High class, with Léoville Las Cases

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com 

27 April 2017

Wines made by Domaines Delon count among the classiest in Bordeaux – and that applies to their moderately priced Médoc Château Potensac, once correctly classified as a Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel, to the grand vin, Château Léoville Las Cases.

You know top-flight wines are involved when you assess them in terms of Audrey Hepburn or Rita Hayworth or Lauren Bacall: actresses that live on as legends.

And such were the wines last night at Ripple, a restaurant of class itself, whose chef Ryan Ratino proved yet again his many talents. Aside from a too spicy harissa for otherwise fabulous lamb tartar in the first course, everything was utterly splendid. Kudos in particular to his foie gras consumé over delectably delicious tortellini of duck confit: a culinary paradise. I could have stayed with that course all evening…

The participants

Domaines Delon director Pierre Graffeuille reached Washington D.C. as the first- ever director of the Léoville Las Cases to host a dinner here, and 15 participants were excited indeed. We were a mix of wine aficionados: private buyers, wine importers, bloggers and writers. It was a pleasure to meet for the first time enthusiastic blogger Aaron Menenberg, of the National Endowment for Democracy, who also writes for the famous nationally recognized blog Terroirist. Indeed, we made much talk of terroir this evening.

Dear friend Michael Apstein of Wine Review Online flew in from Boston for this tasting dinner. It was great to see many dear wine loving friends in Washington D.C. including wine enthusiasts Ken Barr, Paul Chaconas, Chris Bublitz, and Howard Cooper, who is very active on Wine Berserkers and founder of a recently launched Facebook page on Bordeaux and California wines. You can read Howard’s notes on our experience here.

Dear friend and sommelier and wine educator Maria Denton (so sorry, Maria, that David could not join us!) joined the fun, as did veteran wine commentator Ben Giliberti, who for many years wrote for the Washington Post and Bijan Jabbari, who writes for acclaimed French wine critic Bernard Burtschy. Good to see, too, fellow writers Kevin Shin, who is very active on Cellar Tracker and many other wine boards, and Keith Levenberg as well as wine enthusiast Paul Marquardt (I am sorry Paul that you had to leave early!). Michael Sands of Calvert Woodley wine importers and Mark Wessels of MacArthur Beverages also joined us to represent two highly acclaimed wine importers and brick and mortar wine stores in Washington D.C.

Many thanks to Mark Wessels who helped arrange for the shipping of the wines and who donated three bottles of Pierre Gimonnet 2010 Champagne, a thoroughly fresh and pleasing way to whet our wine tasting whistles before the dinner.

The show began, over a five-course meal!

As usual, wines I particularly liked in bold. When red and bold, even more and when underlined, too: wine nirvana (quite a bit of those, this evening)

First Course: Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases 2009 and Clos du Marquis 2005

Surprisingly fresh, this second wine of Léoville Las Cases from 2009. Though over 70% Merlot and the warm vintage, it exuded much balance, albeit in a Merlot sense. “This is your Right Bank wine in the Médoc,” quipped Bijan. Even better proved to be the Clos du Marquis 2005: more poised, more polished, more refined – and more Cabernet, from a cooler vintage.

Delicious – if just a bit too spicy for the wines

Like a fine cigar this one was, made from vines entirely separate from those used to make Léoville Las Cases, just across the D2, a bit further from the river. Alas it could not stand up to the too spicy harissa in the otherwise terrifically delicious lamb tartar. Interestingly, the Merlot-driven second wine’s breadth and oomph paired better with what was more like a hot Asian plate better suited to Riesling or even Alsatian Pinot Gris.

Second Course: Château Potensac 2003 and Château Nenin 2001

The next round featured a delectable Château Potensac 2003. “In blind tastings,” Graffeuille stressed, “no one would guess that this is a 2003.” Indeed, I did not detect any rusticity in the tannins or heat or prune aspects to this wine at all. A 2005 would more likely have greater length and freshness, but a silky and plump Potensac it was. The wine next to it was none other than the Pomerol that Domaines Delon acquired in 1997: Château Nenin 2001.

