Château Langoa and Léoville Barton
April 18, 2010
Langoa and Léoville Barton vertical dinner at ProWein in Düsseldorf, held at Wine Live bistro and wine bar on 22 March 2010 with Lilian Barton, co-owner
Once again, I take stock of and give thanks for the existence of Château Langoa Barton – and the vineyards of the more famous Chateau Léoville Barton.
The actual estate, a beautiful chateau located in the northern part of St Julien and belonging to the Barton family for centuries, is called Langoa, a very good third growth with some 25 hectares of vines. The better second growth of Léoville, with about 47 hectares of vines on better plots, some closer to the Gironde, is also vinified at Langoa. Both wines are justifiably known for their high quality at affordable prices.
No, the Barton family has not invested in optic sorting machines, nor do they have three thousand sorting tables or individual de-stemmers, but since Anthony Barton took over from his Uncle Ronald in the 1980s, the estates have seen later picking and greater sorting in the vineyard – and smoother wines as a result.
But the wines are not modern. No pigeages here, never ultra ripe pickings. Taste Léoville Poyferre and Léoville Barton, and you can see a difference in style. I like both Poyferre and Barton, but generally prefer the Barton freshness.
One thing is certain, the critical result! The Barton wines obtain high scores from both Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson. From La Revue de Vin de France to Vinum Magazine. In short : all around – and well deserved – acclaim.
Sure, you do not find the same level of intensity and concentration – or Pauillac style power – that you find at Léoville Las Cases, where selection may be stricter and the terroir is arguably better.
But Las Cases costs a lot more, too. And in this day and age of super high-priced Bordeaux, this is an increasingly important factor. And for the price, what you typically obtain is a prototype of St Julien: elegance combined with structure, the proverbial mix of Pauillac firmness with Margaux silk. One of my favorite Leoville Bartons to drink now is the 1999,for example, which I enjoyed last year at the estate just as they finished the harvest.
I love Léoville Barton also for the people who make it. Anthony Barton is a true gentleman and has a great sense of disarming and witty humor. He is also very serious about making the best possible wine he can while also making it as affordable as possible. Consultants Jacques and Eric Boissenot (Jacques actually worked WITH and not under Emile Peynaud, he has stressed to me) assure quality. Daughter Lilian works with the same passion and sense of humor as her father. The estate was one of the first I ever visited in the Medoc, and I make it a point to visit any chance I get.
So, it was great to taste again a series of wines from both Langoa (third growth) and Leoville during ProWein in Germany:
Chateau Léoville Barton 2005: Impressive and foreboding, although decanted three hours before the dinner. Rather dark color, the nose only grudgingly evokes cedar and cassis, Cabernet hallmarks, with a floral lift that was much more in evidence when tasted in January 2008 in New York. Certainly the wine has closed down. The palate is voluminous without being heavy, with foreboding tannins but not as beastly as the tannins in the 2000, when I tasted the 2000 in May 2006. Perhaps the 2005 is just slightly more refined, with slightly finer tannins than the 2000? Lilian Barton believes so, but she also said that she was ‘pleasantly surprised’ with the 2000. The 2005 is certainly NOT to open now. I would say not even from half bottle formats. Certainly a wine for many, many years in the cellar; anyone who bought this should be very happy. Probably 96-97 points for the future but do not bother today!
With duck breast in orange reduction sauce
Chateau Léoville Barton 2000: More effusive on the nose, with lead pencil and ripe cassis as well as light hints of charcoal, the wine has lost just a bit of the beastly tannic edge when I tried it in Berlin in May 2006. Four years later, it is still somewhat unruly, with powerful tannins, but there is a layered richness and harmony on the mid palate and onto the finish that make it a top-tier Medoc from the 2000 vintage. I especially like its mid-palate substance and persistant ripe red/black fruit finish. Its tannic power was a nice foil however for the rich duck. Still not ready, 93+ now, but 95 points in 5-10 years no doubt. For reference, just try the beguiling 1982!
Chateau Léoville Barton 2004: Very charming and cedar like, with more evident black cherry and cassis fruit on the nose and palate; this is on a faster evolutionary track than the 2000, but not too dissimilar. I like the balance on the palate between freshness and richness and a smooth lingering finish. With time, the wine picked up more weight, a good sign for further aging of course (the 02s are perhaps more focused, if slightly less rich). A poor-man’s 2000? Well, anyone would be well off with a bunch of Barton 04s. Also a good pairing with the duck, but the 2000 is more powerful. 92+
With Rossini Beef served with foie gras and Perigord Truffle
Chateau Langoa Barton 2001: Lovely mineral on the nose coupled with chocolate and licorice. Lovely nose. The palate is voluminous without heaviness, but just a tad hard coming after the series of Léovilles. It went very well with the beef. 89
Chateau Langoa Barton 1998: I was pleasantly surprised by the 1998, thinking it would be more austere than it turned out to be. A red fruit nose, followed through on the blackcurrant like palate, mingling – appropriate for the meal here – with beef blood. The finish is marked by mild notes of leather yet also fresh lift. It lacks perhaps the concentration one would get from a better vintage, but overall, I think it is drinking better than the 2001! 90+
Chateau Léoville Barton 1996: A very nice surprise and, of all the wines, probably the most pleasure to drink now, even more than the 2000. I liked its cassis and licorice-infused nose, preceding a suave, medium to full bodied palate, with currant fruit and some leather aspects with some fresh earthiness. All very smooth on the palate, yet substantial and tannic, but not beastly. Will it get better? Not sure. It will certainly get more tertiary and will certainly stay on a (slightly rising) plateau for a while, given its structure. Very nice! 94+ for now.
Chateau Léoville Barton 1990: A rather fresh bouquet of rhubarb mingling with cherry, cassis and leather. The palate was fine, smooth, with melted tannins, but somehow showing less energy than that of the 1996 and certainly less foreboding power than the Leoville 2000 or 2005 and the finish was just a tad shorter than I would have expected. I recall liking the 1989 much more when tasted back in 2006, but have not tried that vintage since then. For the 1990 in March 2010, a slight disappointment, given the vintage’s reputation. 90
All in all, a lovely evening!