By Amanda Baxter
It was our fault that Veronique Sanders of Chateau Haut Bailly, Pessac-Leognac, was late to our most recent lunch event. After all it was the UK fog that meant the plane arrived in Bordeaux late and pushed our 1pm prompt start back to 1.30 – at least we all had a glass of NV Pierre Gimmonet, a lovely “grower” champagne, to start us off. By the time our host arrived we were comfortably installed in the suitably named “Southern Dining Room” of The Modern Pantry as the sun streamed through the windows.
Veronique had time to catch her breath before launching into a little history of this estate that was owned by her grandfather until relatively recently (in the history of a chateau several centuries old) and now in the hands an American banker but with Veronique at the helm as estate director. The estate covers 30 hectares and interestingly has not ever expanded the area under vine. Within these 30 hectares between 30 and 35 parcels are individually vinified; Amongst these there are vines that are over 100 years old and include Malbec, Carmenere and Petit Verdot as well as the big three (Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Merlot).
We launched straight into the wines with 2007 being paired with 2006 and matched to a duck breast and salad starter. 2007 Haut Bailly had remarkable freshness from my experience of this somewhat mature vintage with lots of black fruit on both the nose and the palate. Tannins gripped well and there was a note of liquorice too, very drinkable but only preferred by a few over the remarkable 2006 Haut Bailly. This wine had plenty of black fruit but of a more perfumed nature and notes of violets. A richer and rounder palate also showed lots of potential to age and there was a lot of complexity that will continue to develop over at least 15 years.
Next the 2003 – described as "intellectual" – and the 2002 – "classic" – went with beef sirloin, curry leaf potatoes and salsa. 2003 Haut Bailly won out for me personally though this was not general opinion; I enjoyed the chocolate richness of the nose balanced to the juicy fruit and hint of spice on the palate. It was very drinkable indeed and a great match to the food. It is easy to see why 2002 Haut Bailly was so popular being drier with a lot of dark fruit and that slightly dank cellar note as well that adds complexity. This was a completely different wine and although drinking now could go a long way yet to achieve its full potential.
The cheese came out with two very special wines to finish. 2000 Haut Bailly was beautiful and rich that starts off very fruity and with air develops some oak character on the nose. The body is full yet silky and wraps around with blackberries and cassis and still seems very young! 1964 Haut Bailly has a special place in Veronique’s heart; it “smelled like home” and confirmed that this was the life she wanted to pursue, it was moving to hear her talk about this gem and moved her to tears the first time she tried it! The nose and the palate both screamed classic claret with that slightly farmyard slightly smoked meat nose with the palate still fiercely fresh and hanging onto its ripe fruit and liquorice notes that made it a joy to savour.
Our thanks go to Veronique Sanders for hosting with such passion, to The Modern Pantry for the carefully paired food and to our customers for joining us and being such excellent company.
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