Lafite Rothschild is all about the details!
Unlike Chateau Mouton Rothschild and a few other Chateaux in Bordeaux, which are notorious for changing the visual aspect of their labels each vintage, and despite the recent trend of revamping Bordeaux labels in a rather minimalistic or more modern way, most Bordeaux labels (and bottles) have not changed much over the past 40+ years.
Among the most illustrious, the best example is Chateau Lafite Rothschild’s label, which has only ever-so-slightly evolved.
Maybe for good reasons, as, although grand and majestic, Lafite Rothschild has always conveyed the image of a rather old, austere, closed, and immovable Chateau, long established and anchored in the aristocratic Bordeaux attitude, culture, and traditions, with a dash of British phlegm. (*)
Despite efforts to make a more open and approachable wine in recent vintages, Lafite Rothschild is often closed, shy, dry, tannic, and austere in its youth and may take up to 10-15 years to reach its opening window of drinkability and start to open. The Bordelais call that “classic” Bordeaux style, an expected common trait from a wine of this pedigree.
Yet, don’t get me wrong, after a few long years in the bottle, when its shyness and austerity come to pass, this old and grumpy aristocrat grows its confidence to reveal all its might, with layers, complexity, concentration, and depth, rewarding the most patient of us with the elegance, finesse, charm, manners, nobility, and sophistication of its privileged superior class.
And, yet again, despite giving this dusty impression of being frozen in time, Lafite made some changes! Over the years, small and subtle yet significant changes that most people may have yet to notice or pay attention to confirm that Lafite Rothschild is all about the details.
I'm not talking about the changes in winemaking techniques and cellar or vineyard management that may have occurred over the past decades. I'm talking about the details on the bottles, capsules and even labels that have changed and evolved over the last 40 years.
Saying that "Lafite Rothschild is all about the details" makes sense as these inconspicuous details perfectly reflect both Lafite’s attitude and behaviour, of not being in your face, showing off everything at once, upfront, but somewhat discreetly, offering clues, pieces of evidence of their quiet, yet profound personality and ability to make changes and adapt without losing their traditional image.
Cleverly concealed in plain sight, often embossed, printed, or painted on the bottle, for whoever would be curious enough to look at them and appreciate their meaning, these details, or symbols, were mainly attributed to noteworthy vintages regarding events meaningful for the Chateau or more on a global scale.
As an image is worth a thousand words (more especially for those of you who may have no clue about what I’m talking about), I have created the illustration/collage above (header of this post) to show you (at one glance) these details added to the visual aspect of the bottles, capsules and even label of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, only for specific vintages, over the last 40 years.
Below I put some close-up pictures of these details embossed and/or etched on the bottles, with a brief explanation of their meanings for you to better understand them.
1945 – End of World War II – Lafite Rothschild embossed the vintage 1945, in an oval, on the bottle to commemorate and honour the war's end. The capsule is red and short on the neck, with only "Mis en Bouteille au Chateau" embossed on it and no drawing of the Chateau.
1946 – The capsule is red and short on the neck, with a drawing of the Chateau and the writing "Mis en bouteilles au Chateau" in black ink.
1984 – Between 1946 and 1984, the capsule slightly changed to become longer on the neck and presented the famous Logo "Domaine Barons de Rothschild Lafite" and a drawing of the Chateau in black ink. There is no embossing on the bottles from 1946 to 1984 vintages.
1985 – Halley's Comet – A representation of the Comet Halley, which last passed by earth in 1986, when the 1985 vintage was peacefully ageing in the barrels, was embossed with "1985" on the bottle. It was the first embossing since the 1945 vintage (TBC, but I think it is correct, as per my experience). 1985 vintage also marks the capsule's first use with the chateau's drawing in black and white ink, which has remained the same in design amid a few changes in the depth of the red colour used for the background.
1995 – No embossing on the bottles from 1986 to 1995 vintages. 1995 was the last vintage with no embossing on the bottle. All the bottles of the subsequent vintages have been embossed.
