Last Thursday, after weeks of discussions, we were escorted down to the faintly lit cellar. We stopped in front of a neatly stacked, chest-high pyramid. The bottles were naked. No labels or capsules.
Six hundred and 40 bottles of what many believe to be Michel Rolland's greatest achievement — and the richest, flashiest, most sultry 100-point Bordeaux of the phenomenal 2009 vintage — hadn't moved an inch since 2012.
We secured them all on the spot.
Weeks ago, when the dollar again flexed its muscles against the crumbling euro, we pounced, securing hundreds of cases of some of the highest-rated and most precious Bordeaux of the last 20 years.
It's not like we hadn't done this before. We spent over two decades during our importer careers attending barrel tastings, then purchasing wines en primeur, a year before the vintage release. Back then, however, we rarely had to worry about provenance. As long as the wines were moved in refrigerated containers directly from the cellar to a stateside warehouse, we were confident that the bottles we'd be selling would be in pristine condition.
Not so any more.
When the Chinese entered the market with the release of the 2009 vintage, they snatched up nearly every 98- to 100-point bottle that châteaux chose to release. Prices soared. Thousands of cases of Bordeaux were loaded on containers, headed for Shanghai and Hong-Kong.
It wouldn't be long, however, before the Bordelais began hearing stories out of China of counterfeit bottles. (Château Latour eventually went so far as to encode capsules and labels at a cost of over 200,000 euros — allowing buyers to verify each bottle's authenticity on the Latour website!)One trader who sold hundreds of cases of First Growths to the Chinese told us in confidence that he ordered a 2009 in a restaurant in Shanghai and was shocked to discover that the wine was little more than a simple Côtes du Rhône. He chose not to alert his Chinese importer hosts, fearful of spooking the client!
These days, top-rated Bordeaux are a global commodity.Bottles of the most sought-after wines have been known to travel the globe in search of the next buyer. It was with this in mind that, when we finally pulled the trigger, we did so with the utmost resolve and care. We chose three négociant companies, all sticklers for provenance. Better still, of course, would be to acquire our wines directly off the floor of the cellars where they were made.
That's what brought us to Daniel and Florence Cathiard's Château Smith Haut Lafitte last Thursday.
The 2009 Château Smith Haut Lafitte has Michel Rolland's signature all over it. Of all the extravagant 2009s (Parker doled out 20 perfect 100-point scores), it's this superstar estate in Graves that turned out the richest, sappiest, most New World rendering of the year. In many ways more similar to past Rolland Napa Valley masterpieces at Harlan Estate, Bond, and Bryant Family, this is ultra-ripe, super-concentrated Bordeaux at its best — a voluptuous Cabernet blend that (like Harlan Estate) was almost TOO delicious on release. But, as Parker suggests, it will continue to age gracefully for another 30-40 years!!!
A PERFECT 100 points from Parker, who described the greatest vintage ever released by Smith Haut Lafitte as "opaque blue/purple color in addition to a glorious nose of acacia flowers, licorice, charcoal, blueberries, black raspberries, lead pencil shavings and incense. ... sweet tannin, emerging charm and delicacy, and considerable power, depth, richness and authority, it should age effortlessly for 30-40+ years."
Elsewhere $369. Today on WineAccess, $299 — every bottle drawn from that chest-high pyramid in the Cathiards' cellar in Graves. Shipping included on 2.
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