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Pichon-Longueville Baron vertical tasting

Jimmy really excelled with this most interesting of tastings at the West London Wine School, describing it himself as “one if the most fascinating tastings I’ve ever run”.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron is a second growth estate in Pauillac, Bordeaux and these days is considered a “super second”, challenging the big boys at the top of the tree. The estate also possesses one of the most beautiful Chateau anywhere in the wine world, with its fairy tale towers and beautiful reflecting lake in front if it. But things haven’t always been great at Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron. Jimmy described the 80’s as the “dark times” and highlighted that in 1982, a vintage where it appeared impossible to make a poor wine, Pichon somehow managed to do so.

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The tasting consisted of two wines from the 80’s, followed by pairs from the 90’s and the 2000’s, after huge investment from insurance giants AXA. There was then a 7th wine, tasted blind… More of which later.

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(All prices are from Fine & Rare – correct at 23rd March 2013)

The 1980’s – the dark times

The Bouteillier family bought the estate in 1933 and enjoyed a good reputation under their ownership but the death of Jean Bouteillier marked the beginning of the property’s decline. His children took control and lacked experience, investment and by all accounts, interest.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1985 (£126.48)

Very pale garnet in appearance but a very intriguing nose of blackcurrant and savoury/anise spice. There’s lots of character here and lots of different parts working together nicely. Unfortunately the palate just plain disappointed. Lean and green and real lack of any structure or depth. Not a great deal of fruit and just hints of earth and game. Well past its best. A wine that promised so much on the nose but certainly didn’t deliver on that promise. 86 points

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1986 (£158.08)

Much deeper colour that the 85. Not as opulent on the nose as its predecessor but lots of black fruit depth, mushroom and savoury spice. Quite rich on the palate with layers of dark fruit and still lots of bright acidity. There’s still some good tannic structure balancing the acidity but there’s not much length on the finish. Lovely balance but lacks depth and length. 88 points

The 1990’s – insuring the future

AXA Millésimes completed the purchase of the property in 1987 and the first thing they did was to bring on board Jean-Michel Cazes, of Lynch-Bages and Les Ormes de Pez fame, who oversaw the complete redesign and rebuild of the wine-making facilities.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1998 (£92.68)

This has a very rich nose of blackcurrant and now we also get those classic Pauillac scents of cedar and cigar. This wine certainly has some polish and there is a delightful sweet hint of oak in the background. Lots of body, power and concentration, with lashings of dark fruit and smokey spice. A delightful balance of tannin and acid and altogether very pleasing. A completely different beast to the 80’s with real power and balance. 92 points (voted best value wine of the night)

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1999 (£116.28)

Less fruit and more grunt here! Lots of gamey animal notes, with earthy truffle and leather hints too. Very well developed, with just hints of black fruit and sweet spice in the background. On the palate its butch and beefy upfront but then after a few seconds the wine really comes together. There’s lively fruity acidity and a very attractive spicy finish. You don’t think this is going to work at first taste and then it really falls nicely into place. 91 points

The 2000’s – cometh the Englishman

Jean-Michel Cazes retired in 2000 and AXA brought in Englishman Christian Seely to oversee the property. In his time, Mr Seely has pushed the quality if the wine, with stricter selection for the grapes to be included in the Grand Vin.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2005 (£108.88)

Much more inky appearance with hugely concentrated blackcurrant, cassis even, on the nose. The fruit aromas are backed up with butch cedar and savoury spice and shouts of real power but also finesse. Lots of grip on first taste but balanced with delightful sweet black fruit, cedar and smoky cigar-spice. Lots of lively acidity, balanced with nicely defined tannin and some steely minerality. This is a wine with many years ahead of it, but already in great balance and harmony. It’s polished and sophisticated. Great stuff. 94 points (my best value wine of the night – one to lay down and enjoy in 2020!)

