Finding recherché in the classicism of a family run wine business is obscured by today’s speculative boardroom market of classified growths, futures and the wheeling of the négociant. When Bordeaux comes to town the connection is by and large a sterile one. How refreshing it is when the introduction is made in terms of kith, kin and tradition. The Delon family has been in the Bordeaux game since the middle ages. The estate of Château Potensac has been in Jean-Hubert Delon’s bloodline “since time immemorial.” The Delon holdings include Château Nenin (Pomerol), Potensac (Médoc) and Château Léoville-Las Cases (Saint-Julien).
Léoville-Las Cases or “LLC,” as it is affectionately known, is one of the oldest Médoc properties and though it has always played 2nd Growth fiddle to its elite Classified Growth neighbours, Las Cases is anything but second class. The terroir, micro-climate, vines, ripening potential, history, track record and wine acumen of Léoville-Las Cases is equal to those of Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton. It might be considered the fifth major (or, in wine, the sixth), like the PGA’s Player’s Championship. Of the players, for the players. In fact, the estate is like an island green of itself, unique, accessible, of the people and for the people. LLC attracts an elite field but its success is shared and enjoyed by a level of consumer who may never afford or even come to taste a bottle of First Growth wine.
Pierre Graffeuille (Commercial Export Director) came to Toronto’s National Club on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 to present and to pour a cross-section of the Delon group of wines. Mr. Graffeuille was quick to point out “we do not want to make blockbusters.” The wines of Potensac, Clos de Marquis, Nenin and Léoville-Las Cases are meant for “lunches and dinners, not for tastings. We focus on elegance, not concentration.”
The Delon philosophy is based on “a continual and incontestable search for excellence.” The ontology is shared and spread throughout the 550 acres of production between the three properties. VINTAGES is sharing the Delon belief with an extensive offering from the properties, including a long vertical of LLC.
Château Potensac is situated in the north Médoc, close to Saint-Estèphe and is possessed of a similar terroir. Set on 200 acres, the vines average at 40 years-old, with some plots exceeding 80. The plantings are Merlot (50 per cent),Cabernet Sauvignon (35) and Cabernet Franc (15). Soils are clay limestone/small gravel and the density of 8000 vines/ha is congruent with classified growths. Traditional Médoc élevage is 1/3 new French oak for 12-14 months.
Château Nenin is 0ne of the largest estates in the appellation of Pomerol. It comprises 80 acres on the Pomerol plateau, land of clay with gravel and more clay underneath in sub-soil. Nenin’s neighbours include Château Trotanoy and Le Pin. The vines are now at 25 years in average, young by Pomerol standards but with huge potential. The acreage was originally planted to Merlot (78 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (22), though little by little the Franc is increasing with each passing vintage. “For freshness,” notes Pierre. The Nenin élevage is generally 30 per cent new French oak for 14-18 months.
Château Léoville-Las Cases has been in the Delon family since the 19th century and represents the heart and more than 60 per cent of the former (17th century) estate. The famous walled enclosure houses the most prestigious plot just below the (Gironde) river that separates it from Château Latour in Paulliac. This geographical allusion is key to understanding the LLC oeuvre. The wines are the amalgamated embodiment of and yet are neither Saint Julien nor Paulliac. The vines grow within a plot that brings the Venn diagram circles of both appellations into play. Once again, Las Cases is the island of Bordeaux, in fact, it is the archipelago of wine estates. It draws detail, deed and qualification from without, then internalizes all within. Even the Clos de Marquis, from vines grown on soils of more sand and less clay gathers and concentrates its holdings. The Clos combines “2nd wine” conceptualization with affordability in unparalleled ways. It is a benchmark for the intellection in Bordeaux.
With thanks to the markedly too legit to quit Mark Coster and Noble Estates, the pleasure was had to taste four wines from the Domaines Delon. Here are the notes.
Château Potensac 2003, Ac Médoc, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (394866, $61.00, WineAlign)
What with its congruence to Saint-Estèphe terroir amplified by the humidity of the 2003 vintage, Potensac mines the gene pool for pure, unadulterated Médoc. The breakdown in ’03 is equal parts 41 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Cabernet Franc rounding out the holy Bordeaux trinity. Certainly atypically warm in vintage, it has marinated and maintained its push vs. pull of freshness and warmth. Smells of black fruit, licorice, scrub brush and is no doubt really ripe with the heat still in control. Chalk, grain and mineral layers dominate the piquant palate. Finishes with capers and olives on top of small stones. The limestone is really prominent. Has hit its cruising speed and will stay there for a projection of three more years.
Clos Du Marquis 2004, Ac St Julien, 2nd Wine Of Château Léoville Las Cases, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402487, $115.00, WineAlign)
Ten years have got behind this baby Château Léoville Las Cases from the estate’s vineyard silted of more sand and less clay than that of the 2nd Growth’s esteemed enclosure. Composed of Cabernet Sauvignon (57 per cent), Merlot (38) and small rounding out amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the Marquis enters with quite a bass note and plucky twang. It lives on the dark side of the fruit spectrum, with notable Cassis, black currants and a funk progression in the tonic minor. A savoury spike which has Mediterranean pique, richness and wood spice ticks in rhythmic metronome and lingering cool notes. Prickly in woody funk. Cool, herbal funk. There is a late great push to stretched length. Clos de Marquis “you are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.” Drinking well at 10 and will live for 10 more.
Château Nenin 1999, Ac Pomerol, Bordeaux, Right Bank, France (402495, $177.00, WineAlign)
From one of the largest estates in the appellation, the Nenin’s terroir is clay with gravel and more clay underneath in the sub-soil. The layered richness is apparent as far back as this ’99, an early vintage fashioned from Merlot (88 per cent) and Cabernet Franc (12). These are numbers that would gradually invert in future vintages. As per the LLC practicum, this spent 14-18 months in 30 per cent new French oak. This 15 year-old Nenin is earlier generation softer in style, lush and mellow. There are plums mixed with a Right Bank truffle, which, with time and shelled terroir, has come out to play. Now that the wine is a teenager, it wears the vineyard funk as its make up. A shadow of soft red fruit and a shave of fungi are accented by some wood relish. Age is this Merlot’s best friend. The fruit has dissipated but certainly remains in the audience, just not quite at centre stage.
Château Léoville Las Cases 1995, Ac St Julien, Bordeaux, Left Bank, France (402529, $599.00, WineAlign)
This 2nd Growth, Grand Vin is a product of nurturing and environment, a study in 12 superb soil subsets, from sand to clay to stone. From mature, edified vines split between Cabernet Sauvignon (70 per cent), Cabernet Franc (16) and Merlot (14). The LLC ’95 is grounded and centered on its highly confident axis while swirling within a centrifuge of inwardly concentrated, ripe but not ripest fruit. Merlot here is the anchor, Cabernet Sauvignon the mast. This is a relationship of pure linear fruit meets acidity. The full and fresh attack is refined with soft-pedaled tannins. It’s neither St. Julien nor Paulliac. It is Las Cases. No other Bordeaux is such an island, a distinctly personal expression, an event of its own. This is a window to the greatest vintages, a portal to extend to the benchmarks of 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2009, but also to step into the history of physiological cortex, to gain insight into previous legendary vintages, like 90, 89 and 82. The ’95 is silky, caressing, rapturous enveloping in a reverse osmosis of fruit and acidity, acidity and tannin. Another sip notices the layering, the grain left in tannin, the lingering richness of the fruit. The absolute sweet caress.
Good to go!