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Friday, January 16, 2009

Leoville Las Cases Vertical, 75-03, it is indeed 2nd growth quality!

First off let me state that being ‘2nd growth quality’ isn’t a bad thing. Ranking hierarchies seem to have existed since the dawn of man, but in today’s developed world they no longer come w/ the blatant distinction of social class and seem to be best defined in Sports Center terminology. Who did you pick in your bracket for the NCAA pool? What’s the latest NFL power ranking? Or, worse yet, the BCS top 25 is out next week….better duck.

Subjective banter and Monday morning debate for the armchair quarterbacks…now that’s my idea of ‘ranking.’ It is light-hearted fun, yet gets the juices going enough for creative debate (or at least I’d like to think of it in those terms, because it is a pastime that I partake in w/ regularity). So in terms of the 1855 classification, we’ve taken a somewhat ridiculous document of an era lone gone and brought it to our ESPN headset-wearing times and turned it into a 21st century version of who’s on first. In defense of those estates that have been slighted by this prehistoric ranking (how dare Lynch Bages be called a 5th growth!?), Leoville Las Cases has become the poster child of ‘first growth quality.’ What the hell does that mean? Well, whatever you want it to mean I guess. How about…damn expensive, yet delivers no matter what the circumstance? Terroir is great, as is the track record, and they spare no expense in maintaining the integrity of the grand vin. Ho-hum years are still exciting and, while maybe not worth the price of admission, they still provide you w/ a window to Bordeaux’s great world.

Well, the last thought is what makes me think ‘hey, not so fast Leoville Las Cases lobbyists,’ at least at the conclusion of our vertical. Yeah, yeah I know, it wasn’t the most comprehensive of tastings (and we neglected to add the ’90 and ’82…I mean come on, there is a recession going on!), but all verticals leave you w/ a particular impression, and this tasting left me thinkin’ that they got it right after all. Super second is nothing to sneeze at, but it also ain’t Lafite….nor is it Latour. Mouton…well, that boy’s been taken out to shed plenty of times before, so let’s stick w/ Las Cases for now. The not so great vintages were…not so great. They were very good, better than most…but unexciting. Is that asking too much for a 1st growth? For first growth money…I sure as hell don’t think so.

That being said, the great vintages of this wine are nothing short of breath-taking (unless you are Levenberg, who lacks the Las Cases gene), and at the end of the day, there certainly is something super about this second. I couldn’t help but reflect on our Pichon Baron vertical and think ‘damn, why doesn’t this guy get a bit more bandwagon momentum in these classification debates?’ Sure, It has only been great since ’88 (and what an ’88 it is), but isn’t 20 years enough for the Monday morning QB’s to start serving up hail mary passes for Pichon Baron?
Then again, I really like the wine- why the hell would I want it to raise its price simply because it isn’t getting its due? Make it a Cru Borgeois and call it a day.

Blind white for starters:
The nose initially strikes me as a ripe, yet sophisticated Sauvignon Blanc, w/ bustling scents of passion fruit, hay and spearmint. Yet the second this hits the palate, a chalky, mealy attack speaks in Chablis tongues, weaving in lime candy note to the firm, focused spine. Izzy and I went back and forth w/ our yogurt discussion and came to the conclusion that this had to be Fevre, w/ Chris chiming in on the ’04 vintage. I guess its better to be lucky than smart, 91 points for the Fevre Cote Bougros ’04 (those that found it spoofy, just give it a few more years and I think you’ll be pleased).

Las Cases parade:

The first sip was the best, sending a spicy, tarry note through the air amidst hints of reduction that blew off as the wine sat in the glass. A savage, smoky attack of dried meat and olive paste covered the plumy fruit on the back end, which seemed soft and full for a ’75. Time revealed its flaws though, firming up and turning a bit more foursquare, though it had enough character to make for a full-filling experience, 87 points.

I could smell this all day. In fact, if it were a deodorant I’d stock up at Costco and apply it liberally to attract chicks. The earthy fumes of black truffles, damp moss, decaying flowers and currant paste notes were almost hypnotic, like the first scent of a rare cheese that you can’t stop immersing yourself w/. Unfortunately she was a bit shrill in the mouth, w/ sharp angles and a quick finish. Unlike the ’75, time served this vintage well, perking up a bit and showing that there is a bit in reserve and time may help fill out those sharp edges, 88 points.

This was a fresh and lively customer, w/ sharp, red-fruited flavors of cranberry, red cherries, iron and cold steel filling out the palate. While I think this is drinking well, I was surprised at how little it had evolved, w/ only a slight dried mushroom peeking in on the finish. The acidity was also surprisingly, behaving a bit Burgundian in that regard, yet never seeming too sharp for its substance, 90 points.
Now we are firmly in Brad territory, as this nose could have easily fooled me that it came from the steep slopes of Cote Rotie. Smoky perfumes of pork grease, blackberry and iron roared from the glass like an Ogier claret (oxymoron?). While the acidity was a bit elevated on the attack, this was the beefiest, most mouth filing vintage yet, w/ a supple bed of tannins carrying the hearty, savory flavors to a sweet finish, 92 points.

Yikes. I never have any regret for poppin’ a ’00 too early, but wow this wine is just too painfully primary to be drunk now. A super-dense, brooding nose of smoke, gravel, toasty oak and lead pencil shavings leaves you anticipating something primal and serious is about to come in the palate, and boy does it come with the thunder. Full bodied and hot blooded, w/ pure crème de cassis waves of flavor being sandwiched equally in between mouth-watering acidity and palate expanding tannin, w/ a really alluring hint of marzipan checking in on the long finish. Perfectly ripe and impeccably balanced, the 2000 Leoville Las Cases is going to be a 100 year wine, likely out-living me and also likely to be on its way to sheer perfection, 98+ points.

Who let the transvestite into this masculine vertical? An inky, awkward, seriously confused performance left all of us shaking our heads, as the ’03 showed a warm ganache and reduced cassis aroma that turned soft, woody and fragmented in the palate. While it actually did taste good in a superficial way, it was not impressively constructed and too disjointed at this stage to make any feasible wager on where it is headed. For those that thought the '03 Calon Segur was showing strangely, what till you get a load of this nut-bag, 77 points? Again, I don’t hate it, but I don’t really know what it is. Dr. Jay, this guy could definitely use some counseling!

Alas, an ’86 that is truly compelling! I know, Mouton is great- but one great wine does not a vintage make, yet this performance demonstrates to me that other Chateau made seriously noble, praiseworthy stuff in this titan of a year. While shy aromatically, it uncoiled in the mouth to reveal notions of freshly roasted espresso, crushed lilac, pepper, cedar and cassis notes. The frame was frank and stout, yet the flesh really filled things out beautifully, showing fantastic equilibrium and definition all the way to the finish. This is perhaps the most supple, endowed ’86 I’ve tasted yet. Fantastic stuff, 95 points!

True to left bank in ’96 fashion, this is yet another polished, superbly crafted wine from the vintage, demonstrating sheer refinement and grace in its cassis, melted licorice and dark chocolate flavors. Strong and sturdy, yet already delicious and suave enough to drink, this should continue to provide pleasure over the next 15-20 years, 96 points.

Like most point-counterpoint discussions on ’95-’96, the stuffing is likely as impressive as the ’96 (perhaps even more so), but currently the flesh isn’t front and center enough to mask its more pronounced structure. The tannins are a bit coarser and the acidity is keyed up a bit brighter, but the graphite, black currant and spices are all there. I’m sure the ’95 has more longevity in store, but it will not be in prime drinking mode for at least another 5 years and may never reach the heights of the ’96, 94+ points.


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