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2006 (£74.88)

More excellent depth on the nose. Here we get the blackcurrant but also swathes of red fruit – raspberry and cranberry, and its all supported with sweet spice – feels like a bit of oaky makeup has been applied here. More medium in body than the 05 and a much more delicate affair. Tannins are very forward here and there’s a touch of acid but the harmony isn’t quite there and I’m not sure whether time will sort it out. A very different style of wine, more delicate and definitely atypical. 90 points

The blind bottle

As we had tasted three very different styles of wine over three decades, how easy would this one be to place?

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 1996 (£110.40)

Oh this just smells complete! A perfect balance of delicious blackcurrants, worn leather and roasted meat, supported with exotic and smokey spice. On the palate there’s layers of black and red fruit in beautiful harmony with the smokey spice, roasted game and acid lift. The tannins are beautifully integrated and provide a wonderful and generous finish. For me it had to come from the 90s given its evolution and I plumped for 1995, knowing this to be a fine vintage… So just a year out! This really was the wine of the night in every way and one I need to add to the cellar. It has everything in perfect balance and harmony. 96 points

1996

Bordeaux 1995 tasting – Right Bank wins

As a wine geek, living and working in London really is superb. Hot on the heels of drinking some excellent aged wine at the weekend, I had a truly mouthwatering tasting lined up for this week. At the start of the year Roberson sent out an email with their upcoming tasting events and this one stood out like a beacon. Bordeaux 1995 horizontal.

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Before Xmas I attended a Leoville Barton vertical, where you taste a number of wines from a single property from different years. A horizontal is tasting wines all harvested in the same year from different properties. And what properties… Including Mouton Rosthchild and Cheval Blanc. The type of wines I could only ever dream of drinking. Until tonight.

1995 was a highly rated vintage, with maybe only 1990, and in some opinions 1996, gaining better reviews from the 90’s. I was just hoping that the wines would meet my high expectations…

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Overall the tasting was a delight with some excellent wines. Both of my favourites came from the right bank and Leoville Barton again showed its class and consistency. Although an excellent wine, I was hoping for a bit more from the Mouton – however I was in the minority as when the votes were counted for the best wine of the night the Mouton came out on top.

Here are all of my notes, in the order the wines were tasted (all prices are per bottle from Roberson):

Chateau Haut-Bailly 1995, Pessac-Leognan (£86.95)
Very mineral and earthy nose with restrained black fruits. What was great about this wine was the massive freshness and beautiful acidity. There is plenty of red cherry fruit as well as some nice blackcurrant warmth, backed up by the mineral from the nose. The tannins are very fine and provide a lovely structure. This is a very well balanced wine with good fruit and savouriness. Excellent start to the tasting. 92 points

La Mission Haut-Brion 1995, Pessac-Leognan (£215)
This wasn’t on the original list and was added to the tasting at the last minute. Was very excited about this, especially when I smelt the big concentration of red and black fruits on the nose and a lovely hint of earthiness. How disappointed I was to find a lean, thin wine in the mouth without the promised power. The tannins are still at the forefront and the wine may come together over the next few years – it left me a bit flat. 88 points

Chateau Cantermele 1995, Haut Medoc (£45)
I reckon this is a love it or hate it wine I didn’t love it. A feral nose with stewed plums and roast meat, almost high. A bit thin and green on the palate and just seemed past its best. Hints of fruit but instantly forgettable. 87 points

Chateau Palmer 1995, Margaux (£165)
Oh how I wanted to love you! Very floral and red fruit aromas – this is a very pretty wine with lots of elegance and class on the nose. Sweet red fruit, backed up with some blackberry shadows. There’s lots of minerality and even a touch of dried herb but somehow it doesn’t all come together like it should… Frustrating wine! 90 points

Chateau Leoville-Barton 1995, St Julien (£105)
Real class here. Blackcurrant, mineral and graphite aromas – very concentrated and very inviting. The concentration of fruit is very evident on the palate and a distinctive and attractive freshness. The fruit is supported with a lovely subtle eucalyptus freshness and very fine and chalky tannins. Real finesse, good weight and lovely balance. By far and away this wine took the trophy for best value wine on the night. 94 points

