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Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2000
Very dark colour with hints of purple. The aromas are sumptuous and captivating, both powerful and extremely delicate on the palate, with remarkable tannic structure and length.
Subtle aromas of currants, leather, tobacco and cedar. Classic cigar box nose, with fruit. Full-bodied, with an amazing texture of silky, ripe tannins. This wine completely coats your palate, but caresses it at the same time. This is the best young Lafite ever made. A triumph.
Perhaps of all the first growths in the totally un-classic 2000, this retains most of the classic Bordeaux. It is certainly almost black in color, while the new wood flavors are very present. But it shows an impressive restraint, leaving the power of the wine to be revealed over the years rather than immediately. This could well be the longest-lived of the Pauillac first growths.
Since I gave this wine a perfect score, I suppose some could see this as a downgrade. I found everything still there for a perfect rating, but I was just struck by how tight and backward the wine was. A blend of 93.3% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot, the wine still has a dark ruby/purple color and an extraordinarily youthful nose of graphite, black currants, sweet, unsmoked cigar tobacco, and flowers. The wine is rich, medium to full-bodied, but has that ethereal elegance and purity that is always Lafite. I originally predicted that it would first reach maturity in 2011, but I would push that back by 5-7 years now, although it has 50-60 years of life in front of it. Owners of this beauty are probably best advised to forget it for 5 years. Tasted next to a 1996 several days after the 2000 tasting, the 1996, which is a perfect wine, was far closer to full maturity than the 2000.
In 1868, Baron James de Rothschild became the owner of Lafite. He was a born dilettante, and it suited him to be the master of what, in 1855, was classified as first among the great wines of Médoc. Today, Baron Eric de Rothschild presides over this most famous Bordeaux estate.
One of the most important wine regions of the world both qualitatively and quantitatively, Bordeaux is a powerhouse producer of wines of all colors, sweetness levels, and price points. Separated from the Atlantic ocean by a coastal pine forest, the mostly flat region has a mild maritime climate marked by cool wet winters and a warm, damp growing season, though annual differences vary enough to make vintage variation quite significant. Unpredictable weather at harvest time may negatively impact the ability of cornerstone variety Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen fully, while humid conditions can encourage the spread of rot and disease (although in the case of the region’s sweet white wines, “noble” rot known as botrytis is highly desirable). The Gironde estuary is a defining feature of Bordeaux, splitting the region into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. The vast Entre-Deux-Mers appellation lies in between.
The Left Bank, dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, contains the Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes, as well as most of the region’s most famous chateaux. Here, Merlot is commonly planted as an insurance policy in case Cabernet fails to fully ripen in difficult years. Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec may also be used in blends. This tends to be the more structured and age-worthy side of Bordeaux. Merlot is the principal variety of the Right Bank, with Cabernet Franc as its primary sidekick, with the other three varieties available for blending. The key appellations here include St. Emilion and Pomerol, whose wines are often plush, supple, and more imminently ready for drinking. Dry and sweet white wines are produced throughout the region from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and sometimes Muscadelle or Sauvignon Gris. Some of the finest dry whites can be found in the the Graves sub-appellation of Pessac-Léognan, while Sauternes is undisputedly the gold standard for sweet wines. Small amounts of rosé and sparkling wine are made in Bordeaux as well.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot’s subtle tannins make it perfect for early drinking and allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc, and on the Left Bank, it plays a supporting role to (and helps soften) Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. They are often emulated elsewhere in Bordeaux-style blends, particularly in California’s Napa Valley, where Merlot also frequently shines on its own.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry, and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco, and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many viewers didn't realize was that as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.