TNs: Leoville / Langoa Barton Wine Dinner In DC

Don’t know if anyone has posted on this yet, but the intrepid Panos Kakaviatos set up a wine dinner at Ruths Chris steakhouse in DC last Thursday, featuring extended verticals of Leoville and Langoa Barton and the participation of the charming Lillian Barton. The company was terrific, including lots of WB posters and great turnout from the DC wine crowd. I sat across from Keith Levenberg and between Ian Lippner and David Theis, and the conversation was as good as the wine. Also present were Rutger De Vink of RDV Vineyards (‘first growth Virginia’) fame, and Dave McIntyre, the Post’s wine critic.

The ‘gimmick’ tonight was guessing blind which wines were Langoa and which were Leoville, with only the vintages identified. Having never really had Langoa before I for one wasn’t really able to do that – I took the terribly prejudiced route of guessing everything I liked was Leoville and everything I was ‘meh’ about was Langoa. But I’m always down for 13 vintages of good Bordeaux whether or not I can name a single wine.

2011 Mauvesin Barton (Moulis) – we started off with a new Barton property in Moulis en Medoc. If I understood Lillian correctly they bought this because they didn’t have enough properties for all the Barton kids interested in winemaking – nice problem to have, and to be able to solve! I found this surprisingly fruity, open and friendly for such a young wine, I guess it was a barrel sample. Lots of merlot on this one but also a nice spiciness that might have come from cab franc (didn’t sense much CS here). Not a ton of structure, but had good freshness, a vivid nose, nice roundness and enough of an herbal quality to keep things interesting. You could definitely still tell you were in Bordeaux. Particularly impressive given the mediocre vintage. Good value for $20, I’d buy it.

Sorry that my notes are somewhat fragmentary; the more years I spend in wine the less detailed my notes get and the more I just like to sniff and drink and not bother with the adjectives…not sure where that’s coming from.

First flight – 2004 to 2006

2004: Corked on the nose, and the fruit felt stripped on the non-descript palate. I couldn’t get anything out of this one. Others who had non-corked bottles said it was quite good. Leoville Barton.

2005: A lot of depth here, surprisingly round and plush for 2005. Good midpalate and richness but lacks a bit of complexity. Licorice emerges with time. Guessed Langoa, was Langoa.

2006: A bit green, acidic, good tangy quality but really nothing special. Guessed Langoa, was Langoa.

Second flight – 1998 to 2000

This was my favorite flight, all three wines really had something to offer and were in a nice place on their aging curve.

1998: nice wine. Has a certain stiffness I associate with 1998 left bank, depth is not fantastic but very Cab Sauv. Would have been better on its own because the other two wines in this flight had me distracted. Guessed Leoville, was Langoa.

1999: Hey there, 1999! My wine of the night. I always felt 99 was a seriously underrated vintage, at its best it just has so much charm. One of the first classed growths I ever bought was a couple of bottles of 99 Lynch, and they really kick-started my wine addiction – terrific young and never have shut down. I’ve always found the best 99 left banks to have a very supple, seductive quality that is never heavy or overbearing, just a charming understated warmth and complexity. One of the best under-the-radar vintages to drink while you’re waiting for those vintages of the century, IMO better than 2001 on the left bank anyway. Anyway, this wine had all those qualities. I hadn’t had a 1999 in some time and this was a great reintroduction. My full written notes read “Hey! I really like this wine! Round but not soft, a charmer!”, so you’ll have to infer from there. It actually tasted quite different from the Leoville Barton sterotype, but I guessed Leoville anyway since I didn’t think a Langoa would have the stuffing to do all this wine was doing. It was indeed Leoville Barton.

2000: Very classic Bordeaux and very Cab Sauv, classic mix of leafiness/stalkiness and cassis, with a vivid toasted/scorched streak down the middle but not oaky. Vivid acidity but enough fruit to carry it. Really nice wine, good complexity and a lot going on. I kept my nose buried in the glass for a long time, always a good indicator. (If I had my way people would stop timing finishes and start timing how long they inhaled the wine before they drank it, that’s a more telling sign of quality). But it didn’t have a ton of depth and was further along in aging than I imagine 2000 Leoville Barton would be now, so I guessed Langoa. It was indeed Langoa.

Third flight – 1990, 1995, 1996

1990: Whoa. No! I had been looking forward to 1990, but this is a hot pruny mess. Keith Levenberg claimed the vivid notes of nail polish remover that accompanied the blast of alcohol represent ‘volatile acidity’, but when I asked him why ‘volatile acidity’ smells like nail polish remover while just plain ‘acidity’ smells like delightful freshness he just waved away the question and said he wasn’t a chemist. So judge his credibility for yourself :slight_smile:. (And if any real chemists are reading this, I’d love to hear the answer). Anyway, this wine was practically undrinkable. If 1990 is our leading indicator of what hot-weather vintages are going to taste like at 20-25 years old then experiences like this are a little scary. Guessed ??? didn’t care, was Leoville Barton.

1995: OK, back in Bordeaux. This one was kind of like 1998, nice enough wine but just didn’t impress me enough to write much down. Leoville Barton.

