Since the 17th Century, the property now known as Château Lafite Rothschild has grown world-class wine grapes. It wasn't until the mid 1800s, however, that the Lafite family purchased the winery and began the tradition of producing one of the best-known names in Bordeaux wine throughout the world. Today, Château Lafite Rothschild remains one of the Bordeaux region's elite first growth wines.
History of Château Lafite Rothschild
In the late 1600s, the Ségur family purchased an estate located in the Pauillac village of the Médoc region. It was Jacques de Ségur who planted the majority of the vines at what is now known as Château Lafite Rothschild. By the middle of the 1700s, the family produced high-quality wines the elite of the British aristocracy cherished. Estate owner Nicolas-Alexandre, marquis de Ségur attained great success with his wines, and many referred to him as "the Wine Prince," and his wines as "the King's Wine." The wines of the estate gained international acclaim, with enthusiastic followers such as Thomas Jefferson.
After the Revolution
Following the French Revolution and Reign of Terror in France, the Ségur family lost control of the winery, and a group of Dutch merchants purchased the estate. Under the care of the Vanlerberghe family, the wine became even more well-known and loved. In 1855, the estate received one of only four first growth Bordeaux classifications. In 1868, Baron Rothschild purchased the estate and named it Château Lafite Rothschild.
By 1889, the European phylloxera plague had wiped out many of the vines in Bordeaux and throughout France, and Château Lafite Rothschild was not immune. The winery adapted by grafting vines onto resistant rootstock from North America. Throughout the 20th and 21st Century, Château Lafite Rothschild's wines have flourished, although German occupation of the estate in World War II led to plundering and the loss of many of the estate's cellared wines.
Château Lafite Rothschild produces between 15,000 and 25,000 cases of red Bordeaux style wine every year. Production depends on yields, because the estate carefully selects only the best grapes from each vintage for its flagship wine. Along with the first growth Château Lafite Rothschild wine, the estate also produces a second wine, Carruades de Lafite. While the blends vary based on vintage, in general the estate uses 80 to 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, five to 20 percent Merlot, and zero to three percent Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Quality and Character
Château Lafite Rothschild consistently produces high quality red wines with a solid backbone of tannins. Due to the structure of the tannins, the first growths can age for decades and are among the most sought after wines in the world. Flavors include blackberries, currants, tobacco, cigars, and cedar. As the tannins age, they become silky and produce full-bodied, velvety wines that open up on the palate. Due to the high quality of the wines produced at the estate, Château Lafite Rothschild consistently earns high ratings from reviewers such as Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. In fact, the 2000 vintage of Château Lafite Rothschild earned a perfect 100 points from Wine Spectator, and 13 other vintages have rated as collectible wines scoring 95 points or above from that same institution.
Even "weak" vintages at Château Lafite Rothschild produce high-quality wines, and many collectors look at those vintages as a way to purchase a collectible bottle of wine for a much lower price than wines from excellent vintages. In general, weaker vintages tend to drink sooner and may not have the same cellaring power as powerful vintages such as 2000. Good recent vintages include:
- 2000 - 100 points
- 2001 - 96 points
- 2002 - 95 points
- 2003 - 96 points
- 2005 - 98 points
- 2006 - 95 points
- 2009 - 2010 - these vintages have only been barrel tasted at this time, but they promise to be something very special given growing conditions and signs from early tastings.
Purchasing the Wines
Expect to pay several hundred dollars for a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild, and even more from really special vintages. The average price for a bottle of the 2000 wine, for instance, averages around $3,000 on the secondary market when collectors decide to let them go. Carrudes de Lafite wines are significantly less expensive, although in an excellent vintage the cost may still be in the hundreds. You may be able to save a little by purchasing wine futures from retailers like the Wine Exchange, but you typically must pay for at least three bottles a year or two before release. Special search tools like Wine Searcher will help you find both current and past vintages available via retail and wine auctions. Wine auction sites like Sotheby's Wine Auctions also provide a terrific source for purchasing collectible bottles of wine.
With consistent quality and a sterling reputation, wines from Château Lafite Rothschild may be beyond the budget of the average wine drinker. If you ever get the chance to taste a bottle, however, don't pass it by. It may be a rare opportunity to try one of the world's finest wines.