Chateau Haut-Bailly represented a surprising oasis of calm in a region frenetically competing for global market share. There was a Jane Austen type of serenity and a quiet self-assurance that permeated the whole estate from the vineyards to the cellar and made one feel that the goal of the Chateau was to simply be the best they could be rather than competing against others for fame and fortune.
The winemonkey’s tasting was to be a selection of vintages stretching back to 1998 to celebrate 15 years under the ownership of Robert Wilmer. I am not sure what I was expecting; a dramatic stylistic change or a gradual evolution charting his journey of discovery. What I found both surprised and delighted me. The wines were presented as a family, sharing a common identity but each with an individual personality stamped on it from the peculiarities of the vintage. They couldn’t have been more right. The characters that emerged from those garnet and ruby depths so easily conjured up personalities that I see in my own extensive family that I couldn’t help chuckling with glee at each new introduction. Each wine had the trade mark grace and stony mineral finish of the H-B name, and it was this understated elegance and concentration that allowed you to have a conversation with the wine rather than it shouting at you as so many of the more modern extracted wines tend to do.
The 2008 was undoubtedly the oldest son and the apple of his parent’s eye. The supple polished tannins, beautifully integrated fruit depths and the finesse of the wine showed him to be both handsome and charming. The beautifully complex length gave him an intelligent rather than brash appearance while the accessibility of the fruit lent a note of kindness and dependability. Any mother would be proud.
The 2006 was a different kettle of fish altogether: the headstrong and fiery eldest daughter. This wine was vibrant and alive with beautifully taut tannins and a lively acidity. There was attractive depth to the fruit with tertiary and mineral complexity beginning to emerge combined while the steely core of fresh acidity showed a woman of intelligent and drive. The life and soul of the party; beautiful and charismatic, but beware, that steely core hinted at a sharp wit when crossed.
2002 was attractive, kind and softly spoken; a beautiful if somewhat ethereal motherly figure. The fruit profile had softened with some age, but showed a wealth of different aromas and flavours. The tannins were fine, soft and well integrated giving her an elegant, slender and perfumed character. There was a note of the demure about her yet underneath the subtle perfume ran that signature H-B strength.
2000. The youngest daughter, spoilt but beautiful. The rich and sensual fruit had a much riper profile suggesting long glossy locks, flashing eyes and dramatic curves. The fruit was showy and open with plush velvety tannins suggesting a superficial beauty, but looks can be deceiving. Underneath all the glamour and giggles is that tell-tale gravelly mineral complexity lending it surprising length.
1998, is undoubtedly the father and the head of the house. Beautiful tertiary aromas of worn leather and hints of tobacco suggested an elderly gentleman with fine set of whiskers and a smoking jacket. The tannins have loosed slightly with age, as had his waist line and the lovely muted fruits and notes of forest floor suggested a compulsory afternoon nap in the chair. However as with many men presiding over a house largely comprised of women, just because his eyes are closed does not mean he is not listening. The palate showed a wonderfully steely minerality streaking through the core of the wine pointing to a formidable intellect while the finish was long, complex and poised showing a man of both control and power. The beautiful whisper of soft fr
uit on the mid palate however makes it clear he has a kind and gentle side to his personality.
It was a fabulous tasting and I am certainly looking forward to visiting again to see how the family is getting on.