On Monday I met with Bruno Rolland, Cellar Master at Château Léoville Las Cases. Léoville Las Cases is located in Saint-Julien Beychevelle and is a Second Growth 1855 Classification.
The estate is one of the largest in Saint-Julien, managing 98 hectares of vines, composed of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. The average age of the vines is 35 to 40 years old and the soil composition includes gravel and stones, and a mix of clay. The average yields are around 40 hectoliters per hectare, depending on the vintage. Once dropped off at the winery, the grapes are fermented for 6 to 8 days, followed by a 12- to 28-day maceration with roughly two pump overs per day for extraction. The estate owns an equal proportion of oak, stainless steel and concrete vats. However, the malolactic fermentation takes place strictly in the stainless steel and oak vats, lasting anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. After the malolactic fermentation is complete, the final blend is created and the wine is transferred to 65% new oak barrels for 15 to 18 months of aging (in the case of the first label). The average annual production is 180,000 to 200,000 bottles for the first label, Grand Vin de Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases, and 250,000 to 270,000 bottles for the second label, Clos du Marquis.
Briefly touching on the history, the estate was founded in the 19th century after Théophile Skawinski, great-great grandfather of the current owners, purchased the vineyards and took over the management of the estate. However, Léoville Las Cases as it is known and respected today is more a product Michel Delon, Théophile’s great grandson. Michel worked during the 80s and 90s alongside Michel Rolland (Bruno’s father and Cellar Master, not the famed Bordeaux oenologist), and Jacques Depoizier, who at that time was the Technical Director. Today Jacques is still on board, having been promoted to General Director. The team of three made numerous investments, including a new grape drop off and destemmer machine, a temperature control system, a new winery and barrel aging cellar, and stainless steel vats. In 1994, years after receiving a law degree, Michel Delon’s son, Jean-Hubert, began working at the estate. Upon his dad’s retirement, in 2000, Jean-Hubert assumed full ownership and management responsibilities, alongside his sister, Geneviève d’Alton. The two were very successful in maintaining the world-class quality of wine. Moreover, the brother-sister team’s first major improvement was to build a new oenology lab, and today there are already tentative plans to fully renovate the fermentation room.
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of Léoville Las Cases’ top friendly rivals, so I asked Bruno to compare the two estates’ wine. He noted that during the 1960s and 70s most considered Ducru-Beaucaillou’s production to be higher in quality; however, during the 80s Léoville Las Cases rose up to equal or better its neighbor, purely subjectively speaking of course. In comparison Bruno considers that Ducru-Beaucaillou has great fruitiness; however, he considers Léoville Las Cases to express better structure and tannins. All in all, however, Bruno explained that compared to St-Estèphe, Pauillac and Margaux, which tend to be rather heterogeneous appellations, St-Julien is a more homogenous appellation among the top producers.
In terms of the 2008 vintage Bruno likens it to the 2005 and 2006. He characterizes the 2008 as expressing good tannins and a generous structure, being built to age. In his opinion the 2008 falls between the 2005 and 2006, with the 2005 showing a little more elegance and the 2006, a little more power.
Bruno put together a horizontal tasting for me, including the first and second labels from the Delon Family’s two other estates, Château Nénin and Château Potensac, and the first and second label at Léoville Las Cases …
2004 Fugue de Nénin, Pomerol
Tasting Notes: 92.5% Merlot and 7.5% Cabernet Franc. 13.52% ABV. Good fruit and a mild richness on the nose with aromas of mineral, black berries, and mild oak. Good acidity and silky tannins in the mouth, although a little bitter. There are flavors of dark chocolate, plum, and minerals, followed by black cherry and cassis on the finish.
Rating: 13/20 (WS 85)
Price: $20 USD @ Snooth
2004 Château Nénin, Pomerol
Tasting Notes: 74.5% Merlot and 25.5% Cabernet Franc. 13.55% ABV. Bright, fresh, red fruit on the nose, however lacking complexity. There are notes of black berries and a light minerality. Good acidity in the mouth with a medium body and medium tannins. There are flavors of sour cherries, espresso and dark chocolate.
Rating: 13/20 (WS 88)
Price: $32 USD @ Wine Spectator
2004 Chapelle de Potensac, Medoc
Tasting Notes: 55% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.15% ABV. Raspberries, black berries, and light leather notes on the nose. This wine is bright, acidic and citrusy with medium tannins and a medium-bodied mouth feel. There are flavors of plums, cherries, raspberries, and light dark chocolate. This is a simple “picnic” wine.
Rating: 13/20 (WS 82)
Price: $40 USD @ Snooth
2004 Château Potensac, Medoc
Tasting Notes: 52.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40.7% Merlot, and 6.8% Petit Verdot. 13.21% ABV. A little closed with notes of black fruits creeping out on the nose. In the mouth this wine shows a bright acidity with structured tannins and a medium to full body. There are flavors of black cherries, graphite and cassis, followed by an oaky-citrusy finish.
Rating: 14/20 (WS 88)
Price: $20 USD @ Wine Spectator
2004 Clos du Marquis, Saint-Julien
Tasting Notes: 56.7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2.3% Cabernet Franc. 13.23% ABV. A very fresh nose of cassis, oak and minerals. A bright acidity and full body in the mouth with silky to mildly course tannins that come off slightly disjointed. There are flavors of black cherries, mild oak, plums, and light leather. Sour cherries, plums and a touch of dark chocolate linger on the finish.
Rating: 14/20 (WS 91)
Price: $30 USD @ Wine Spectator
2004 Grand Vin de Léoville, Saint-Julien
Tasting Notes: 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 11% Cabernet Franc. 50.7% yield at harvest. 60% new oak aging. 12.87% ABV. More complexity on the nose with aromas of black fruits, minerality and a mild, minty freshness. There are nice black fruits in the mouth, with a balanced acidity, medium tannins and a slightly bitter mid palate. There are flavors of dark chocolate, espresso, black cherries, and black berries.
Rating: 14/20 (WS 95)
Price: $88 USD @ Wine Spectator, auction price