Tasted on Tuesday July 16th at Haut-Bailly. The ISVV team from the faculty of oenology were also at the tasting, as part of their research programme into ageing aromas in wine. Haut Bailly is a good example because it’s known for its ability to age slowly and gracefully, so let’s see how these are looking.
We started with the 1998, Bob Wilmers first vintage at the estate, as he bought in July 1998.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 1998
Warm, soft, cedar-filled nose, gentle tobacco smoke, still some blackberry, bilberry fruit but it is soft, smudged, crushed underfoot. Colour still fairly robust however, softer russet around the rim, but still holding up with rich velvet centre. On the palate, the attack is smoothed-out beautifully, you can fall into this wine. The length is impressive, although fruit just a tiny bit underwhelming in the mid palate. But it has wonderful persistency as it returns for a strong finish, with ever so gentle white pepper and no hint of aggression from the tannins. This would be an incredibly satisfying wine to have with a delicate red mullet, or slow-cooked lamb. Drinking window is looming up, although the tightness of the very last few breaths suggest it still has more to uncover. When I return to it later in the tasting, it has a slight methol undertone, and really a much more complete wine than the 99. In this vintage, they declassified 50% of the harvest to ensure that the Wilmers era was beginning with a bang (and also changed the sorting system), and the blend here is 59% cabernet sauvignon, 41% merlot. 93. Drink now til 2022.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 1999
Colour is a little more evolved with the 99 than the 98, slightly more russet than red, and the nose also is a little less present, has turned a little more to tertiary aromas, autumnal leaves, some sweetness coming through right from the first attack that is often a marker of an older wine. Here things get even more subtle, charming, not got as much body as the 98, more ready to drink now, but still this elegance, this utterly unhurried, unruffled air, and still the evolution in your mouth is soft sweet, unagressive, soft tobacco leaf, have less of a fruit profile here. The smoky side is the evident but here the mid palate dip is more obvious. Blend is 65% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. 89. Drink now till 2018.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2000
The legendary millennium vintage, still with a good deep red colur, feels ripe and broody, ready to spill forth. Here on the nose again gets rich, ripe, heavy with summer fruits. Very interesting. This is a young wine still, and yet full of that promise of fruit and pleasure. Again tannins are so well worn in and smoothed off that they could host a masterclass. There is a touch more juicy fruit here, as the youth of the wine becomes more apparent, why it's so instructive to go backwards from older to younger. Fruit flavours are richly black, bilberry not cassis, with the gentle sweetness of autumnal fruits This is at the very beginning of its drinking window, but you will certainly get pleasure from opening it now. Some eugenol, some smoky oak that is not obtrusive, but it is adding to the complexity of the aromas. Exuberant. Blend 61% cabernet sauvignon, 33% merlot, cabernet franc 6%. 95. Drink now (it’s still young, but let’s not pretend you won’t enjoy it already) right through to 2030.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2001
The 2001 is a wonderful vintage, you can see straight away the purple blush of a young wine. Here again the fruit is really pretty fresh for a 12 year old wine, and you can feel the precision - you start to see the steps that the grape is taking through your palate, tiptoeing through, touch of cassis here, touch of bilberry there, touch of smoke, touch of tobacco. Colour extraction is medium. Haut Bailly never pushes things to the extreme, so it looks as elegant as it tastes. Density also for these wines, at this age, is excellent, medium, not too much, again not overly extracted. Love it, my favourite so far. Some clove spice. Sometimes truffle comes out in this vintage, but not showing too much today. Blend 65% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot, and a wine which has plenty of ageing to do. 95+. Drink now (again, maybe a little early, but sometimes needs must…) through to 2030.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2002
Even the nose here is really very dense, have some real cassis coming through, the minty side, this one is significantly younger, get a rupture between the 01 and 02 vintage in terms of style, and the first steps to denser, richer wines have begun. This one should age very well, it is barely coming out of its youthful stage. On the palate are black fruits, smoky, eugenol, the oak is more evident here because it has barely begun to soften. First vintage for Gabriel Vialard as technical director. Blend is 62% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot, 3% cabernet franc. 93. Drink 2015-2032.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2003
They seemed to cope well with the hot weather here. Again, colour is medium density, see some evolution, nose has a real sweetness to it, very different taste profile from the others so far, black cherries, syrup, feel the languorous heat here, feel also the alcohol which I have not felt in any of the other vintages. Sweet, caramel, gourmet, the smokiness has fused with balsamic modena here, that sticky syrup that still has a good dose of acidity to it. Oak fairly evident, but here you want that, as a crutch to the ripe fruit, and they have handled it expertly. Not quite the same lift on the finish, but very interesting, and still plenty of life. No dry tannins like you can taste in dozens of 2003s today. Blend 56% cabernet sauvignon, 38% merlot, 6% cabernet franc. 91. Drink now to 2019.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2004
Looking forward to this, to return to a crunchy fruit. Again, it is the smoky side that hits you first on the nose. For me this is the beginning of the vintages where you see Haut-Bailly begin to pull away from its peers, and see the results of the investment carried out by the Wilmers’ team from 1998 onwards (by now there were new agricultural buildings, renovated winemaking facilities, new and smaller concrete and stainless steel vats, and a more efficient way of working between vineyard and cellar). Here you get that fabulous density and precision, no discernable drop in the mid palate, no difficult tannins or unruly oak, and all of this is a vintage which was not expertly handled by all chateaux. You would simply be thrilled to own and drink this wine. Bilberries again, juice overflowing, dark cherries, cigar box smoke, but whipped in to shape by someone who stands no overly exuberant shouting. Love this wine, feel it represents what Haut Bailly are about. Blend 50% cabernet sauvignon, 45% merlot, 5% cabernet franc. 95+. Drink 2017-2034.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2005
