A Wine for All Seasons: the Tipping Point at Léoville Lascases

Two vintages of Léoville Lascases over the weekend gave me pause for thought about the view that 1982 was the vintage when Bordeaux made the transition from the “classical” to the more “international” style.LascasesThe 1982 vintage in Bordeaux was super-ripe, perhaps unprecedented if you ignore 1947, but around year 2000 I noticed that the wines were losing their lushness and reverting to type, by which I mean that the overtly fruity character was replaced by something more savory, even in some cases hints of herbaceousness (but only hints given the ripeness of the vintage). If the wines were sometimes difficult to relate to past expectations when the vintage was first released, since 2000 they have been increasingly displaying classic balance of savory fruits and lightness of being. The 1982 Lascases today is very much a classic in the modern idiom – meaning it shows the same flavor profile, increasingly moving in a savory direction, as earlier great vintages, but has the extra level of ripeness of the modern era.

1986 was not so highly rated as 1982 as a vintage in Bordeaux (Parker gives it 94 points compared with 98 points, for example) and some of the wines seemed a bit tough on release. Léoville Lascases was a standout for ripeness, and today gives an impression of first growth richness and power. It seems to be aging at a snail’s pace, and in a blind tasting might well seem ten or more years younger than the 1982. I wouldn’t exactly call it “international” but it really is a far cry from classic Bordeaux; and unlike the 1992, I do not think it will revert to classical type.

For me, these two wines typify the difference between classic and modern Bordeaux. I have never seen the tipping point so clearly demonstrated.

1986 Léoville Lascases

Very much a wine in the modern idiom, showing the power and weight of a first growth; evident why it is a 100 point Parker wine. Scarcely shows its age. Still dark, even some purple hues. Must have been massive when released as it’s still full of flavor; loaded with black fruits, supported by smooth chocolaty tannins, but there’s that typical Bordelais lift at the end to keep it fresh. Nose is complex but palate is only just beginning to develop. In terms of tannins, it’s ready, but in terms of flavor, still has a way to go.

1982 Léoville Lascases

A classic impression, with the leanness of St. Julien leading into smoke and minerality. Now really reverting to type. Original black fruits are more evident on nose than palate, which is moving in a savory direction. Acidity is pretty crisp. Complexity comes out slowly in the glass, with layers of flavor developing as the fruits show their ripeness, with a very faint sense of herbaceousness providing a counterpoise in the background.

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