Château Lafon-Rochet 1996
• Domaine: Château Lafon Rochet
• Appellation: Saint-Estèphe
• Classification: Fourth Growth, 4ème Grand Cru Classé
• Origin: Left Bank, Bordeaux, France
Château Lafon-Rochet is a property that is impossible to miss off the D2, a picturesque wine route that weaves its way through the Médoc. The structure is a brightly painted sunny yellow color, and unlike some of the more formidable estates with their drawbridges, moats and guard towers, the atmosphere here is distinctly modern and cheery. The story of Château Lafon-Rochet is a long and redemptive one with its share of hardships yet manages to have a happy ending. Once Château Lafon-Rochet was acquired by the Tesseron Family, the estate really managed to reinvent itsself. What was once a property near the brink of destruction is now a shining success story. Château Lafon-Rochet produces powerful wines that are very much worthy of its Fourth Growth title.
The inception of Château Lafon-Rochet dates back to the mid 17th Century, when Antoinette Guillemotes purchased the Rochet Estate as a dowry for her husband, Etienne de Lafon. The story goes the estate was named Rochet after its rocky, Saint Estèphe terroir. Once the Lafon family owned the property, they changed the name to Lafon-Rochet, as was tradition of the time. The estate rose to prominence and was classified as a Fourth Growth in 1855. At the turn of the century, however, Château Lafon Rochet fell victim to the phylloxera plague that was destroying vineyards throughout Bordeaux.
The tides of fortunes turned for the worse, and in the 1960s when the Tesserons purchased it, it was in such disrepair the buildings were rendered unusable. Always up for a challenge, Guy Tesseron spared no expense at renovating the property and Château Lafon-Rochet is the only Classified Growth to have had a château built in the 20th Century. He chose to paint the property a sunny yellow color because he wanted to celebrate the modernity of Château Lafon-Rochet. The estate is a family-run operation, and it’s clear they prioritize the vines above everything else.
In true Tesseron fashion, Château Lafon-Rochet is experimenting with organic and biodynamic viticulture. This seems to bode well for the Tesseron family at their other property, the second-to-none Château Pontet-Canet. The vines are approximately 37 years old on average, and there are some old vines from 1938. The Tesserons believe even though the old vines don’t offer up their fruit qualities, they still have a great level of complexity. The terroir is highly unique at Château Lafon-Rochet, as they have the same type of blue clay as the incomparable producer, Château Pétrus. Perhaps this is why they have brought on the former winemaker at Pétrus, Jean-Claude Berrouet, as their consultant.
The wines of this fine estate are better with a few years of bottle age but can be enjoyed after a few hours of decanting. Though they do have quite a bit of power to them, above all else they are elegant. Château Lafon-Rochet is once again proof that with the right viticultural team, any property can manage to turn things around.
"The 1996 Lafon-Rochet is a wine that I had not tasted for nearly one decade. It was always a modest 1996 Saint Estèphe. The nose is pleasant with blackberry and briary aromas, cedar and sandalwood, but perhaps what is missing vigor. You almost end up giving it a kick up the rear to offer more intensity. The palate is well balanced and delivers a pleasant fleshy mouthfeel. It feels saline in the mouth with a generous pinch of black pepper towards the finish. This is drinking beautifully now and if your expectations and not lofty, you will enjoy this Lafon-Rochet that is à point. Tasted July 2016." Neal Martin, The Wine Advocate Issue 227, (10/28/2016) Rating: 89 Drink: 2016-2028
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