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre (£94.95)
Another fine wine from St Julien… A shame it came straight after the Barton! If anything, the nose here is even better than its predecessor with gorgeous cassis along with the gravel and earthiness. The tannins are firm and it is more closed than the Barton and not as balanced. The oak is sticking out a little bit but there is plenty of fruit. I’d keep this one for a couple more years. 91 points

Chateau Cos d’Estournel 1995, St Estephe (£165)
This is the real thing. Really developed black fruit, menthol freshness and meaty. This wine has real power, concentration and stuffing. The tannins give a super structure and the flavour stays with you for a very long time. This still feels very young and has a wonderful future ahead of it. I wish I had 3 to keep and 3 to drink right now. Brilliant. 94 points

Chateau Clerc-Milon 1995, Pauillac (£69.95)
A big step backwards from the Cos. Very withdrawn nose – I had to really stick my nose right in there to get a whiff of dark fruit. Thin and lean on the palate, good freshness but just a bit bland. Meh. The French in the audience seemed to like it though! 87 points

Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1995, Pauillac (£495)
This was supposed to be the highlight of the night – and it was for many… But not for me. The nose is pure class. It’s elegant and polished. Sweet, ripe black fruit with cedar and a hint of eucalyptus and graphite. But then it didn’t live up to its billing on the palate. The fruits there, there’s decent power but not the concentration I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine wine and my guess is its still opening up… I suppose I shouldn’t mind being underwhelmed and still awarding 93 points.

Chateau Trotanoy 1995, Pomerol (£165)
Now we are talking! Cherries and strawberries, the smell of summer. Violets and anise back up the fruit on the nose and make you close your eyes and smile. The wine is silky, sensuous and just feels complete. So complex, its like the most supple, best quality leather with spikes of red fruit and beautifully integrated spices. It has a sensational lift of freshness and is just quite magnificent. 96 points

Chateau Cheval Blanc 1995, St Emilion (£380)
And I thought it couldn’t get better. Smells of sour cherries, raspberries, leather, sweet spice, pencil shaving and cedar. The aromas fill your nostrils with goodness. And the the palate… It’s lake waves of silky flavour on your receptors – fruit, spice, leather, sweetness, freshness…. And it just keeps coming and stays there for an awfully long time. It’s delicate yet concentrated, rustic yet integrated. This is absolute class. One of the best wines I have ever drunk and for me(and eight others!) the standout wine of the night. 97 points

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Cornwall #3 – Camel Valley Gold

Don’t you dare go to Cornwall without visiting Camel Valley Winery. I mean it, I will hunt you down and demand an excuse, non of which will be sufficient justification for your error. They are producing World class wine, especially in the Sparkling department.

Bob Lindo is an ex-RAF pilot, who bought some vines in the Cornish countryside back in 1989. Over 20 years and countless awards later, Bob’s son Sam is now the winemaker (still with a little help from Bob!), winning UK winemaker of the year in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Take a look at this link to check out all of the awards.

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The set-up is delightful, with a spacious tasting room and shop, serving bottles, glasses and tasting size samples of all the wines on offer. When we arrived this morning there was a huge bonfire at the entrance to the property; Bob told us this was where the evidence of all the recent pruning was being dealt with. We were the only visitors before noon and we worked our way through the sublime selection. I visited Camel Valley about 18 months ago and enjoyed the wines, but this time they were showing even better – I am honestly failing to see any reason to open a bottle of Champagne ever again – and I thought the tasting at Ruinart in Reims was jaw-dropping.

