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Getting Dynamic at Château Latour

Frédéric Engerer keeps standards high at Château Latour amid serious upgrades to the vineyards and cellar
Photo by: James Molesworth
Château Latour's familiar iconic tower and estate remain unchanged while the cellar undergoes major renovations.

Posted: Mar 30, 2012 3:00pm ET

Nothing stands still at Château Latour. There's a large pneumatic drill breaking up the ground in the courtyard, as the cellar needs expansion. With more than 60 acres added to the estate in the past seven years, the current cellar has reached its capacity.

The always intense Frédéric Engerer said he finished his blends at the end of February. "So what you're tasting has been living together for four weeks, which is really the minimum to see how it will be," he said.

While most vignerons so far have mentioned that they tried to extract less in '11 to avoid harsh tannins, while filling in the core of the wine with press wine afterward, Engerer took a different approach.

"The common thought going in was that the '11 could maybe take more press wine, to bolster it. But it turned out that didn't work too well for us," he said. "If you added to much you lost the savory flesh and elegance of the vintage. So, only 3 percent press wine in the grand vin, when usual is around 6 percent. The highest ever was 14 percent in '99. But remember," added Engerer with emphasis. "Elegance doesn't mean dilution."

The 2011 harvest here was a hard one, Engerer noted. "The 2011 harvest had no break. We didn't feel comfortable to leave anything too long. Normally there's a break between the Merlot and Cabernet, but in 2011 we picked two straight weeks, even on weekends, no break.

And now with 62 acres under biodynamic farming, Engerer continues his plans to eventually move the entire vineyard to biodynamics starting in another two years.

"2011 was really the first vintage where the biodynamics was put to the test in regards to sanitary conditions in the vineyard, and I think we passed the test," he said.

"We are back to a normal vintage with 2011. 'Normal' can mean simple for some, or classic for others. But after '09 and '10, which had rather extravagant levels of polyphenols, alcohol, etc., in 2011 we were quite comfortable to extract as usual because it was safer than you might think. In 2011, we had one vat take 11 days for alcoholic fermentation. On one hand you might get VA or other problems if you take that long. But in 2011 it was clean, easy and gentle."

"I compare '11 to '00, which might seem ambitious. But the comparison is in regard to September, which was warm. It doesn't have the darker flavors and overall complexity as '00, but it is the smaller brother,"

Engerer also took a fairly pragmatic approach when the issue of pricing came up. "Clearly not going down significantly from '09 and '10 prices would be an insult to our customers. But there is a little less wine in '11 than usual and the market is bigger now than a few years ago. So no, it won't be '08 first tranche levels either."

The Château Latour Pauillac Pauillac de Château Latour 2011 (63/37 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) features a higher proportion of Merlot now as new vineyards have been added to the production. The wine feels almost drinkable now, it's so fresh and pure, with unadorned cherry, plum pit and sweet spice notes backed by a long, clean finish (89-92, non-blind).

The Château Latour Pauillac Les Forts de Latour 2011 (62/35/3/1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) has a noticeable Petit Verdot component this year as the vineyard with the Petit Verdot vines is now 10 years old and has matured enough to merit an upgrade from the Pauillac bottling. The wine is sleek, velvety, caressing even, with no angles at all. The pure cherry preserve and floral notes and a long, cassis-infused finish expands nicely as it airs (91-94, non-blind).

For the grand vin, the Château Latour Pauillac 2011 (84/15/1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot) is all silk and velvet, with gorgeous mouthfeel as this sails along with cassis, cherry eau de vie, freshly sliced plum and a deeply ingrained iron note which adds considerable length on the finish (93-96, non-blind).

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1.

Mark Lyon
Sonoma, CA; USA —  March 30, 2012 9:08pm ET
I find it fascinating the movement to Bio-dynamic in first growth properties. Chateau Pontet-Canet has converted over to Bio-dynamic; even using plow horses! Wonder how long before Napa and Sonoma embrace Bio-dynamic farming in their prime vineyards?
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  March 31, 2012 5:00am ET
Mark: California has quite a few biodynamic producers, including Araujo.

Overall though, I feel Bordeaux is noticeably behind other regions when it comes to embracing more organic methods in the vineyards. The vagaries of moisture in a maritime climate are often the reason quote by vignerons in Bordeaux, but slowly, it seems things may be changing....
Pierre Courdurie
Boston, MA, USA —  March 31, 2012 5:23am ET
That's quite true, but you have an important parameter in Bordeaux: The Climate!!! totaly different from Languedoc and CA
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  March 31, 2012 8:39pm ET
James will you be blogging some more about wines that normal people can afford? 1st growths are I'm sure amazing wines, but the majority of people cannot afford them. Just my 2 cents, but would rather read about Pontet-Canet, Smith Haut Lafitte, Pichon Baron and others like your piece on Cantenac-Brown.
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  April 1, 2012 2:59am ET
Karl: yes, the 1st growths are too expensive for most of us. But they are often benchmark wines and thus deserve some coverage. And let's not forget - there is some value. The Pauillac bottling from Latour retails for one-third the price of Pontet-Canet, SHL or Pichon-Baron. Mouton's sister properties of Clerc Milon and d'Armailhac are always around $45 and are great buys...

And then of course there will be additional blogs on other wines as well, from the full range of Moueix-owned and distributed estates, for example. There have also been blogs on properties like Château du Retout, Phélan-Ségur, Cantenac-Brown and so on which are relative values...

so keep reading - there should be good range in the wines I am planning to cover...!

Eric P Perramond
Colorado Springs, CO —  April 1, 2012 12:43pm ET
Great coverage on this issue here, James, and nicely (and fairly) written too. Despite many of our consumer concerns on price-point (as mentioned by Karl, for example), I think it's worth covering the first-growths for these kinds of issues because they tend to have greater influence than their acreage suggests. So, keep it up - fun to read. Cheers, EPP

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