Haute Couture at Haut Bailly

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

30 June 2015

This is one of a series of articles on some superb lunches and dinners I was lucky enough to attend during the intense Vinexpo week in Bordeaux in June 2015. Keep checking my website for more Vinexpo highlights throughout July 2015! 

Dinner with Pingus, Le Pin, Bonneau du Martray, Quinta do Noval Nacional and Haut Bailly? And with the owners all present? Sure! Guests included winemakers, sommeliers, esteemed wine writers and others associated with the wine industry – from China and Europe to the U.S. and India. I had the pleasure of having Will Harlan of Harlan Estate seated across from me.


That’s Will Harlan of Harlan Estate and Bloomberg writer and wine author Elin McCoy being served Haut Bailly 2009

All in a thoroughly elegant setting.

Haut Bailly is a veritable cru classé de Graves of tremendous breed and refinement and the 17 June dinner ambiance reflected that style. Every two years – at Vinexpo – owner Robert G. Wilmers organizes a lovely dinner, preceded by a comprehensive vertical of at least the last 10 vintages. This year lucky participants tasted vintages from 2004 until 2014 from barrel and then – over dinner – enjoyed a superlative 2009 vintage and a very good 2000 vintage – with the aforementioned wines from around the world.


With master chef Alain Dutournier of Carré des Feuillants, who prepared a superb dinner for the superb wines!

The entire event, from A to Z, reflected the elegance and refinement of the wine. Following the vertical and servings of Pol Roger 2004 vintage Champagne, some 100 participants were enchanted by the superb culinary art of Alain Dutournier, chef of the famous Carré des Feuillants restaurant, who prepared a meal that was as savory as it was aesthetically appealing.

The event is not unlike Domaine de Chevalier’s Tour de France Vinexpo dinner, where wines beyond Bordeaux are served. But where Domaine de Chevalier celebrates casual elegance, Haut Bailly is more a refined elegance – with assigned seats and table settings that can be described as haut couture. In previous years, we enjoyed such wines as Harlan and Screaming Eagle.


Dinner menu

Here links to two previous Haut Bailly Vinexpo dinners:



This year we had the great pleasure of enjoying magnums of Domaine Bonneau du Martray’s Corton Charlemagne 2007, which proved to be an amazing pairing with a blue lobster variation that Dutournier prepared for the starting course. Other dinner wines included such legendary nectars as Le Pin and Pingus. In my notes below – for the wines served for dinner – I will describe the food as well.

But most of the notes are about Haut Bailly as tasted in the vertical before dinner. Never large scaled or “built to impress”, Haut Bailly in the best vintages manages to combine both opulence and elegance. In the video below, Richard Bampfield M.W. explains why he likes the wine, as we are sipping on Pol Roger 2004 just before dinner seating.

Wines I particularly liked are in bold. Those I liked even more in red and bold. When underlined, too, a kind of wine nirvana!

2004 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
The 2004 is coming around. I recall buying it for the Chanticleer on Nantucket Island – and stupidly opening a bottle for a customer back in 2008. It was far too young back then. Over five years later, the wine has entered a drinking window: with tasty, cranberry freshness, a purity of fruit and precision on the palate leading to a medium long finish. (91 pts.)

2005 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Power, freshness, balance and elegance. These words came to mind when I tried this wine in 2013. Interestingly, the wine has closed down since then. A deeper nose than that of the 2004 at this stage, but not as expressive. There is much ripe fruit and concentration on the mid palate, and I love the precision that leads to lift on the finish but the wine seems muted as compared to two years ago. If you have any 2005s, do not open them now. Very promising for the future however – and no surprise. Higher points later I suspect … (94 pts.)

2006 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Very graphite, very Cabernet-driven aromatics – with 65% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. The aromas, the nose, are more “open” than the 2005, promising a wine that should be generous and rich. And yet the wine is not quite open for business on the palate. Sure, there is density and opulence on the mid palate, but still somewhat tight – and not quite as much depth as the 2005. This is a fine vintage to enjoy in about two or three years – and then to wait as the 2005 comes around in five to seven years ;-). (92 pts.)