1996 - First use of the logo showing Domaines Barons de Rothschild's five arrows emblem, with the name "Lafite" in the middle, used for 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007 vintages. Chateau Lafite Rothschild has embossed all its bottles since the 1996 vintage.
1999 – Eclipse - Chateau Lafite embossed “1999” (without the five arrows) on the bottle along with a painted eclipse underneath (depicting a smiling moon the like of early 1900s Georges Méliès moon style, covering the sun) to mark the event of 11th August 1999, a total solar eclipse widely seen across Europe, as it was the last total solar eclipse of the millennium.
2000 - The 2000 vintage was embossed inside the logo (Domaines Barons de Rothschild's arrows emblem) to mark both the turn of the century and the millennium. The subsequent vintages 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020 were also embossed inside the logo.
2005 – Balance - The 2005 vintage was considered one of the best of the decade, along with 2009. Some producers and wine critics even described it as a legendary Bordeaux vintage. It resulted from nearly perfect conditions during the growing season, allowing for a successful budburst and flowering. The ideal weather balance of the 2005 vintage was a combination of continuous sunshine, dry air, hot temperatures, cold night, and little rain, bringing just enough moisture to prevent drought. On that note, Lafite Rothschild painted a pair of scales depicting a cloud and rain (on the left side) and a big bright sun (on the right side) below the embossed “2005” vintage (without the five arrows) to reflect the balance of the vintage.
2008 – Number 8 - Chateau Lafite Rothschild painted the Chinese symbol for the number eight (8), below the embossed "2008" vintage (without the five arrows), in celebration of the First Growth's new vineyard venture in China, "Long Dai", located in the Qiu Shan Valley (Shandong Province). The symbol (and number 8) is considered especially auspicious in China, creating colossal demands and rapidly increasing prices.
2016 – Hourglass - Château Lafite Rothschild 2016 features a small hourglass etched below the embossed "2016" vintage (without the five arrows) on the bottle as a symbol of time, or more precisely, "waiting for the right time or the right timing", as they quote on their website: "An hourglass has been etched onto our 2016 bottles symbolising a vintage that played hide and seek with us until the last moment."
2018 – 150th Anniversary - The 2018 vintage marked the 150th anniversary of Château Lafite Rothschild, purchased by Baron James de Rothschild on August 8th, 1868.
The year "1868" and "2018" are embossed on the bottle, with the letters "CL" in red etched right underneath. A small hot air balloon has been added to the label too.
In 1868, hot air balloons represented modernity and progression. They were made notably famous by the giant hot air balloon known as "Le Geant de Nadar" when it flew over Paris, resulting in Nadar's stereographs shot of the "Champs de Mars" and the "Arc de Triomphe" on October 4th, 1868. Nowadays, hot air balloons are commonly used for recreational purposes. They symbolise flying in silence, drifting cross-country, above ground, with peace and serenity.
As for the letters "CL", they have two meanings. First, "CL" is the Roman numeral representation for the number "150", and they are also the initials for "Château Lafite".
That’s all, folks!
Thank you for reading my post. I hope you liked it and may have learned something new about Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Stay tuned for more posts coming soon. In the meantime, take good care of yourself and your loved ones.
NB: I was a Wine Quality Control Director for nine years, doing all the bottle inspections and authentications in my previous job (provenance, conditions, authenticity, etc..). Consequently, I understandably did not mention or disclose other details to prevent from helping counterfeiters.
(*) No offence, but it is the Bordeaux native, grandson of a winemaker, and Sommelier / Wine Buyer, with 30+ years of career in the wine industry, growing up in Bordeaux and buying Lafite Rothschild since the early 90s, talking. Ask the people of my generation working in the wine industry, and they will most likely tell you the same thing …or, maybe not, as they might not speak as openly as I do about such an illustrious Chateau/producers, as they might deem that unappropriated or put themselves in a wrong position with the Chateau… Oh, well… Here I said it, and I’m not the only one to think that way.
For more details about Chateau Lafite Rothschild, go to their website at https://www.lafite.com/en/
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