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One of the best value wines in Bordeaux, Le Petit Haut Lafitte Rouge 2015 is the second wine of the mighty Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Here, Cabernet Sauvignon speaks with authority. Black cherry, leather, earth, licqorice and grilled herbs are all laced together, but it is the wine's pure power and structure that stand out most.
Wine is nothing without people, and the couple that have taken Château Smith Haut Lafitte to new heights know their stuff when it comes to ascending summits and experiencing glory: Daniel and Florence Cathiard met while on the French Olympic ski team in the 1960s. Both know that it takes years of hard work to succeed through their time in the world of elite sport. After their sporting careers came to a close, they entered the world of business - Daniel took over the family business of supermarkets upon his father's death and it grew exponentially under his leadership while also launching GO Sport, a sporting goods retailer. The pair sold their businesses in 1990 to buy Château Smith Haut Lafitte from négociant Louis Eschenauer.
One of the idiosyncracies of this Pessac-Léognan vineyard is its sculptures. There's an enormous black hare bounding, a larger-than-life man being pecked by dozens of bronze birds and many more, each with its own symbolism. They are wonderfully entertaining but they should not detract from the real work that's occurred under the Cathiard reign.
The pair has eschewed conventional farming and the chemical inputs that it brings: herbicides have been off the menu since 1992, ploughing has been reintroduced, the estate produces its own organic compost and has achieved organic certification.
Red varieties make up more than four-fifths of Smith Haut Lafitte's total vineyard. Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for just over half of the total reds planted, with Merlot more than one-third. Cabernet Franc is around 10% and there's the merest smattering of Petit Verdot. There are just 11 hectares of white varietie; Sauvigon Blanc dominates (90%) with Semillon and Sauvignon Gris representing the remaining plantings. Approximately one-third of the vineyard has been uprooted since the Cathiard's arrival. Much of it has been replanted but a small portion was requisitioned for their luxury spa Les Sources de Caudalie. The couple also acquired neighbouring Château Le Thil in 2012 and converted it into a boutique 5-star hotel.
No expense has been spared at Château Smith Haut Lafitte in pursuit of fulfilling its potential - whether it's selecting berry by berry by a laser-powered optical sorter or the 100% gravity-flow winery. The estate has also installed smaller wooden vats to do parcel by parcel fermentations.
The Cathiards have also built a cooperage on site, producing around 450 barrels each year from French oak sourced from the Tronçay forest. The result is that they have transformed this underperforming estate into a highly esteemed producer of both reds and whites.
The couple has also done more for tourism in Bordeaux than most marketing boards could ever hope to achieve with the establishment of a spa and a luxury hotel. However, great wines don't come at the expense of the environment at Smith Haut Lafitte. It recovers rain water, recycles waste water and transforms vine cuttings into compost or uses them for heating, as well as capturing carbon dioxide during the fermentation process and turning it into sodium bicarbonate.
"TA firm and focused young red with full body, firm and silky textured tannins and a bright and fresh finish. Persistent and precise. Second wine of Smith Haut-Lafitte."
James Suckling - Score: 92-93/100
"More structured and ageworthy than Les Hauts de Smith (the château’s other second label), this has classic cassis and cedar wood notes, firmish, yet well integrated tannins and impressive focus and acidity."
Tim Atkin MW - Score: 92/100 Drink 2022-2030
"Mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, 60% (cf their other second wine, Les Hauts de Smith). Very dark and lustrous. Very fine and polished. Lovely ripe fruit. Very healthy wine."
Jancis Robinson MW - Score: 17/20 Drink 2022-2035
"Second wine introduced in 2008 – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, vinified in its own cellar. Some excellent barrels could have gone in the first wine, but they were from young vines. Silky tannins, beautifully rich depth of fruit and less than 14%abv. Extraordinarily good: one of best second wines from this property, continuing its run of great form."
Decanter - Score: 91/100 Drink 2021-2032
"The 2015 Le Petit Haut Lafitte is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. It has an intriguing bouquet, touches of shellfish, an estuarine element infiltrating the lifted black fruit, the new oak (20%) cunningly disguised. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannin. There is more breeding here than the Les Hauts de Smith, more precision and mineralité conveyed by the finish. A well-crafted Pessac-Léognan, give this a couple of years in bottle and you will have a lovely wine on your hands."
Apr 2016, www.eRobertParker.com, Drink: 2018-2032
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
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