It does not take a genius to know that Chateau Lafite Rothschild is one hell of a good wine. In fact, when your wine is referred to by Forbes magazine as being “perfect”, then you know that you have hit the spot. Rightly deserving of its place of honour on the world leaderboard, Chateau Lafite Rothschild is more than just a wine. It’s history in a glass.
Yet, despite Lafite’s stellar pedigree, Château Lafite Rothschild’s prices have tumbled over the past few years. According to Liv-ex, while other First Growths grew and grew, Lafite’s increase fell from 129% to just 20% in 2017. Despite this, trade-in Lafite continued to be strong, and today the average case price is valued at around £7,000 compared to £5,000 for other Grand Crus. What’s more, trading for Lafite in 2021 was already double what it was in 2020, showing that this First Growth is not for turning.
What you need to know about Chateau Lafite
History of Chateau Lafite
To understand how Lafite has become “Lafite”, you need first to understand where it comes from. Unsurprisingly, the history of Château Lafite Rothschild goes back a long, long way. The word Lafite refers to the plateau where the vines are planted (la fite), and is coincidently one of the highest points in the appellation. For the etymologists among you, “fite,” is an old French word meaning “mound” or “hillock”. The first reference of vines growing on this famous fite dates back to 1234.
The estate has been producing wine since the 17th century, but it was really at the beginning of the 18th century that it began making a name for itself. The estate’s rise to fame is largely thanks to three men – Robert Walpole, the then British Prime Minister and influencer de l’epoque, who allegedly bought barrels of the 1732 and 1733, Maréchal Richelieu, who introduced the wine to the French court of Versailles, earning it the nickname “The King’s Wine” and famous fan Thomas Jefferson, whose bottle of favourite 1787 vintage, marked with his initials sold at auction in 1985 for $156,000. This made it at the time one of the most expensive single bottles of wine ever sold for collection; since then, a bottle of 1869 Château Lafite Rothschild has sold at auction for $233,973 in 2010.
Thus Chateau Lafite was already a star player when the estate came onto the radar of Baron James Mayer Rothschild in 1868. The château had already gained its hallowed position as one of the original four First Growths (a fifth – Chateau Mouton Rothschild was added in the 1970s) and has since then consistently retained its place at the top – of both the quality and finance tables for over 150 years. Rothschild bought the estate at auction for 4.4 million francs (roughly 57 million euros today), which of course, is still well under the fabled estate’s actual worth. Liv-ex valued the Lafite estate at over €3.7 billion, three times more than the second most expensive estate, Chateau Latour. It currently ranks first place in their Bordeaux classification.
Regrettably, Rothschild died just three months after purchasing the chateau, so it was left up to his three sons Alphonse, Gustave and Edmond to see the fruits of their father’s labour. And that’s when Lafite’s history was sealed. Despite the periods of difficulty – including two world wars, phylloxera vines and pillaging of cellars by the Nazis – under the Rothschild’s steerage, Lafite has risen to be the number one most recognisable name in Bordeaux today.
Since the estate has been under the Rothschild name, six generations have run the show. The latest is Saskia de Rothschild, who succeeded her father, Eric as chairman of the Domaines Barons de Rothschild in 2018. At 21, she is the youngest woman ever to head a Premier Grand Cru Bordeaux estate. Despite owning perhaps the most famous vineyard in the world, the chairwoman of Chateau Lafite Rothschild is surprisingly poetic about her product, “each vintage tells a different story: written by the hands of the people that made them, through wars, frost attacks and recessions.”
Lafitte is now synonymous with wine that is so refined, so compelling and so elegant that it would be no understatement to say that it is the iconic Bordeaux for the modern generation.
Chateau Lafite vineyard
The 112-hectare vineyard is blessed with hallowed soil. The vineyards are divided into three main areas: the slopes around the Château, the Carruades plateau next to it to the west and a 4.5-hectare plot in the neighbouring commune of Saint Estèphe, which historically has been allowed into Lafite and thus the Pauillac appellation.
The key to Lafite’s success lies in the ground – the fine deep gravel, mixed with aeolian sand on a subsoil of tertiary limestone, is superbly well drained and well exposed to the sun. Grape partition is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), some Merlot (25 per cent), plus small amounts of Cabernet Franc (3 per cent) and Petit Verdot (2 per cent).
The estate’s superb location, near the Gironde estuary in the northern part of Pauillac, borders St-Estèphe. Pauillac is, of course particularly well-blessed when it comes to soil. It is home to two other First Growths — Château Latour and Château Mouton Rothschild.
What does Chateau Lafite taste like
Traditionally, Lafite is approachable in youth with a beautiful fragrant fruit character. It is generally considered the most aromatic and elegant of the three Pauillac First Growths. Drinking Lafit is a joyful, complex tasting experience; the wine has an extremely rich and bright profile, with wine flavours that include cassis, red berries, tobacco, truffle, and lead pencil. It is simultaneously lush and round with some serious weight and power in reserve, yet retains grace and elegance that outshine its power.
Moreover, Lafite has vibrant acidity and a firm tannic structure which enables the wines to age gracefully over many decades in successful vintages. Which is why investors love it so very much.
