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October 15, 2017

Smith Haut Lafitte, 2009

SHL.000

Last week I was having lunch with a client who commented that if there had been a perfect scoring Parker wine on the menu, we would have probably ordered it, to pass judgement so to speak, safe in the knowledge that a Parker 100 point wine is guaranteed to be special. Wine lovers want to drink, collect and speculate on perfect scoring Parker wines, they always will and there are no more in the pipeline due to Robert Parker’s retirement. As such it made me wonder how rare, seminal and expensive is 100-point-Parker in Bordeaux?

The formative Parker vintages run from the legendary 1982 to 2014. They end in 2014 as Neal Martin takes the reins in earnest. During this 32 year period, there have been 23 vintages without a single 100-point score. He has awarded 70 perfect scoring Bordeaux rated wines that stand today, a number that is likely to stay static, or decrease among the older vintages if he has occasion to re-taste them. Parker is not representing the Wine Advocate during en primeur with barrel tastings, or the bottle scores that succeed these after two years. He is sporadically tasting, with little output and mostly for the Hedonist Gazette. Under the guise of the Hedonist Gazette his scores are not published formally due to being tasted with food in variant setting, rather considered as experiments outside his hallowed laboratory.

As of today, there are 13 wines awarded perfect scores in the halcyon 1980s, five remain in the watershed 1982 vintage, three in 1986 and perhaps surprisingly five in 1989. The 1990s saw one vintage returning perfect sores, 1990 which has four. However, from 2000 to 2010 he awarded 53 100-point scores. This period includes four vintages of the century, 2000, which was awarded six, 2005 with 12, 2009 a stunning 19 and 2010 12. 2001 has one 100-point score from Chateau D’Yquem, which obviously plays by its own climatic rules and three in the perilously warm 2003 vintage. St.Emilion can boast 21 perfect scores, Pomerol 16, the 1st Growths 15, 2nd Growths seven, two 5th Growths, one Sauternes and eight others from Pessac, including four appearances of La Mission Haut Brion and one dry white, Haut Brion Blanc 1989. Petrus has the most with five, followed by Pavie, Latour, Haut Brion and La Mission Haut Brion with four a piece: it is putative everyone has their favourites, that said there are 39 different Chateaux included.

So why do 76% of his 100 point scores fall between 2000 and 2010? One could make the case that Parker became more confident in his powers and thus more willing to commit to a perfect score. Another conclusion is that climatic conditions were better during this period, weather reports also attest to this. However, a more likely driver has been the vast financial ascent seen in Bordeaux. Estates now are very wealthy and have invested heavily in research and technology, plus using far more draconian methods in selection.

Getting down to the brass tacks, what does a 100 point wine cost? The average price for a case is £11,351, the most expensive falls to Le Pin 1982 at £95,000, next Petrus 2000 and 1989 at £42,000. The most expensive First Growths are Haut Brion 1989 and Latour 1982 both at £17,000, since Lafite Rothschild 1982 was downgraded from its perfect 100 points, formally trading at nearly £50,000. The cheapest are Larcis-Ducasse 2005, Pontet Canet 2009 & 2010, Pape Clement 2010, Leoville Poyferre and Haut Bailly 2009, which trade at around £1,750, followed by Clos Fourtet and Smith Haut Lafitte 2009 which trade at £2,200. Incidentally, it would cost around £800,000 to own a case of each: what a collection that would make! Who would bet against that selection being worth double in ten years’ time?.

As such, given the ever-expanding global demand for great wine, Parker’s retirement from Bordeaux with no critic offering his global command, it seems wise to start collecting 100-point Parker wines, or to supplement those you have already. As such, over the coming year we will release key 100-point Parker wines at great entry prices, allowing collectors to build their 100 point holdings. These will largely focus on releases of more recent vintages, as there is still some quantum of supply, although these are already extremely hard to source.

Today we start with Smith Haut Lafitte 2009, which Parker scored 100 points out of bottle in 2011 commenting that it ‘should age effortlessly for 30-40+ years. Bravo!’ It is one of the lowest priced of any at £2,200 per case of 12, making it a must buy with enormous potential long-term upside. Indeed, it is one of the lowest producing left bank chateau with only 10,000 cases made.

