Euripides is said to have observed, “Where there is no wine there is no love.” This was not the case when our wine scribe Jim Walker and his wee band of intrepid imbibers paid a visit to Château Latour.
We were there in the late spring of 1988 as part of a week-long invasion of the Bordeaux wine region. Little did we know that more was in store for us than just a private tasting at that storied winery.
We had just finished a memorable lunch with Jean-Eugène Borie and his family at Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (see O! Bordeaux: Part VI for the full slurp-by-slurp account) and were headed the short distance over to Château Latour in Pauillac for a mid-afternoon tasting. We drove up the winding driveway past the small, squat, stand-alone tower to the substantial stone château (built between 1862 and 1864). By the way, that wasn’t the original tower. This one was erected between 1620 and 1630 from the stones of the first fortress and probably served as a pigeonnier (dovecote). The earlier tower, which is thought to have been square, was constructed during the late 14th century.
Château Latour was named one of the four Premier Grand Cru Classes wines of the Médoc as determined by the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification that was requested by Napoleon III. The other three were Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Haut-Brion. Thanks to the strenuous lobbying of its owner Baron Philippe Rothschild, Château Mouton Rothschild was added to the elite rank in 1973. With the exception of a difficult patch through the 1980s, Latour has for decades been the most consistently excellent of the five first growths, vintage after vintage.
Château Latour is one of the oldest wine producing properties in the Pauillac appellation. The earliest mention of Latour dates to 1331 when Lord Pons authorized Gaucelme de Castillon to build the Tor à Saint-Lambert, a fortified structure including a tower. Morphing over the years into La Tour de Saint Maubert, it appears in the chronicles of Jean Froissart in 1378 at the time of the Hundred Years War. Vines existed here at that time. In due course its name mutated into La Tour and eventually Latour. Of note, in 1787 Thomas Jefferson, then Ambassador of the United States to France and future President of the United States, discovered the wines of Latour and they quickly became a favourite.
The property’s ownership was constantly in flux until Alexandre de Ségur acquired it through marriage, adding to his already vast land holdings. Just before he died in 1716, he bought Château Lafite and two years later his son Nicolas-Alexandre (dubbed the “Prince of Vines” by Louis XV) acquired what would become Château Mouton Rothschild along with Château Calon Ségur. For two years the family owned three of what are now the five Bordeaux first growth chateaux. The Ségurs owned Latour for almost three hundred years before finally selling it in 1963 to British interests that included Harvey’s of Bristol. Shortly after our visit, Latour was purchased by the distiller Allied Lyons for around £110 million. And, in 1993, it returned to French hands when Salma Hayek’s very wealthy husband François-Henri Pinault’s Groupe Artemis holding company bought it for £86 million.
Château Latour’s vineyards, located some 300 meters from the Gironde estuary, cover some 222 acres in arguably the best grape growing part of Pauillac and perhaps all of Bordeaux. They are planted with 74.2 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 23.8 per cent Merlot, 1.8 per cent Cabernet Franc and .02 per cent Petit Verdot. There are more than 800,000 vines with the oldest being more than 100 years of age. Château Latour’s Grand Vin is made from more than 90 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon grown exclusively from vieilles vignes, an average of 60 years-old, found in a very special section of the estate called l’Enclos, which covers 116 acres surrounding the Château. Approximately 175,000 bottles of Latour are produced each year.
Back to our story. We were ushered into a very large reception room where rows of gleaming glasses, numerous uncorked bottles and sets of tasting notes awaited us. And … there was also an extremely attractive young lady there to conduct the tasting. I failed to learn her name in all the excitement. We worked our way through a delicious flight of Les Forts de Latour (1982, 1983 and 1985 as I recall), the second wine of Latour which was first produced in 1966 (a third wine called Le Pauillac de Chateau Latour was added to the lineup a few years after our visit). The winery claims that Les Forts de Latour is every bit as good as a second growth Bordeaux wine. They compare each vintage of it with the second growths from competing Pauillac wineries. If it doesn’t match up, they won’t release it. Each Les Forts de Latour was a delight. By the way, about 140,000 bottles of this wine are produced annually.
But something other than a wine tasting was afoot. One of our male companions, who for obvious reasons shall remain nameless, had taken a decided shine to our hostess and the feeling was clearly reciprocal. The air was charged with a certain tension that bore a striking similarity to that found in the tavern dining scene in the movie Tom Jones (with Albert Finney and Joyce Redman as the most seductive Mrs. Waters). You have no idea how hard it was to concentrate on the wine with all that going on … even if it was Château Latour. However, I soldiered on through a ’78, an ’83 and, last but certainly not least, a glorious ’82 in spite of it all.
The ’82 was a monumental wine. I defer once again to Robert M. Parker, Jr. who so eloquently described it in his wine tome Bordeaux, a consumer’s guide to the world’s finest wines – fourth edition:
This is an unusual Latour in the fact that it has always been precocious. It has been jammy, forward, and delicious no matter when the cork was pulled, in total contrast to its two Pauillac first-growth siblings, Mouton Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild. The dense, opaque garnet-colored 1982 Latour reveals slight amber at the edge. Sweet, smoky, roasted aromas in the nose combine with jammy levels of black currant, cherry, and prune-like fruit. It possesses extraordinary concentration and unctuosity, with a thick, fat texture oozing notes of cedar wood, tobacco, coffee, and overripe fruit. Low acidity as well as high alcohol (for Bordeaux) (Note: it was 12.5 per cent!) give the wine even more glycerin and chewiness. The finish lasts forever. The only Latour that remotely resembles the 1982 is the 1961, which has a similar texture and succulence. Anticipated maturity: now-2040. Last tasted 8/02. Rated 100/100.
Whew! Sadly, particularly for the one of us in dire need of a cold shower, it was time to move on to our next appointment. But a most memorable tasting was had by one and all at Château Latour. As we move on from this memorable encounter, I’ll end by telling you the prices for which the LCBO has recently offered single bottles of these wines: the 2012 Les Forts de Latour … $433.00; the 2005 Ch. Latour … $2,035.00.
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