(Steven Spurrier, Decanter)
About this WINE
The history of Ch. Latour dates back at least to the 14th century, even though the vineyards for which it is now world-renowned were not fully established until the 17th century.
The estate is located at the southern edge of Pauillac, bordering the St. Julien vineyards of Ch. Léoville Las Cases, and covers 78 hectares. After a period when it was under English ownership, in the form of the Pearson Group, owners of the Financial Times, and Harvey’s of Bristol, the property passed to Allied Lyons in 1989 and was then bought in 1993 by the French billionaire industrialist François Pinault, whose empire was to grow to include Yves St. Laurent, Gucci and Christie’s Auction House.
Pinault has delegated day-to-day control of the estate and its wines to his dynamic Président, Frédéric Engerer, under whose stewardship a major programme of investment has taken place which has seen Latour rise to an undisputed pre-eminent position in the Bordeaux wine hierarchy.
Engerer produces 3 wines: the Grand Vin, which always comes from the vines immediately surrounding the château, known as L’Enclos; Les Forts de Latour, the second wine, created in 1966, and now regarded as a great wine in its own right, certainly worthy of Classified Growth status; and finally a third wine, simply called Pauillac de Latour, usually the product of young vines. The second wine, Les Forts de Latour, always comes from a distinct location, rather than simply being the vats rejected as not quite worthy of inclusion in Latour itself, so it has its own distinct identity.
In terms of volumes, on average there are about 16-20,000 cases of Latour made each year, 10-12,000 cases of Les Forts de Latour, and a variable quantity of the generic Pauillac. As one would expect in Pauillac the Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, accounting for 80% of the vineyard, with Merlot (18%) and Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot comprising the remaining 2%.
Vinification is rigorously controlled, with severe selection of only the healthiest fruit, total de-stemming, and separate tanks for each parcel of vines. A three-week long maceration is followed by malolactic fermentation in vats before the wine chosen to become Ch. Latour is run off into barrels, 100% new, for ageing. The wine destined to become Les Forts de Latour is aged in 50% new oak and 50% one-year-old barrels.
In style the wine is powerful, structured and compelling, and has been for many the most consistent performer amongst the First Growth Wines over the past century, acquiring an enviable reputation for producing very good wine in the more challenging vintages. It has great potential to age, with the best vintages lasting a century or more.
Pauillac is the aristocrat of the Médoc boasting boasting 75 percent of the region’s First Growths and with Grand Cru Classés representing 84 percent of Pauillac's production.
For a small town, surrounded by so many familiar and regal names, Pauillac imparts a slightly seedy impression. There are no grand hotels or restaurants – with the honourable exception of the establishments owned by Jean-Michel Cazes – rather a small port and yacht harbour, and a dominant petrochemical plant.
Yet outside the town, , there is arguably the greatest concentration of fabulous vineyards throughout all Bordeaux, including three of the five First Growths. Bordering St Estèphe to the north and St Julien to the south, Pauillac has fine, deep gravel soils with important iron and marl deposits, and a subtle, softly-rolling landscape, cut by a series of small streams running into the Gironde. The vineyards are located on two gravel-rich plateaux, one to the northwest of the town of Pauillac and the other to the south, with the vines reaching a greater depth than anywhere else in the Médoc.
Pauillac's first growths each have their own unique characteristics; Lafite Rothschild, tucked in the northern part of Pauillac on the St Estèphe border, produces Pauillac's most aromatically complex and subtly-flavoured wine. Mouton Rothschild's vineyards lie on a well-drained gravel ridge and - with its high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon - can produce (in its best years) Pauillac's most decadently rich, fleshy and exotic wine.
Latour, arguably Bordeaux's most consistent First Growth, is located in southern Pauillac next to St Julien. Its soil is gravel-rich with superb drainage, and Latour's vines penetrate as far as five metres into the soil. It produces perhaps the most long-lived wines of the Médoc.
Ch. Lafite-Rothschild, Ch. Latour, Ch. Mouton-Rothschild, Ch. Pichon-Longueville Baron, Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Ch. Lynch-Bages, Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Ch, Pontet-Canet, Les Forts de Latour, Ch. Haut-Batailley, Ch. Batailley, Ch. Haut-Bages Libéral.
Cabernet Sauvignon lends itself particularly well in blends with Merlot. This is actually the archetypal Bordeaux blend, though in different proportions in the sub-regions and sometimes topped up with Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
In the Médoc and Graves the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend can range from 95% (Mouton-Rothschild) to as low as 40%. It is particularly suited to the dry, warm, free- draining, gravel-rich soils and is responsible for the redolent cassis characteristics as well as the depth of colour, tannic structure and pronounced acidity of Médoc wines. However 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be slightly hollow-tasting in the middle palate and Merlot with its generous, fleshy fruit flavours acts as a perfect foil by filling in this cavity.
In St-Emilion and Pomerol, the blends are Merlot dominated as Cabernet Sauvignon can struggle to ripen there - when it is included, it adds structure and body to the wine. Sassicaia is the most famous Bordeaux blend in Italy and has spawned many imitations, whereby the blend is now firmly established in the New World and particularly in California and Australia.