Once every so often a tasting redefines the standard by which all future tastings will be judged. This can be due to the organisation, collation of scores or notes, quality of the wines or general tasting atmosphere amongst other things. At a recent vertical of Château Latour, held in the depths of their chai, this was the case in so many ways. We were there to celebrate Stephen Browett’s 60th Birthday, and the Château had kindly arranged for us to taste 20 consecutive vintages blind in magnum under the stewardship of Frédéric Engerer and Jean Garandeau. We would taste the most recent vintages – 1999 to 2018 inclusive – all of which were made since Engerer became the CEO of the estate, and more recently the entire Artemis wine portfolio.
In theory tasting a vertical from one château should be relatively straightforward in terms of vintage identification but with twenty possible answers for each wine, incredible consistency in quality and slow ageing in the magnum, it proved much trickier than we might have thought. The setting was incredible – surrounded by old vintages of Latour in a room that looks akin to a Bond villain’s lair. We had been set up with gilets and blankets to cope with the cool settings, and had our own Wi-Fi and app to create a leader board for the number of correct guesses, as well as votes on our favourite vintages. The wines were tasted in two flights of ten to save us tying ourselves in too many knots, so we voted for our favourite vintage in each flight.
The wines were unsurprisingly fantastic, and for the most part incredibly youthful. I thought it would be very easy to spot vintages like 2013, 2007 or 2004 but even the “weaker” vintages showed well, confusing more than a few tasters who put them as much more highly considered vintages. The mark of Château Latour was clearly stamped on each wine with graphite, pure cassis and bold structure to the fore. These are powerful, long-lived wines, yet are harmonious in a way that brings elegance and poise. Only a few of the twenty wines on show were in their peak drinking windows. Some were approachable but still youthful, and many others were clearly very young and need time in the cellar before reaching maturity.
Once we had tasted the wines it was revealed that the first flight were the “odd” vintages – 1999, 2001 and so forth, with the second flight the “evens”. Overall, 2010 was the clear group winner. The power, concentration, balance and youthfulness made it extremely appealing to the tasters. Such was the youthful nature of the wine that several of those who picked it as their favourite considered that it might be the 2016, rather than the 2010. From the even flight, 2004 surprisingly came second – highlighting the consistency of the wines and also perhaps a preference from some tasters for a wine that was ready to drink – with 2002 in third. It is well known that Latour 2002 is considered one of the wines of the vintage, but it still stood out in this line-up with its precision, intensity and integration. 2001 won the odd flight, again highlighting the preference that some had for wines that were ready to drink. However, this was a much closer run flight, with five vintages just behind tying for second, including the 2005 and 2009. The 2009 was my preferred vintage of the entire tasting – ripe but pure in fruit, with a structure rich enough in tannin to allow for long term ageing, yet seamless and harmonious already. I have always believed that the greatest wines are perfectly balanced even in their youth, and the 2009 is a perfect example of this. The quality and consistency of the wines were such that seven of the ten wines in each flight were picked as a favourite by at least one taster. This is testimony to the resounding success of the effort in both vineyard and cellar to make the best possible wine in each vintage since Engerer took charge.
My full tasting notes on all twenty wines follows in vintage order. This was a fantastic and unique experience – we would all like to thank Frédéric Engerer, Jean Garandeau and the entire Latour team for putting this together. I would also like to congratulate our very own Oliver East, for guessing the most wines correctly from the group of 21 tasters – bravo!
1999 – Showing some garnet fade at the rim, this has an earthy nose with cured beef and cool blackcurrant fruit. The palate is chalky and bright with acidity. The fruit is cool – both blackcurrant and fresher cherries and plums. Savoury, with cedar, graphite and forest floor through to the finish. At peak maturity. 17/20
2000 – Deep ruby-garnet in the glass. A mature and earthy but incredibly powerful nose, full of scorched earth, cassis, leather and tobacco. The palate has great density and ripeness, bold and still-chewy tannins coating the mouth before fleshy blackcurrants and blackberries power through the structure. There is complexity from the increasingly savoury character building in the glass – leather, cedar and game all come through – there are even notes of dried fruits and flowers. Still intense and very long on the finish, this wine is now approachable but it feels as though it will only improve in the years (and decades) to come. Once it reaches peak, it has the structure and intensity of fruit to remain there for a long time. 18.5++/20
2001 – Deep ruby garnet in the glass. Savoury and smoky on the nose, with earthy, brambly fruit and forest floor. The palate is full of cedar, cool blackcurrant and black cherry, with chalky tannins and bright acids still providing ample structure. Cool, fine, compact and long, with an elegant, savoury finish. Ready now but will continue to drink well for a decade or more. 17.5/20
2002 – Deep ruby in colour. Profound and pure on the nose – all graphite and cassis. The palate follows, with real depth, cool ripeness of blackcurrant and fleshy black cherries, but also cedar and camphor. The tannins are integrated but still chalky, supporting the wine beautifully. A wine of real precision and harmony, with a long, fine finish. Ready now, this will only improve over the next decade and likely age a decade or more beyond. A real surprise to see this revealed as the 2002. 18+/20
2003 – Deep ruby with a little garnet fade. Smoky, earthy and ripe on the nose. Powerful, with heady, sweet fruit on the palate – cassis and bramble. Great depth and ripeness, but still showing firm, chewy tannins. Long, spicy and toasty on the finish. Just about ready to drink but with a long life ahead. 18+/20
