If I had to identify a personal favorite chateau in Bordeaux, it would be Leoville Barton. I would never argue that the very greatest wines are usually made here. But year in and year out, you can rely on Leoville Barton to produce consistently excellent wines for a very fair price. And, for a guy like me, who can’t afford to buy cases of le Pin or Petrus, value is always a consideration. So, as we pulled into the parking lot, seeing Anthony Barton walking out to greet Jean-Marc and me was a special highpoint.
Mr. Barton was about what I imagined, a wise, and grandfatherly gentleman’s gentleman. He was eager to discuss the new vintage with us – feeling it was being unnecessarily hyped by the press. He seemed genuinely concerned that the hype would force prices higher – something he tried to convince us he was strongly against. I had a hard time figuring that one out. But then, when I remarked that I had more of his wine in my cellar than any other producer, he turned to me and said, ‘well, you should drink it. Wine is for drinking, you know.’ He proved to be a seemingly genuine sort of wine populist…
We walked together up the stairway to a tasting area overlooking hundreds of resting barrels. The setting was picturesque, with a beautiful tapestry on one of the walls and an old monastery table highlighting a guest book in the center of the room. One of Anthony’s dogs, a mixed-breed black beauty named Kailie rested under the table, completely ignoring us as we spat our way through both sets of Bartons from 2004 and 2005.
We started with the 2004s – Jean-Marc wondered later why these were highlighted before the 2005s. Langoa was first. It seemed spectacularly large-framed for what I had come to expect from my limited tastes of the 2004s. It was fresh and very cabernet. The Leoville, while fragrant, was tighter than the Langoa – seeming to promise more than it was going to deliver at the moment. As we moved on to the 2005 Leoville, that feeling increased significantly.
There was a tremendously dense core of fruit buried in the 2005 Leoville Barton. A hard wine to describe, this profound core was strangely obvious and barely perceptible at the same time. It reminds me a bit of the 1996. And, I question whether this one will ever fully reveal itself. I noticed in an email the other day someone compared this wine to an Aussie Shiraz. That comparison was quite plainly either an error (possibly confusing it with the Rollandized Leoville Poyfere) or from a dramatically different sample. The Langoa Barton was more aromatic at this stage, but a bit shorter on the palate. Both were very nice – and should be interesting to follow next year.
As we wrapped up, Jean-Marc began his interrogation, as Mr. Barton might put it. The two had a lengthy conversation about styles in the vintage. Jean-Marc noticed that at Leoville Barton, harvest dates were earlier than many of the other properties and he asked him, if in retrospect, he didn’t take full advantage of the vintage. It was among the more interesting discussions of the trip, and it’s something Jean-Marc covers in greater detail in his notes from the vintage – comparing the opposed styles of Leovilles Barton and Poyferre in 2005.
Mr. Barton walked us back to the car, wishing us well and asking us to return again – a true gentleman. We headed to Ducru Beaucaillou, trading notes on the wines we had just tasted along the way.
Ducru is a beautiful and slightly imposing chateau. Set up on a small hill, the crème colored building looks grand – like one of the government buildings one sees set upon the Seine in Paris. Entering at the side of the chateau, we made our way down a series of hallways to the tasting room, which was designed to host a series of groups at the same time. This long, narrow, rectangular room was a noisy place. Proper concentration was only made more difficult by the discomforting goldish-orange surroundings, which aptly included our host’s collared oxford.
Bruno Borie greeted us along with Jean-Marc’s friend, the Maitre du Chais. Bruno seemed a little nervous, bouncing between us, another group, and the Wine Spectator photographers who had come to take some pictures for their 2005 issue. I imagined that the cameras were the probable cause for the alarmingly orange shirt he had selected that morning.
Our first taste was of Ducluzeau, their Listrac property – simple and fruity. We tried the Lalande Borie, which had an interesting if strange note of antique pine furniture. The Croix de Beaucaillou, Ducru’s second wine was rich and full, with lots of appeal – another very winning second.
