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Les Forts de Latour: The Importance
Château Latour is without question one of the world’s finest and most important wines. Robert Parker describes it as: “a First Growth operating on all cylinders, producing absolutely riveting wines of great richness and intensity, which are increasingly selling at the level of famous works of art.” A view echoed by Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider, who says “Château Latour is like no other Bordeaux wine. It is in a unique class of its own.”
Les Forts de Latour was the brainchild of Jean-Paul Gardère, a Medocian that Jancis Robinson credits with being the “saviour of Latour.” The aim was to produce a second growth quality wine. The Oxford Companion to Wine suggests that that it has actually gone a step further, saying that although “there is no absolute agreement about which properties qualify as super seconds”, Les Forts de Latour has “been nominated at one time or another.”
Produced in smaller quantities than the Grand Vin, many consider Les Forts de Latour to be Château Latour’s second wine. However, as Jancis Robinson says: “Les Forts de Latour is not the second wine of Ch Latour, but another wine entirely from very different, distinct and disparate parcels.” What makes it so important though, is that stylistically it is very similar to the Grand Vin, but at around one third of the price. As Robert Parker says: “The character of Forts de Latour […] is astonishingly similar to Latour itself, only lighter and quicker to mature. Les Forts de Latour is certainly the finest of the second labels.”
What cannot be contested is that scores awarded by the critics for this wine are far more akin to those of a Grand Vin than a second wine.
Les Forts de Latour: The Insight
In the estate’s own words: “Les Forts de Latour receives the same meticulous care as the Grand Vin, both in the vineyard and the winery.” This is important as Antonio Galloni praises their “total commitment to detail.” The only difference is that Les Forts contains a higher proportion of Merlot (around 25-30%, with the rest being predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and a small splash of Petit Verdot) and is aged in only 50% new oak, rather than 100% for the Grand Vin.
The bulk of the grapes that go into Les Forts de Latour come from three plots on the west side of the road that runs between St Julien and Pauillac. These are called Comtesse de Lalande, Petit Batailly and St Anne, have an average age of around 40 years and have been owned by the estate for over 100 years. The name Les Forts de Latour actually comes from a plot within the famous l’Enclos vineyard, which went organic in 2015 and is used predominantly for the Grand Vin. However, Frédéric Engerer – President of Château Latour – alludes to grapes from l’Enclos occasionally being used in Les Forts de Latour.
Château Latour withdrew from the En Primeur/Futures system after 2011, instead choosing to release its wines when it deems that they are approaching their drinking window. Having said that, Latour’s wines are tasted – and almost inevitably highly rated – by the critics at En Primeur week each year, but there is now an extended period of anticipation before the eventual release. From the perspective of Les Forts de Latour, this wine sells at comparable prices to the second wines of other First Growths, but with the addition of years of careful cellaring at the château’s expense effectively included.
Les Forts de Latour: The Background
The powerful draw of Latour is wonderfully demonstrated by its history. The estate was bought in 1994 by a Paris businessman called François Pinault, for no other reason than that it was his favourite wine. As Robert Parker puts it “Pinault has pushed Latour to even greater heights.” In 2007 Frédéric Engerer and Hélène Génin renovated the cellars into a modern masterpiece fitting of their great wines. This team and their new set up have produced legendary wines in vintages like 2009 and 2010, and many more are expected.
Although we have focussed here on Les Forts de Latour, it is also worth considering Pauillac de Château Latour. Latour were the first Bordeaux estate to produce a third wine and Robert Parker describes it as follows: “There is not much made, but the Pauillac (their third wine) makes a mockery of most generic AOC offerings. For shrewd consumers looking for the taste of Latour at a fraction of the price, this is a wine to seek out.”
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