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Léoville Poyferré: No longer last of the Léovilles

Written by JW. Posted in Bordeaux

If you need an insight into the level of determination and effort required to return an estate to the top league then you need to look no further than the contemporary renaissance at Chateau Léoville-Poyferré. Twenty-five years is the time frame Anne Cuvelier points to when she looks back at the efforts that her cousin Didier Cuvelier has put in here since he began managing the property in 1979. Since then there has been extensive work in the vineyards. Old rootstocks were torn out and replaced and the property, then just 48 hectares, brought up to the 80 hectares now under production. In the cellar there has been much investment too and Michel Rolland is now the estate’s consultant, though Poyferré also has its own in-house talent in the form of winemaker Isabelle Davin.

The fermenting room at Chateau Léoville Poyferré

Carved from the great St Julien Léoville estate in 1840, Chateau Léoville-Poyferré has a reputation in certain vintages for being one of the appellations great wines, but despite being in the ownership of the same family since 1920, until the last decade or so the wine was not as consistent nor operating at quite at the level of its counterparts Léoville-Las-Cases and Léoville-Barton. This period of improvement has culminated in the extraordinary wine made here in 2009, undoubtedly amongst the very best in the Médoc in this great vintage. Tasting the 2009 again, it has put on more weight and polish, and seems even more impressive than I originally thought.

The brooding 2010 vintage being run off its skins…

In its infancy the 2010 also looks very good here already. Pre-malolactic two samples of Cabernet Sauvignon that I was allowed to taste in the cellar showed great colour, fruit, concentration and material. The property is comparing the 2010 vintage to a modern day version of the 1975, itself a drought year which produced concentrated wine with thick skins and correspondingly high tannins. The comparison is both interesting and pretty exciting. Though seen as a great vintage at the time, even the best 1975s never managed to shed their cloak of tannins before the fruit faded. Now, however, some thirty-five years on, with more sophisticated analysis of grape phenolics and chemistry, enabling later harvesting of grapes with riper tannins, and more subtler and gentler methods of extraction in the cellar, 2010 should yield ultimately more satisfying and rounded wine than 1975 ever did. At Poyferré there is even the suggestion that 2010 may eclipse the quality produced here in 2009. Roll on those April primeur tastings eh?

..and starting its malolactic in barrel this November

So what is the style of Chateau Léoville-Poyferré today? For me it is one of power and concentration and real ripeness of fruit and tannin. It feels more harmonious and sweeter than Anthony Barton’s Léoville-Barton, itself a wonderful wine but more traditionally styled and I imagine usually a little earlier picked than Léoville-Poyferré, hence the more noticeable structure and tannin. They are both excellent wines, just different in style, though there is the sense that Poyferré’s star is now in the ascendant.

 Poyferré’s fabulous 2009: Will it be eclipsed in 2010?

Poyferré is also increasingly forward thinking, whether it be waste water treatment or the introduction of solar panels, programmes that don’t have a direct bearing on the wines but certainly have a positive impact on the environment. The only blip on the horizon here is the soaring price. I managed to pick up the 2008 Léoville-Poyferré for £320 [$500]  a case which, in the context of a first tranche price of £1080 [$1600] for the 2009, now seems like a complete bargain. The price may be justified given the price hikes elsewhere and the quality of the wine in 2009, but it looks like Poyferre increasingly will be a wine out of my reach [and for a great many others surely]. I’ll be very interested to see how they pitch things for the 2010 here, particularly if the quality is at all comparable to 2009. Some UK wine merchants have already predicted that the prices we saw in 2009 will become the new benchmarks for the ‘super seconds’ and Poyferré is most certainly in that company now.

Chateau Le Moulin Riche: good value St Julien

On the subject of price – again, I know I’m banging here on about price, but surely it’s an increasingly important issue in buying fine Bordeaux – I was impressed with Chateau La Moulin Riche in 2009, not to be confused as the second wine here, which is Pavillon de Poyferré. La Moulin Riche is a separate St Julien estate entirely. There is lots of richness to this wine in this last vintage and I’d expect good things here again in 2010. What’s more it’s a fraction of the price of Chateau Léoville-Poyferré itself. Then there is Cuvelier’s Chateau Le Crock. The St Estèphe was actually the family’s first chateau purchase in 1903. This wine has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. I’ve had Le Crock’s very impressive 2005 and their 2009 does do justice to this excellent vintage in St Estèphe. For the price it is great quality.

The following wines were tasted at Chateau Léoville-Poyferré on Tuesday 9th November 2010:

Chateau Le Crock 2009

Lots of legs, lots of minerals, rocks and red fruits; very pure, feels powerful and fresh; some coffee and mocha notes too; lots of extract and chew and material, extract and tannin; some chew and depth; strong wine with lots of meat, extract and tannin. Chewy, deep and concentrated. 90/100

Chateau Le Moulin Riche 2009

Deep and saturated; legs; silky note on the nose; very supple and lots of layers; minerals but real creamy richness; very attractive and quite seductive but also has real density; layered palate, dense, minerals and earth, tannin at the back, firming up; real extract and richness. Chew and extract. This is very good 90-92/100

Chateau Léoville-Poyferré 2009

Saturated and tight to the edge; legs; arterial; graphite and cassis and lots of intensity; layers and ripeness; minerality and density but also lush layers here; real ripeness; almost a marzipan lift; real extract and intensity on the palate, sweet entry, layers and density again here with supple tannin but loads of it. This is a concentrated red with a lot of strength and power – and lots of length here too. This has definitely put on further weight and grandeur since the primeur tastings. 96-98+/100

Chateau Léoville-Poyferré 2001

Mid red, some earthy development; tobacco, golden Virginia and undergrowth notes, spices and meaty quality, savoury; similar tones dominate the palate; good acid and balance; plenty of extract; sweetness here and lots of chew and extract – savour. Good length at the back. Nice wine. 91/100

 Anne Cuvelier: decades of investment to get back to the top

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