Please get me more of that foie gras consomé 🙂

Spanning 32 hectares along the plateau of Pomerol, this wine has been getting better and better since the new ownership. 2001 is a superb vintage in Pomerol and we enjoyed the ripeness and polish of this wine. Nothing overripe or “modern” about the style. And the food pairing was amazing: the savory aspects of the aforementioned tortellini of duck confit with the foie gras consume were well matched by the smooth and youthfully mature wines.

Third Course: Heavenly trio of Léoville Las Cases 199619901989

Now we turn to the main event: enjoying a series of veritably grands vins, because of their timeless class. Indeed, a few days before, I had tried some Saint Emilion 2000 vintage wines, blind, and though they were impressive, I did not sense – for the most part – the same visceral enthusiasm that Léoville Las Cases evoked. Why? Generally speaking, there was never a modernist movement to impose loads of new oak and loads of (over)ripe Merlot as there had been in Saint Emilion. And, as Ben Giliberti said, that the style of Léoville Las Cases has changed little over the years even by the standards of the Left Bank. Certainly, the estate has become more precise about pickings, according to parcels and in its vinification, but this is more a question of evolution rather than revolution. So, on we go!

The delectable red leg partridge proved a savory dish: tender meat, with black truffle, brioche and liver, lending culinary complexity. The Léoville las Cases 1996 before serving had been left in a carafe for four hours (it could have been 24 hours). But what burgeoning complexity! What finesse to the tannins, and what refined elegance throughout, like a wise, good-natured and good humored epicurean aristocrat, with nothing to prove. All agreed – including veteran Léoville Las Cases drinkers Chris Bublitz, Howard Cooper and Ken Barr – that this was a most pleasingly balanced wine, with superb length, that would be better enjoyed in 10 years.

Following on the heels of the 1996 ensued a discussion over the 1990 and 1989. Sommelier and wine educator Maria Denton, the only woman among us, compared each wine to a two different types of women: the Léoville Las Cases 1990 would be the gorgeous blond who attracts the attention of an entire room, whilst the Léoville Las Cases 1989 is a lady to get to know better – and “to take home with you”! Needless to say, there was some disagreement over these two.

Wine Review Online writer Michael Apstein and MacArthur Beverages director Mark Wessels clearly favored the wine to get to know better, while veteran taster Ken Barr and Kevin Shin – known for his prolific postings on many a wine tasting forum – clearly favored the 1990, as both a better wine and a wine to drink today in my survey questions to the table for each wine. Howard Cooper I think called the 1990 Raquel Welch and the 1989 Audrey Hepburn. I struck a compromise, completely seduced by the 1990, while appreciating indeed the superior grip of the 1989. Director Pierre Graffeuille said that the 1989 would last longer. I would love to meet both Rita and Audrey again in 10 years and try both side by side. In any case, as Chris Bublitz said: “They were all delicious.”

Fourth Course: Léoville Las Cases 1986 and Léoville Las Cases Petit Verdot 1986

Since 1979, the estate has held reserves of wine according to the grape, so that they have old lots of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, so it was fascinating to try the Petit Verdot 100% from Léoville Las Cases that had been picked over 30 years ago. It did not taste that old, but also showed why… blending matters in Bordeaux, as Apstein put it. Quite spicy and a bit “animal” the Petit Verdot proved fascinating in and of itself. Still, no one could have ever guessed that that wine was that old. At least no hands went up, when I posed that question.