2007 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
I like this more than when I had tried it back in 2013. Really, quite a nice development in bottle! Fine depth and focus, with a rather opulent mid palate that charms the drinker. It charmed me. Marked by finesse. Red and dark fruit ripeness. The finish is medium length but this wine has entered a favorable drinking window. (90+ pts.)

2008 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
A lovely wine, precise and balanced yet with a certain richness on the mid palate that bodes well for further aging – as acidity is relatively high. The nose is promising: fresh and fruit driven with faint touches of tertiary aspects including Cabernet derived lead pencil. This is, after all, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. Still a bit tightly wound on the finish, give it another three to five years to enter a drinking window and enjoy over next 15. (92 pts.)

2010 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
An excellent vintage as most readers know. The estate manages to combine remarkable freshness and elegance with concentration and ripe tannins. Indeed, at this very youthful stage, it comes across as almost too powerful – foreboding – yet there is a sense of charm and grace on the long finish, not without a certain edgy tannin that demands more time in the cellar for the wine to truly enter a drinking window: wait at least another five years. Gabriel Vialard, technical manager at the estate since 2002, prefers the 2010 to the 2009. For me, either one is a winner. With the 2009 more sensually appealing now to be sure (see dinner wines). (95 pts.)

2011 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Interesting to compare this with the 2012, which may indeed provide more immediate sensual pleasure, but perhaps not as much precision or potential for aging as the 2011. Neither vintage truly excites me, but I like the mix of depth and full bodied aspect of the 2011, with a certain freshness reminding me of a better version of the 2007. Indeed, it has more body than the 2007, which may possibly be reflected in slightly higher alcohol – 13% as opposed to 12.5%. In any case, there is even more Merlot in 2011 than in 2012 (47% Merlot) and yet it is not as opulent as the 2012. (90 pts.)

2012 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This wine came across as rather rich on the mid palate, with a plump Merlot aspect (40% of the blend). Interesting to compare with the 2011, which, by contrast, seems to have more precision and length if not as much sensuality. 2012 is not a great vintage, but Haut Bailly did well with the vintage, taking full advantage of weather that seemed to favor Merlot over Cabernet. Anyway, many tasters preferred the 2011 as a longer term wine but I suppose the 2012 provides more immediate pleasure. (90 pts.)

2013 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This is one vintage that gives me problems throughout Bordeaux no matter how good the estate that is producing it. Yes, there is Haut Bailly refinement to the tannin and a freshness that lends drinkability, which is to be expected. I would give this aging – at least five years – to mellow the tannins so that the wine will turn into a good medium bodied claret to enjoy with steak. I could not get past a metallic aspect and austerity on the finish. A difficult vintage, and it shows. (87 pts.)

2014 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Tasting experience not very different from what I had experienced en primeur in early April. There is a tightness to the wine, coiled up, which is normal. Fine and ripe tannins. Very bright and red fruit with vivacity. Long finish. 91-93+ You can consult my detailed en primeur notes here:https://wine-chronicles.com/blog/bordeaux-2014-barrel/

Dinner wines

2004 Pol Roger Champagne Brut Vintage – France, Champagne
Certainly after going through 10 red wines in a vertical tasting, including recent and more evidently tannic ones, a glass of Champagne is more than welcome. But tasting the Pol Roger 2004 reminds me how good that vintage can be for some Champagne houses. Not that I have had that many 2004s, but I have not met one that I did not like. This was no exception: crisp and focused with mid palate opulence, marked by wet stone, citrus and chalky aspects, it was just palpable pleasure to sip on a sunny June evening – after assessing 10 vintages of Haut Bailly. Long finish! (93 pts.)


Gault Millau writer Eric Riewer shows his affection for the Bonneau du Martray

2007 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
Gorgeous white Burgundy: Fresh, wet stone, citrus, red apple, sumptuous yet vivacious palate, fine acidity and ripeness. Coming from magnum gave it extra freshness. Nearly the top wine of the dinner :-). OK, not as good – not nearly as good – as the 2010, which I had tasted at the estate a couple of years before (along with the 09, 08, 07, 06) but over dinner this was singing! No sign of premox. Went well with the lobster …  (94 pts.)


