What’s with the yellow’ was the first thing coming to my mind thinking of Lafon Rochet’s bright yellow and red labels when I met the Château’s proprietor Basile Tesseron, who answered with the usual emphatic French shrug and a cheeky smile: ‘Just bad taste…!’ Given the intellectual flexibility of his winemaking, this must be just smart marketing as even Robert Parker made comments about the ‘Las Vegas Cat House’ labels.
Basile represents the third generation to run the property since Guy Tesseron, diversifying out of Cognac, he bought Lafon Rochet, his first Bordeaux property in 1959 and subsequently Pontet Canet in 1975. As is well documented, the Tesseron’s have a flair for buying dilapidated properties and bringing them back to their former glory and even beyond. They are also steadfastly, with other luminaries such as Xavier Planty at Chateau Guiraud, one of the big believers in biodynamic or even organic wines. Basile was very keen to push forward the fact that block by block, Lafon Rochet is turning its vines to biodynamic and, in some cases, organic culture. Quite a feat, especially if you have wet years such as 2011 and need to deal with botrytis without falling foul of the regulations.
Having survived the UGC 2009 tastings at the Royal Opera House, the ever enthusiastic Basile took the opportunity to present several vintages of Lafon Rochet with a surprise première of the Roset de Lafon Rochet in a packed top floor at the Michelin starred Gauthier Soho organised by Corney & Barrow.
We kicked off our dinner with a Grilled Scottish Scallops with a raw radish Salad which went down well with a magnum of Roset de Lafon Rochet (Rosé with a T for Tesseron?) which are made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, very lightly pressed and left only one month to ferment producing an elegant salmon pink wine that went stupendously well with the Scallops. The wine is well balanced and you can taste the freshness of the Cabernet Sauvignon – you could nearly feel the close parenthood to Sauvignon Blanc. Basile proposed to make Roset as they drink so much rosé as an aperitif at Lafon Rochet, they might as well produce a better one themselves! 10,000 bottles are made and according to Basile, 3% of production is consumed at the Château, mostly by his father…
We followed on with the reds: Château Lafon Rochet 2001 was served with a Brown Butter Risotto with Morellos and Parmesan. This was pure gluttony on my side as I love risotto and wild mushrooms and also adore the 2001 vintage. The Lafon Rochet did not come short. Basile described the 2001 as a ‘stunning vintage’ that had to compete with the 2000. In order to achieve that, 50% Merlot was used vs 60% Cabernet Sauvignon in 2000. I found it very easy to drink, nearly like a right bank, with a nose of spicy liquorice and star anise, ending in cherry and cocoa nuances with some tarry hints at the end.
The piece de résistance was the twin serving of the 1995 and 2000 paired with Roasted Veal, Gnocchi with a cream of Ceps and a Kohlrabi Salad. The 2000 was a mastodon of fruit, treacle cinnamon and mint with cocoa, still trying to find its feet – it will need some more time to develop. This wasn’t the case for the 1995, served from a magnum bottle, as in the 2001 vintage has a large amount of Merlot, around 57%. Its nose was a powdered combination of cassis and graphite with crushed cardamom which transformed in to rose petals – again not St-Estèphe but more Pomerol like.
We finished off the evening with the 2003 – which was surprisingly good. The vintage was saved by the clay soil keeping the vine roots from wilting during the hot summer and, although yields dropped to 36Hl/Ha, is mainly constituted of Cabernet Sauvignon. It had a lovely creamy, blueberry jam nose and although still a bit closed, was unlike the ’03’s of its neighbours. Basile intimated that this was one of their best vintages and compared them to 1947 and 1961. It is no surprise only 1000 bottles of this vintage are left in the cellars of Lafon Rochet!
At the end of the evening I asked Basile which vintage made him most proud and he mentioned the 2007. He was thrown into swim at the deep end in his first year in charge, when his father went off on summer holiday and the Château’s technical director was laid off sick, too. I will have to try a bottle soon, as it is in the difficult vintages that you can really judge the quality of the winemaker. In fact, I can’t wait to taste his 2011 too, which like its neighbours was hit by a freak hail storm in early September.