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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Leoville Poyferre Vertical, Vying for a Moment on the St. Julien Stage


The forgotten Leoville of Saint Julien, the Poyferre, was given a thorough test drive through just about every storied vintage last night. Several verticals leave you wondering ‘how would this vintage have fared in such competition,’ or ‘great tasting, too bad you didn’t try that vintage,’ but this one had everything but the kitchen sink and displayed the apex of this estate’s recent accomplishments. I’ve always had a soft spot for Poyferre, which seems to always play ‘third fiddle’ to the illustrious, pseudo first growth Las Cases and the noble, sturdy Barton in the trio of Leovilles. The chateau’s profile may have taken a bit higher brow turn when they hired Michel Rolland, but for me, the irregular 2003 vintage was the authoritative ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore’ statement that put this Leoville firmly on my radar screen. When I tasted the Poyferre blindly, against the best ’03 in Bordeaux at Executive Wine Seminars, I felt that this red-headed step child had decided to color its hair a different shade (and immediately bought as much as I could afford!).

Compass, in the Upper West Side of New York, dazzled once again w/ their dynamite cuisine and easy handling of our high-maintenance wine desires. Ben Goldberg took the reigns of this offline w/ kit-gloves, designing flights of three that were ‘single-blind,’ knowing the vintage yet not the order. I can honestly say that the vintage characteristics of each flight showed through in brilliant fashion, making the blind aspect of this tasting fun, yet almost a formality (although towards the end, we needed a sledge-hammer like the ’03 to announce itself like a lightning rod, as our senses were a bit…blurred by then). Great group of guys, except Gary, who panted like a dog all night and perhaps was suffering from ‘Queen withdrawals.’

A wicked tease:

Francois Cotat Sancerre, Les Monts Damnes 2002
Why is the tease wicked? Well, an aged Sancerre just isn’t my bag baby, and this wine reaffirms why I need to attach very narrow drinking windows to neutral vessel fermented Sauvignon Blancs. I initially didn’t hate this wine, as its nose was somewhat intriguing, weaving in peanut oil, saffron, green tea and smoky lemon verbena aromas that were complex, yet not utterly compelling. As the wine aired it became more and more blowzy, evolving in the mouth to develop a shrill, hard as nails texture that revealed oxidative notes and a borderline offensive swath of sour gooseberries. The focus of this wine became as foggy as a person with 20/200 vision, with the only ‘laser correction’ being the suggestion ‘drink ‘em while they are young,’ 64 points.

Flight number one:

Wine one:
Well, I believe it was actually wine three, but chose to taste this first as it was the most advanced in color, displaying a browning edge and brick hints throughout the glass. A lovely mature nose displays decaying vegetation, wet leaves, cedar, olive paste and dried red currant fruit. The mouthfeel was full of a vibrant, bright pulse, beading the earthy, fading flavors along a somewhat firm spine that showed this ’75 was kickin’, but perhaps on legs that were a bit more hobbled than they used to be, 84 points.

Wine two:
This was the showpiece of the flight, displaying a very youthful robe and a gorgeous, yet reserved nose of cigar humidor and lead pencil shavings. The palate demonstrated a much more grippy, tannic spine, yet was crammed w/ a savory layer of spicy, black currant fruit that vigorously pumped out along the fresh, sinewy finish. Surprisingly the ’83 had more stuffing than the more highly touted ’82, and should cruise in the cellar for well into the next decade. Why aren’t these ‘83s more popular, 91+ points.

Wine three:
As I mentioned before, most wines showed their vintage characteristics w/ ease and transparency, but this was the caveat emptor. The medium bodied, almost bracingly brisk ’82 was the most mineral driven, ‘pretty’ wine of the bunch, displaying floral notes of lilac, worn leather, cassis, sweet loam and a touch of game. While I enjoyed the profile, this vintage lost points for its somewhat angular, clunky texture that demanded a bit more flesh to round out its edges, 89 points. Wouldn't exactly call this a value either, at today’s ludicrous prices...

The flight w/ a bit more eternal youth:

Wine one:
While the bouquet was keeping things close to the vest, it was still undoubtedly constituted, w/ sultry scents of violet, crème de cassis and campfire smoke lurking in the background. A sweet attack of thick, concentrated fruit takes a compact turn, closing down in the mouth and flexing a serious tannic spine. While the ’95 is by no stretch of the imagination ‘ready,’ the long finish really let a buried hint of sweet tobacco and briar sing, suggesting a special package is in store for patient consumers, 92+ points.

