All photography courtesy of Château Haut-Bailly
I was spending some time recently reviewing the wine in my cellar via Cellartracker. If you aren't familiar with the functionality of CT there is a Drinkability Report which helps you to decide when a wine may be in it's prime to drink. This report is based on a host of factors all of which you control as the user. As I was going through the wine in my cellar I noticed that I had a number of Bordeaux that were either at the beginning, the middle or the end of their drinking window. Besides the obvious fact that I needed to start drinking some of these wines I realized this might be a good series of posts to share my tasting notes on each of them.
I am going to start this series with the 2003 Château Haut-Bailly. I paid $39.95 a bottle for this wine as a future and the Cellartracker Community Average price is showing at $46.46 per bottle. Let's start with at least a little background on Château Haut-Bailly. (If you're itching to get to the tasting notes just scroll down to the bottom)
The vineyard had some sketchy historical origins until recently when it was determined, through some careful research, to have been created during the 16th century by a rich family from the Pays Basque region. By 1630 it was acquired by a Paris banker named Firmin Le Bailly, who gave his name to the estate. By 1845 Château Haut-Bailly had become well known, but came to be famous in 1872 when it was bought by Alcide Bellot des Ministères, a prominent vitculturist of the time. The Château enjoyed huge success for a while, the 1878 vintage was deemed outstanding among its peers, but then fell into decline as a result of disease and poor decision making. When phylloxera hit French vines hard, good old Alcide decided not to follow the examples of other estates who combated the disease by grafting American root stock to their vines. Instead he relied on spraying with a copper ammonia solution which was destructive in and of itself. The organic and environmentally conscious among us would have burned Alcide at the stake I suspect. After he died in 1906, the estate came to his widow, and then her daughter.
After two more decades, Haut-Bailly was sold to Franz Malvesin. Franz was an experimenter. Unfortunately he was not a very good experimenter. His experiments with pasteurization and early bottling were disasters. When Franz died in 1923 the vineyard management and wine making practices returned to normalcy but the resulting wine was just not very good.
In 1955, the property was bought by the Belgian wine merchant Daniel Sanders. Sanders made some good decisions and began to restore the reputation of Château Haut-Bailly with quality wine. When Daniel Sanders died in 1980, his son Jean Sanders took over and continued to make progress. For several years the late and very well regarded oenologist Émile Peynaud was retained at Haut-Bailly.
In 1998 Robert G. Wilmers, CEO of M&T Bank, purchased Château Haut-Bailly with Daniel Sanders' grand daughter Veronique Sanders now in the role of general manager. Gabriel Vialard, formerly of Smith Haut-Lafitte, is employed as technical manager. Since Wilmers took ownership the wines of Château Haut-Bailly have gained more attention for their quality and craftsmanship and the 2005 vintage is legendary (I have some and they are spectacular).
The Vineyards and Vines
The Haut-Bailly estate accounts for 79 acres (32 hectares if you're French) of the Médoc, of which 69 acres (30 hectares) are vineyard. The soil consists of sand mixed with the gravel that gives the Graves appellation its name. The vineyard is planted to 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. An interesting side note - there are 4 hectares of the vineyard closest to the château buildings that contain the very oldest vines and are believed to be pre-Phylloxera era vines. This vineyard is planted to a mix of the above three varietals along with tiny quantities of Carmenère, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Though the exact date is a bit of a mystery it is believed they were planted before 1907.
The grapes for Haut-Bailly are harvested by hand, processed, and then fermented for up to ten days in both temperature controlled stainless steel and concrete vats of varying sizes. After maceration the wines are aged for eighteen months in oak barrels, many of which are new.
In total Château Haut-Bailly produces 150,000 bottles annually. In a typical vintage, between thirty and forty percent of the wine is bottled under the estate's second label, La Parde de Haut-Bailly. Unlike many producers from the Graves appellation, no white wine is made at Haut-Bailly.
The 2003 Growing Season and Bottling
All information regarding growing season was taken from Château Haut-Bailly's website.
2003 was an exceptionally warm summer in Bordeaux and as a result the growth cycle began very early with the first week of the heatwave during the last 10 days of June. The véraison (color-change) in 2003 came early and was consistent across the vineyard. Extremely hot weather came again in August but some rain managed to keep things from getting out of control temperature wise.
The harvest began three weeks earlier than usual and was fairly well spread out, allowing the hand picking of each parcel at ideal maturity.
Because of the hot summer the acidity was very low when the wine was placed in vat. During alcoholic fermentation, the acid levels balanced themselves out. According to Haut-Bailly's website they attribute this to the redistribution of the acids (concentrated in the berries) during maceration.
Decanted for 90 minutes. Dark ruby with just a hint of bricking toward the edge. Initial nose of barnyard funk with dark berries blew off by the time the decant was over. A fairly complex and moderately intense nose of dark fruit, black cherry stood out, roasted walnuts, tobacco, smoke and some spice. On the palate there was a good balance between medium acidity and tannin. Firm tannins were very refined and smooth showing that this wine has aged nicely. A medium bodied mouthfeel with lush dark cherries, blackberry, cassis and cigar smoke really prevalent and moist fertile soil and a touch of spice - white pepper -hanging out in the background. Again, a fairy layered and complex palate with a long and sultry finish left smoked meat, juicy black cherry and spice.
Given the acidity level and very present, but smooth, tannin this has many years left to fully develop. The complexity and depth seems to indicate this has the potential to really get much better but it is very approachable now. I have 5 more left so I am going to get to experience this one several times during its lifespan. I think this could be a great bottle for the 2003 vintage 50+5+12+16+7=90 pts. (see Tasting Notes and Scoring to know what these number mean.)