A Masterclass Bordeaux Tasting with Chateau Lafite’s Saskia de Rothschild

On Wednesday, K&L customers enjoyed a particularly rare treat at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco— for the first time in history, Saskia de Rothschild, the head of Chateau Lafite, producer of one of the world’s most famous and highly sought wines, came to Northern California for a special Masterclass Tasting of her properties’ wines.

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Saskia took the reins at Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) from her father last year, turning heads in the industry as the youngest chair of a first growth property in history.  At 31, her expertise and charm were immediately evident to the small crowd of customers that came for the opportunity to listen, taste and discuss these incredible wines—and just what makes them the crown jewels of collectors the world over.

While the Rothschild’s have owned Chateau Lafite since Saskia’s great- great- great-grandfather Baron bought the property in the early 19th century, their portfolio has since expanded to include several other properties in Bordeaux that we also tasted: Duhart Milon in Pauillac, Chateau l’Evangile in Pomerol, and Chateau Rieussec in Sauternes. 

The family’s long history with Lafite helps explain the chateau’s continued excellence, generation after generation, vintage after vintage.

“There is a strong value of transmission of values in the family, it’s the core of what we do. In my childhood I would ask questions to all the vineyard workers, and run around the vineyards and cellars, and work during the summers picking.  My father would always have us taste the wines when we were young.  He would say ‘Close your eyes and tell me what you think.’ Later on when I traveled around, every time I came home, I would have this feeling that this place is magical, and one day it will be my role to protect it.”

With regards to the wines themselves, the Rothschilds like to think of their wines as “tightrope walkers” or wines that are very balanced. They never tried to follow fashionable trends and make wines that were too heavy, or that had too much oak.  From their expertise in the vineyards, to the creation their very own full-time cooperage, they do everything they can to make the best wine possible every year.

“We’re trying to craft our wines with as much power as we can.  The soil we can’t control, the climate we can’t control, but there are a few things we can control.”

That control was evident in the first wine we tasted, the 2011 Chateau Duhart Milon.  2011 was a very challenging vintage due to hail wiping out large amounts of the crop.  Despite this, the wine was incredibly expressive, with a beautiful bouquet of cigar box, cedar, red currants and cherries, with sweet soft fruit on the palate, silky smooth tannins and a great acid core. 

The 2015 Duhart Milon, from a much warmer vintage, was more fruit forward, but also showed incredible freshness with notes of pepper and herbs to go with the rich red cherry fruit, very soft, integrated tannins and impeccable balance on the palate.  You really see the Rothschild precision, and for a relatively low $74.99.

Next, we tried the wines of l’Evangile, in Pomerol.  It is the Rothschild’s smallest estate with only eight people working full time, nestled right in between Chateaus Petrus and Cheval Blanc.  This year was the first of all the vines being in full production since undergoing restoration starting in 1990.  The 2008 was showing incredible at just over a decade old.  It had rich, dark fruit, graphite and minerals, peppery notes, leather and cedar and plenty of savory goodness, with great freshness and acid on the finish.  The 2012 had nice sweet dark cherry, red currant fruit, notes of licorice and peppers, and savory herbs on the finish.  I think people were surprised by how much they enjoying Pomerol at a Lafite tasting. 

Next, we tried the Grands Vins of Lafite.  What an incredible experience…the power, the precision, the expression, the elegance! Everything in perfect balance and integration. There is a reason these wines command the prices that they do, and tasting them made it apparent. 

The 2015 was made from 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and clocked in at a classic 12.5% abv.  On the nose it had rich cherry kirsch, redcurrant fruit, gravelly minerals, peppers, graphite, herbal notes of anise and thyme, and a certain warmth from the perfect frame of oak and spice.  The integration was stunning, with no element overpowering any other.  The tannins were nicely structuring while remaining soft and pleasant.  It is rare to taste something so powerful yet delicate at the same time, and at such a young age. 

The 2000 gave the epitomic aged Bordeaux experience. After 19 years, the first sensation I had was that it was still so fresh!   It had a very complex nose of dark cherry, black currants, tobacco and tar, gravelly minerals, leather, smoke, black pepper and cedar. On the palate, the integration between fresh fruit, secondary and tertiary elements was unlike any I’d experienced. I got the impression this had many more decades of aging potential left in it.

Finally, we tried the 1997 Rieussec from Sauternes.  1997 brought tropical heat to the region of Bordeaux, and so this wine was lauded for its hedonistic richness with big flavors of honey, dried apricots, tangerine citrus and marmalade.  The rich fruit was balanced well by acidity and made the perfect dessert to such an incredible tasting. 

“This is the first time Lafite has come to K&L; we started in 1976,” owner Clyde Beffa remarked.  “We hope they come by more regularly.  I probably won’t be here in 42 more years!” 

We extend our deepest gratitude to Saskia de Rothschild and the Lafite team for offering this unbelievable opportunity to taste these amazing wines. 

Alex Schroeder