Mission Complete: La Mission Haut-Brion 1928–2011

One of my most memorable tastings took place in central London a few years back, on a morning devoted to 50-some vintages of La Mission Haut-Brion and Laville Haut-Brion Blanc . I vividly recall entering The Square and setting eyes upon the who’s who of wine. Michael Broadbent was over there, among the bustling sommeliers, inspecting the bottles through his half-moon spectacles. Prince Robert de Luxembourg was deep in conversation with Jean-Philippe Delmas. Steven Spurrier, dapper as ever, laughed at something or other with David Peppercorn. Before the first flight was poured, I was asked if I would comment on one of the flights. Me, an expert in front of these mavens? Still, I was excited, not only by the mind-boggling number of vintages stretching back to the 1920s, but also by the fact that we would taste every vintage from 1957 onward, including rarities such as 1963, 1965 and 1977– vintages that most châteaux are loath to show because Mother Nature nixed any chance of making a half-decent wine. This was going to be La Mission “Complete.” Well, almost. For some inexplicable reason, there was no 1997 La Mission Haut-Brion, and it remained a gap waiting to be filled in. “Mission incomplete.” Fast-forward a few years, and at the tail end of 2018, I participated in two magnificent La Mission Haut-Brion–themed dinners. Unfortunately, neither included the 1997. One took place at Amuse Bouche restaurant in Hong Kong, my final soirée before returning to the UK as typhoon Mangkhut bore down on the island. Subsequently, I accreted tasting notes from various private dinners and at the château, and opened off-vintages picked up in the days when La Mission Haut-Brion cost a few pennies. I delayed publishing any notes, thinking that maybe the elusive 1997 would show up somewhere, but it did not. Finally, it was time to pull the trigger and present what remains a comprehensive overview of this château, enhanced by insights from Jean-Philippe Delmas himself. I hope it will give readers a deeper understanding of one of the finest Bordeaux wines. HISTORY As you would expect given its name and propinquity, the history of La Mission Haut-Brion is entwined with that of its First Growth neighbor, Haut-Brion . If one goes back several centuries, it might be assumed that the land comprising La Mission Haut-Brion was part of Haut-Brion, though Clive Coates MW asserts that it was always treated as a separate entity. In his book Wayward Tendrils of the Vine, published in 1945, Ian Maxwell-Campbell mentions a scurrilous rumor of La Mission Haut-Brion being subsumed into Haut-Brion. Thankfully, it was idle gossip. La Mission Haut-Brion’s early history consists of a succession of rather itinerant owners. At the beginning of the 16th century, the land was known as “Arregedhuys” and belonged to the Rostaings, lords of the house of La Tour d’Esquivens. It then passed through members of the De Lestonnac family, commencing in 1584 with Arnaud de Lestonnac, who married Marie de Pontac (sister of Jean de Pontac, owner of Haut-Brion at the time). De Lestonnac endeavored to convert much of the land to vine when, of course, it lay beyond the city’s perimeter. Arnaud de Lestonnac was followed by Pierre (1548); Olive (1607), wife of parliamentarian Antoine de Gourgue, who donated enormous sums of money to charity; and then Pierre (1652). Two years later, in 1654, ownership passed to Catherine de Mullet, but in 1664, the property, consisting of approximately 10 hectares of vines as well as a winery and farmhouse, was bequeathed to the clergy. Jean de Fonteneil ran the property and was succeeded by Monsignor Louis de Bourlemont, who in 1682 transferred the estate to a missionary order, Les Prêcheurs de la Mission, founded in 1634 by Saint-Vincent de Paul and based at the College Lazare in Paris, and commonly known as Lazarites. They were dab hands at this winemaking lark, and they enlarged the vineyard named La Mission Haut-Brion, constructing both a small chapel known as Notre Dame de la Mission in 1698, and the château building in 1713. According to the château’s records, “The Mission Congregation accounts, drawn up on February 13, 1729, counted eight priests, four brothers and five servants. At that time, the estate produced 24 barrels of wine, the equivalent of 21.6 hectoliters.” The château’s reputation grew throughout the 1700s, and unlike Pape-Clément, whose wines were reserved for the clergy, La Mission Haut-Brion was traded on the Bordeaux market. The estate was confiscated and declared a bien national during the Revolution and subsequently acquired on November 14, 1792 by Martial-Victor and Adelaïde-Marie Vaillant for 302,000 livres, a considerable sum commensurate with its standing. It then passed through the Ledoux and De Catalan families before falling into American hands in 1821– namely, the hands of a New Orleans–born repatriated colonel, Célestin Coudrin-Chiapella. From 1867, together with his son Jérôme, Coudrin-Chiapella managed and enhanced the reputation of several other Bordeaux properties, including Cos d’Estournel. Given its trajectory, one would have expected La Mission Haut-Brion to be considered for the 1855 Classification, at the very least as a Deuxième Cru. In Cocks’s classification of 1846, it appears among the Fourth and Fifth Growths. Alas, while its neighbor was given special dispensation due to its history and anointed as one of four Premier Crus, La Mission Haut-Brion’s location outside the Médoc meant that it was left out of the classification. After 1855, the state of the château building and the volume of production both appear to have declined, though quality seems to have been maintained, since market prices kept pace with those of other Deuxième Crus. In 1884 La Mission Haut-Brion was purchased by Établissements Duval in Paris, which in turn sold it in 1895 to Léon-Ferdinand de Constans of Bordeaux négociants Schröder. In 1903 it changed hands yet again when it was acquired by Victor Coustau. --Neal Martin, Mission Complete: La Mission Haut-Brion 1928–2011, September 2021 Below is a selection of La Mission Haut-Brion notes from the report. To read Neal’s full report and his Q&A with Jean-Philippe Delmas, check out the full article on Vinous now .

