Our formative years are important ones. As youngsters, as teenagers, or as young men and women setting out to change the world, our environment shaped our beliefs, philosophies and personalities much more than – at the time – we perhaps realised. The arts can have a profound effect on us at this impressionable age. The music we listened to perhaps felt transient, but in fact it stays with us for the rest of our lives. We saw the work of great directors such as Jean-Luc Goddard and Stanley Kubrick for the first time, learning that moving pictures can also move emotions, and we discovered the power of the words written by Wells, Orwell, Hemingway and their ilk. As humans, we grew, moving in character towards the adults we are today.
The discovery of wine perhaps comes a little later in life, especially so when it comes to increasingly expensive cru classé wines of Bordeaux. Even so, I suspect each of us has had our own significant, formative experiences. Some will indeed be transient, for a multitude of reasons, not least the fact that the wine world does not stand still; châteaux change hands, and styles of wine change. When we return to a familiar piece of music, a film or a favourite novel, while it may feel dated it is in fact us, and the world around us, that has changed. The work of the artist remains the same, a time capsule moving ever forward, ever available, ever the same. With wine, however, it is impossible to infinitely return to the same wine, first because wines themselves age and evolve, and secondly because the supply of any one wine is necessarily finite. Eventually we must give up on that old favourite, and drink a younger vintage instead. Sometimes the memory the new vintage evokes can be joyous, but these younger wines can also disappoint. That’s wine. And that’s life.
When it comes to my own formative wine experiences, my early tastes of Château Léoville-Barton made a very significant impression on me, shaping my palate preferences, and I have remained interested and intrigued by this popular deuxième grand cru classé château ever since. And happily this is a very consistent domaine; when I come back to even recent vintages the wine still manages to evoke sensations similar to those I experienced with much earlier vintages. Château Léoville-Barton is my vinous equivalent of Hunky Dory, or Love in the Time of Cholera, or The Killing Fields. I find I can return to it again and again, and never be dissatisfied. Disappointments here are practically non-existent.
In this profile I explore the history of Château Léoville-Barton, before looking at the domaine today, the vineyards and winemaking, finishing up as always with my tasting notes. Because much of the early history up until the division of the original Léoville estate is shared with Château Léoville-Las-Cases and Château Léoville-Poyferré, however, it may already be familiar. If you wish to pick up the story at the moment this property was separated from the Léoville estate, turn to page three, while for the details of the vineyards and winemaking today turn to page five.