A Wine Dinner with Lilian Barton


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Last night I attended a tasting of wines from Chateau Leoville Barton and Chateau Langoa Barton. The tasting was organized by Panos Kakaviatos (connectionstowine) who brought together Lilian Barton, ex chateau vintages back to 1989, and a group of wine lovers. The tasting was held in a private room located in the garret at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Dupont Circle. All of the red wines were graciously donated by Lilian Barton. They were imported by MacArthur Beverages for the tasting.

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We were a sizeable group many of whom were coming from the UGC 2010 Bordeaux tasting. As we waited for people to arrive and claim seats at the three tables we chatted over a few bottles of NV Krug, Grande Cuvee Brut, Champagne (ID 211024). These were donated by Mark Wessels of MacArthur Beverages. The Champagne was aromatic, rich in complexity, gently effervescent, and a strong start to the evening. It must have been a hit because everyone, including myself, kept returning for more. It took a bit of time for everyone to get settled. This gave me an opportunity to finally chat with David White (Terroirist). We have said hello at tastings over the year but never could stop to talk. There were many familiar faces Tim O’Rourke (Weygandt Wines), Dave McIntyre (Washington Post and DM WineLine), Mark Wessels (MacArthur Beverages), Ben Giliberti (Calvert Woodley), Christian Schiller (Schiller Wine), and Chris Bublitz. There were others I had met last week at the Bouchard tasting Ken, Paul, and Craig. It was a diverse crowd of people in the business, writers, bloggers, and serious drinkers. It seems that Panos’ reputation precedes him on two continents. We all knew of his vinous interest before ever meeting him in person. It may help explain how he is able to host such a wine dinner.

Lillian Barton and Panos Kakaviatos

Lilian Barton and Panos Kakaviatos

We started off with a barrel sample from the family’s newest estate Chateau Mauvesin Barton. This is the first vintage produced by the Barton family. The vineyards are on clay soils and contain quite a bit of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. There are even two rows of Carmenere which make it into the blend. They have set about elevating the wines by implementing a grape selection for the first time. The wines were previously made in 380 HL vats so the family installed more decent sized vats. There was a bit of a timing issue with regards to the harvest and new vats. They kept the old vats lurking around as insurance for their first vintage. The 2011 harvest was early but the new vats did arrive just in time. However, their cooling systems were connected as the fruit was brought in.

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2011 Chateau Mauvesin Barton, Moulis en Medoc
Barrel Sample. There was a light nose, delicately scented. In the mouth there was red and black fruit which stood up more. The profile is simple and a bit hard at this stage. There is a firmness to the structure. The flavors are in a cooler spectrum with salivating acidity.

We tasted the rest of the wines blind in flights of three. There were three bottles of each vintage save the 1989 of which there were two magnums. Except for the 2004 all of the wines were double-decanted giving them at least two hours of air. Panos felt the 2004 was already expressive right from the bottle.

Chateau Leoville Barton and Chateau Langoa Barton have a long well chronicled history. Both estates are owned by the Barton family whose introduction to Bordeaux took place with the arrival of Thomas Barton in 1722. A few years later in 1725 he established Barton & Guestier with his business partner. The name might sound familiar as it is still in existence today. In 1821 Hugh Barton purchased Chateau Pontet-Langlois which he named Langoa Barton. A few years later a big portion of the Leoville estate was purchased but then ultimately returned to the family. Hugh Barton was able to purchased a third of the estate at auction thus creating Leoville Barton. This portion consisted of only a vineyard so the wines had to be produced at Langoa Barton. The wines were well regarded as evidenced by Charles Cocks and Edouard Feret, Bordeaux and Its Wines, 1883, “Commendation upon the Langoa wines would be as useless as upon those of Leoville; their celebrity is universal.”

Image from Cocks & Feret, Bordeaux and Its Wines, 1883. Google Books.

Image from Cocks & Feret, Bordeaux and Its Wines, 1883. Google Books.

Today the estates are planted essentially the same 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 8% Cabernet Franc. They are vinified the same with fermentation in wooden vats then aging for 20 months in 50% new oak. They both feature a mixture of several terroirs. It was commented that it is hard to characterize the wines of Saint-Julien. Lilian agreed saying they have the charm and elegance of Margaux and the character and strength of Saint-Estephe. At the estate level the vineyards of Langoa Barton are on north-facing slopes at a slightly lower elevation than the south-facing slopes of Leoville Barton. Lilian attributes the generally increased complexity of Leoville Barton to the higher elevation of the vineyards. With the water table at the same depth the vines of Leoville Barton must go deeper, through more layers, gaining complexity.

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For both estates 2006 was a hot year with a bit of rain but nothing to worry about. They had already harvested most of their fruit by the time the rains came in. Lilian finds it a fine vintage following the great 2005 vintage. The 2004 vintage is stuck, so to speak, between 2005 and 2006. It was a huge crop forcing them to ask for a special allowance. They asked for 58 Hl/Ha but were allowed 56 Hl/Ha. The solution was permission to send the excess to be distilled but it had already been sold. So a fine was paid instead. In deducing which bottle of 2005 we were tasting, Mark felt it was Langoa Barton for the fruit was more forward that what he would expect of Leoville Barton.

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2006 Chateau Langoa-Barton, Saint-Julien
This was a little darker than the 2005. There was a light nose, tight with violets, and a bit of stem. In the mouth the flavors were simpler, firm, and generally followed the mouth. There were wood tannins.

2005 Chateau Langoa-Barton, Saint-Julien
The light nose was earthier with berries. In the mouth the black fruit had firmness and a bit of focused weight. There was a shorter aftertaste. This was actually a nice wine with a decent future.