Wine two:
What a difference a year makes! The ’96 couldn’t have been more primal and Syrah-like if it tried, dazzling in the nose w/ tarry, melted asphalt singed notes of char-grilled beef, black currant and dark cherry fruit. While the tannin level in this vintage may be similar to the ‘95s, the ’96 currently wears it in a much more polished, symmetrical fashion, as mouthfilling layers of extract are wonderfully proportioned, plush and rounded to a T. This vintage may not live as long as the ’95, but its already providing quite a bit of pleasure, 94 points.

Wine three:
An austere, brutally tannic ’86? No, you don’t say? The scents were obviously a bit more on the mature side, as hints of fresh mushroom and underbrush would suggest, but the cinder-block like thud that greets the palate w/ an iron fist was as unwelcome as a kick in the teeth. Sure, it’s powerful, but where’s the pleasure? This vintage may never die (ie: turn to vinegar), but it is becoming more and more apparent that ’86 Bordeaux is the year for the masochists, 78 points.

The breakfast of champions:

Wine one:
’88 is a year that seems to have very vibrant fruit, yet carry it w/ more freshness and less weight than its more stout ’89 and ’90 counterparts, and this year for Leoville Poyferre hits that mark as accurately as any other. Streamlined notes of cassis, dark berry fruit, cocoa powder and smoke glide along a brisk, trim frame, displaying lovely balance and elegance. This is a solid claret for consumption over the next few years indeed, 88 points.

Wine two:
The proverbial ‘wine of the evening’ showed up midstream, w/ a knock-out nose of warm ganache, crème de cassis, fig paste and other jammy, heavenly delights. The palate is a low acid, plump presentation of sheer decadence that you can just bite right into, drowning your senses in hedonistic desires along the lush, lavish finish. This ’90 has aged much like Billy Idol, still rockin’ out w/ the 6 pack and spiky hair, w/o missing a beat (or a 4th encore) and is, indeed, a flesh for fantasy, 96 points.

Wine three:
I feel like Bordeaux and Chateauneuf have mirrored one another in terms of the vintage characteristics of ’89 and ’90, and this duo certainly fits the image yet again. Much more restrained and poised than the ’90, the ’89 has a tightly packed, deep core of permeating fruit that channels its intensity in a much more defined tone. Dark chocolate, olive paste, currant and tobacco smoke slowly unfold in layers along a full-bodied, powerful frame that is certain to be longer lived than its more robust partner, yet may never hit those same heights of expression, 93+ points.

The finale of youth:

Wine one:
HUGE! Yep, it was the ’03, and yep, it was in a weird stage. While wound up, ready to gush sensations of melted licorice, blackberry sauce and loads of intense fruit were very evident, they were also interrupted from hibernation in an almost suffocating sense of youthful exuberance. The vintage’s irregularity left us all to question whether or not the wines would ‘close-down’ and this appears to be what’s happening to the Poyferre. There is tremendous character and promise in this wine, which is a bit more of a gamble than the ‘hedged bet’ 2000, but if the wager pays off, it will reward w/ sheer majesty, 95+ points.

Wine two:
Frankly ripe, yet in a more classy and reserved fashion relative to the ’03, the ’00 shows purple flowers, lead pencil, blueberry fruit and high class toast aromas in the nose. Incredibly silky in the mouth, yet formidably closed, there is an essence of crushed berry fruit that pumps along its broad shoulders in a compelling, albeit closed fashion. Yet another ’00 that oozes potential and makes me wonder how it will stack up to the ‘05s as they circle the marathon track in the years to come, 95 points.

Wine three:
The ‘knife to the gunfight’ ’99 showed proudly and quite well relative to its opulent peers, in a medium proportioned, extremely approachable profile. Leoville Poyferre, like other ‘99s, shows hints of flash, yet likely will not get much better over the next decade or so and is a fairly priced claret that provides lots of charm and pleasure for current drinking, 90 points.

We capped off the evening w/ an delicious sticky provided by Leonard, the 2001 Doisy Vedrines, which displayed hints of beeswax, apricot marmalade and honeyed pears in an unctuous style that sailed us away to Bordeaux dreams….only to be rudely interrupted by morning hangovers. Until the next time gents!

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