008, ten hectares of the L’Enclos (the Grand Vin is made solely from the original 47ha of the L’Enclos) are now cultivated according to biodynamic practices.

2010 Vintage
 It is a vintage which underlines more than ever that barrel tastings of six-month old wines offer an early snapshot of the potential, with raw edges and disparate structural components, which will resolve with continued barrel maturation.  (I often wonder what some of the critics taste in Bordeaux, when their notes read as though they are tasting a ten-year old example of a particular château.)  Latour 2010 is bold, tannic and surly at this very young, almost embryonic, stage of evolution. The structural components are firm and strong, unyielding in nature yet crafted with immaculate precision and sophistication. This is a monumental Latour yet with a sense of not being imposing with a lithe, fluid nature.

I read with great interest the following which Jancis Robinson recently reported on‘Worryingly for those who reckon that Ch Latour is already eking out relatively tiny tranches en primeur, Frédéric Engerer’s first (doubtless carefully considered) comment to us about his 2010 was,  “an en primeur offer doesn’t make sense for this wine – really you need to wait 25 years until it’s ready to drink. “’

Selling Bordeaux en primeur to the private consumer is a relatively recent practice, which began in the early 1970s, but is a practice that has occurred between château and négociant from the earliest times. Historically the balance of power (and wealth)  lay with the négociants and selling the crop early was clearly beneficial to the château. The phenomenal rise in value of the first growths on the secondary market over the past decade has seen them begin to build a much higher proportion of this value into their release price (and why not?).  Château Latour and their peers are phenomenally wealthy. There is no longer a financial imperative to sell their wine six-months post-vintage, and long gone are the days when the entire crop was sold en primeur,  instead releasing only a limited volume to the market. The end of en primeur? Not at all. Although the manner in which the very top echelon of châteaux release their wines to the market will surely evolve over the next decade. Interesting times!

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