Rich, dense purple, here extraction is again higher than Haut Bailly in the past, but they handle it well. There is an excitement to the winemaking here, a restraint and sense of pushing things just far enough. Smoky edge to the nose, that is reminiscent of Haut Brion as well as Haut Bailly, that smudge of charcoal that I love. You could spend some serious time just drinking in this nose, some cherry, some cassis, some ripe fruits, get a touch if eaux de vie, cherry doused in fine eaux de vie, the palate also reveals ripe fruit, but never forgets the acidity, so you are still gripped. I like this a lot, but have less excitement from it than the 2004. This needs time. I have a tiny issue with the final furlong, not quite delivering the punch that I was expecting. Blend 58% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 6% cabernet franc. 95. Drink 2018-2030.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2006
Again, that Haut Bailly nose, the smudge, the smoke, the elegance, the incredible length, and it is here again that you see Haut Bailly pull away from its peers. You must be so happy to have made a wine like this. It is approaching perfection, in a not-always-successful year due to a cool August and some rain during harvest. These aromas are young, barely out the starting blocks, and can feel the tension still in the tannins, can feel the ph perfectly poised, with just the right acidity, holding the fruit back. These are intellectual, architectural wines, and are just ageing so beautifully. Love this. Already has complexity building. Aromatic freshness. Liquorice root, sensation of cool on the finish. 96. Drink 2018 (if you can wait that long) until 2034.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2007
Again, a year where many chateaux stumbled. Here they have managed to make a wine with density, with no difficult edges, but it is the least interesting in terms of the lineup here. If we are doing a horizontal of 07s instead, we would be rejoicing at the success of this one. It manages to convey fruit, which in itself is notable. This is just great to drink now, best perhaps to not wait too long, but enjoy for what they have achieved now. This was smoked, oaked a little more than usual, to add complexity, and they have pulled off just the right amount. But in a usual year, the smoky note comes from merlot, not the oak for them. The oak here usually gives boulangerie notes of toasted or freshly-baked bread. Blend 70% cabernet sauvignon, 26% merlot, 4% cabernet franc 93. Drink now (why wait) til 2020.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2008
The aromas have shifted, as we enter the young wine stage of the tasting. This is more about shaping what will come, and we are nowhere near to the drinking window for the last four wines here. On the nose, get some vanilla bean notes, not sweet and not too much, but it is notable, because this is till a young wine, a little closed, a little austere, definitely need to hold on if you are tempted, five years is nowhere near enough to open an Haut Bailly! The fruit spectrum here is tight, black, reserved, menthol and liquorice are again key markers of the wine. Closed right now, but clearly elegant, great structure. All the fundamentals of Haut Bailly are here. 2008 had an excellent late season, both September and October being dry and sunny after a cold start to the growing season in April. Blend 70% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot. 94. Drink 2020-2036.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2009
This wine really impressed me during the tasting. Still has that sweetness and openness on the nose that was apparent from the first moment of tasting it en primeur. Smoky but sweet charred cedar, grilled black cherries, toasted with a touch of cinnamon and clove. This is warm summer ripe fruits, but with a wonderfully generous, thirst quenching aspect that is just so appealing. Can wines get much better than this? I am almost always for 2010s rather than 2009s, but they have kept an edge of classicism to this wine that Haut-Bailly does so well, not given in to the summer of love looseness that some 2009s do. Just a wonderful glass of wine. Blend 60% cabernet sauvignon, 37% melrot, 3% cabernet franc. I guess you need to wait at least another five years before really doing it justice, but it’s tempting to decant a bottle now just to enjoy this fruit. 98. Drink 2018-2040.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2010
Colour edges up again a notch, in fact the 2010 remains not dissimilar to the 2012 in colour, which is still a baby. This is black cherry, wonderfully intense while still being nuanced. Nose more closed than the 2009, flavours more closed down, more intense also, tannins the most apparent of all the wines so far, not in any way drying or imposing, but the first ones that you feel have to be chewed on. This has got a long long life ahead of it, it's not a bruiser because Haut Bailly has no idea how to make bruising wines, it is not in their nature. But this is masculine, rich, high in tannins, high in alcohol, high in acidity, the holy trinity is alive and well. Blend 62% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 2% cabernet franc. 98+ (it tips the 2009 simply because it’s going to age for longer, but it will take a lot longer before you can get going). Drink 2025-2045.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2011
Nose is gentle, fairly open. Love the soft but clean fruit, black cherry and damson in this, they have definitely perfected getting the best of the fruit. It is the balance between the ripe, juicy autumnal fruits and the restrained acidity that strikes you every time. This was a difficult year – wet winter, hottest spring for 50 years, wet summer, hot September, then some rain in October. Soft fruits, classic nose, the precision of the estate comes through. Blend 50% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot, 3% cabernet franc. 93. Drink 2020-2030.
Chateau Haut Bailly, AOC Pessac Leognan 2012
Here you still have the en primeur nose, young fruit barely stretching is limbs. Wonderfully clean and pure cassis and redcurrant, with some floral aromas coming through. Clearly it will soften, but it is striking how the purity of the fruit is shining through. The more you go back to these wines, the better they become, what was fruit at first evolves into a smoky, smudgey, complex aromatic palate. This is hugely impressive, really settling into itself. Blend 60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot. 95. Drink 2020-2032.