A rare Pomerol

2008 Château Le Pin – France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Pomerol
At first it seemed underwhelming. A couple of years ago, I had tried the 2005 which was amazing by comparison. But over time, the wine showed subtle power and a long finish. More red than black fruit, highish acidity. Medium bodied. Some fellow diners said that it would perhaps displease people expecting a full bodied and opulent Pomerol. I see what they meant, but it grew on me – and I preferred it to the high octane Pingus 2007 served along with it. We enjoyed an incredibly delicious duckling with an orange reduction that paired very well with the Bordeaux. (93 pts.)


Iconic Ribera Del Duero

2007 Dominio Pingus Ribera del Duero – Spain, Castilla y León, Ribera del Duero
Powerful and heavy. I liked it somewhat. At 15.5% alcohol, one can feel a certain heat, which annoyed me. But there is no denying its flamboyance and breadth on the palate – so score higher if you love the style! And one part of the duckling dish had bits of olive, whose strong flavor was counter-balanced by the powerful breadth of the Pingus, so in that sense, the wine went well with (that part of) the main course. (91 pts.)


My favorite Haut Bailly for the evening!

2009 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Yes, today – in June 2015 – 2009 for me is a more enjoyable experience to drink than 2010. The 2010 may prove more satisfying an experience in, say, 2030. Do I have a crystal ball? No. All I know is that when this wine was served for dinner, it outclassed both Le Pin 2009 and Pingus 2007. Such sumptuousness combined with elegance. Fellow taster – and Gault Millau writer – Eric Riewer thoroughly loved it, as did I. Proved a fine match with the rich Brillat Savarin en fougeru truffé cheese. (96 pts.)


Will Harlan is very happy

2000 Château Haut-Bailly – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Quite pleasing. This wine showed off light notes of leather and musk but still with red and black fruit. Lacking the weight and precision of later vintages including 2005, 2009 and 2010, the 2000 nonetheless is a real pleasing wine – and would go very well with a steak in a mushroom sauce. For example. Medium plus body and medium finish. (91 pts.)


Delicious duckling

1994 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Nacional – Portugal, Douro, Porto
I am tempted to give this 100. Gorgeous aromatics, delicate, orange rind, dry fruit, floral, red fruit, you name it – it was utterly lovely. With such depth and concentration on the palate! Only 190 cases produced. This was for me the wine of the dinner. I could have just enjoyed another glass but it paired well with the dreamy dessert prepared by the chef, that included a crumbly – with nuts – chocolate, mandarine givré and griottes with dark chocolate… (97 pts.)


Rare vintage porto with a savory chocolate based dessert: match made in heaven

More about Haut Bailly 

An old wine book published at the beginning of the 20th century by Henry Guillier – “Grands Vins de la Gironde Illustrés” – mentioned Château Haut-Bailly as the only Graves, together with Haut-Brion, worthy of being ranked among Bordeaux’s Classified First Growths.

Although records show that vines were already cultivated there in the 15th century, the estate became famous in the latter 19th century when Alcide Bellot des Minières bought the property and built the château as it is known today.

I was lucky enough to spend a night there in the summer of 2010 with family. It has an almost Nantucket manor like ambiance. One of my first memories there was some five years before, in 2005, when I had lunch with general manager Véronique Sanders in the gorgeous expansive kitchen with a large fireplace. Steaks were grilled atop a pile of dry vine branches, lending a particularly delicious flavor to the meat. We enjoyed some lovely vintages of the wine over lunch.

Just a stone’s throw away from the city of Bordeaux, Château Haut-Bailly sits on an elevation in  Léognan with 30 hectares (74 acres) of vines at the heart of the Graves region on the left bank of the river Garonne.

It has a distinctive style that combines classicism with modernity, elegance, finesse and softness with structure. Sometimes – as Richard Bampfield M.W. explained in the video above – the wines can come across as understated. That’s an aspect I appreciate about Haut Bailly: a subtle wine, with excellent aging potential. There is indeed complex pleasure and richness that is neither aggressive nor ostentatious. As the owners note on their website: “These are natural qualities which Haut-Bailly is determined to keep.”


Blends vary according to vintage, but the estate is generally planted with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It is interesting to note that Haut-Bailly still has 4 hectares of old vines over a hundred years old – a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenère, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec – that were not grafted with American root stalk.



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