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FICOFI: Chateau Haut-Bailly 1982-2012

January 19, 2017

FICOFI kick-started the year early with a masterclass of Chateau Haut-Bailly vertical, followed by dinner, on 10 January 2017 at Tunglok Signatures, Orchard Parade Hotel, Singapore, with Mlle. Veronique Sanders, the chateau’s President & CEO, in attendance. Ch Haut-Bailly has always been one of my favourite estates of Pessac-Leognan, its wines always reflective of the unique terroir of Graves without resorting to superficial gimmickry while still remaining reasonably priced. This estate came about in 1630 when it was founded by a banker, Firmin de Bailly, who lent his name. But it was only in 1872 that Ch Haut-Bailly gained true prominence through the stewardship of Bellot des Minieres, known as the “King of Vintners” in those times, as quality rose to rival premier cru estates. In particular, Bellot des Minieres resisted grafting his French vines with phylloxera-resistant American rootstock, a widespread practice then. Till this day, about 4 hectares of the so-called Old Vines (more than 100 years) are still present on this 30-ha estate which instils the blend with understated power, subtlety and structure.

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After the inevitable neglect caused by the two World Wars, Ch Haut-Bailly was resurrected by Daniel Sanders in 1955. Today, whilst the estate has since been sold, the excellent work of Daniel is continued by his grand-daughter Veronique, who has literally lived her whole life at the estate. Looking beautiful and elegant this evening, Veronique was in her absolute element as one quickly sensed a fount of knowledge and wisdom from her vast experience and, perhaps, it isn’t surprising that the wines of Ch Haut-Bailly from the modern era has always exuded a certain feminine poise, elegance and refinement.

veronique-sanders1998 Dom Perignon P2, served as the aperitif for the evening. Just released by the estate, where this is a fresh bottling of wine that has been left on lees all along. There is a fresh lovely bloom on the nose, rich in citrus characters, open and succulent with fine minerality amidst toasty characters and ferrous elements, very lovely in acidity, displaying great persistence with a gentle glow. Excellent.

2012 La Parde Haut-Bailly. Deep color with good concentration of red plums and dark currants. Silky, rounded and very accessible, exposed to only 20% new oak, displaying good presence and sophistication with subtle acidity, slightly short. Second wine it may be but I will happily drink this. Started in 1967, La Parde is derived from the same plots as the grand vin, going through the same selection control and vinification.

2012 Ch Haut-Bailly. Closed on the nose though it is appreciably richer with greater depth on the palate with velvety textures, very good in concentration, balance and acidity, quite seamless, a wine of great finesse and elegance. Almost feminine. Excellent potential ahead.

2006 Ch Haut-Bailly. Fairly evolved at ten years with dryish textures of earth and dried mushrooms, medium-bodied, displaying good balance with an easy presence, finishing short. Nothing cerebral here. Tasted again at dinner with consistent notes. Start drinking up.

2000 Ch Haut-Bailly. Highly attractive bouquet of dried tea leaves and earth, fleshy with an abundance of dark currants, very open with lovely acidity and subtle depth but it is all very understated, finishing well with great persistence. Tasted again at dinner with consistent notes. Will be wonderful in another ten years. Excellent.

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1996 Ch Haut-Bailly. This wine harks back to an older style of winemaking that is immediately apparent, exuding great earthy pungency and glow of an aged claret, still very fresh on the palate, displaying excellent definition, structure and layering with textures of aged tea leaves and gravel, very classic, yet subtle with lovely acidity and understated power. Outstanding.

1982 Ch Haut-Bailly. Simply quite glorious, exuding a lovely glowing bouquet of sweet berries with cedar, cinnamon and aged plums on the palate, deep and expansive with a particularly rich finish. Absolutely singing. Some members, however, felt differently (bottle variation?) and so a second bottle was popped, which I’m certainly not complaining. The latter was tighter, displaying greater precision and linearity with an added dimension of mocha and chocolate but somewhat stern and minerally towards the finish. Not necessarily better than the former, which I preferred.

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1990 Ch Haut-Bailly. Tasted only at dinner. Gentle aromas from the sweet bouquet, fleshy and open with wonderful depth and complexity recalling chocolate, plums and earth, positively glowing with controlled intensity. Splendide!

2005 Ch D’Yquem. FICOFI must have tons of this. My fourth tasting in as many months with consistent notes. Great concentration of nectarine, apricot and honeysuckle with traces of earth, creamy smooth with rich textures, displaying some early complexity with understated sweetness throughout its length. Excellent.

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