A Vertical of the Most Expensive Wine in the World

With a price on release of €30,000 a bottle since 2015 (up from €5,000 per bottle for the first vintage in 2006), Liber Pater is the most expensive wine in the world. So opportunities for a vertical tasting are not exactly common…

Loïc Pasquet started his project when he bought a tiny estate in Landiras in the Graves in 2005 and set out to produce a wine from pre-phylloxera varieties. The vineyard was partly planted with old vines on their own roots, and he slowly converted it to entirely ungrafted vines. By 2015, the wine was made exclusively from ungrafted vines. [I previously described a visit to the vineyard].

The major grape is Petite-Vidure, which is an old name for Cabernet Sauvignon. There are small quantities of Petit Verdot and Malbec, and around 2% of the really rare varieties: Tarnay-Coulant (also known as Mancin); Sainte-Macaire (formerly planted in marshes of the Garonne, but rather unproductive); Castets (an old variety of the Right Bank). “We didn’t have Merlot on the left bank before phylloxera,” Loïc says.

“To make good wine you need maturity, not sur-maturity.” Loïc distinguishes between freshness and acidity: “acidity is not freshness.” “When you plant on own roots, everything matures together. We harvest the vineyard in two days, if the vines were on rootstocks it would be two weeks.”

Overall there have been 9 vintages in the past 15 years. Recently there was no release in 2012-2014 and 2017. Before 2015 the vineyard had some grafted vines, 20% 2006-2009, 10% 2010-2014. Since 2015 it has been 100% ungrafted. “The taste changed…” Loïc says. Since 2015 the blend has been constant, with about 70% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Vinification used small barrels before 2015, when everything switched entirely to amphora. “With grafted wines the tannins are not so fine, so you need the oak to smooth them out. In Bordeaux today we make wine like soup.” Loïc says scathingly of modern winemaking.

Overall Liber Pater conveys a strong sense of freshness against a background of red/black fruits (less focused on black than Bordeaux today). It is not at all driven by the usual black fruit aromatics such as blackcurrants. I am not at all sure you would recognize it as Bordeaux in a blind tasting.

Liber Pater is made in very small quantities, only around 500 bottles. Another wine, Denarius, is made in slightly larger amounts, around 2,000 bottles. (The price is around €1000.) Loïc does not want to call it a second wine. “It comes from a separate part of the vineyard,” he says. I think it is possible that Denarius may actually come closer to Loïc’s intention to reproduce the taste of 19th century Bordeaux.

Tasting notes from a visit Loïc made to New York at the end of April 2023.

Liber Pater 2007

Nose is relatively fresh but not very aromatic (at least not the usual black fruit aromatics of modern Bordeaux). Strong sense of freshness, but without any trace of herbaceousness, is appealing. Perhaps this is what Loïc means when he says “acidity is not freshness.” Not at all like a modern vintage or for that matter one of the sixties of seventies. The palate is fine and silky and smooth, and any tannins are well in the background. This feels like a relatively cool climate production. In terms of areas, the sense of finesse relates better to St. Julien or Margaux than to Pessac-Léognan or Graves. As the wine ages, it merges more towards a conventional view of Bordeaux but is quite distinctive. I suspect this is much finer than the 19th century Bordeaux Loïc is trying to emulate (which would have been aged in oak, albeit not new).     91 Drink now-2031.

Liber Pater 2010

Nose is quite restrained by comparison with modern Bordeaux, but is more powerful and savory than 2007. A touch more savory on the palate than predicted from the nose, and quite a herbal impression. The palate is equally as fresh as 2007. Savory impressions accentuate in the glass and take this even farther away from impressions of modern Bordeaux. Structure is very fine but well in background. Powerful impressions of Cabernet Sauvignon show retronasally with some hints of minty herbs.     92 Drink now-2035.

Liber Pater 2011

Compared to 2010 there is a change here to a more fruit-driven impression, with a spectrum between red and black fruits. Palate retains a touch of tannic bitterness; normally you would put this down as due to oak influence. This seems more evidently driven by Cabernet Sauvignon as it develops in the glass. The savory elements come out more evidently as minty than in 2010. The sense of structure is enhanced, and this does not seem as fine on the palate as 2010; the flavor spectrum is broader. That faintly minty character comes out on the aftertaste with an almost soapy density.     91 Drink now-2034.

Liber Pater 2018

This shows a completely different flavor spectrum from the older vintages of 2007-2011: is this due to youth? or to the changes in plantings or élevage? There are still some savory and quasi-minty notes on the palate, but they are offset against nutty impressions. Rounder on the palate than older vintages but still has that hallmark freshness. The sense of freshness, together with some savory acidity in the background, takes over from the fruits as the wine develops in the glass. The savory impressions reflect dried herbs, but are hard to pin down. Impressions of malic acid give the palate a slightly disjointed character (needs time to meld together?) This is closer to Denarius in style than the older vintages, so may reflect youthfulness. Similarly there is an impression that this needs time to smooth out. It is less forceful than Denarius (more elegant?) but the flavor spectrum is similar.     90 Drink 2026-2036.

Denarius 2019

This has calmed down in the past year. The nose is intensely savory driven, similar to, but more forceful than, Liber Pater itself. It is also more assertive on the palate, at least at this stage, than Liber Pater, with a really strong herbal character (dried herbs not fresh). A nuttiness develops on the back palate that is reminiscent of an affinity for oak, but there is a piercing clarity (as opposed to fruit purity) compared to modern Bordeaux. A strong malic impression enhances the overall savory character. The palate is less finely structured than Liber Pater, and in this regard I suspect this is closer to the 19th century Bordeaux Loïc is trying to emulate.   12.5%   92 Drink 2025-2032.


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