To say it is a drinker’s wine is no understatement. And with its oh-so-perfect ageing ability, it’s an investors’ must-have. In fact, Lafite’s perfect point score (i.e., 100/100) is second only to Petrus. And it’s not just wine influencer Parker who is a fan – James Suckling has awarded an average of 95.77, and the notoriously difficult-to-please Jancis Robinson has rated an average of 18.27(out of 20) over the past 20 years.
How to check Chateau Lafite authenticity
Fraud is notorious among First Growths, and Lafite is no stranger to counterfeiting. In fact, the engraved 1787 Lafite was sold at a London auction on 5 December 1985 for £105,000, a record price for a single bottle of wine that still stands is said to be a fake.
But how can you tell?
There is no way to date old wine scientifically. An old bottle cannot be x-rayed like an old painting. Some of Lafite’s old bottles have been subjected to radioisotope analysis, which measures radiation levels, and while these tests show that the wine is definitely older than the atomic bomb explosions of the 1940s, it certainly does not prove that it was made in 1787.
So, what to do?
We have already outlined the dangers of counterfeit wine in our amazing article, but to quickly recap, there are a few tips that can help you identify fakes.
Be wary of wines that look too good for their age, labels that are too perfect, or fill levels that are too high for their age – wine will naturally start evaporating through the cork. Be careful of what seems to good to be true – it probably is too good to be true.
Always check your provenance and buy only from reliable merchants. Small dealers may offer better prices – but likely as not, they don’t pay for the extra air-conditioning and better storage/transport systems, which cost more money. And never buy off eBay; we don’t care how many stars the seller has!
Which year of Lafite is the most expensive?
There is no doubt that this is a commodity. Wines with a reputation, such as Lafite Rothschild, have very little to do to sell their stock, so it comes as no surprise that even the lesser vintages are extremely good investment opportunities. Asian demand is significantly high for Lafite Rothschild, notably for futures, which have been slow to catch on in the east. En Primeur (futures in French) bottle price for the (at the time untasted) 2017 vintage went on sale at close to €697, while Haut Brion, the other grande dame of the 1855 firsts, was selling at €465. James Bond’s favourite, Chateau Angelus, was “just” €442. Scoring for the same vintage was 97/98 from James Suckling and 94/97 from Antonio Galloni, so if you were wise enough to invest, expect this to skyrocket over the next decade.
The top ten most traded investment wines on Liv-ex in 2021
Lafite wine is expensive. There is no getting around it. Whether you buy En-Primeur or on the secondary market, you will feel it in your wallet.
But, you can see by the table above Lafite is also responsible for six of the top ten most traded wines of last year. Data from Liv-ex shows that Lafite Rothschild was the powerhouse label in 2021 and lead both market searches and trade, demonstrating its ‘liquid appeal’ to wine investors. If you don’t believe us, then just follow the facts:
- Lafite was the leading First Growth price performer in 2021
- The trade of the 2021 vintage in Lafite wines was double that in 2020
- Liv-ex Fine Wine 50* records show that in 2021, the wine returned to its former record levels of 2011 (* Liv-ex 50 records the performance of the last ten physical vintages of the five First Growths)
Best Chateau Lafite wines to invest in
Chateau Lafite Rothschild produces great vintage year after year, and there are very few that we wouldn’t recommend.
Château Lafite Rothschild is more than just a wine. It’s history in a glass. Forbes magazine has called it “perfect”, so it must be good! Its pedigree is legendary – it dates back to 1234 and has consistently retained its quality as one of the world’s leading First Growths for over 150 years. Liv-ex valued the Lafite estate at over €3.7 billion in 2018, three times more than the second most expensive estate, Château Latour. It currently ranks first place in their Bordeaux classification. Every vintage is a winner with Lafite. Wines are so refined, so compelling, so elegant, that it would be no understatement to say that it is the iconic Bordeaux for the modern generation. Basically, there are no bad years here – even the lesser ones present an outstanding investment opportunity. Sellers of the wine are rare, and buyers are plentiful. Get it while you can, and sell it at a profit if you can bear to part with it.
The 2016 Lafite-Rothschild is one of the greatest Bordeauxs on the block. Made up of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot and raised in new oak, it has all the classic elegance and class that has made Lafite famous. Deep, full-bodied, and of course, flawlessly constructed, this is legendary stuff all the way. Expect to cellar this beauty for 50-75 years or more from release. Probably the wine of the vintage. Scores: perfect 100/100 from James Suckling, Decanter and Jeb Dimmuck and 99/100 from Robert Parker.
Deep garnet in colour, the 2010 Lafite Rothschild is full-bodied, rich and densely packed with perfumed black fruit layers. It has a rock-solid backbone of fantastically ripe, grainy tannins and beautiful freshness, finishing very long and minerally. It has a tightly intertwined tannic and fruit structure with real blackberry, currant, cedar, and nutty flavours. For Lafite, this was the last great vintage before 2016 came around, and even though it is already in its drinking window, it should really open up n about 2025. Quite a low yield this year, so this wine is the perfect balance of high quality vs low quantity. This is a hugely complex wine, and it’s tough to say when this will stop evolving.