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13 Vintages of Latour

Story And Photos By Ch'ng Poh Tiong

On 31 March 2011, Chateau Latour and Christie's invited eight journalists from around the world to a tasting over dinner at the Pauillac First Growth.

The eight journalists, two Hong Kong wine distributors and two Chateau Latour representatives (including their Managing Director Frederic ENGERER), all 12 of us picked lots (of vintages) for dinner.

Three Christie's representatives were also present: David ELSWOOD (International Head of Wine), Charles CURTIS (Head of Wine Asia), and Simon TAM (Head of Wine China).

The 12 wines were some of the vintages to be featured in an all-Latour auction in Hong Kong on 27 May 2011 (this article was written before the auction). Apart from the sale being an all Chateau Latour highlight, every bottle was coming directly from their cellar. Insofar as Latour and Christie's are both owned by French tycoon Francois PINAULT, the business transaction could be described as one hand passing the bottles to the other hand.

Before dinner, Chateau Latour took the opportunity to put on a small flight of their most recent vintages, namely 2008, 2009 and 2010, of both Les Forts de Latour and Chateau Latour.

The 2008, very balanced, is the lightest (medium-plus-ish bodied) of the three vintages. The 2009 was quite closed but the richness obvious. The newest vintage is very impressive indeed. Les Forts de Latour 2010 has floral notes and scented oak. It also possesses ripe and rich fruit and tannins. Chateau Latour 2010 shows more blueberries with ripe, rich fruit and ripe, rich, firm tannins from start to end. With both the grand vin and second wine of the 2010 vintage, there is remarkable, persistent freshness.

The 12 dinner wines were picked like a lucky draw. Only the individual concerned knew what it was that he or she had picked up, the vintage written on a small piece of paper. The person would then be escorted by a member of the Latour staff to the cellar to retrieve a bottle from the bin holding bottles of that particular vintage. Chateau Latour Managing Director Frederic ENGERER did the honour of arranging the sequence of pouring. The wines, I may add, were not served in the order of the tasting notes below.

Apart from the 12 vintages, there was a bonus of an unknown vintage. We start with this mystery wine.


Chateau Latour 'Unknown Vintage'
The oldest recorded vintage in the Latour cellar is 1863 (following wine). At the same time, Chateau Latour has eight bottles of a wine that, although they know is older than 1863, the chateau is not sure of its actual age. Frederic ENGERER thinks it may be 1858 but cannot be certain. These eight bottles (seven, after this one was opened) are sealed tight in glass. A pair of tongs – heated for 10 minutes under a gas burner – is used to sever the top of the neck of the bottle. The surgical process was dramatic and expertly carried out. The colour is a dull red with an orange rim. The palate is balanced, with red plum fruit and freshness.

Chateau Latour 1863
This bottle was a bit controversial. A few diners thought it was corked while others that it was merely a touch of bottle stink. Inspite of that, mint and sandalwood are detected. And the fruit possesses length. With freshness on the finish.

Chateau Latour 1893
The colour of a VSOP cognac ... bronze. The fruit is almost dried out.

Chateau Latour 1897
Not very expressive on the nose. The palate, however, has softly succulent fruit. A touch austere on the finish.

Chateau Latour 1919
The colour and smell of autumn leaves. Wood spiced fruit on the palate. Dry finish. (See tasting notes of Chateau Cheval Blanc 1919 in this same edition).

Chateau 1909
Perfume of sandalwood. Evolved, succulent, sweet, persistent fruit. Long finish. And wonderful freshness.

Chateau Latour 1945
Ripe, rich, sweet and fruity. Remarkable intensity, length and freshness. And to think that the alcohol is only 12.2%. Not only was 1945 a great year for wine, it was also the end of the second world war that began in 1939.

Chateau Latour 1947
Fragrance of sandalwood. Fruity and spiced. Exotic. Terrific length. Deserves an extra sixth star even though the maximum in our rating system is just five. (Incidentally, this was the vintage I drew).

Chateau Latour 1961
Minty and methol on the nose. Great freshness of balanced fruit and tannins but, for the legendary vintage that it is, perhaps less than entirely impressive.

Chateau Latour 1970
Minty nose. Liquorice fruit and wonderful freshness. Great length. 'Absolutely stunning' was Jancis ROBINSON'S verdict. Managing Director of Chateau Latour Frederic ENGERER make the observation that 'some Latour 1970s can be like John WAYNE'. Not having tasted this otherly expression of Latour 1970, I presumed he meant a very tall, masculine, swashbuckling wine with a little swagger in its gait.

Chateau Latour 1971
Very minty and menthol. Succulent, sweet liquorice fruit with remarkable persistence and freshness.

Chateau Latour 1983
Brick red in complexion. Whiff of mint and a certain Rhone-like, meaty character. And a perceptible tension between the fruit and structure. The wine may have just closed up for the time being.

Chateau Latour 1985
Deep-ish red in colour. Mint on the nose giving way to sweet liquorice fruit that is intense and long. Full-bodied.

The Chinese Bordeaux Guide,
Chinese Cuisine & Wine&
The Wine Review Rating System

                           Half Star

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