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Tannic Panic! Issue #16: Château La Mission To Find Value
Cracking Into The 2002 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
What’s up you unrealistically wholesome winos?
Zach is still trying to figure out where he is in the world, so for one more week (THIS ONE), I (ISAAC) am picking up the slack and doing another vintage and producer spotlight. I’ve enjoyed taking these little solo journeys with you, but I swear we’ll be back to our usual ramblings next week.
It’s my last day staying here in the beautiful town of Kennebunkport, Maine, and my father in law has once again generously gifted a bottle to the cause: 2002 Château La Mission Haut-Brion.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you yappin’ at me, “BUT ISAAC! We’re back on the Left Bank of Bordeaux AGAIN??? Don’t you ever talk about anything else??!”
No. No I do not. (Just kidding, but humor me here — this is a good one!)
And this one was a pleasure to drink and nerd out about, so get ready to learn yourself some facts that you can take out into the “real world.”
THE 2002 VINTAGE
Ah yes, 2002 — when Britney and Justin were still a thing, wearing denim on denim was considered ‘cool’, and dial-up internet still haunted our lives. In other words, THE GOOD OLE DAYS.
Growing Season: The 2002 growing season in Bordeaux was characterized by mixed weather conditions. The winter was mild, followed by a cool and wet spring which led to uneven flowering. Summer started cool, but by August, the weather shifted, becoming more dry and sunny — a pattern that continued into September, facilitating a solid harvest.
Thanks to the deep gravelly soils, much of the Left Bank fared better than the vineyards on the Right Bank, benefitting from good drainage during the wetter periods.
Economic Factors: The market played a major role in creating a value vintage for 2002 Bordeaux wines. American demand for French goods as a whole was somewhat dampened by the whole French refusal to partake in the “conflict” in Iraq, and Asian markets were still off kilter from the SARS outbreak. Additionally, the contrast with the epic 2000 vintage meant that the strength of the 2002 vintage was likely downplayed. All of these factors led to a serious decrease in pricing — AKA A SERIOUS INCREASE IN VALUE.
CHÂTEAU LA MISSION HAUT-BRION
Château La Mission Haut-Brion (the sister estate of the First Growth, Château Haut-Brion, and owned by the same parent company, Domaine Clarence Dillon) has a rich history that dates back to the 16th century. I won’t dive too deeply into it, but if you’re a history nerd, you can read about that in more detail here.
“If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?”
-Marshal Louis Armand de Vignerot du Plessis
Though it wasn’t granted First Growth status in the 1855 classification (it has since been classified as a Cru Classé de Graves), the Château has consistently produced wines of outstanding quality, and it has earned an honorary place in the humble minds of many as the unofficial sixth First Growth. Not explicitly being a First Growth, of course, means that the premium put on the label is less than that of its more famous neighbor.
2002 Château La Mission Haut-Brion / 13% ABV / 94 Points / $200
This wine offered an extremely complex bouquet of aromas and flavors — pencil shavings, violets, black pepper, blackberry, cassis, ripe black plums, licorice, tarragon, wet stones, cedar, forest floor, and a touch of smoke.
Overall it was well balanced, but the ethanol was perceptible (even though it is *allegedly* just 13% ABV). Round, soft tannins, good acidity, a pretty long finish, and great flavor intensity. It was a joy to drink from beginning to end.
Based on the appealing mix of fruit and floral characteristics with tertiary notes, and the softness of the tannins and acid, I’d say this bottle is pretty much at its peak. It could certainly last longer in the cellar, but I don’t think there’s too much room for improvement here.
So what’s the take away from this bottle? Well, for starters, the price (though clearly not objectively cheap or accessible) is already an indicator that this vintage is a source of *relative* value — the 2000 vintage, for example, is more than 3 times as expensive on average. Many other less acclaimed vintages still go for between 150-200% the cost.
Similarly, bottles from the neighboring Château Haut-Brion go for at least double the cost in almost any vintage you look at. Again, this is a measure of relative value, but the average critic scores Château La Mission Haut-Brion receives by comparison are almost identical. That is a pretty strong indication that a much smaller premium is paid for the label, in spite of comparable quality.
DISTILLING THIS INTO 2 PIECES OF PRACTICAL ADVICE:
Seek out vintages that are priced lower due to economic factors, rather than quality related issues. This may take a little research, but it will pay off!
Consider the impact that prestige has on the cost of a bottle — while prestige usually comes from (or at least came from) a history of exceptional quality, it almost unequivocally has an outsized impact on the price. In other words, less prestigious labels can be comparable in quality at a fraction of the price. THE TRICK IS TO FIND SAID LABELS — A BURDEN WHICH WE WILL CONTINUE TO BEAR FOR YOU, OUR BELOVED READERS.
Now I know that the 2002 Château La Mission Haut-Brion is not an everyday bottle that most people will find themselves in a position to buy — I certainly rarely find myself in a position to enjoy bottles at this price point, and it is often a result of the generosity of family or friends with well stocked cellars — but if you are looking to experience truly top tier Bordeaux wines from producers of similar-to-First-Growth status, the Château La Mission Haut-Brion is a great option.
Until next time, HAPPY DRINKING, PEOPLE.
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