2021 Château Haut-Bages Libéral, Pauillac, Bordeaux
Containing fully 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2021 Haut-Bages-Libéral offers up aromas of rich berries, plums, loamy soil, licorice and spices. Medium to full-bodied, lively and youthfully primary, with lively acids and powdery tannins that assert themselves on the finish, I suspect it will flesh out nicely with élevage to number among the sleepers of the vintage. Tasted twice.
William Kelley, Wine Advocate (Apr 2022)
The 2021 Haut-Bages Libéral is one of the best wines I have ever tasted from Claire Lurton. Dense, powerful and explosive, with dazzling intensity Haut-Bages Libéral races across the palate, offering up an enticing mélange of ripe red-fleshed fruit, blood orange, cedar and spice. Bright acids lend vibrancy throughout a Pauillac I won't soon forget tasting. Haut-Bages Libéral is one of my early favorites on the Left Bank in 2021. Yields were 30 hectoliters per hectare versus the more typical 40 or so, not a bad result at all for the year given the biodynamic farming practices in place.
Drink 2031 - 2051
Antonio Galloni, vinous.com (May 2022)
The 2021 Haut-Bages Libéral contains the highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon ever, the Merlot having been affected by the mildew. Matured in 40% new oak, 40% one-year-old barrels and 20% amphorae, this is curiously Margaux-like, almost more than Durfort-Vivens! Floral and elegant, opening nicely with aeration without pushing the accelerator hard. The palate is medium-bodied and very smooth in texture, maybe just needing a little more tension, but there is decent weight and a cohesive, chalky finish. Very fine, though I lean more toward the Durfort-Vivens this year.
Drink 2028 - 2044
Neal Martin, vinous.com, (May 2022)
Clearly marked by the Cabernet component. Dark and reasonably substantial but a passage of prise de bois leaves the palate a touch dry for the moment. Substantial fruit, though, and well-honed tannins. Potential for the medium term.
Drink 2027 - 2038
James Lawther, jancisrobinson.com (May 2022)
About this WINE
Château Haut-Bages Libéral
Château Haut-Bages Libéral is a Fifth Growth in Pauillac owned and run by Claire Villars-Lurton and her husband Gonzague Lurton. It is one of the couple’s three Classified Growths in the Médoc with biodynamic certification, along with Château Durfort-Vivens and Château Ferrière. The 30-hectare property sits next door to Château Latour; the two are the only Pauillac estates with parcels of limestone soils, thought to lend elegance and finesse in a commune often known for power. The vineyard is planted to a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon, complemented by Merlot.
Though it has a long history, Haut-Bages Libéral has come into its own since 2000, when Claire came on board after the tragic death of her parents. Under her leadership, the property is making perhaps its best-ever wines. In the cellar, Claire works with some striking diamond-shaped amphorae, made from Limoges porcelain.
“Claire is one of the most creative and instinctive winemakers in Bordeaux, and you can really feel this now in her wines,” says Max Lalondrelle, our Bordeaux Buyer.
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.
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Cabernet Sauvignon 90%, Merlot 10%
Under the estate’s biodynamic regime, the Merlot was strongly affected by mildew; 2021 has the highest-ever proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon here. Twenty percent of the harvest is aged in amphorae, adding gloss to the tannins. The wine has a wonderful crescendo of flavours, both juicy and floral. It may be a more delicate interpretation of Pauillac, but there’s no doubting its provenance with the notes of wet graphite and cedar. The yield was just 30hl/ha, but this is an over-achiever this year and certainly one to look out for. Drink 2026-2042.
Our score: 16.5/20
Berry Bros. & Rudd, April 2022
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