No Reservations at Lafleur

by Chuck Hayward

No Reservations at Lafleur

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 5th, 2012

Bordeaux is not Napa. Most wineries are closed to tourists and the same standard applies to wine professionals, even during the busy en primeur week. Appointments are mandatory, and difficult to secure at most of the top wineries. And while a handful of chateaux like Prieure-Lichine allow visitors to rock up unannounced, Bordeaux, like much of France, remains a rather formal place.

So it was a bit disconcerting when our Bordeaux buyer impulsively decided to pull into the parking lot of Chateau Lafleur. Perhaps he was still riding the high following our incredible visit to Petrus (more on that in another post). But this is Bordeaux - you just don't do this! (Especially at Lafleur….) Yet lo and behold, we quickly found ourselves in a small and intimate cellar, sampling some of the best wines of the vintage with Jacques Guinaudeau, the personable owner who was most generous with his time.

A tank in the cellar of Lafleur

The wines of Lafleur are some of the rarest and most expensive wines made. Period. Their vineyards lie directly across a small road from Petrus but the soils seem worlds apart; Lafleur’s gravel-infused dirt would never be mistaken for the clay that dominates its neighbor's property. When considering the cépage of the two properties, Lafleur also stands apart due to its high percentage of cabernet franc, a grape that Petrus no longer grows. With 50% merlot and 50% cab franc planted, the vineyards of Lafleur more closely resemble Cheval Blanc than Petrus.

Lafleur proprietor Jacques Guinaudeau (right) and JJ Buckley staff

And what a difference the cépage makes between the two wines. The 2011 Petrus exuded elegance and finesse, as the pure expression of merlot showed a seamless presence. The Lafleur, by contrast, was all about power. One of the themes we discerned from the 2011 vintage was the high quality of cabernet franc on the Right Bank, and indeed the fragrant notes of the variety were quite noticeable in many wines. With 53% cab franc in this year's blend of Lafleur, it was easy to discern its contribution to the dark fruits, structural components, and ultimately the force and power that made this vintage so compelling. Dark and opaque with brooding structure underlying the pure, lush fruit, the Lafleur stood in stark contrast to Petrus. We tasted the second wine as well, Pensées de Lafleur, which also floored me with its precision and complexity. This bottling is not based on declassification of vines but is founded on grapes from a specific block within the vineyard.

Jacques (center) and JJB staff

These wines were simply incredible. Rarely does a wine leave me speechless, but there I was, babbling incoherently as I tried to write notes on one (or two) of the best I had yet tasted. Not just of what I’ve tried during this en primeur week. I mean ever. Jacques' gracious hospitality only added to the experience of tasting near perfect wines. The whole visit was unforgettable. I am just grateful that breaking tradition rewarded me with a taste of one of Bordeaux's hidden treasures.