Anson: Liber Pater wine and the rush for rare grapes in Bordeaux

Liber Pater wine

The articles started coming thick and fast from early July onwards. Liber Pater had officially become the most expensive modern Bordeaux wine, with its 2015 vintage on sale at €30,000 a bottle.

And as ever with stories around Liber Pater, I was torn somewhere between admiring owner Loïc Pasquet for his chutzpah/audacity/confidence, and banging my head against a wall.

I read several pieces that said this was the highest altitude vineyard in Bordeaux and the wine was purely made from pre-Phylloxera ancient grape varieties no longer used in the Bordeaux vineyard. Neither statements are true.

And above all that, there were articles suggesting that 2015 Liber Pater offers the true taste of Bordeaux in 1855. Oh, come on…

I finally made it back down to the vineyard towards the end of August. My aim, as ever when I meet up with Pasquet, was to try to cut through the hype and see what was actually going on. I left feeling for the first time that I was getting closer to understanding the reality of project.

‘It is simply not the case that the wine is made up of grapes that are no longer found in Bordeaux.’

What is true is that from 2015, Liber Pater comes from 100% ungrafted vines, which in itself is pretty remarkable, and that it uses farming methods rarely seen in the region. I have walked through the vineyard several times over the past few years, and it is looking healthy and happily wild right now.

Its certified organic vines are left in permaculture as much as possible, and all grow on individual stakes, with no training wires between them.

This makes the 20,000 vines-per-hectare density – equal to a distance between rows of 60cm and between each vine of 80cm – easier to understand because it means you can walk, and work, between them fairly easily.

But, they are not the only ones in Bordeaux to do this. Jean-Philippe Janoueix, for instance, is among the producers to have vines at the same density.

One of the first producers in Bordeaux to popularise training vines along wires was Marcel Richier, the agronomist owner of Château d’Agassac in the mid 19th century. He arrived in 1841, and it was called the Agassac Method for a while.

This means that Pasquet can also fairly claim that he is recreating the traditional method used to cultivate vines; a technique practised not just in 18th century Bordeaux, but by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

But that’s not to say you should buy wholesale into the hype.

Yes, Pasquet is planting rare varieties, and should be congratulated for it in my opinion, but it is simply not the case that the wine is made up of grapes that are no longer found in Bordeaux.

The blend of the 2015 vintage that is being offered – all 200 bottles of it – for such large sums of money is almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon.

But he refers to it under its old name Petite-Vidure, just as Lafleur refers to its massal-selected Cabernet Franc as Bouchet, to underline its difference from modern clones.

At Liber Pater, this is put together with small amounts of Petit Verdot and Malbec, and around 2% of the rare varieties – mainly Castets, Tarney and St-Macaire.

The 2018 vintage, which I tasted from amphorae, will have a little more of the rare varieties, but will still be dominated by ungrafted Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

That’s not to criticise, but just for clarity.

And it’s a hugely impressive wine. The Cabernet from different parts of the vineyard is being aged separately, with everything in amphorae, jalles and earthenware vats, a development since the early years that is thoroughly sensible, so you can track the taste without oak interference.

Tasting them ‘blind’ revealed them to be in the Cabernet family, but not like the more classic Cabernet of today. They had a delicacy and a vibrancy to them that was genuinely exciting, and it’s a shame that the price puts them out of reach of, well, pretty much everyone.

Rare grapes on the rise in Bordeaux

But do a little…

Source :