The annual carnival of mercenary hype is upon us once again and, as usual, my heart is filled with lament at the prospect of ever greater numbers of lovely wines rendered unaffordable by joyless speculation and hoarding. As good a time as any, then, to open a bottle of Bordeaux bought in slightly less cynical times when a reasonable amount of wine was still bought to drink rather than to resell.
This bottle of 1996 La Réserve de Léoville-Barton (12.5% ABV) was one of a few that I bought from Oddbins upon its release for the lofty sum of £16 each. I’ve had a soft spot for Anthony Barton’s wines ever since an encounter with a charming half bottle of 1989 Langoa Barton bought from D. Byrne and Co. in late 1998, and this "humble" second wine didn’t disappoint either.
The garnet hue suggested maturity but certainly not old age. Soft berry fruit, woody cedar, gentle mint-laced cassis and a whiff of smokey earth aromas all intertwined on the nose. Typical of Saint-Julien, the dry palate was elegant and medium bodied, laced with lithe but not intrusive tannins and kept vibrant by a slightly edgy acidity. Mellow redcurrant and black fruits with subtle rare meat and leather flavours, all wrapped in a fine gossamer of vanilla scented oak, lead into a drying spicy tobacco and cool, minty cassis finish with a mineral thread running through it. Very long and refined, this was a delight from beginning to end and it was a reminder that good Bordeaux is certainly worth paying for. Up to a point, at any rate.