Chateau Lafite Rothschild: Exquisite Wine from Bordeaux
It's safe to say that Halloween isn't celebrated in Asia with quite the same vigor as it is in the U.S. But this year, the last week of October brought some scary wine prices to Hong Kong: a lot of three bottles of 1869 Chateau Lafite Rothschild went for $698,076, or $232,692 per bottle---setting a new world record for the most expensive bottle of wine sold at auction.
"I happened to have one, from a different source, a few weeks before the auction and it was fabulous," says Jamie Ritchie, CEO and President of Americas and Asia for Sotheby's Wine. "We served it blind and the nearest guess on the age was 1959. What really made these bottles rare is the fact that they came directly from Chateau Lafite's cellars and were the oldest wines in the auction---you cannot get better provenance than that."
That provenance has been a part of Chateau Lafite for hundreds of years, part of the reason it's the winner of the Luxist Editors' Choice award for best in wine. Lafite's current incarnation dates back to 1868, when Baron James de Rothschild---a patriarch of the famous European banking family of the same name---purchased the Lafite estate, which had already been producing wine for at least a century.
Chateau Lafite was particularly attractive to Rothschild because of its status as one of the four wine-producing Chateaux of Bordeaux to be given First Growth status in the prestigious 1855 Classification. But the Baron never saw his purchase bear fruit---he passed away just three months after he made the purchase, leaving the renamed Chateau Lafite Rothschild estate to his three sons: Alphonse, Edmond and Gustave. Over the years, the estate survived attacks by both insects and foreign powers, and since 1974 Baron Eric de Rothschild has been the standard-bearer.
Today, Chateau Lafite Rothschild remains one of the world's most esteemed wine estates, producing some 35,000 cases per year. Popular recent vintages include 2000, which was stellar all across Bordeaux, and especially for Chateau Lafite. An auction in November yielded $5.4 million, topping the highest expectations by $1 million. One case of 12 bottles of the 2000 vintage sold for $36,300.
"A great vintage from a more modern era," says Ritchie. "The wines have great fruit, concentration, acidity and balance. They will last a long time, but can be enjoyed from now. The fact that this vintage also has the three zeroes from the Millennium Year means that it has additional appeal to collectors and drinkers."
Even the most recent vintages continue to rapidly appreciate in value: the 2008 Chateau Lafite Rothschild was valued at 1,500 pounds upon its release, but bottle prices more than doubled within two weeks.
And just as the Hong Kong auction showcased Asia's appetite for Chateau Lafite, the estate has shown a growing interest in Asia---quite literally---by partnering with CITIC, China's largest state-owned investment company, to cultivate over 60 acres of vines on the peninsula of Penglai in the Shandong province in 2009. The area, some experts say, could become the Bordeaux of China in the coming years.
In the meantime, Chateau Lafite will continue to produce exquisite wine in the Bordeaux of France. And with two more lots due up for auction by Sotheby's in January---the Andrew Lloyd Webber Wine Collection and the Finest & Rarest Wines on January 22 , as well as The Bordeaux Winebank "2000 Collection" Part II on January 23---it's quite possible that new records are about to be set. At the very least, the auctions will serve to underscore Chateau Lafite's burgeoning appeal in the Far East.
"Asian demand for the world's best wines and vintages remains very strong," says Ritchie. "I think we will see enthusiastic demand."