2004 Chateau Leoville-Barton, Saint-Julien
The nose was the most interesting of the flight with old-lady perfume and a hint of wood. In the mouth it was a bit more relaxed with earthy, soft fruit, and a blacker aspect. It was clearly the most mature with a low-lying aftertaste.

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Lilian Barton is the 7th generation to work at the Chateau and the 9th in Bordeaux. Despite the centuries old establishment she still has an Irish passport. Lilian has a warm personality and approachable manner when discussing her wines. Her comments were never directed at what is in the glass, rather they set a context. Her earliest memory of the Chateau is of sitting on top of a barrel, removing the bung, then sticking her fingers in so she could taste the wine. As to the rumor of Uncle Ronald maintaining a special barrel of wine to serve his guests at the Chateau she has no recollection. The wines of 1998 suffered from being typical Medoc wines, mean when young and in need of time. It was an economic vintage as 1997 had been expensive. The 1999s went past unnoticed but are charming and drinkable. The wines of 2000 were bound to be good regardless of what actually happened. Ben Giliberti recalled the 1953 vintage where he prefers the Langoa Barton over the Leoville Barton. There was some conversation about if Langoa Barton was made to be the lesser of the two. This indeed is not the case. Ben concluded that in vintages which requires a lighter wine, he prefers Langoa Barton.

2000 Chateau Langoa Barton, Saint-Julien
This had a light to medium nose of stalky red fruit, tobacco, and the beginning of mature aromas. In the mouth the red fruit reminded me of Langoa-Barton with lights flavors, acidity, and a firmness in the finish. The tannins were integrated.

1999 Chateau Leoville Barton, Saint-Julien
This had a light, tight nose of dark red fruit and good scents. The flavors were concentrated in the mouth, a little more purple, and showed some weight. Good future here.

1998 Chateau Langoa Barton, Saint-Julien
This was tight with dark red fruit, firm in the core, a note of earth but generally the most backwards of all the wines tasted. Potential.

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The vintage of 1990 was atypical being so very hot and very dry. This can cause quite a problem when vegetation stops. Fortunately there were rains in mid-September after which the vines did something for a few weeks and all was fine. Mark felt that the fruit showed well with good depth but it shows more ripeness with age. It might have been best at ten years of age. In time the 1989 vintage might prove to be the better of the two. The estate lost money with the 1991 and 1992 vintages. They broke even in 1993, did better in 1994 then returned to a good footing in 1995 and 1996. Lilian felt the wines of 1995 are lovely nice wines, always have been and still are. Those of 1996 show more power and need time to age.

1996 Chateau Langoa Barton, Saint-Julien
There were cool blue and red fruit flavors with a generally redder aspect. There was firm wood towards the finish followed by a rather interesting aftertaste.

1995 Chateau Leoville Barton, Saint-Julien
There was a subdued fine scent with a little wood box. In the mouth there were blacker fruit flavors, dense fruit, and still fine, strong tannins. A nice with enjoyable austerity.

1990 Chateau Leoville Barton, Saint-Julien
This had a light to medium nose of earthy aromas, some stink, and all around attractiveness. The wine was resolved in the mouth with firm black fruit, dried herbs, and bluer black fruit in the finish. This powerful wine has lots of life left and is youthful in a sense. Beautiful.

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We circled back to the youngest wines. Lilian felt the 2008 a lovely, supple vintage of which there is not much to talk about. It was a particularly great value for those who purchased en primeur. The 2009 will drink earlier whereas the 2010 will need longer. It has big tannins, big alcohol and is quite charming but she is afraid it might close up soon.

2008 Chateau Leoville Barton, Saint-Julien
The nose with light with bright red fruit and a touch tart. In the mouth the red fruit mixed with acidity as gentle tannins came out. There were wood box notes. Well done.

2009 Chateau Leoville Barton, Saint-Julien
This had a scent nose of young, nice fruit. In the mouth the flavors were fine with focused fruit, more structure, and a touch darker. There were spicy tannins.

2010 Chateau Langoa Barton, Saint-Julien
The nose had good powdery sweet fruit. In the mouth the fruit was young with a cinnamon, spicy structure. Good nose.

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It was rather late at this point. Some people left with the rest stepping away from the tables to mingle. I needed a break from tasting so Lou and I introduced ourselves to Rutger de Vink, proprietor of RdV Vineyards. We had an interesting conversation about his Exsurgo wine for Wounded Warriors. The details of which I shall write about in a few weeks. Two foil wrapped magnums begin to circulate. They turned out to be 1989 Chateau Langoa Barton. There was a brief resurgence as glasses were charged but even the lovely wine could not delay the impending closure of the Metro system. We were down to a small group now Lilian, Panos, Rutger, Dave, Maria, Chris, and myself. Chris generously brought a bottle of 1986 Chateau Leoville Barton. With his bottle mostly full and at least half of a magnum about I left my notebook, took up my glass, and drank. The 1989 was mature with wood box, soft spices, but fresh with a good core of fruit. The 1986 was in great shape as well with a similar maturity but with a blacker, mineral heart. Both were markedly different from the 1990 Leoville Barton. They were what I would hope for from a mature Bordeaux.

Lillian Barton and Chris Bublitz

Lilian Barton and Chris Bublitz

Dave and I split a taxi back to Silver Spring. It was after midnight and the prospect of waking up in five hours was not attractive. As Dave noted, Panos puts together a Bordeaux dinner only once per year in DC. It is a time to enjoy oneself and not to worry about anything else.

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  1. February 1, 2013 at 10:36 am

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