Wine of the Week

Haut-Brion's Bargain Wine


The storied First Growth Bordeaux property Château Haut-Brion has been run by descendants of American Clarence Dillon ever since the great financier and Francophile bought the estate in 1935.

Today his great-grandson, Prince Robert of Luxembourg, is Président Directeur Général of Domaine Clarence Dillon, the company that controls both Haut-Brion and a later purchase, its neighbor Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion. (The estate itself dates back to 1525 and is today one of only five Premier Crus wines as determined by the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.)

Not content to sit back and enjoy these jewels, Prince Robert has invested considerable time, energy, and money over recent years in improving the properties. In addition, beginning in 2003 through a subsidiary—Clarence Dillon Wines—he has embarked on an entirely new project, a line of super-premium-branded Bordeaux wines named Clarendelle.

These are not estate wines. Rather they are made with juice from all across the region, but the company still employs the same exacting standards as those used at Haut-Brion and La Mission. As Prince Robert explains: "The style of wines we are trying to produce is, rather than following the fashion of fruit forward wines, we've remained constant in the style of Haut-Brion and La Mission, more traditional, elegant, complex wines that might not be so huge as far as tastings are concerned but ultimately are pleasant to drink."

In this they are especially successful in the superb white, the Clarendelle 2006 ($20), this week's Wine of the Week. Now Bordeaux is better known for its quality red wine instead of its whites, with two remarkable exceptions from the Graves region: Châteaux Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. So, if anyone knows how to make a good yet inexpensive white Bordeaux, it is these people. And it's a considerable value, too. According to wine-searcher.com, the average price for a bottle of 2009 vintage Haut-Brion is around $1,000.

The approach is simple. Prince Robert explains: "As I said, we are producing wines in the same style as our estate wines. So when we are blending the wines, we're trying to make wines that have this aging potential, whether it's the whites or the reds."

Thus the 2006 Blanc is two years older than most of the competition at this price, and that extra time, along with the winemakers' experience, really show in the glass. The wine is a perfect expression of what a good white Bordeaux should be, with the perfumed richness of the sémillon and the racy bite of the sauvignon blanc playing off each other in an exquisite waltz of opposites.

It is quite simply the best white Bordeaux I have encountered at anything close to this price, and as such it is a triumph of both business and winemaking acumen.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary

Food Pairing: Richer fish or shellfish, chicken, cream sauces

Grapes: 76 percent semillon, 24 percent sauvignon blanc

Appellation: Bordeaux

Region: Bordeaux

Country: France

Price: $20

Availability: Moderate

Web Site: www.clarendelle.com

Nick_passmore
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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