1996: Ah, very nice. There’s a particular 1996 quality I really like, a nice green leafiness perfectly balanced by cassis fruit. It’s just such a good cabernet sauv vintage, the best 96s nail that stalky quality and buffer it all around with nice fruit so its not overly green. This must be Leoville Barton…nope, it’s Langoa Barton. A little surprised I preferred 96 Langoa to 95 Leoville.

Fourth flight – 2008, 2009, 2010

2008 – a little green and dry and shut-down feeling but that might just be compared to other two vintages. Does still have a vein of cassis running through it though. Not sure what to make of this one, maybe just a bit asleep, again the other two vintages upset my palate here though. Guessed ???, was Leoville Barton

2009 – Wow. I’ve only had a couple of top 2009s but they have all shared this pronounced midpalate sweetness, it’s like you can roll the sugar crystals on your tongue. But the balance on the wines is good enough that it doesn’t matter. This one feels like a very classic 2009 – dense and balanced, very deep and sweet midpalate, plenty of tannins on the back end but they aren’t harsh tannins and just fit smoothly into the overall flow of the wine. A very good wine if you like them rich, this is a ‘Napa Bordeaux’ vintage. Well, either Langoa hit a home run this year or this is Leoville. It’s Leoville Barton. (As a side note – Parker sort of missed the boat on this one, he always seems to describe LB as having excruciating tannins and an old fashioned style, that’s not really an accurate take on this wine).

2010 – Not so good here. A strikingly sweet attack on this wine, almost a confected / candied quality up front. Some artificial violet flavor, followed by a hollow and tannic midpalate and trails off with some more tannins on the finish. I don’t think I like this wine, it feels faked somehow. Hope this is not an indicator of 2010 vintage character. Out of balance and hollow. OK, the midpalate fills in some with time in the glass, gets it up to the mediocre level maybe, but not enough to fully right the ship. Better than the 1990 at least. Don’t know which wine this is? It’s Langoa Barton.

Final wine – 1989

Panos generously shared a magnum of a 1989 Barton to finish things off. Really really nice, maybe tied with the 2009 for my second favorite wine of the night (after the 1999), although this is very classical and a totally different character than the 2009. Just the complete aged Bordeaux package here, excellent savory and herbal character framed by graceful and still lively fruit. Very nice, guessed Leoville Barton but was Langoa Barton.

Great notes Marcus. Thanks for posting.

The 1989 Langoa was my favorite. It was charming and soave with good fruit and freshness for a 20+ year old wine.

I now understand the hype about 2009. The 2009 Leoville was tough to put down as it was packed with fruit, showed great acidity, and round tannins. For those who enjoy early drinking a la 1990, this is a great vintage. I prefer them older without thier baby fat and youthful exuberance but this is hard to resist now.

1999 Leoville was another highlight. This was a cerebral wine showing minerality and a silky mouth feel.

2004 Leoville is a good vintage to drink now at reasonable prices. This wine doesn’t possess the power of stronger vintages but maintains the fruit and freshness one would expect. I’ll plan to drink a few bottles I have in my cellar over the next 5-10 years.

Unfortunately, 1990 Leoville was off. One bottle was corked and a second bottle was marred by VA. I have had the 1990 before and there is no doubt in my mind that this would have been WOTN if it was a correct showing.

This was indeed an incredible evening. Thanks to Panos, Lillian, and Maria Denton for contributing to such a wonderful event. It was a very educational and stimulating event.

That 1990 LB note is a little disturbing. Last time I had it several years ago, it was very good but outclassed by 1990 LLC, and still somewhat closed. Notes on CT do seem a little variable though there are lots of good ones.

This was probably clear from my notes, but I agree completely with David that the 1989, 1999, and 2009 were the highlights of the evening (couldn’t judge 04 as my bottle was flawed). Good point about the minerality of the 1999 – that goes to what I referred to as the ‘suppleness’ of the vintage, it shows minerality and complexity without being stiff at all and still having that fruity seductive charm.

This was the only 1990 LB I’ve ever had so David’s experience with other bottles is a useful corrective. I can only speak to this bottle, which was terrible.

Interesting tasting, thanks for your notes. Would love to see notes on a good btl of leoville Barton from 96, 03 and 04.

Thanks for all the notes Marcus and David. I think we had some bad luck with the 1990. Although I have had previous bottles that just did not shine as well as I would have thought. Based on my experience, Leoville Barton 1989 is better than its one year younger sibling. The chateau was very generous to offer all bottles for this event, including the 1989 Langoa mag! I wanted to include as many people as possible and for that reason we did not have perhaps enough “backup” in case a bottle turned out poorly. And I must admit that Maria Denton and I missed probable TCA signs on that 1990 and the one 2004, because we had thought that both were funky but not necessarily marred by the TCA. Sorry about that! The two other cleaner 2004s were very good. Craig, the 1996 was Langoa, and it was delicious. We did not have any 2003. The chateau chose which wines to offer…

The 1999 Barton has always been a favorite of ours. Even at a young age, it was very approachable. It was the first Bordeaux that my wife truly enjoyed, and she hasn’t looked since. I still have a couple of bottles and a mag.

