Château Haut-Brion 1999
• Domaine: Château Haut-Brion
• Appellation: Pessac-Léognan
• Classification: First Growth, Premier Grand Cru Classé
• Origin: Left Bank, Bordeaux, France
• Importer: Laguna Cellar
Of the five rarified First Growths estates, only Château Haut-Brion is located outside Médoc. It is situated on the southside edge of the city of Bordeaux, in a region traditionally known as Graves, but more recently identified as Pessac-Léognan after the carve-out of the new appellation. What once was without doubt the countryside, the surroundings around the property nowadays show signs of urban sprawl over nearly two centuries. In any major wine region, some producers inevitably fall victim to rampant commercialization. Not so for Château Haut-Brion. This First Growth Château retains its authenticity throughout the centuries.
Château Haut-Brion may lack the fanfare other First Growths Châteaux have, but it is adored by many discerning wine lovers. What do Thomas Jefferson, to Queen Elizabeth II, and Robert Parker Jr have in common? They all love Château Haut-Brion. In fact, Queen Elizabeth II is such a fan that a significant portion of her wine cellar is devoted to vintages of this jewel of Pessac-Léognan.
The sprawling, ancient vineyards of Château Haut-Brion date back to 1st century AD, making it the oldest First Growth. Roman coins can be found scattered in its heavily graveled vineyards, and Haut-Brion was considered a “cru” vineyard as early as the 15th Century. Interestingly enough, Haut-Brion was the subject of the first ever tasting note from Samuel Pepys, the author of The Diarist in 1663. He wrote that he, “drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryen that hath a good and most particular taste I never met with.” Even though he was no Robert Parker or James Suckling, he still knew a great wine when he had one.
Throughout the ages, the estate captured the hearts and minds of many, especially the ruling class and political elite. King Charles II served Château Haut-Brion at his coronation after the English monarchy was restored, initiating the century-spanning love affair between England’s ruling class and Haut-Brion. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Haut-Brion was considered a viticultural darling throughout Europe, culminating its achievement of First Growth status during the 1855 Classification.
Less than a century later, Château Haut-Brion was purchased by American Financier Clarence Dillon in 1935. He pioneered several innovations at the estate – such as using tractors in the vineyards, stainless-steel fermentation tanks in the vat room, and a bottling process on property. The signature squat bottles -- reminiscent of old decanter models -- are exclusive to Château Haut Brion and immediately recognizable.
Thanks to the visionary legacy of one of the most talented and gifted wine administrators Bordeaux has ever known, Jean Delmas, Château Haut-Brion was a leader in propagating high quality Bordeaux varietals in the 1970s. Delmas believed that winemaking was a, “hands-off process… The less manipulation, the better.” This philosophy was integral to winemaking at Haut Brion.
Production here is smaller than some of the other First Growths, and everything is painstakingly tended to by a small staff of under 100 people. The wine spends a long amount of time resting in new oak barrels – approximately 30 months. The red wines of Château Haut-Brion have a captivatingly mineral, smoky quality that sets them apart from the other First Growth Châteaux. Due to the predominance of Merlot, the wines remain are considered accessible – even charming at times -- and please many palates. They are not to be underestimated, however, as the best vintages can age potentially 30 years.
Fortunately for many a buyer, the wines of Haut Brion are often more affordable than any of the other First Growth wines and significantly overdeliver. With the perfect combination of innovation, tradition, and an almost stubborn sense of authenticity, Château Haut-Brion remains in league of its own.
"Deep plum, currant, and mineral notes emerge from the concentrated, beautifully balanced, pure 1999 Haut Brion. It seems to be cut from the same mold as years such as 1979 and 1985. There is a hint of graphite in the abundant fruit. The wine is medium to full-bodied, nuanced, subtle, deep, and provocatively elegant. It is made in a style that only Haut Brion appears capable of achieving. The finish is extremely long, the tannins sweet, and the overall impression one of delicacy interwoven with power and ripeness. Anticipated maturity: 2007-2025." - Robert Parker Jr., The Wine Advocate (4/29/2002, Issue 140), Ratings: 93, Drink from: 2007-2025
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