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Pessac-Léognan Red Bordeaux Blend 2007

Delectable Wine
9.4

The 2007 La Mission Haut-Brion is one of the great successes of a vintage given the cold shoulder by consumers on initial release. It has an ebullient bouquet of vivid dark berry, warm gravel and undergrowth scents that are complex and beautifully defined. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, crisp acidity, a precise structure and superb tension on the finish. (Neal Martin, Vinous, September 2021)
— a year ago

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Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Pessac-Léognan Red Bordeaux Blend 1975

Delectable Wine
9.3

The 1975 La Mission Haut-Brion has been hailed in some quarters as a high point for the estate in the Seventies. My own experience has been one of inconsistency, especially compared to the reliable and, in my mind, superior 1978. According to a half-dozen or so tasting notes from 2000 onward, the 1975 was always robust, dense and nearly impenetrable. One bottle at the vertical in 2008 finally lived up to high expectations, but a follow-up two years later felt charmless. This bottle is conspicuously deep in hue. The nose is backward at first, eventually revealing blackberry, iodine and light licorice scents; later, a touch of gaminess creeps in. The palate is full-bodied and full of sinew, with thick tannins framing the multilayered, ferrous black fruit. This is huge in terms of grip, and almost brutish toward the finish. It’s impressive in stature, but the 1978 possesses greater nuance and more panache. Tasted at a private dinner in Hong Kong. Neal Martin, Vinous, September 2021)
— a year ago

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Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Pessac-Léognan Red Bordeaux Blend 2005

Delectable Wine
9.7

The 2005 La Mission Haut-Brion is a wine that I have had the pleasure of tasting on several occasions. The most recent bottle, included in a 2005 horizontal, puts it in a very favorable light even against strong competition. The bouquet bursts from the glass with intense blackberry, cedar and tobacco scents, plus background aromas of fig and damson, as you would expect from a warm summer. The palate is structured, yet the Merlot content (at 69%, the highest in many years) renders this Pessac-Léognan much more pliant than others from this vintage. A mélange of red and black fruits vie for attention, followed by warm gravel and black olives. Quite rich and yet not grippy; with decanting, you could broach this now, though personally I would prefer to leave it for several more years. Outstanding. (Neal Martin, Vinous, September 2021)
— a year ago

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Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Pessac-Léognan Red Bordeaux Blend 2000

Delectable Wine
9.7

The 2000 La Mission Haut-Brion is a vintage that I have not tasted for several years. At age 21, it has retained its youthful nose of vivid black cherries, wild strawberry and iodine, and shows less of the black olive tapenade element that I noticed in its youth. The palate is medium-bodied with lithe tannins that belie that backbone of this La Mission. Beautifully balanced and quite peppery, with fine salinity, it is less sauvage than many other millennial Bordeaux, leading to a succulent, sensual finish. This is only just beginning to show what it is capable of. 13.4% alcohol. Tasted at the château with Jean-Philippe Delmas. (Neal Martin, Vinous, September 2021)
— a year ago

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Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Pessac-Léognan Red Bordeaux Blend 1955

Delectable Wine
10

The 1955 La Mission Haut-Brion is not only one of the best vintages ever made at the estate, but also represents one of the top five Bordeaux wines of the 20th century. This was my fourth bottle and to give it a perfect score was easy. Clear in color, it sports a bouquet that is unbelievably intense and yet refined, delivering a kaleidoscope of aromas: black fruit, crushed rock, freshly rolled tobacco and shaved black truffles (but not the aniseed note I noticed in previous examples). The palate is exquisitely poised, brimming over with tension and energy undimmed by the passing years, and symmetrical on the finish. Hints of blood orange linger tantalizingly on the aftertaste. You almost laugh at the unequivocal perfection. Tasted at the La Mission Haut-Brion dinner at Amuse Bouche in Hong Kong. (Neal Martin, Vinous, September 2021)
— a year ago

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