What a great tasting. I tasted recently the 2010 Barton, and it was excellent and drinking well. What a great producer with still manageable pricing.

Aaron Nix-Gomez has released a very nice posting A Wine Dinner with Lilian Barton | Hogshead - A Wine Blog on Hogshead.

I’m not a chemist either, but there’s plenty of information out there on volatile acidity, and Keith was correct.

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Sounds like a great tasting. Have good memories of a 90’ Barton had last year…you figure after 20 years in bottle excellent provenance isn’t so easy to come by.

Well, I dunno if you can say that acidity smells like delightful freshness - acid doesn’t smell. That’s just the delightful, non-overripe fruit you’re smelling… [cheers.gif]

The '99 was definitely one of the big hits. I probably liked it a little less and liked the '06 a little more than the consensus had it. If you like your Bordeaux full of iron and muscle, the '06 Langoa is it - I guessed Leoville on that one.

I don’t think I have ever had Langoa before this event either, so my guesses were also extremely ill-informed, although I was happily 2-for-2 on vintages where I’ve actually had the Leoville. I drank both the '00 and '96 Leoville Barton fairly recently and neither vintage here tasted like those, and indeed they were Langoa. The '00 Langoa isn’t close to the level of the '00 Leoville, but in '96 the Langoa might be better. It’s fresher and less advanced, for what that’s worth.

I did think a decent picture emerged of the difference between the two properties. Langoa seemed consistently fatter and more red-fruited, Leoville a bit darker complexioned, rockier, further removed from the fruit. The '99 was positively black-fruited and quite concentrated too - definitely doesn’t fit the vintage preconceptions.

Thanks Panos!

Not a chemist, but not all acid tastes alike. Lactic acid (milk), malic acid (apples) and tartaric acid all taste different. So, why can’t volatile acidity remind one of nail polish remover, which seems like a pretty good description in my experience.

I think that in the end it was clear that Leoville Barton is the superior wine, but it was good to see that Langoa can perform well. I am thinking particularly of the 2000 and 1996 vintages, and the 1989. It was nice indeed to have a fine mix of people at the tasting dinner.

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Problem is I drank most of them up and have very few left. Thanks for the notes.

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Following up on the implied suggestion that I should just hit google and stop joking around, I did that. The bottom line seems to be that while acids themselves do not have an odor, esters (the reaction product of acids and alcohol), do have an odor, and that odor varies quite a bit depending on what kind of acid is involved. So while Keith was technically correct above that acids do not have a smell, Howard was maybe more on point in implying that acids ‘smell different’ – the esters resulting from acids smell very different, and as I got reminded are a very major component of a wine’s aroma. Always good to learn some basic wine chemistry after having spent over a decade drinking the stuff…long overdue.

Keith correctly pegged the volatile acidity / nail polish remover connection – the nail polish smell is probably ethyl acetate, the ester resulting from a reaction between acetic acid and ethyl alcohol. Acetic acid is sort of a spoilage/vinegar acid, so it might be a result of a damaged wine. But the question I continue to have is why you get more of that ‘nail polish’ smell in highly alcoholic wines from hot years, or in overripe grapes. (I’m not actually sure whether that is true but it certainly seems that way to me). Wines from such years are more alcoholic but aren’t more likely to have been damaged per se.


I’ve had the '96 two or three times and each time I thought it was essentially a perfect example of a Left Bank Bordeaux. Just a classic wine, IMO.

On the Leoville Barton 2004, I liked it, too, but feel that it is still on the too young side. It has much freshness, is suave on the palate, which is of medium concentration and intensity. There is some tannic edge as well, which would be good to resolve over a few more years yet. And I would agree with David Ehrlich, in his notes above, that it does not match the concentration of, say, the 1996 or especially the 2000 or 2005, to take three examples.

I’m not sure how I managed to miss the beginning of this thread. Thanks again to Panos for organizing such a tasting and for Lilian to donate all of the wines. And to Christian for posting about my notes. There certainly was bottle variation amongst some of the vintages. Fortunately there were three bottles of each vintage except for the 1989 of which there were two magnums. I was fortunate that others before me caught on to the under performing pours so I was able to dump my glass quickly and get a replacement. If you didn’t dump your glass in time, as what happened to Ken, they didn’t pour the replacement.

That said my 1990 Leoville Barton was beautiful and young whereas the 1989 Langoa Barton was lovely and mature. There was also a 1986 Leoville Barton provided by Chris B. which was lovingly mature as well.

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This was a very enjoyable evening. Nice to start things off with a few glasses of Krug Grand Cuvee. I really enjoyed listening to Lilian Barton discuss the wines. I found the Langoas quite enjoyable. I particularly liked the 1989, 2000 and 2005 Langoa Barton. The 1995, 1999 and 2009 Leoville Barton showed very well. Would have been nice to compare 1985 Leoville Barton (my favorite) with these younger vintages.

It was great to see you there Chris, and many thanks for bringing that 1986 Leoville Barton, which was delicious.
Here the link to Christian’s report on the tasting: