France's Medoc region, on the left bank of the Gironde river, produces some of the finest, and most expensive, red wines in the world. The debate over who claims the top spot isn't easily settled, but any discussion is obliged to include the wines of Château Lafite-Rothschild, with a history matched by few estates and fans such as King Louis XV of France and President Thomas Jefferson.
As one might expect, for a wine with as much prestige as Lafite-Rothschild, there's no shortage of demand. So even though Château Lafite-Rothschild is one of the largest estates in the Medoc, producing between 15,000 and 25,000 cases of wine a year, these wines are nothing short of fantastically expensive. If you can afford Lafite-Rothschild, expect a wonderfully concentrated, supremely elegant wine with ineffable aromas of ripe berries, lead pencil, minerals and flowers, plus outstanding cellaring potential. The grand vin is generally made from 80-95% Cabernet Sauvignon, although some years, like 1961, which consists of 100% Cabernet, are exceptions.
Lafite's history as a quality wine producer dates back to the 17th century. Jacques de Segur planted the vineyard in 1670 and under his son Alexander's direction the Château flourished. Alexander married the heiress of Château Latour, another legendary Bordeaux producer, uniting these estates for a brief period. Château Lafite was rated First Growth in 1855, one of only four Bordeaux producers to receive this classification.
During the first half of the 20th century, however, Lafite experienced a turbulent period caused by phylloxera, mildew in the vines, and the World Wars. During World War II, Lafite was occupied by a German garrison which ransacked historic vintages and temporarily suspended all winemaking activities. The Rothschild family, which had owned Lafite since 1868, recovered possession of the winery at the end of 1945 and set to work restoring its grandeur. Today, Lafite has arguably reached its greatest, and certainly most expensive, heights.
Grapes for the Grand Vin are harvested from 112 hectares of vineyard surrounding Château Lafitte and in neighboring St. Estéphe. The vineyard is planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Deep gravel and aeolian sand are the major components of the soil. Combined with excellent drainage and sunlight, the terroir produces a wonderfully concentrated, supremely elegant wine.
Since 1962, Château Lafite-Rothschild, and its neighbor, Château Duhart-Milon, have been managed by the same winemaking team. Charles Chevallier is Director of the Domains, Christophe Congé; is the chief winemaker, and Regis Porfilet is head vineyard manager.