Although the Graves enclave of Pessac-Léognan is generally considered as an amorphous whole, the majority of estates are located closer to Léognan, the more southerly part of the appellation, distant from Pessac which lies within the suburbs of Bordeaux. Of these châteaux, a number lie on the road heading north-east out of Léognan towards Cadaujac, and once you have left the streets of Léognan behind it is clear you are in wine country, as vines crowd in on either side of the road. The first château on this route is Larrivet Haut-Brion, an attractive but ultimately rather unprepossessing collection of buildings just on the outskirts of town. But just a few hundred metres further on, occupying a prominent roadside position (as pictured below) and looking much more like the typical Bordeaux château, is Château Haut-Bailly.
What is it about Château Haut-Bailly? How has it amassed such a committed army of fans over the years, even in the face of some less than warm reviews from at least one prominent critic during the 1980s? Those reviews may in fact be part of the answer. In an era when the wines of Bordeaux seemed to be shifting more and more towards texture and opulence, Haut-Bailly long maintained a reputation for elegance, definition and a drier, more savoury gourmand character that appealed to those looking for high quality wines of tradition, wines that won their hearts at the dining table rather than in the 100-point scoring system.
These days, the style of wines coming out of Château Haut-Bailly has undoubtedly changed, the wines showing greater concentration and substance, and considering that they were once ranked and sold alongside those of the first growth Château Haut-Brion perhaps that is an appropriate development. As a consequence, however, the wines are ranked more confidently than they once were by influential critics, especially those who rate texture and opulence most highly, and prices are higher than they used to be. Some one-time fans of the château have been disheartened by these developments, but I – although naturally I rue the fact the wines are more expensive – welcome the greater depth shown by the wines of modern times, especially as the trademark elegance and definition of Graves can still be seen within them.