Leoville Barton vertical tasting, 12th November 2012

I turned up for this Bordeaux second growth tasting with huge anticipation following my bottle of Langoa Barton (3rd growth) the previous weekend. For those with no knowledge of the Bordeaux classification system, think of it like the football league without promotion or relegation. The classification was put in place in 1855 with four properties on the left bank of the Gironde estuary gaining first growth status, or being placed in the Premier League. These chateaux are Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Haut Brion and Margeaux. In 1973 Mouton Rothschild become the first and only property to be promoted in the classification, making 5 in the Premier league, with prices that only footballers can now afford!

There are 14 chateaux in the second growth category, of which Leoville Barton is one, 15 third growths, 10 fourth growths, and 18 fifth growths. These are the wines that will cost you a decent day’s work and the wine world generally goes wild for.

Both Leoville Barton and Langoa Barton are run by Anthony Barton, who grew up in County Kildare, Ireland. He has a great reputation in the world of wine and was voted Decanter Magazine’s man of the year in 2007. His outlook on wine is remarkably liberal and he tries to keep his prices as low as possible… In the context of top end Bordeaux wine:

“I want people to buy my wine and to drink it – that’s why I release my entire stock at en primeur time, and why I try to keep it reasonably priced.”

The tasting was organised by the West London Wine School, where I studied for my WSET course early in the year, and a great job they did. Jimmy Smith (@westlondonwine on Twitter) is a great host and oozes wine charm and charisma. 20 of us had paid £80 to taste our way through 9 vintages from the Leoville Barton back catalogue… And we weren’t disappointed. Again a bit of explanation – a vertical tasting is a number of different vintages from one wine estate, whereas a horizontal tasting is a number of different estates from the same vintage.

The selection of wines started in 1982, who some claim was the vintage that re-launched Bordeaux, and covered the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. There was a clear differentiation between the three decades, with the 80’s having lots of charm and a few rough edges, the 90’s were more polished but full of character and the 2000’s… well a bit disappointing for me; a bit overworked and obviously not enough time in the bottle to really open up to their full potential. The one standout from all of the wines however, was the pure freshness and abundance of acidity, making for a very enjoyable experience.

At the end of the night we all voted for our favourite wine and the best value (again in context!). I was with the majority on both counts here, with the 1990 coming out on top (1986 not far behind for for me) and the 1997 being the “best value” at only (???) £60 a bottle.

Going back to my previous post on “cheating”, the tasting confirmed a couple of things for me. The first is that I do like Bordeaux and will certainly look to add a few choice bottles to my collection, but secondly, it will never replace Burgundy in my heart and I would rather buy 2 bottle of Premier Cru wines from the Cote De Beaune than a single bottle of a Bordeaux classed growth wine. Oh yes, and thirdly I can’t wait for the Burgundy Grand Cru tasting in January (details at http://www.westlondonwineschool.com/product_info.php?id=286).

Below are my notes, approximate price per bottle and my scores.

1982 (£160)

Dark ruby colour with lovely bricking around the edges. The appearance was a little murky with a fair amount of sediment. The nose was deeply concentrated with dark, black berries, hints of earth and leather but very, very fresh. In the mouth the freshness was still apparent at the beginning but was a bit drying. Taste was of fairly dried fruit and with a lovely smokey and spicy finish, but a bit tough. If you have any 1982’s in your collection I would drink them up pretty quickly as they may have just tipped past their best. I did go back to the wine a couple of hours later and it had mellowed out so if you are drinking, please allow plenty of time in a decanter. 93 points

1986 (£95)

Lovely and clear with a seductive orange rim and deep garnet core. Lots of black currant, lots on minerally earthiness and hints of pepper, smoke, clove and oak. Lovely! Amazing freshness and acidity, the pencil shavings are there on the palate (see previous post!). This wine is soft, warm and long. Fresh, fruity and beautiful balance. 95 points

1990 (£120)

Looks very young and very dark with just a hint of age starting to show at the edge. Really deep and powerful nose. Intense aromas of black currants, plums, earthiness and minerality. I smelt this for some time! In the mouth it is so fresh and has lovely grippy tannins. The fruit comes first and then the menthol freshness of mint and then the smoky, cedar kicks in. This is harmonious and the balance of acidity and tannin is amazing, with a wonderful fresh and very long finish. Can I really pay £120? Maybe for one! 97 points

1996 (£85)

Again very youthful looking. After the 1990 this is pretty recessive on the nose with only a hint of cassis fruit and some spice, herb and eucalyptus. Massive hit of acidity when you drink it and its there all the way through, although the tannins are almost too gentle so there is a slight lack of structure. This is an acidic, almost flirty wine but just slightly out of balance. 89 points

1997 (£60)

Deep, deep colour, almost purple. This is a base-y wine (The Fish likes to talk about wines in a musical manner!) with lots of oak and spice but slightly recessive fruit. In the mouth however the acid is pure, with delicate, matching tannins and a lovely light body, almost reminiscent of Burgundy! A lot more fruit than the aroma promised, which is always a nice surprise and overall a very pretty wine and ready to drink now. 92 points

2002 (£50)

Really dark ruby and big deep and dark fruit on the nose, almost liqueur like. Very powerful, maybe a bit stewed and also hints of menthol. The tannins here are pretty drying and hides the fruit. There is surprisingly good acid and the black fruit and eucalyptus does come through but is a bit harsh and closed, not one for me, even in a few years. 87 points

2003 (£94)

Another very dark appearance – definitely young but the core is really dark. Sweet smelling fruit and a hint of oak on the nose, very concentrated and deep overall. This is one of the sweetest wines for pure fruit and you can taste the sun of a very hot vintage. There is also lovely balance here and the flavour is very concentrated and powerful with a lovely minty freshness. Really fruit forward and very nice thank you very much. 91 points


This is so purple it could be Ribena! Fragrant and polish on the nose, lovely sweet and fresh smelling fruit. Another fresh wine on the palate with lots of structure and big, strong tannins. Another refreshing wine with black currant fruit and lovely herbs lasting quite some time. One to keep for a few years and will get better and better. 92 points

2004 – tasted blind (£55)

I was really hoping for a wine from the 90’s as the blind option but hey-ho! Deep ruby colour and lovely sweet and deeply concentrated black fruit, almost dried on the tongue. Concentrated and tannic, but again with really fresh acidity and lots of sweet fruit. Another one that needs a bit of time and probably better value than the similar but more expensive 2003. 89 points


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Posted on November 17, 2012, in Tasting post and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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