Château Léoville Las-Cases
The Original Super Second!
Venue: the phenomenal restaurant Da Vinci in Maasbracht, hosted by Petro Kools and distinguished chef Margot Reuten
In 1855 some 62 left bank chateaux were identified commanding consistently the highest prices in the market. In five tiers they became collectively known as the Grands Crus Classés en 1855. Until 1982 the difference in price between the individual estates remained relatively small.
Mind the Gap!
In recent years however, the gap between the First Growths and the lower tiers crus has grown significantly. The term ‘Super Seconds’ was coined for the few Second Growths who near the prices of the First, the quality and the prestige.
How should we define a Super Second?
First of all, a Super Second equals First Class Finesse.
Second, it is only those Second Growths who have a reputation for consistently producing exceptional wines.
Third, it is the estates having the best winemakers and state-of-the-art equipment, just like the First Growths.
Which estates are regularly named Super Seconds, after Las-Cases? Pontet Canet, Cos d’Estournel, Palmer, Montrose, Pichon Longueville, La Mission Haut Brion.
Super Seconds are a value
The attraction of a Super Second is the price (that is to say, until now): when you consider value, Super Seconds at 95-100TSW are selling for €150-300 per bottle whereas First Growths start at €400-1,000? Indeed, Super Seconds are a Value!!
About Léoville Las-Cases
Léoville Las Cases occupies one of the largest vineyard locations in the northern Médoc, a stone’s throw from Château Latour. Whilst its vineyards technically sit in the commune of Saint Julien, stylistically it has a closer resemblance to the bold and robust fruit characteristics of Pauillac. Master of Wine David Roberts comments “If Las Cases lay within the commune of Pauillac it would surely be a classified as a 1st growth. It really is one of the Médoc’s greatest estates.”
Divison of the estate
Even though with almost 100ha it is large, the estate was once by far the largest in the whole of the Médoc. But the original estate was broken up.
For the first time in the 18th Century, when Alexandre de Gasq left 4 shares in the estate. One of these eventually came into the Barton family as Léoville Barton. The other 3 shares were distributed in 1840 between a brother and sister. She married Baron de Poyferré, and her share was renamed Léoville
Poyferré, and his share came to be known as Léoville Las-Cases, after one of the descendents of Alexandre de Gasq, the Marquis de Las-Cases. In 1900, Théophile Skawinski, the general manager of the estate, was given 1 of 20 shares in this property. He was great-great-grandfather of the present owners (brother and sister, Jean- Hubert Delon and Geneviève d’Alton). Over the course of the 20th century, the family acquired more and more shares in the estate, and in 1994 the estate came under their full ownership.
Interestingly, as a result of the instant division at that time, Poyferré and Las-Cases had to share the winemaking facilities since 1840, with the winemakers of Poyferré having to cross the road to Las-Cases land. Recent building work at Poyferré have reduced their dependence on this facility, but it remains confusing.
Las-Cases has always aimed very high but in the past 20 years they have taken an even more rigorous approach, both in vineyard and cellar. The introduction of a second wine, Le Petit Lion de Las Cases, in 2007 only served to further opt the quality of the Grand Vin.
Jean-Hubert Delon believes that the heart of the old Léoville estate is in the vineyards of Las-Cases, and that the terroir here is superior to that of Poyferré and Barton, although I am not sure whether Didier Cuvelier, the owner of Poyferré and Barton would agree..
The current holdings of Las Cases, totaling 98 hectares, lie in two main parcels and some smaller plots here and there. The first stretches north from the town of Saint Julien along the D2 up to the border with Château Latour in Pauillac. The second parcel lies to the west of Saint Julien where the wine for Clos du Marquis is sourced. As such, Clos du Marquis is not a second wine in the traditional sense, and the Delons prefer to think of Las Cases as two estates in one, with each having their own identity and style.
Le Petit Lion de Léoville Las Cases has been introduced as a true second wine, referring to the lion that stands on top of the gate to the estate.
In the Bordeaux 500 Index 20 chateaux are regularly listed as Super Seconds. But only one is considered the ‘original Super Second’, the Primus Inter Pares of the Super Seconds, and that is Château Léoville Las-Cases. As a result, Las-Cases is the choice of wine lovers seeking First Growth quality but for whom the prices associated have become unpalatable. (Although I have to say that Las-Cases regularly outstrip its Second-Growth siblings in price).
1855 Classification revisited?
Were the 1855 Classification ever to be revisited, Las-Cases would surely be a candidate for promotion. This view is supported by empirical evidence such as the analysis of Liv-ex which assessed Grand Cru wines on average prices to elucidate rankings adjusted for modern times, with Delon’s estate promoted to the top flight. Similarly, a 2008 Cornell University study examining the 1855 Classification similarly recommended the promotion of Léoville Las-Cases, on account of its average critic score over the previous 35 years..
At Restaurant Da Vinci, we witnessed one of the most comprehensive vertical tastings ever held of Léoville Las-Cases with 17 vintages in the tasting and 7 more at lunch. The glassware used was the Bordeaux Veritas glass by Riedel. All 17 vintages before lunch were double decanted the day before the tasting (!). The other wines were opened on the same morning.
2015 -from Magnum- (TSW96+)
-85% Cab Sauv, 9% Cab Franc, 6% Merlot
-13.8% (pH 3.7), harvested late September, great fruit intensity, firm but ripe tannins, still closed
-75% Cab Sauv, 11% Cab Franc and 10% Merlot
-13.8% (pH 3.49), this is classic Médoc style, with lots of mocca notes and great freshness, perfumed
-74% Cab Sauv, 12% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc
-13.1% (pH3.69), also fresh but lacking the depth and complexity of 2015. However, love the elegance of this wine which is now already ready to drink
-74% Cab Sauv, 15% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc
-13.09% (pH3.58), attractive degree of finesse for 2012 and also fresher and more elegant than many 2012s
-76% Cab Sauv, 12% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc
-13.26% (pH3.49), showing more freshness than 2012, more structure and will definitely better age than 2012!