As for the Léoville Las Cases 1986, I recall trying it way back in 2003 at a dinner organized by Ed Sands of Calvert Woodley importers and it was so quiet back then. It was as if hibernating. How different it last night! A majestic wine, as it seemed to me to taste like the 1996, only 10 years later. A cool blue fruit aspect, fine tobacco, and so very long, so elegant. For me, this was perhaps Audrey Hepburn because it was not as grippy as the 1989 but had a bit of her playfully seductive Breakfast at Tiffany’s character. It seemed more spherical. And a perfect pairing with the magical, dry-aged Wagyu beef, that came in a colorful plate of cherry and beets: all red and somewhat tastefully splattered, “like a Jackson Pollock painting,” remarked Maria Denton, who was full of witty remarks!

Fifth Course: Léoville Las Cases 1982* and Léoville Las Cases 1975

Did we experience the best wine ever for this course? Arguably so. Yes, the 1982. A more experienced palate like Howard Cooper’s explained it best:

I had this wine when it was first released and thought it was fabulous. It was never that good again – it was always closed and too young. I feel like I have been waiting my entire life for this wine to open up. Well, it probably still is not mature, but it has opened up. And, my confidence has been restored that this is a truly legendary wine. This, for me, was the WOTN and clearly so, which is amazing when I think about what came before it.

OK, there was some 1989-1990 like discussion, as veteran taster Paul Chaconas preferred the 1975’s elegance and refinement over the 1982, at least for current drinking. Indeed, the 1975 was surprisingly delicious, unmarked by any hard tannin on the finish, which can be an issue (still, today) with that vintage. The LLC 1975 was very cigar box like, and smooth: like tasting a refined cognac. At that time, there was no second wine at all – so all the grapes of the estate were used to make the Grand Vin.

But, as Michael Apstein noted, the 1982 seemed to combine the grip of the 1989 with the seduction of the 1990. Indeed, perhaps the 1982 was overall the wine of the night for me, too. And even so, it has many years ahead of it, as it was not fully resolved just yet. In that sense, the 1975 is most definitely in a mature drinking window, while the 1982 is in a far more youthful drinking window, more than the 7-year difference would suggest. In terms of classical actresses? I was thinking of Lauren Bacall.

As for the food pairing? I loved the originality of the dark chocolate brioche, to which the 1982 stood up better. There was of course a fine slice of comté cheese (at least I think it was comté).

Dessert wines, thanks to Chris Bublitz

Wine pal Chris Bublitz generously shared with us two dessert wines to finish the evening: a very smooth Clos Haut Peyraguey Sauternes 2001, which had a plump and savory aspect, with plenty of flavors including marron glacé, orange rind and roasted fruit. Even better (Pierre Graffeuille agreed) proved to be a truly fabulous Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Vendange Tardive Grand Cru Clos St Urbain from Alsace, vintage 1994. What lip smacking verve, multiple citrus aspects with white stone fruit and a line of bright acidity that kept everything in focus including however much residual sugar this had. And I am not a big Pinot Gris fan… this was fantastic! Kudos to Olivier Humbrecht.

On the the wine preparation

All wines from Domaines Delon were ex-châteaux, shipped to Washington D.C. via MacArthur Beverages. Graffeuille said that the wines served up to and including the 1990 had been reconditioned last year, and sommelier Jochem Zijp was thankful about how easy it was to pull corks (corks dated 2016). Many thanks indeed to Jochem for coming in to help out for this dinner, as he is now embarking on a new career at the Washington restaurant Iron Gate. Graffeuille also indicated specific decanting instructions for each wine, and the evening proved successful, too, because of that precision. Alas, one of the two 1996s served was corked but that can happen…

A great evening! Thanks so much to Pierre Graffeuille for coming to see us with so many lovely wines in Washington D.C. and to the staff at Ripple, for yet again providing great culinary delights and service to match great wines.

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4 Comments on “High class, with Léoville Las Cases

  1. Panos,

    You quoted me correctly on wines, less so on actresses. I think I compared the 1990 to Raquel Welch (but only after Maria started the subject) and the 1996 to Audrey Hepburn. I never came up with an actress for the 1989, but someone suggested Scarlett Johansson and I did not disagree. By the time of the 1986 and 1982, I was way too focused on the wines to discuss actresses.

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