1970 La Tour Haut-Brion


I admit I have a penchant for deceased châteaux, perhaps none more so than La Tour Haut-Brion since it provided such a bevy of memorable bottles. Its history is entwined with that of La Mission Haut-Brion. The Woltner family acquired La Tour Haut-Brion from Victor Cousteau upon his retirement. It was later sold to Château Haut-Brion in 1983 as part of La Mission Haut-Brion. Up until then, between 50% and 70% of fruit from the four-hectare vineyard was blended into La Mission Haut-Brion and the remainder labeled a La Tour Haut-Brion, which is why it was considered a Deuxième Vin. After 1983 La Tour Haut-Brion was treated as a Grand Vin and the vineyard reverted to those encompassing the château, as had been done prior to Cousteau’s acquisition. The final vintage of La Tour Haut-Brion was the 2005, whereupon it was merged with La Mission Haut-Brion. The second wine, La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion, was a selection made by the winemaking team rather than specific parcels of vineyard. I remember lamenting the vanishing of the name in writing on the original Wine-Journal, prompting Prince Robert de Luxembourg to call me at home and explain his reasoning. To be honest, I still miss this Pessac-Léognon, in no small part because of so many fond memories of older vintages. It was a wine that often punched above its reputation.

This brings me to a belated “Xmas” lunch last February, an annual BYO where bottles are served blind. Several appear in my Cellar Journal roundup such as 1984 Lafite-Rothschild and 1982 Cos-Labory. My own contribution was from La Tour Haut-Brion. The 1970 La Tour Haut-Brion is mature in color, bricked through to the rim. The bouquet is also fully mature, with an attractive bouquet of light red fruit mixed with warm gravel, freshly tilled earth and juniper berries, later a touch of orange blossom. The palate is bright on the entry, quite tart in style with a gentle grip. It does not possess the breeding of either the 1971 or 1978 La Tour Haut-Brion, but is simply a Pessac-Léognan giving its final reserves of drinking pleasure. 90/Drink 2019-2023.

Whilst dwelling upon this Classed Growth, allow me to add a couple of notes from ancient bottles that I have tasted. The 1971 La Tour Haut-Brion is a vintage encountered two or three times, partly thanks to a generous friend in Tokyo who gifted me this outstanding wine. A recent bottle replicated previous encounters. Deep in color, it is blessed with an intense bouquet of blackberry, black olive and shucked oyster shells that turn more brine-like with aeration. The palate defies its age with surprisingly precocious black fruit and a core of sweetness that is uncommon in this generally austere vintage. It boasts superb delineation and focus, the finish a doppelgänger for a Right Bank wine. Bottles will continue to give pleasure. 93/Drink 2019-2030. The 1964 La Tour Haut-Brion was another bottle that I shared, this time with Jacques Thienpont at his home in Belgium in return for him opening one of his last remaining bottles of 1980 La Pin. It has a very appealing bouquet that offers scents of black olive, mahogany antique bureau and undergrowth/damp moss aromas that gain intensity in the glass. The medium-bodied palate might miss the definition of other vintages, yet there is impressive depth with leather and tobacco-infused black fruit. The finish does come across a tad austere, suggesting that bottles ought to be consumed in the near future. 90/Drink 2019-2021. The 1947 La Tour Haut-Brion represents the best ancient wine that I have tasted from this estate. Like the 1971, it has an unexpected deep, almost opaque color. The aromatics reflect the warmth of that year with an extravagant bouquet of black fruit intermingling with raisin and quince, a light smoky scent emerging with time. The palate is medium-bodied and shows more control than some 1947s that can be volatile in nature. This has a cashmere texture and fine saturated tannins that frame the mixture of red and black fruit infused with brown sugar, a touch of blood orange towards the finish. It does deteriorate in the glass, yet before that point it reinforces my opinion that the ’47 La Tour Haut-Brion is a formidable wine. 96/Drink 2019-2020.