-82% Cab Sauv, 10% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc
-13.92% (pH3.36), ripe vintage, yet great acidity in the wine, round, creamy, mineral, complex, seductive, long. This wine was one of the best of the entire tasting. Also evident that 2010 will age much longer than the much heralded 2009!
-76% Cab Sauv, 15% Merlot, 9% Cab Franc
-13.8% (pH3.62), round, big, with layers upon layers, spices, figs, potpourri style and bold, ripe tannins.
-87% Cab Sauv, 8% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc
-13.49% (pH3.55), developing and more oxidative in style than any previous vintage, still very elegant with great finesse. Drink now, lovely wine
-85% Cab Sauv, 14,5 Merlot & 0,5 Cab Franc
-13.37% (pH3.59), very Pauillac in style, with firm tannins, impressions of pencil shaving, mocca, black berry and cedar, still young, slightly ‘overripe’ but seductive; still lots of reserve
-87% Cab Sauv 13% Merlot & Cab Franc
-13.15% (pH 3.58), super ripe, yet great freshness, beautifully balanced, graphite, pencil shaving, some herbaceousness impressions but adding complexity and giving extra freshness; still very tight, needs at least 10 more years
-76% Cab Sauv, 13% merlot, 11% Cab Franc
-13.3% (pH 3.36), structured, in style close to 1996 and 2000, very interesting, and although still vibrant maybe not a vintage for the longest longevity. Nevertheless underrated vintage in my view
-70,2% Cab Sauv, 17,2% Merlot, 12,6% Cab Franc
-13.1% (pH 3.62), warmer vintage yet balanced wine, early harvest, ready to drink now
-66,7% Cab Sauv, 14,5% Merlot, 13,9% Cab Franc
-13.5% (pH3.49), perfumed, still quite firmly structures, interestingly has 5% Petit Verdot which actually adds the structure, lots of oak complexity and still closed. This vintage was one of the surprises of the tasting, also underrated
-62,4 % Cab Sauv, 18,8% Cab Franc, 18,8% Merlot
-13.0%, developing style, structured, ripe but firm tannins and great freshness. 1999 was the third wettest and sixth warmest vintage ever..
-79% Cab Sauv, 15% Merlot, 9% Merlot
-12.91% (!), in fact shows some similarities with the 1999 vintage, more balanced, more depth and concentration though
-70% Cab Sauv, 14% Merlot, 16% Can Franc
-12.5%, much more developed than the 1998, with umami hints, great freshness but more mature than I anticipated
-67% Cab Sauv, 26% Merlot and 7% Cab Franc
-12.95%, still quite youthful, with cassis and mocca, structured and long finish; very attractive
-60% Cab Sauv, 20% Merlot, 12% Cab Franc and 4% Petit Verdot
-12.7%, firm, structured and like 1995 still young!
-55% Cab Sauv, 26% Merlot, 14% Cab Franc and 5% Petit Verdot
-12.4%, leafy but juicy, very good freshness and still long, the Petit Verdot again adding depth and structure to the wine!
DOM PERIGNON 2009
Dutch oysters ‘Zeeuwse Platte’ – Angel on horse back : Oyster, Dutch bacon and Anna Gold/Royal caviar with King crab
Carpaccio, toffee of goose liver, truffel
-78% Cab Sauv, 12% Cab Franc, 10% Merlot (in double magnum)
-perfumed, firm structure, great length too and fresh, with impressions of cassis and cedar, complex
Baked sweetbread, truffel, risotto
-69% Cab Sauv, 19,5% Merlot, 11,5% Merlot (in double magnum)
-great freshness, length, minerality, complexity, cassis, black berries, classic Las-Cases style
Partridge, Black Pudding, Potatoe mousseline, Sauerkraut, truffel
-77% Cab Sauv, 14,4% Merlot, 8,6% Cab Franc (from magnum)
-my personal favorite of the entire tasting! Seductive, smooth, ripe, balanced, with great typicity, ‘Pauillac’-sh depth and character, still lots of cassis and blackberry fruit, reserve and long finish
-74% Cab Sauv, 17% Merlot and 9% Cab Franc in magnum)
-attractive, balanced, freshness, mineral complexity, developing but showing still lots of reserve, elegant
5 vintages Dutch cheese
-typical 1975 with still firm tannins, freshness and length
-most developed of all, not yet tired but absolutely mature
-amazingly fresh for the vintage, still impressions of berries, confit, dried figs and mocca, balanced, elegant with great freshness!
Looking back a few conclusions can be drawn:
- The Merlot content has been reduced consistently over the past 50 years, from 24% in 1998 to just 6% in 2015. Could the future hold a Las-Cases without Merlot??
- The Cab Sauv content has been growing consistently as well, from only 55% in 1993 to 88% in 2005 and 85% in 2015. Could Las-Cases one day even become a Cab Sauv mono varietal??
- Las-Cases is one of the most elegant Grands Crus Classés around; looking at alcohol in this tasting, we never saw even one vintage exceeding 14%! And all vintages before 2000 were under 13% alcohol! The acidity levels (as measured by pH) has remained moderately high, adding freshness to all the wines. Oak regimes have been balanced to add complexity and stability but was not over powering the fruit.
- Petit Verdot has been replaced by Cab Sauv sometime in the 90ties but could be reinstated to add structure, colour and depth..