Smith Haut Lafitte is also one of Bordeaux’s oldest Estates heralding from the 14th century, first planted in 1365 by the house of Verrier Du Boscq. The terroir was considered then as one of the finest in Bordeaux, sited south of the city proper in Pessac-Leognan in the commune of Martillac, then named Lafitte. It was bought in 1720 by Scotsman Georges Smith, who added his name lieu-dit, hence its name today. It passed hands in 1958 to the Louis Eschenauer company, however, it was not until 1990 when Daniel and Florence Cathiard bought the Estate and embarked on a huge investment plan, igniting its return to former glories. The Cathiard’s are the very definition of a power couple, both champion skiers who competed in the Olympics and then who then went on to make their fortune by creating a large French sporting goods store, the sale of which facilitated both the purchase and development of Smith Haut Lafitte.

Upon taking over the estate the Cathiard family immediately stopped mechanical harvesting, moving to hand picking grapes, with specially designed ergonomic hod trays implemented to prevent oxidation. These were created by Daniel Cathiard based on a design used by Sherpas in the Himalayas. A second manual sorting is carried out after destemming on a sorting table. In 1995, they built their own cooperage to control 70% of their barrel production in house. They then completely re-designed the facilities implementing state of the art mechanisms and practices. They update this regularly, recently creating a trap door in their main tasting room, James Bond style. In 2009, they were one of the first Estates to use Oenoview satellite imagery systems to ensure perfect ripening. The vineyards are fully organic and self-sustainable, in fact they farmed with an eye on biodynamic techniques. All wine is moved by gravity in the cellars and aged for 16 to 18 months in 60 to 70% new French Oak. They also employed Michel Rolland and Stephane Derenoncourt as consultants. The terroir boasts deep gravel, with the top-surface covered in quartz pebbles, sand and limestone. The vineyard is planted with 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The vines today are between 38 and 65 years of age.

Smith Haut Lafitte today features among the great estates in Bordeaux, with a brilliant combination of great terroir and the leading techniques, passion and vision of the Cathiard’s and those who work with them. The Estate is aesthetically stunning also, including art and even a Vinotherapie, which focuses on grape extracts in their therapies. It is one of the most popular places to stay in Bordeaux and its reputation is reaching the heights of the mega brands. Its high scores have continued after 2009, with the 2010 receiving 98+ and indeed under Martin with 95-97 in 2015 and the 2016 96-98, some of the finest from any Estate. As such Smith Haut Lafitte is one of the key Estates undergoing a natural repositioning in the market. This repositioning is not artificially created by the Estate, but from elevated trading prices after release, the 2010 released ex London for £720 per case of 12, an electric 206% return. We are buyers if you have some to sell please get in contact. Smith Haut Lafitte, therefore, is an Estate to bet on in the mid and long-term, with average case prices sure to rise.

As its cachet grows its average vintage price continues to rise, the legendary, perfect scoring 2009 makes a great deal of sense, we have a very limited amount available today for £2,200 per case of 12, £183 per bottle for a 100 point Parker wine will look like a very smart buy. It is set to benefit from the static 100-point-Parker supply and its ever growing global cachet. As such, 100-point-Parker wines are a layer of scarcity, built on fine wines natural supply dearth and hugely collectible.

100 points, Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

The finest wine ever made by proprietors Daniel and Florence Cathiard, the 2009 Smith-Haut-Lafitte exhibits an opaque blue/purple color in addition to a glorious nose of acacia flowers, licorice, charcoal, blueberries, black raspberries, lead pencil shavings and incense. This massive, extraordinarily rich, unctuously textured wine may be the most concentrated effort produced to date, although the 2000, 2005 and 2010 are nearly as prodigious. A gorgeous expression of Pessac-Leognan with sweet tannin, emerging charm and delicacy, and considerable power, depth, richness and authority, it should age effortlessly for 30-40+ years. Bravo!

Smith Haut Lafitte 200912×75 - £2,200 IB

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