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Bordeaux Avec mes Amis —huit
It was Thursday morning, before anyone realized. The trip was whizzing by, except for our friend Bob whose nose was about to run away from him. We sympathized, but the brisk pace had to continue. Departure was at 7 am. because it would be our second day of Left Bank appointments which began at 9 am. and would not conclude until almost 12 hours later. Ms. G was not trusted this day. Since I did not possess “child-like” proficiency to program her away from ferry crossings, we charted the course in increments, not allowing her the chance to harm us again.
The first stop was the classic Chateau Leoville las Cases in Saint-Julien-Beychevelle. We arrived early, and I knew from my confusion during the 2011 visit, that again it would take some time to figure out where the Accueil Office was located. Should have made notes, considering the trouble I had the first time. The winery is situated primarily on the western side of D-2 roadway, with large archways indicating such, but their visitor’s receiving office is on the estuary side, without sufficient markings (on purpose, I’d wager). After my caveman translating attempt with a French speaking winery worker.... success.
As we entered the reception room of Leoville las Cases, we were informed that Cellar Master Bruno Rolland, the pleasant fellow who gave me the tour and tastings last visit, would be our guide. The facility was much the same as before, yet as Bruno was leading us out of the storage rooms and into the production area, we noticed an open case of dusty wine bottles, which had casually been placed on the floor. We asked, and he informed us this was a case of the 1961 vintage of the Grand Vin, soon to be shipped out to one of their “good customers.” We looked at each-other with expressive eyes, imagining what might rate such consideration.
I had warned the guys in advance that this would be the most serious round of tasting we would experience on our trip. As we entered the laboratory-looking room where it was set-up, they still were amazed. And this time there were five to seven fewer bottles than in 2011. Bruno had arranged 8 different labels of their various 2012 wines for us to sample. The second and third label wines were all quite young, not close to the level of sophistication that the Grand Vin possessed. The 2012 barrel sample of las Cases tasted of dark fruit with moderate tannins. It had character, but was no doubt hindered by the difficult growing year. In arranging for the appointment, earlier in the year, I was asked which vintages of the Grand Vin we would like to experience. Not wanting to overstep my welcome, I requested only the 2009, an RP 98+ rated vintage. It proved a delightful choice, with powerful concentration of sweet dark cherry and its own mineralality which sets it apart from the rest of the Second Growth wines. To showcase this near perfect wine, it would require more aging time to unwind in the bottle.
With our next stop only walking distance away, we opted to try out the new coffee shop in a location across from the church, just a dusty abandoned storefront two years prior. The owners of Bistrot Chez Meme, a friendly man and wife team, knew enough English and possessed the “pizzazz” to assure its continuing success. The coffee was excellent, and the menu for food, impressive and reasonable. After a leisurely second cup, and some biscuit-type wafers, offered no-doubt to impress us with his wife’s cooking prowess, we were off to Chateau Leoville Poyferre (a name that if pronounced correctly, places one’s French speaking abilities several clicks higher than most Americans).
Again it was to be owner-proprietor Didier Cuvelier who would be our guide through the facility, which was again a privilege. We were punctual, yet had to await some of the morning’s important business to conclude, before commencement. Didier is short in stature, and yet Napoleonic in the command he has of the operation. As we moved through the facility, each foreman we encountered reported their status to him, receiving specific orders for their next move. For guys like us who were clueless to his instructions, each directive was impressive.
With 80 hectares under vine, this property and its sisters (Chateaux Le Crock and Moulin Riche) offer substantial production. The mixture of juice for the Grand Vin usually contains around 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and the balance Petit Verdot, stored in 80% new oak for 24 months.
We followed him through all the facility’s production and storage areas, which are situated on both sides of the D-2 roadway. Then we returned to the main offices where the tasting room resides, with all the signatures on the white wall from the noteworthy wine critics who have visited. Again, no offer for mine to be added. We tasted barrel samples of all three labels, the most worthy of course was the Grand Vin, although the sample of Le Crock deserved honorable mention. The 2012 Poyferre had soft tannins and was not close to the powerhouse natures of the 2009 and 2010 vintages. To our delight, Didier opened sample bottles of those great years, and we experienced their classic nature. Both had noses of flowers and dark berries with sweet tannins and bold long finishes. Delightful. These we did not spit.
As we departed Didier cornered me and asked where he had previously met me. This was impressive, because I had taken only an hour’s worth of his time one morning two years back. I told him about my earlier visit and he seemed pleased, almost as if having solved some difficult cross-word puzzle in record timing. He is quite the clever fellow.
We left and headed northward to one of the two First Growth properties that we would visit this day. The afternoon would be a busy one for us, with three properties to explore. And two of them were Chateaux I had yet to behold.
Chateau Leoville las Cases
(No website available)
Chateau Leoville Poyferre
Bistrot Chez Meme