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Bordeaux 2009 Revisited: St Julien

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

Leoville Poyferre cu - CopySt Julien has produced a number of sensational wines in 2009. The best have tremendous power, richness and wonderfully ripe tannin. All three Léovilles are terrific, though very, very different. Château Léoville-Las-Cases is a giant with tremendous depth and power. Château Léoville Poyferré feels genuinely perfect. It is already spellbindingly seductive. Château Léoville Barton has great purity and depth. It is incredibly fresh and very long. It needs a decade in the cellar for sure but it remains at a bargain price compared to the others.

I’ve noted in previous posts that the key to the vintage is the remarkable ripeness and freshness that the Cabernet Sauvignon has achieved in 2009 in Bordeaux. This variety comes into its own here in St Julien [and even more so in Pauillac]. This vintage has yielded unsurpassed levels of alcoholic and phenolic ripeness in the appellation. It gives a weight and unusual sweetness on the palate but this is balanced by remarkable freshness. For a Bordeaux-lover it is this tension between the ultra-ripeness and the freshness that is so exciting.

Nine wines were shown last November by the MW Institute. Starting in reverse order, Château Beychevelle and Château Talbot were relative disappointments, partly because they seemed to offer much more potential early on. Still I’m cautious about ruling out more positive development in bottle. Both can be a bit sulky in their youth. Talbot 2005 tasted in October last year is still a firmly closed book, though it showed lots of promise early on. I should say that I remain a fan of both properties when they get it right. Their 1986s tasted recently [Talbot especially] really hit the spot. Hopefully these are simply ‘09s that have crept into their respective shells.

Château Branaire-Ducru and Château Lagrange both produce classical St Julien. Currrently both are tight and pent up but show plenty of depth and length. I’d expect them to fill out further. On the basis of this showing, they seem better bets for me than Beychevelle and Talbot currently. I’m pretty sure I’ve underrated these wines too in the scores. It’s difficult. Their balance and elegance was overshadowed by the spellbinding nature of the appellations top wines.

Château Gruaud Larose is one of those that steals the limelight. It has produced a wonderfully seductive and deliciously ripe wine in 2009. It is already forward aromatically but there is layer upon layer of fine fruit here that will gradually unfurl as the wine develops further. It is a terrifically exciting effort from this much-loved property. Château Langoa Barton is a impressive too. It has more restraint and cooler tones than Gruaud-Larose but there is great purity here. It shows a lot of similarity to its bigger brother Léoville-Barton. It’s still reasonably priced too.

Finally then onto the Léovilles themselves. If you’ve bought any of these you can seriously start rubbing your hands in anticipation – and with Château Léoville-Poyferré you can probably take a peek at a bottle now, if you give it two or three hours in a decanter. My scores show this to be the best of the three but that’s more a reflection of how great Poyferré is now. I’m sure Château Léoville-Las-Cases will get there [eventually!], and Château Barton will probably get close too, but Poyferré genuinely is perfect already. There is such class and polish to this wine. The aromatics, the palate and the tannins are all dazzling. It’s thrilling stuff.

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Château Léoville-Las-Cases has the depth and scale to rival Haut-Brion and Montrose for sheer horse-power. The hefty tannin here makes Las-Cases feel drier and longer term than Léoville-Poyferré certainly, and even the comparatively backward Barton. Still the freshness is remarkable. It manages to be concentrated and deep without overpowering the taster. That’s quite an achievement. But for me it’s Léoville-Barton that deserves the closest attention from the consumer. Thank God Robert Parker under-rated this wine as it has certainly held back its price. You can have two cases plus of Barton for the current price of Poyferré, and nearly three cases to one of Las-Cases. I know where I’d be putting my cash if I was looking solely at my drinking pleasure. There is layer upon layer of blackcurrant fruit on Léoville-Barton. It opens up wonderfully in the glass though it still remains very tight on the palate. Still this will provide terrific St Julien down the line I reckon. You don’t get the spectacular fireworks you currently find in Léoville-Poyferré or the Bentley Mulsanne-like power of the Léoville-Las-Cases, but there is such freshness and finesse here in Léoville-Barton. Snap it up!

Sadly the tasting didn’t include Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Château Saint-Pierre or Château Gloria. The latter two have been wonderfully impressive on the last few occasions I’ve tasted them. I see no reason to doubt their evolution hasn’t been positive. Ducru is reportedly excellent. It’s one of many to get the perfect Parker score in 2009. I’ve not had the opportunity to taste it.

Below are the full notes on the wines tasted last November at the MW Institute’s Annual Claret tasting. As ever the notes are more important than the numbers.

Château Beychevelle

Mid depth; deep core; red fruits, little toffee, some tar and sap; lots of depth to the fruit on the palate with saturation; chewy and feels pretty extracted on the finish. Lovely and lush during primeurs, closed when first bottled and now a little disjointed. Some inconsistency here. Drink 2016-2030 89

Château Branaire-Ducru

Deep colour; wet stones, mineral notes and menthol and blackcurrant wine gum tones; minty; stalky blackcurrant flavours on the palate with menthol and minty highlights. Nice chew and sap on the end shows that the wine is not without freshness. Purity. Still pretty tight. An ’09 that needs time. Drink 2017-2030+ 92

Château Gruaud Larose

Big and deep looking; very attractive and forward nose; earthy blackcurrants and smoked meats but with a certain silkiness; pretty deep; stalky blackcurrant tones, real purity here and rich in body. Very full with deliciously ripe tannins. Lovely wine. Plenty of guts for the long haul but wonderful already. Drink now-2035. 97

Château Lagrange

Deep; resin, some stone and mineral notes; quite restrained; some spicy blackcurrants; blackcurrants on the palate; nice chew and density. Feels like it is at a more awkward stage. Plenty of structure and material here. Solid but lacks a bit of excitement compared to the rest though. Drink 2019-2030 90

Château Langoa-Barton

Mid depth; stones, blackcurrants and cassis on the nose; layers of blackcurrant fruit here; sturdy and fresh but full of fruit; nicely balanced and appetizing freshness. Clean and fresh in a [relatively] tauter style than some but that restraint is appealing. Drink 2017-2030. 93+

Château Léoville-Barton

Deep and fresh looking; blackcurrants, undergrowth, spices – very enticing aromatics – opens up wonderfully in the glass; legs; spices and blackcurrants on the palate – lots of fruit as you’d expect but very nice balance indeed. Blackcurrant and cassis tones dominate the entry and mid-palate – little more austerity on the finish than Leoville-Poyferre and seemingly greater tannic grip. Still positive finish. Tremendous effort. 97+

Château Léoville-Las-Cases

Deep; cassis and blackcurrants, some wine gums and tar and asphalt; palate full and saturated with wonderful tannin ripeness; blackcurrant tones dominate with real sap and freshness too. Very, very good. Drier finish than Leoville-Poyferre and even Leoville-Barton [in terms of the battle of the Leovilles!]. Seemingly more structured and tannic. Very long term here. 2020-2045. 98+

Château Léoville-Poyferré

Deep and saturated look; utterly seductive – incomparable creamy blackcurrant aromas – very, very opulent; lots of depth here – this is so, so seductive; blackcurrant fruit on the palate with delightful harmony; lots of material and layers but extremely well handled fruit – very, very polished. Lots of depth and length. This is surely perfect? Drink now [almost!] – 2040. 100

Château Talbot

Mid depth; a little dumb, some blackcurrants, chalk; grippy palate [surprisingly] with freshness; plenty of material [more blackcurrant aromas on the palate] but less finesse. Feels chewier with more acidity and sap. Lacks the intensity of the best though. Drink 2019-2030 89+

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