At the 2015 Wine Experience, Château Lafite Rothschild owner Baron Eric de Rothschild—who was featured as a Wine Star and poured his 2003—was surprised by a showing of an archival video from the event in 1983, where he had presented a superb vertical from the first-growth Bordeaux estate, including legendary vintages such as 1949 and 1961.
"I don't know why Marvin [Shanken] wanted us just to show one wine today," Rothschild teased Wine Spectator's editor and publisher at the time. Shanken seized on his joke in front of the crowd, inviting him to come back the following year with another vertical. The Baron did not disappoint.
Joining the longtime Bordeaux leader for this year's vertical of six great vintages of Lafite was Eric Kohler, his technical director, who discussed the shift to higher proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Lafite blend and led the audience through key moments in each growing season.
First in the lineup was the 2012 (94 points, $530 on release). Rothschild noted it would open up fully in two to three years, although the fleshy, fruit-forward wine was showing beautifully already. "It's so easy to overlook Bordeaux vintages that don't get all the recognition the big ones do," warned senior editor and moderator James Molesworth as he praised the '12 Lafite. "The terroir always speaks."
Tasting the 2010 (97 points, $1,800 on release) and 2009 (98 points, $1,800) side by side—from two of the best Bordeaux vintages in recent memory—was a tremendous opportunity for the guests. The '10 was still very tight, with a powerful spine and mineral notes, and needs time to unwind. The '09 was more generous for now, with a dense core of black fruit.
Kohler remembered the 2005 (98, $850 on release) growing season as delivering perfect conditions for the grapes, and the resulting wine showed it. Both men noted this was the first wine of the vertical to show some signs of development and openness, although the Baron insisted it needed at least eight to 10 more years.
By the time everyone got to drink the 1995 (96 points, $668 current auction price), Rothschild conceded: "The others are too young and really need to be waited for. But the '95, in an emergency, yes, you can." The crowd erupted in laughter, having enjoyed every vintage so far. The '95 showed a pleasant gamy and smoky quality, with plenty of fruit still to be had.
Finally, the crowd tasted the 1985 (90 points, $531 current auction price), which was "the wine that quieted down the room," Molesworth observed. A gorgeous showing, the wine was intensely savory and smoky, with aromas of lead pencil and beef bouillon. Visibly inspired by the wine, Rothschild reminisced about other memorable vintages.
But Shanken interrupted him with a suggestion for how Lafite's owner could top this year's presentation: Invite all 1,000 seminar guests to the château in Pauillac for a picnic next year. The Baron's answer: "I'll certainly think about it."