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La Mission Haut-Brion: The Importance
Located in the Bordeaux appellation of Pessac-Léognan, La Mission Haut-Brion has been producing exceptional quality wine for many centuries, often rivalling its first growth neighbour Château Haut-Brion in both quality and desirability.
La Mission Haut Brion is sometimes overlooked, as it was not included in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification. However it is a firm favourite of those in the know, commanding similar prices to its first-growth neighbour and earning much critical praise. Jancis Robinson calls it “the quintessential insider's wine…”, while Robert Parker describes this estate as “certainly a wine of first-growth quality, brilliantly made and extremely long-lived,” adding that “I have more bottles of La Mission-Haut-Brion in my private collection than any other wine in the world… La Mission has long been one of the greatest wines one could ever possibly drink as well as one of the most remarkably consistent.”
Parker’s stance is shared by fine wine exchange Liv-Ex, who rated La Mission Haut Brion as a First Growth in their updated ranking of Bordeaux wines in 2009.
Much like Château Latour, La Mission Haut-Brion has long been celebrated for its ability to create the highest quality of wine in the most disappointing of vintages. During one tasting which included some particularly tricky vintages, Jancis Robinson remarked that some of the most dismal vintages of La Mission performed far better than most other Bordeaux wines produced in those vintages.
La Mission Haut Brion: The Insight
La Mission Haut-Brion is consistently extremely highly rated by critics, and many vintages have received a perfect 100 points from Robert Parker. Some of the best more recent vintages have been 1982, 1989, 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2015. Writing about the perfectly rated 2009 vintage, Parker writes that, “perhaps the two most singular aspects of this wine are its surreal aromatics and its ability to combine power with sublime complexity and harmony.”
While the château of La Mission is directly across the road from Haut-Brion, the vineyards of the two estates are further apart, and while most of the vines of Haut-Brion are in Pessac, the majority of the vines for La Mission are in Talence, and the difference in terroir and vine density between the two explains the difference in style between those two wines.
A white wine called La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc is produced at the estate and considered one of the best dry white wines in Bordeaux. Until the 2009 vintage the wine was known as Laville-Haut-Brion. This wine often rivals the exceptional white wine produced at Haut-Brion, and in youth displays the aromatics found in Gewürztraminers which then develops to deep nuttiness and richness found in the greatest sweet Bordeaux wines. La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc also has a second wine called La Clarté de Haut-Brion, which is shared with Château Haut-Brion and serves as the second wine for their white wine and is thus a blend of grapes from both estates.
La Mission Haut-Brion also produces a second wine called La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion. This wine is more approachable in youth, although it remains of exceptional quality, concentration and depth. Robert Parker says of this wine that those “looking for excellent value should seek out the limited production second wine of La Mission Haut-Brion, La Chapelle. It can be very fine and certainly ranks as one of the best second wines in all of Bordeaux.” The vineyard at La Mission Haut-Brion is planted to largely equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with approximately 7% Cabernet Franc. 3.5 hectares of vines at La Mission are reserved for white grape varieties, and this land is planted to approximately 62% Semillon and 38% Sauvignon Blanc.
La Mission Haut Brion: The Background
The history of this estate goes back to the 16th century when the brother in law of the founder of Château Haut-Brion, Jean de Pontac, Arnaut de Lestonnac started producing wine at La Mission. It was bequeathed by the Lestonnac family to the Congregation of the Mission, giving the name of the estate as it is now known. Throughout the 18th century the Pères Lazaristes, worked at the property in order to restore it and during this time, the property became well known partly through the patronage of the Maréchal de Richelieu, the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who is claimed to have said of the wine produced at La Mission Haut Brion, “If God forbade drinking, would he have made this wine so good?” In 1815, the estate was purchased by the Chiapella family, who had been involved in Bordeaux for some time and had managed Château Cos D’Estournel.
In 1919, the property was acquired by the Woltner family, a sale which most people consider as marking a change in winemaking at the property, with wine produced becoming much more concentrated and long-lived than before. In 1983 the property was sold to the Dillon family who owned Château Haut-Brion, and these two great estates are now both run by the same team. A huge amount was invested into the property, with a replanting programme in the vineyards and the château and winemaking facilities being modernised. Modernisation and renovation have been carried out continuously, with the latest works being completed in 2007, and more work no doubt to be carried out in the future. Both La Mission Haut-Brion and Chateau Haut-Brion are currently managed by Jean-Philippe Delmas, who was the third generation of his family to manage Haut-Brion and the second to manage at La Mission.
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