94 Pt 2010 Pauillac ‘Just a step below the first growths’

Posted on: 07/23/18 12:00 PM

Haut Bages Liberal

Whenever I describe the kinds of wines that I offer on our Bordeaux list- I almost always say that I’m looking for wines that ‘fell through the cracks’. Ones that for whatever reason aren’t as expensive as they should be. It could be that one critic or other wasn’t a big fan, or that it’s from an unfashionable area or vintage, or just that no one seems to have realized quite how good it is.

Every now and then though, one of my contacts comes up with something that drops neatly into place that ticks every box, and I frankly have no real reason or justification for why it’s such good value.

This is classified growth Pauillac made in one of the greatest vintages of all time, from old vineyards neighboured by Latour, Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande, and Lynch Bages. 92 points from Parker, 91-94 on Vinous and described as “just a step below the first growths”. Somehow, it’s available at $65, the best price in the country and frankly I would say, embarrassing the vast amount of sub $100 Cabernet from most places on the planet.

Whether to drink it now or age it longer is the only question here. Parker says between 2015 and 2035 and I’d say that’s about right depending on your preferences. As ever, the real answer is to buy a case, try it young and keep going. There’s definitely no need to wait before trying this though, throw it in a decanter and pair it with some protein, and you’re going to want to come back for more.

Haut Bages Liberal

2010 Château Haut-Bages Libéral, Pauillac

Medium-dark ruby. Fruity, bright aromas of red cherry, red berries and flowers, complicated by cedar and graphite. Then light and lively in the mouth, with strawberry, raspberry and smoky dark cherry flavors complicated by hints of white pepper and gunflint. The finish features a lingering floral note and chewy tannins that will need some time to resolve but seem polished enough to guarantee a bright future. This is an excellent, classically styled Haut-Bages Liberal, just a step below the first growths: I loved its balance, refined texture and sneaky concentration, though it might fail to impress those looking for a large quantity of creamy, soft fruit.
91-94 pts., Ian d’Agata, Vinous

More about the wine:

This isn’t the most well-known Pauillac, at least partly due to its relatively small size. Many will recognize the ‘Bages’ in its name from fellow Pauillac Fifth Classified Growth (one three times the size) Lynch Bages, both taking their name from the nearby hamlet of Bages. Add in the name of the Libéral family that owned this estate for generations, and add ‘Haut’ to show that their vines are generally on the upper slopes and plateaus of Pauillac, and the end result is a lengthy name that makes sense but is a bit of a mouthful for marketers.

Though I said in the opening that I had no justification for this not being more expensive, along with the small size I suspect that a factor may be that despite genuinely stellar terroir, Haut Bages Libéral perhaps had a reputation for not making the most of it through much of the earlier parts of 20th century. In 1983 though, it was purchased in 1983 by Jacques Merlaut, whose family in various iterations runs Gruaud Larose, Chasse Spleen, and a host of other less well-known names.

Merlaut seems to have brought about serious improvement and well-regarded wines were made in most of the best vintages in the 1980s and 1990s. The real magic though was started when Merlaut’s granddaughter Claire Villars Lurton took over in the year 2000. At this point the winery and cellars were completely rebuilt and rejuvenated, and ever since the château has been quietly knocking out some of the most reliable and well-priced Pauillac it’s possible to get.

It’s impossible to find a better example of this than their beautiful 2010, showing all the intensity of what was a vintage for the ages. You need to own this!

One of the best efforts from this estate since the 1982, this wine remains fairly priced. It exhibits ripe blue and black fruits, a dense plum/purple color, good acidity buttressing a remarkably rich, fleshy, sumptuous texture, and oodles of smoky black currant and blueberry fruit. Ripe, heady and rich, this wine will probably benefit from 2-5 years of cellaring despite its precociousness and keep for two decades.
92 pts., Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

Posted in Bordeaux List By Guy Davies