EDWARD ROBERT BROOKS, JR
March 26th, 2020
At some point during the quest for wine education and enlightenment, aspiring aficionados often eventually ask themselves- Is there a greatest winery in the world?
To award preeminent status to one winery above all others is undoubtedly at least in part a subjective decision based on opinion and personal taste. There can be no absolute answer that everyone will accept. While formulating a process to identify the foremost winery in the world is very intriguing, it is also a very ambitious mission, and any claimed result surely elicits controversy.
To have any hope to legitimately claim a winner requires quantifying of the salient criteria in order to try to avoid the perception of an arbitrary judgement, and to have a reasonable chance to secure a consensus of acceptance for the premise.
For the purpose of this exploration, let’s start with some recognized definitions of- greatest, which is the superlative form of great:
Vocabulary.com, Princeton’s WordNet, Powerthesaurus.org and Wordnik.com all include- Highest in quality.
Additionally, Wordnik.com further defines greatest as- Not to be surpassed. Highest in importance or degree or significance or achievement; most eminent.
And Wordnet further defines greatest as- The property possessed by something or someone of outstanding importance.
Lexico.com (Oxford) opines- The quality of being great, distinguished, or eminent.
Cambridge.org concludes- Importance and fame, power, or success.
Dictionary.com states- Unusual or considerable in degree, power, intensity, etc.
Merriam-Webster asserts- Coming before all others in importance.
Definitions.net says- The property possessed by something or someone of outstanding importance or eminence.
Freedictionary.com articulates- Remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree, or extent. Of outstanding significance or importance. Superior in quality or character; noble.
Yourdictionary.com declares- The state, condition, or quality of being great; as, greatness of size, greatness of mind, power, etc.
Clearly, to ascribe these definitions to one winery over all others is a lofty undertaking, with the claimed result subject to possible heated debate and potential disagreement. For the purpose of this vinous assessment, there are other qualifications I propose to further define greatest which are:
Sufficient size and scale of yearly production to engage and effect a significant number of wine collectors worldwide.
Consistency over a long history of many years demonstrating the ability to make great wine even in challenging/difficult vintages.
Age-worthiness/longevity. Making wines that evolve and continue to impress over time, and even when they plateau maintain that level of quality for many additional years when those from other wineries have generally faded.
A long record of strong and consistent sale price escalation as one measure of the perception of quality and appreciation. Some wines of high quality may age well but never succeed to increase in value.
Drawing from these definitions and criteria, a winery worthy of this accolade must be located in a pre-eminent region and have a long and chronicled history of being acclaimed and accepted as always among the best of the best in the world, with sufficiently large enough production to really prove the quality of the winemaking to a broad demographic, and an unrivaled record of consistency with top quality even in lesser and poor vintages.
With these parameters considered, I would suggest that there is indeed one clear winner. A property that has been growing grapes since the 14th century and producing famed wines since the 16th century, and that was classified as a Bordeaux First Growth in 1855- Chateau Latour!
I have personally had the pleasure through the years to taste over 70 vintages of Chateau Latour. Many of them multiple times from different sources. Remarkably, in addition to some of the most heralded historic vintages such as 1888, 1890, 1900, 1928, 1929, 1945, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1970, 1975 and 1978; as well as many highly rated younger vintages- 1982, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2015; my tasting experiences have also included many poor and mediocre older vintages such as- 1934, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974; and I have never tasted a bad Latour! Even with some examples from less than ideal provenance. None of the other Bordeaux First Growths can rival that record of consistency.
Perhaps I have just been exceedingly fortunate. Certainly, to have tasted so many vintages from this storied property implies great fortune. I must admit that for me it is otherwise unprecedented to have tasted so many vintages from one winery with nary a disappointment. Though anecdotal, I offer as further proof that in all my years in the wine trade I don’t recollect ever hearing from an experienced colleague or connoisseur of a bad or disappointing experience with Latour. I suggest that for a vineyard of its size and given the long history of production and strong track record of ageability, no other winery in the world of comparable caliber is as consistent, or as great as Chateau Latour.
It's true that in some vintages Latour is outshone by other highly regarded fine wine producers. Especially in its youth. The powerful, noble style that is the hallmark of Latour is meant for aging and sometimes initially lacks the approachability, complexity, elegance, beguiling charm and seductive qualities found in offerings from other sites. Given time however, Latour consistently proves it’s pedigree, and most often eclipses and outlasts the competition.
There are certainly other wineries in Bordeaux, and elsewhere that regularly produce fabled wines. Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, Piedmont and Tuscany, and California all have deserved superstars. But none of these cumulatively have the length of history, wealth of vintages and record of consistency that Latour enjoys, and arguably the ability to make larger quantities of First Growth caliber wine is more challenging than producing wine in small boutique environments. That is a testament to the quality and unique stature of this property. Based on the metrics established in this monograph, I therefore postulate that Chateau Latour deserves the title of the greatest winery in the world!