Over the 17 years that I have been regularly visiting and tasting in Bordeaux, Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte has steadily grown on me. I’ve visited the chateau more than twenty times and have lost track of how many meals I have enjoyed in L’Auberge de la Table du Lavoir, the casual restaurant at Les Sources de Caudalie, the on-site hotel and spa also owned by the Cathiard family. (I know, its a tough job but someone has to do it.) Smith Haut Lafitte and the people that own and run it are now favorites of mine.
Over that time, I’ve watched both the chateau and the style of the wine evolve with a pleasure not unlike that of seeing a girl you like change from being young and pretty and maybe a bit shy into a woman who is beautiful, gracious, confident, and even alluring. As this transformation in the grand vin (both red and white) took place, I was never able to grab onto the second wine – Les Hauts de Smith – in the same way that I liked say La Parde from nearby Ch. Haut Bailly or Les Tourelles de Longueville from Ch. Pichon Baron (in Pauillac). Then Dan Snook of the Bordeaux negoçiant house Joanne sent me a sample of a wine I had somehow not heard about – Le Petit Haut Lafitte. He said it was a sort of alternative 2nd wine. I tasted it and was dazzled. To me, this was the 2nd wine that made sense given the evolution of the grand vin.
Le PETIT HAUT LAFITTE, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2010 ($41.79)
One of the two red “second wines” (the other is Les Hauts de Smith) of Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte, this 14% alcohol blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot all grown on deep gravel is destemmed and fermented (initially as whole berries) in small temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks utilizing a combination of pigeage (punch-downs) and pump-overs and aged 14 months in all French oak barrels (50% new – and all made at Smith Haut Lafitte’s almost-unique-in-Bordeaux in-house cooperage). Dense purple in color with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium plus phenolics. Smoky, dusty, coffee-scented oak accents mostly black fruit layered with black pepper, smoky tobacco leaf, graphite, and dark spice. Rich and ripe but with balance and focus. Lovely in the mouth. Develops in the glass and really lasts. Almost new world in some ways but the class (and the Cabernet-Merot balance) of Pessac Leognan is there. Delicious. Serve it with beef, lamb or birds featuring grilled or rich roast flavors. This 2010 is drinking well already. While it will certainly evolve, I don’t see it going very “dumb” and so it should drink well right through. BearScore: 93.