Terroirs of Pessac-Léognan: A Quintessential Collection

Retail Team | September 22, 2023

Pessac-Léognan is at once old and new. Its pedigree is ancient, home to some of Bordeaux’s most historic vineyards and renowned for its excellence since the Middle Ages. Yet the appellation as it is known today has existed only since 1987, when it was carved out of the broader region of Graves.

Preserved inside this prestigious appellation, nestled just south of the city of Bordeaux, is a magical tapestry of terroir. Undulating hills, deep gravel ridges, and sun-warmed stones and pebbles produce the full-bodied, savory elegance synonymous with Pessac-Léognan. The milder climate and prevalence of Cabernet Sauvignon infuses many of the classic wines here with latent power and rich, smoky notes of tobacco, game, and spice.

Today we’ve assembled a curated roster of quintessential Pessac-Léognan stars, beginning with a true showstopper from Château Smith Haut Lafitte. This property’s incredible rise is due to the unflagging dedication of Daniel and Florence Cathiard, Olympic skiers who acquired the estate in 1990. Wholesale renovations – returning to chemical-free, traditional viticulture, lowering yields, building new cellars and in-house cooperage – have transformed Smith Haut Lafitte into a Pessac-Léognan legend.

The 2009 displays the fruits of that labor like little else. Jeb Dunnuck called it “the greatest Smith Haut Lafitte to date” in a 100-point review – an assessment and score matched by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Invested with the sunny, ripe exuberance of this epic vintage, this wine launches from the glass with a cavalcade of dark berry fruits, violets, leather, and pencil shavings. Polished, supple, and showing magnificent breadth, it’s a statement wine for the ages.

Château Haut-Bailly is another Pessac-Léognan house whose legacy has been shaped by the deeply personal care of a few individuals. Véronique Sanders, whose family once owned the winery, is the longtime director. Her collaboration with the late owner, banker Robert Wilmers (continued today with Robert’s son Chris), has pushed Haut-Bailly to reach sublime new heights. Extensive soil studies, biodynamic farming, and a carefully preserved block of 125-year-old vines have contributed to a string of triumphant vintages for the estate.

The 2010 is a wine of quiet intensity and profundity, slowly gathering in splendor and complexity over the years to achieve virtual perfection. The 2019 displays modern verve, a masterfully balanced claret featuring layers of ripe, mouthwatering fruit encased in a framework of fine-grained tannins. The first wine to be aged in Haut-Bailly’s new cellar, the 2020 set a new bar for the estate, showing unprecedented power and sensuousness. According to James Suckling, the head of the château called it “a diabolical beauty.”

Built on centuries of history, these benchmark Pessac-Léognan releases distill the authenticity of Bordeaux.