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The wines

The still wines are good, but the real winners are the Sparklers, which are outstanding:

Still Whites

Atlantic Dry 2010 (£11.95)
60% Bacchus, 20% Rheichensteiner, 20% Chardonnay
Ripe, tropical and intense aromas – this isn’t shy. Grapefruit and a hint of honey sweetness and a bit of grip leading to a dry and pleasant finish. 88 points

Bacchus Dry 2011 (£12.95)
100% Bacchus
Ripe tropical fruit aromas with a slight hint of farmyard. Very citrusy and tropical – it kind of reminds me of 5 Alive from when I was a child (I liked 5 Alive!). Dry and taut finish. 87 points

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Sparkling Wines

Camel Valley Brut 2010 (£24.95)
60% Seyval, 20% Reichensteiner, 20% Chardonnay
Elderflower and honey nose – very pretty and enticing. Really elegant with great appley acid and a hint of brioche on the generous and very dry finish. 90 points

Camel Valley Rose Brut 2010 (£26.95)
100% Pinot Noir
Beautiful salmon-pink colour. Fruity strawberry nose – smells like the middle of summer. Berry fruit and beautifully dry; the fruit tingles on your palate for an age – this is what Dom Perignon must have meant when he tasted the stars. 90 points

Annie’s Anniversary 2009 (£24.95)
100% Seyval
A smell of baked apples wrapped in pastry. Creamy, textured and rich. Great hit of citrus then the baked apple fruit cones along, swathed in patisserie. This is a very forward and confident wine with a lot of attitude! 91 points

Chardonnay Brut 2009 (£24.95)
100% Chardonnay
Vanilla and floral nose. Rich and creamy palate with a peachy fruitiness and a pleasant biscuit-lick at the finish. Gentle and elegant, like a kiss. So good but so modest. This is an ethereal wine that gets even better with every sip. A tasting glass simply isn’t enough. 94 points

White Pinot Noir 2010 (£29.95)
100% Pinot Noir
This smells like it should be pink! Wild strawberries jump up your nostrils. It’s like a fine strawberry tart with a buttery pastry casing and a touch of vanilla lifting it further. Pure class. 93 points

Sparkling Red 2010 (£17.95)
100% Rondo
With a colour like that it should come with a health warning! This had part-ey written all over it! It’s grown up sparkling Ribena and its great fun. Bundles of red and black fruit and makes you smile! 88 points

Visit the website and please don’t force me to hunt you down and ask why you didn’t go!

California dreaming… Or not?

I love tasting wine with winemakers. I love their energy, their enthusiasm and, most of all, their passion. Quite often you get a sense of a winemaker from tasting his or her wine, but also you can be swayed into unwarranted compliments, influenced by the context.

Earlier in the week Roberson put on a very interesting and stimulating tutored tasting (link to upcoming events). The two winemakers presenting their wines were California trailblazers Raj Parr and Jamie Kutch. They are part of a new Californian collective who want the US and the rest of the world to reevaluate Californian wines and to demonstrate how the area can deliver elegance and finesse, as well as brute force and power.

In Pursuit of Balance (web link) “seeks to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay”. To an extent the wines presented are definitely on their way to accomplishing this. However, I did find some of the Pinots a shade underwhelming and in need of some of that power that the grape can deliver, in order to really achieve the balance the wine makers are searching for.

The wines were served in two flights, starting with Raj’s wines as he was presenting both Chardonnays and Pinots. I really wanted to love the wines as much as I loved the stories that supported them, but only one of the flights really shone for me… And at a price.

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Flight #1 – Sandhi Wines

Focussing on selected vineyards from the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, Raj is in love with the Chardonnay grape and what it can offer. The three Chards on show were really delicious and delivered a lovely balance of fruit and salty/savoury. These wines are produced in a minuscule scale (70 cases of the Bentrock!), hence the hefty price tag, but there is much to enjoy here. The Pinots also delivered bright fruit and energy and if they were half the price I would love to add a few to the cellar.

Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2011 (£26.95)
Peachy, nutty and toasty with plenty of citrus fruit and a hint of grapefruit. This wine is surprisingly light bodied, as the nose suggested an all together bigger wine. The acid is fantastically refreshing and delivers loads of citrus fruit and buttered toast on the finish. This is a lively, energetic and a “happy” wine. I was just left thinking how much more Chablis or Macon I could get for my money. 91 points

Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay 2010 (£44.95)
Very toasty and smoky nose with plenty of citrus on the nose. Fuller in body, actually very rich and round, but still with that lively, citrus-driven mouthwatering acidity. You could really taste the salt from the ocean in this wine, but I found the finish a little short and underwhelming on the finish. 90 points

Bentrock Chardonnay 2010 (£69.95)
Wine of the night by some distance. Tropical aromas, especially mango along with a lovely touch of brioche. Quite a nervy palate of lemon and lemon balm, with a surprisingly grippy, almost tannic structure. Salty again but with a delicious tension between the salinity and the fruit. Delicious savoury and long finish. 94 points

Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 2010 (£44.95)
Very ripe red cherry and menthol on the nose and very juice straight-line cherry and raspberry on the palate. Young and tannic, slightly hiding some of that delicious fruit at the moment, delivering lots of grip and again that salty finish. Good freshness and acid but just a bit short at the end. 89 points

Evening Land Tempest Pinot Noir 2010 (£69.95)
Deeper and darker cherry aromas here, with even a touch of blackcurrant and a hint if menthol and spice. Deeper and richer body than the Sanford and lots of energy – the fruit really does dance all over your tongue. With menthol and some anise on the finish – this will just get better with a few years in bottle. 91 points

Flight #2 – Kutch Wines

Jamie is an ex Wall Street trader who followed his dream out west. He is all about Pinot and really wants to show how elegance and balanced can be delivered in California. Obviously a huge fan of Burgundy, Jamie is an experimenter, which is quite a tough task when you don’t have a great deal of grapes to play with! He hasn’t reached where he wants to be yet but he will get there… And soon.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2009 (£38.95)
As with most of Jamie’s wines I found myself having to work very hard to get a lot of fruit on the nose. There are ripe red fruits here but they’re just not very forthcoming. Along with the hidden fruit there is menthol and spice but there is also a resounding warmth of alcohol. There is tension here but not quite the balance. 86 points

Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (£42.95)
Again I struggled to get a great deal on the nose here. There is some very pretty red fruit on the palate and a hint of leather and savoury notes. Again there is just too much alcohol showing through at the end. 85 points

Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2010 (£38.95)
This is much more interesting with sweet red cherry, some mushroom and some roasted meat, even gamey notes. More weight and power here and the fruit is far more concentrated. Lots of grippy tannin but this is one I would like to try again in a year or two. 90+ points

McDougall Ranch Pinot Noir 2019 (£44.95)
Very light in the glass and again just a hint of ripe red fruit. There are fine tannins providing some nice structure behind the cherry fruit, black spice and a certain amount of animal, and an elegant sweetness at the end. 89 points

Falstaff Pinot Noir 2009 (£41.95)
Ripe red fruit on the nose he along with a bit of spice, anise and menthol. Very austere and tight on the palate but the fruit is in the hiding somewhere. Certainly more oak in use here which certainly adds to the enjoyment. Another one that needs another year or two. 90 points

I would like to say a massive thank you to Raj and Jamie for sharing their passion with us and also to Roberson for putting on such an interesting and thought provoking evening.

Back to school for Burgundy… Grand Cru tasting

The second part of this week’s Burgundy love-in took me to a fabulous tasting of Grand Crus at the West London Wine School. As usual Jimmy had put together a superb array of fine wines as well as an informative, interesting and amusing history lesson on the great wines of the greatest wine region in the world. Seriously, if you do get a chance then check out the fine wine tasting diary (West London Wine School) and book your place; you won’t be disappointed.

The tasting included Chardonnays from Chablis and Corton, while the Pinot Noir selection took us on a tour of Gevrey Chambertain, Morey Saint Denis and Vougeout. You all know by now how much I adore the wines of Burgundy but this was serious stuff, and as you’ll see the scores for the wines reflect this… Nothing under 90 points!