The grand vin was nothing short of wonderful. It comes in just barely over 13% alcohol and is comprised of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Merlot. The wine had amazing fleshness, crunchy fruit, and a long finish. Jane MacQuitty of the London Times included it among her short list of wines to avoid in 2005. It’s interesting to see that no one seems to agree with her. I hope each of you have an opportunity to taste this to see for yourself just how misguided this advice is for anyone who loves the wines of Bordeaux.
Our next stop, Chateau St. Pierre offered a peek at a couple of near-certain 2005 sleepers. Our first taste was of Chateau Gloria (61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot). This was my second taste of this wine, as we had tasted it the evening before. I was eager to see if it showed consistently, as I very much liked it. A very meaty, big wine for Gloria, and one Parker is likely to score generously, it had ‘gobs’ of fruit and a very deep mid-palate. It’s big and chunky, aromatic and impressive in 2005. The St. Pierre was of a different style. In 2005, production is down about 10% versus 2004. The wine was 70/30 Cab/Merlot – it had a more sophisticated, cooler feel to it – more elegance and freshness as compared to Gloria. The tannins were very refined and the finish long – this one seems to be winner in 2005.
As seemed the case everywhere we went, Jean-Marc had a lot of questions to ask after the tasting. He and host Rémy Di Costanzo had a lengthy conversation on the usual subjects – selection, harvest dates, vineyard conditions, etc. Sometimes, I thought Jean-Marc reminded me of my five year old daughter Hannah – endless questions and curiosity. He managed to always maintain an open mind – prepared to let each new fact influence his ultimate opinion on any given subject. Here, one question led to another and another -- we got a little carried away with the time here and before we knew it, we were late for our last tasting appointment of the day at Leoville Poyferre.
The tasting at Leoville Poyferre was perhaps the most unusual of the trip. In addition to a couple of members of the winemaking team, we were paired with a charming if uncontrollably chatty Brit whose name, unfortunately, escapes me. He spoke French much better than I ever could – but it was a little humorous in that, with his accent, it sounded more like English than actual French. Having someone join us was unusual – in all other cases, we tasted alone. But no bother, in the end.
Our first taste was of the property’s St. Estephe, le Crock. It was plump with what I thought was a bit of dilution, something completely unusual for the vintage. The wine seemed simultaneously soft and tannic – an odd mouthful – it’s a bit soulless in the end, for me. The Moulin Riche, Leoville’s second wine, was much more forward on the nose with a lot of espresso and a lightly sour-green oaky note. Almost an impression of green coffee, but not quite there.
We quickly moved on to the grand vin. Leoville Poyferre seemed to offer the full Michele Rolland signature and, for the first time during our visit, a bit of the exoticism of 2003. I am a fan of Leoville Poyferre and someone who has bought it consistently since the 1996. But this very young sample seemed to be a bit overworked – at the same time fleshy and uncomfortably hard. There was 10% Petit Verdot in our sample – more than will be in the final wine. It may have contributed the harsh edge. I don’t doubt that this will be outstanding by the time it’s bottled, but I wasn’t crazy about this sample. Jean-Marc liked the wine a good bit more than I did. I found a bit of the Rolland ‘every-wine’ in this sample – something I encountered with surprising infrequency during this trip.
Later in the evening, Jean-Marc and I tasted through a few remaining Haut Medocs. Then, we moved on to the cru classé wines of Margaux. As several have suggested, Margaux did stunningly well in 2005. I think you would struggle to find a less-than-delicious wine. I absolutely loved Rauzan Segla, Brane Cantenac, and d'Issan. In a more modern style, Giscours, Lascombes, and du Tertre were all big, toasty, and delicious. You could do much worse than buying a little of everything in Margaux from 2005.
We finished the evening with a terrific meal prepared by Jean-Marc’s lovely wife Catherine. Jean-Marc had a white wine from Pessac-Leognan he wanted me to try with dinner. Despite spitting all week and never feeling the affect of the alcohol itself, I felt like Cool Hand Luke being passed his fiftieth egg.
Another memorable day in Bordeaux came to an end. I said my farewells around midnight and drove off toward Margaux, turning a normally 15 minute drive into 30 with a couple of poorly considered decisions at the many round-abouts along the way.
Thursday would be another series of highlights with the wines of Christian Mouiex, Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse, Vieux Chateau Certan, and le Pin.
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