Dinner at Haut Bailly: poise and elegance
June 27, 2011
Château Haut Bailly is all about elegance. The chateau is for me one of the very best in Bordeaux, particularly for the Graves region. But prices are reaching the stratosphere – just a few years ago, one could buy a 2000 or 2001 for far less than the 2005, and then the 2010 is set at $150+ en primeur… at least 50% more than the 2005 futures price… Ouch! But as almost all the top chateaux in Bordeaux jump on the ultra-expensive bandwagon – I personally find most 2010 prices absurd – at least this chateau certainly offers superb quality for its price.
Located in Leognan, just next to La Louviere – also a fine estate – Haut Bailly generally combines pure fruit expression with refined mineral aspects, with a nuanced palate and tannins of a fine grain. There is often much freshness, an aspect that too many “modern” Bordeaux lack. For the second Vinexpo, I was lucky enough to have been invited to their dinner, where chef Tanguy Laviale has worked in several Michelin rated establishments – and deservedly received applause after the dinner, his food matching the wines perfectly.
As was the case last year, guests “went to work” before dinner to taste 10 vintages of Haut Bailly, from 2010 to 2001. Here, my tasting notes (in bold I liked particularly, in red and bold even more, when underlined, the most) followed by comments on the food and dinner wines:
2010: At 13.9% alcohol, this wine achieves almost a new paradigm of balance for Haut Bailly, but fear not, there is an excellent equilibrium, with high enough acidity. When I had tasted the wine en primeur, I found it to combine the marked acidity of 2008, with the richness of 2009, and with very fine tannins. I must say that this wine is extremely promising, with wonderful intensity and freshness. 94-96+
2009: Just put in the bottle, this wine was not easy to taste for some, but I re-discovered its sublime richness. More black than red fruit, but never jammy, this had good energy on the palate. It was perhaps not at its best, given the timing, but I think 2009 will prove to be an excellent vintage, although perhaps, just perhaps, not quite as good as the 2010. For those who can afford the two vintages, it would be interesting to compare and contrast over the years. 94
2008: Two bottles showed two results. The first bottle was very tight, not saying anything, the acidity more prominent. The second bottle revealed lovely mineral aromatics and a focused palate. Although it does not have the opulence of the 2009, nor the same finesse of tannin as the 2010, I think it may be better than I thought when I tasted it en primeur. Let’s see how this one does in a few years. 92+
2007: A far more charming nose and palate compared to the 2008, this wine is proof positive that some 07s are drinking wonderfully today, but I sense less concentration and focus overall. Still, for current drinking, this is your ticket. In terms of price, it can be found for under $50, so what are you waiting for? 91
2006: Here we have a wine that is somewhat closed on the palate, although the nose is very expressive. It reminded me somewhat of the Domaine de Chevalier 2006, when tasted in a vertical in Washington D.C. I co-organized this past February: just a bit monotone on the palate, although over time in glass, I came to admire the texture. Dormant now…. Give it some time. 90?
2005: The nose here is lovely, pure and focused. It exudes red and dark cherry, cassis and hints of cedar. The attack is brisk and I love the sap filled mid palate. The texture is raw at this stage, tannic presence but such excellent tannin, never drying, but, again, raw for now. This is an exceptional wine, aptly described by the owners as “legendary”; I think it has a better balance than the 2009… would like to see how it evolves in comparison to the 2010, because 2010 and 2005 are similar to me. The major difference? You can still get 2005 for under $90 per bottle, in bottle. The 2010 costs about $150. An easy choice… 96, potentially higher score
2004: Well, now, what have we here? For current drinking, could this be my favorite of the entire vertical? The nose is charming, pretty, lovely… all positive, with aspects of fresh tobacco and cedar and red fruit. I recall buying this for the Chanticleer Restaurant on Nantucket back in 2007 and it was too tannic on the palate back then, so we did not serve it. I am sure that the restaurant has sold through it by now, as its drinking window has opened and we bought it at a very competitive price. It exhibits subtle chocolate notes on the smooth palate, where the tannins are melting. Still a bit raw on the finish, still perhaps (too) young on the finish, but getting there. Lovely indeed. I think I will buy a few more bottles while it stays less expensive. 94
2003: Where 2004 shows subtle chocolate, this wine is more Betty Crocker Brownie. I like it, for a 2003, but it is hearty and less refined. Certainly one of the best 2003s I have had from Graves, to be sure, but the heat of the vintage does not suit the style of this estate. While the palate is not hot, it does come across as less elegant than the 2004, a bit stolid, if a pleasant drinking experience. 89
2002: Here we have a vintage that I think is evolving a bit faster than expected. I had always liked the 2002 at Haut Bailly, and the nose does not disappoint, exuding freshness and elegance. But the palate seems quite open knit in comparison to, say, the 2004, which seems far younger in expression than just the two years that separate the vintages. 90
2001: A very elegant nose, with tobacco and soft chocolate notes. The palate is intense without being obvious. It reveals far more substance actually than the 2002 or 2003, perhaps even more than 2004, with a fine tannic edge on the finish indicating that this wine has much life ahead of it. Gives the 2000 tasted over dinner a run for its money. Not surprisingly, some tasters liked this one best among the ten tasted. Not me, that would go perhaps the 2005 or 2010, but the 2001 is drinking very well today. 94
1995: This wine was my favorite over dinner. Its nose was ashy at first, then exhibited prominent tobacco leaf… I liked the briskness of the attack on the palate, medium plus body, with acidity that beckoned food. Time in glass brought this wine together, as if tightening it up somewhat. The palate was also marked by chocolate flavors that made it appealing, but matched by verve and vivacity. I could not help but compliment Veronique Sanders for this lovely wine, perfectly matched by the pigeonneau…. 94+
1985: Served from double magnum, this wine pleased some palates. I was not as impressed as with the 1995, but what I liked about it was its sheer delicacy. It exuded soft floral aromas and tobacco, the palate giving off stewed cherry, but in a subtle manner. I could see why some would find it a bit too soft, but the cheese was a good match, although the dried fruit did not do the wine service. 90
2000: Once again I realize why I love this vintage so much. It has the poise and structure of the 2001, but with a dollop of sweetness that makes it more crowd-pleasing… Bring it on, I say! The wine was rich and elegant at the same time, and very easy to drink now. The structure is there, but not as much in evidence. Still, there is something about the 2000 that is perhaps “easier” than 2001, perhaps less “cerebral”? I think it would be fascinating to drink these side by side over time, and see how each develops…. 94
Keep checking out my Vinexpo 2011 posts, to be updated soon with dinners and tastings at Clos Fourtet, Domaine de Chevalier, Montrose, Lascombes and much, much more!