But before the detail, let’s give this tasting some context. Grand Cru wine accounts for a mere 1.4% of total wine production in Burgundy. This is one of the reasons for the often astronomical prices – it’s simple supply and demand. However don’t be fooled into thinking this is the only reason for the prices, because as with most things in life, you get what you pay for… I just wish I could afford to pay for some of these magnificent specimens!

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Its time to gasp at the prices and I only hope my words do justice to my enthusiasm and enjoyment…

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Domaine Pascal Bouchard, Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir, 2006 (Waitrose £29.99)
Lots of stones and mineral on the nose but also plenty of green apple fruit. There is also a delicious savoury element here, reminiscent of almonds, marzipan even. On the tongue its clean, fresh and wonderfully acidic. Tart green apples and lovely minerality. The finish is generous with a touch of bitter almond right at the end. Clean, elegant, fruity, mineral and savoury. Very good. 91 points

Domaine Laroche, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, 2004 (Millesima £65)
Much richer aromas than the Vaudesir – intense, creamy and toasty with plenty of red apple and white peach fruit. On the palate its rich and buttery with a good blast of peach. Also a nice hint of spice and a delicious toasty finish. I’d like a bit more fruit and acidity, but still a good wine. 90 points

Maison Nicolas Potel, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2005 (Exel Wines £60)
Oh my this smells amazing. Oakley, floral and delicate, with plenty of white peach and sweet vanilla. In the mouth there is a wonderful streak of acidity – really zesty green apples and wonderful ripe peaches. The oak is beautifully integrated and kisses your tongue, providing a lick of vanilla. This is elegance personified and amazing fruit, oak spice and toast that lingers and lingers and lingers… 94 points

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Domaine Armand Rousseau, Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru, 2000 (Jeraboams £195)
How many times can I say wow?? Wow! There is so much fruity aroma here, with red, even dried cherries and wild strawberries, backed up by a light, savoury meatiness, forest and truffle. There is so much red fruit on the palate, with sour cherry and wild strawberry at the fore, providing amazing acidic freshness, making your mouth water for a very long time. So much fruit, so bright and so, so elegant. More Chambolle than Gevrey but that just suits me fine… Incredible! 97 point

Domaine Ponsot, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, 1998 (Fine & Rare £174)
Intense, almost stewed red fruit and lots of meat and leather on the nose. Very earthy, lots of mushroom and bit of a black pepper hit. The earthiness continues onto the palate and is backed up with lots of tannic structure… Then the freshness of the acidy kicks in and the balance in there. Dark cherries and black spice but very smooth at the end… Eventually! Still some time to reach its best I think but still quite superb. 93 points

Domaine Maume, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru, 1999 (not available in UK, Approx £140)
Lots of roasted meat and wild mushroom aromas – this ally is a brooding beast. Lots of pepper, clove and very dark fruit. This is a full bodied Pinot with lovely whispy tannins. The fruit is redder than the nose suggested but then you get the dark spice and roasted meatiness. Very powerful, very intense, almost brutal. 92 points

Domaine Drouhin-Laroze, Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, 2004 (Fine & Rare £57.68)
The first bottle was lean and green but not to worry, Jimmy had another in reserve! Smoke, oak and chocolaty aromas, with hints of roasted meat and plenty of black fruit. The fruit on the palate was more redolent of red cherries but masked a bit by lots of oak and lots of tannin. Powerful, structured, but not elegant. Needs more time I think (most of the wines had been open for over 3 hours so maybe a bit unfair as it was drunk as soon as the second bottle was opened). 90 points

Domaine des Lambrays, Clos de Lambrays Grand Cru, 2005 (Goedhuis £138)
This was the wine I was most looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. Sweet cherry nose, with a touch of roasted meat and a heady mix of sweet and black spice. Still lots of tannin and plenty of power here, but the acid is there in abundance providing a beautiful balance. Sweet red fruit is there in the background and I would love to try this wine again in another 10 years. Fruit, tannin, power, everything… You just have to pay… And wait! 96 points

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

2008

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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