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The only property from outside the Médoc to be included in the 1855 Classification, Haut-Brion’s viticultural history can be traced back further than its Médoc First Growth counterparts. Samuel Pepys even mentions it in his diaries. Situated in what is now Pessac-Léognan, the property finds itself now in the suburbs of the ever-encroaching city of Bordeaux. After falling into a state of disrepair the estate was purchased in 1935 by Clarence Dillon, an American financier, since when it has enjoyed a steady and continual resurgence to a position of pre-eminence. Dillon’s great-grandson, Prince Robert of Luxembourg, now runs the estate, but a key influence in the reputation which Haut-Brion enjoys today is the Delmas family. George Delmas was manager and wine-maker until 1960, when his son Jean-Bernard took over. Jean- Bernard was a visionary figure, responsible for a number of important innovations, and on his retirement in 2003 his son Jean-Philippe took over as Directeur Générale. The vineyard is planted to 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Franc. A stunning white wine is also made, from a part of the vineyard which is 63% Semillon and 37% Sauvignon Blanc. Production is smaller than at the other First Growth Wines, totalling about 20,000 cases, shared between the Grand Vin and a second wine, formerly called Bahans-Haut-Brion but changed in 2007 to Clarence de Haut-Brion in recognition of Clarence Dillon. Production of Haut Brion Blanc is minute, less than 800 cases in most years. Beginning with the 2009 vintage a new white wine was introduced in the place of Clarence: La Clarté de Haut-Brion, the offspring of Domaine Clarence Dillon's two prestigious white wines: Château Haut-Brion Blanc and Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc. Fermentation of the red wines takes place in stainless steel vats, after which the wine will spend 22 months, sometimes more, in new oak barrels before being bottled unfiltered. For the white wine fermentation takes place in new oak barrels, after which the wine spends a further year to 15 months on its lees in barrel before bottling. The white wine is truly sensational, equivalent in class to a top-flight White Burgundy Grand Cru, but its scarcity means that it is rarely seen. The red wine is no less extraordinary; at its best it displays text-book Graves characteristics of cigar-box, curranty fruit, earth, smoky spice and cassis. The high Merlot content, compared to the Médoc First Growths, gives it a voluptuous edge, but does not in any way detract from its ability to age.
The Ch. Haut-Brion stable did the business in 2012 and Le Clarence de Haut-Brion is testament to that. Menthol notes appear on the nose with blackcurrant fruit mixed together with lighter red berry and forest fruit notes. There is an understated class on offer here. The palate is open and generous with a nice touch of spice to mix with the redcurrant and sweet fleshy plum fruit. This has that Graves minerality to it and certainly feels like its big brother with the volume turned a few notches down. It is one to look out for. Hong Kong Fine Wine Team
Bottle 6 x 75cl
Case price (6)
Case saving £106.44
Made from almost equal parts Merlot (34%), Cabernet Sauvignon (34%) and Cabernet Franc (30%) this rich, stylish Second wine of Haut Brion has considerably more Cabernet than in 2005 and as a result boasts more structure and finesse than usual. It is generous and seductive with sweet, very concentrated blackberry and raspberry fruit and earthy minerality, supported by substantial but very well-integrated tannins. This is a lively, masculine wine bursting with energy and a restrained sexiness. Very impressive indeed.
Case price (12)
Case saving £385.68
Bottle 12 x 75cl
At present still dominated by new wood characters - however underneath there is concentrated, powerful fruit bolstered by ripe, firm tannins. Potentially the finest La Mission of the second half of the 1990s, and maybe since 1990.
Case price (12)
Case saving £553.68
Manager Jean-Philippe Delmas (Jean Delmas' son) has every right to be enormously proud of his wines this year, not least his jewel in the crown, First Growth Ch. Haut-Brion. The 2006 is as powerful and masculine as ever, a taut, brooding mass of seriously intense ripe plum, strawberry and damson fruit packed with earthy minerality and spice. The nose is rich and chocolatey, while the huge tannins on the palate suggest that this is one to lay down to enjoy in your dotage. Made from 57% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc this is a very serious, very impressive and very intense Ch. Haut-Brion.
The connoisseurs’ first growth, and notably the one with the smallest production. The 1996 is a completely different wine to the slightly brutish 1995. This has an ethereal lightness to it. Approachable now though with many, many years ahead.
Just about ready, though will continue to improve for 10 years or more.
Deep red colour with hints of tawny at the rim. Very expressive bouquet, typical Graves earthy, warm tobacco leaf and cigar box. On the palate a real kernel of sweetness on the mid-palate, lovely texture in the mouth, very well balanced, fresh, with a long, exemplary finish. Ready to drink now with great pleasure but not in any way tiring.
Case price (12)
Case saving £676.08
With most of the classy Cabernets going into the Grand Vin the second wine is 71% Merlot, which explains the lush, plummy juiciness of this wine. There's nothing remotely rustic about this wine, however, with a fine thread of purity running through the core of the wine, elegant tannins and a long finish.
Imperial 1 x 600cl
An astonishingly rich and dense wine that is unquestionably the wine of the vintage. Massively endowed with a huge nose of cassis and wild mushrooms,and a palate bursting at the seams with layer upon layer of super ripe black fruits. The finish is outstanding. A legendary wine.