2004 – Garnet in colour, with a leathery, savoury nose of earthy red and black fruits. Fine grained tannins frame the palate, allowing for notes of cedar, black cherry and game to shine through. Fine and well balanced, this elegant wine has surprising depth and length on the finish. Drink now, or over the following 10-15 years. 17+/20
2005 – Deep ruby colour. A little reticent on the nose at first, before revealing deep, brooding black fruit and a little toast. The palate is firm and full, with rich, chewy tannins and dense black fruit. This is slightly shut down at the moment, but there is clear depth and a huge, powerful finish that reveals the excellent potential. Be patient before approaching, as this will have a very long drinking window once it opens up. 18+/20
2006 – Deep ruby in colour. Wild hedgerow fruits on the nose with a little savoury development. Chunky and chewy on the palate, this is firm and structured at this stage and will need more time to knit together. Cool cherries and plums sit at the centre of a compact core of fruit. There are layers of dried leaves and meaty development but the structure holds everything back at this stage. Give it another 5 years before approaching. This won’t reach its peak for another decade at least. 17+/20
2007 – Deep ruby colour. Dried flowers and dried leaves on the nose with some cherry fruit. Still quite firm on the palate, with chalky tannins and crisp acids. The fruit is cool, with lots of hedgerow and a little sweet cherry. Chalky and lithe through to the finish. Ready with a decant, but will improve over the next 10+ years. 17+/20
2008 – Medium deep ruby colour. Lots of pure black cherry and dark plum in with a little savoury tobacco leaf and earthy development. Chalky and firm on the palate, with cedary tannins and savoury fruit. Compact and linear, this is fine and mineral, with a graphite edge that screams Pauillac. The intensity builds through to the finish, which is finely balanced between sweet and savoury. Just approaching its drinking window but will improve over the next 8-10 years, with the structure to age much further. 17.5/20
2009 – Deep purple in colour. Graphite, blueberry, blackcurrant and lightly cedary smoke on the nose. The palate is silky, ripe, refined and youthful. The tannins are plentiful and chalky, but the sensation on the palate is glossy and seamless. The fruit shines through, bursting with blackcurrant and dark cherry. There are layers of spice and pencil shavings too. This is still very youthful and yet very open at the same time. Harmonious, hedonistic and very long on the finish. You could almost drink this now, but it will improve for decades and should have an incredibly long life. A perfect wine? 19.5++/20
2010 – Very deep in colour. A huge, rich and ripe nose, full of cassis, toasted spices and cigar leaf. The palate is bold, tannic and incredibly chewy at this stage. Despite the massive structure the fruit still shines through, brambly and ripe, but with a savoury and refreshing edge. Everything is turned up to 11 and yet the wine sits in perfect balance, the intense fruit core expanding brilliantly on a long and primary finish. This is a wine that requires great patience – it may not reach its peak for well over two decades. Once it does, however, it should be a truly magnificent wine. 19.5/20
2011 – Deep ruby purple in the glass. Rich and powerful black fruits on the nose. The palate is chalky and dense with a huge structure of chewy tannins. This is firm and classic, but the fruit is dark and ripe. Smoky, spicy and compact through to a long and drive finish. Needs at least 8-10 years more in bottle, but should have a long life ahead. 17.5+/20
2012 – Deep ruby colour. Floral and expansive on the nose, with lots of blue fruit and sweet vanilla. Bold and forward on the palate, the fleshy black fruits and chunky tannins come together to give a perception of great intensity before fresh acidity cuts through the richness. The sweet spice of oak rounds out the fruit and tannin, softening the initial firmness. A fine and compact but long finish. Though young, this should soon be approachable with its expressive and aromatic qualities. 17.5+/20
2013 – Medium-deep ruby in the glass. Lots of red fruits and floral tones on the nose, with a little blackcurrant leaf. Chalky and fresh on the nose, with bright red and black fruits, zesty acidity and a fine, floral finish. Youthful but approachable, perhaps lacking the depth to age more than 15 years. 16.5+/20
2014 – Deep ruby-purple in colour. Very graphite on the nose, with violets and cherry blossom lifting pure blackcurrant fruit. The palate is chalky and richly structured but perfectly balanced. Fresh black fruits and the slightest hint of blackcurrant leaf and camphor offer real freshness, drive and intensity. Still very youthful and linear at this stage, this should be a fantastic wine once it reaches maturity. Finely etched and cool through to the finish, this is quintessential Pauillac. 17.5+/20
2015 – Very youthful colour – deep purple. The nose is bright and expressive, full of violets, blossom and sweet black fruit. Very ripe and rounded on the palate, quite soft and approachable given the youthful nature of the wine. Density and structure increase through to the finish, with chalky tannins and intense cassis. Lifted and aromatic on the finish. This should be approachable in 5+ years, but has the intensity to age for decades. 17.5++/20
2016 – Deep purple in colour. Exuberantly youthful on the nose with redolent blackcurrant and sweet black cherry overlaid by baked vanilla and exotic clove spices. Extremely deep, youthful and pure on the palate, this wine exudes cassis and spice. The tannins are chalky and mouthfilling, but extremely refined. Despite the ripe and youthful nature, there is remarkable freshness and lift – violets and flowers in tandem with fleshy fruit. Minutes long on the finish, this is clearly a future great that will age for decades. 19++/20
2017 – Deep purple in colour. Rich and ripe on the nose, extremely youthful with blackberry and cassis. Powerful, exuberant and toasty on the palate, this is clearly a very young wine. Not quite knitted together as yet, this is hedonistic and rich in fruit, chewy in tannin but deceptively high in acid. Toasty and smoky on the finish. Give it ten years to come together. 17.5/20
2018 – Deep purple colour. Very, very youthful, quite clearly the 2018. Blueberries and rich, ripe cassis on the nose, with plenty of sweet spice. Smoky on the palate, with oodles of ripe black fruits and exotic spices. The tannins are plentiful and chewy but very ripe. Exuberant and youthful, this should be a fantastic Latour but is very nascent at this stage. 18.5+/20