April 3 - Private Lunch at Leoville Barton with Anthony Barton and his daughter Lilian

by Chuck Hayward

Anthony is the sixth generation of Bartons to oversee the Chateau. In 1826 Hugh Barton, who at the time was already a wine merchant and the proprietor at Chateau Langoa Barton, purchased part of the big Leoville estate. Then in 1855, it was classified a second growth. Anthony took over from his uncle in 1983 and has since improved the vineyard and winemaking. He is a typical ‘English gentleman’ with great sense of humor and an elegant demeanor.

Anthony walked us over to the tasting room where he poured the ’04 and ’05 of Langoa and Leoville Barton. He told us the wines were very ‘classic Medoc’ in style, whereas in ’03 ‘they were more like Napa’. One could say that Anthony is a bit laissez-faire when it comes to winemaking and vineyard management. He lets the terroir do the talking and accepts that each vintage will be different. I like his style.

Next, we walked over to another part of the property for a tasting of several other wines that his daughter Lilian represents in her negociant business. Then, it was time for lunch.

We walked through the gardens and into the chateau where we were greeted with some Champagne – the ’90 Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle. Hors d’oeuvres were passed and I spent some time chatting with Lilian about her negociant business. She said it is a very difficult line of work, as the region of Bordeaux is over producing, and the lower tier wines can be very poor. This reflects upon Bordeaux as a whole and there is a wider and wider gap between the top chateau and ‘the others.’

Anthony and I also exchanged some words in Danish, as his wife is from Denmark. In particular, I asked him if likes “Polse med senap och vitlok,” which is a very common red-colored Danish hot dog that can be bought at kiosks throughout Denmark. He understood and laughed and said, “That’s what we’re having for lunch!”

As it turned out, we had smoked salmon served with an ’00 Pinot Gris from Hugel. Anthony actually served the wine blind, but nobody was able to nail it. Next we had a “homestyle” serving of slow-cooked lamb with potatoes and vegetables. Poured with the main course was the ’90 Leoville Barton. This was also served blind, but proved to be an easier guess as the chateau was fairly obvious. It was just a matter of the vintage and the group settled on the ’89…so, not too bad of a guess. The wine was medium to full-bodied with notes of cedar, sweet fruit, and a touch of spice. Elegant and opulent, with nice, round tannins, I am not sure this wine will get any better with time.

Through lunch, Anthony told great stories. Although he is getting up there in age, he is extremely sharp, as he recounted story after story. Anthony had none of the stiffness or arrogance that you might expect of a famous chateau owner.

Next, we were served the ’86 Leoville Barton and it was beautiful. Strong notes of tobacco leaf, cedar and black fruit. Very unique and certainly different from the ’90, but equally as elegant. A nice cheese tray was passed around the table, followed by a light dessert and cappuccino.

Anthony walked us out to our car along with his 9-year old chocolate lab. Made me miss my own, and wonder if a famous winemaker’s dog would turn his nose to a lowly border/cattle mix from the San Francisco East Bay. Somehow, I think they would have had a good play. Unlike human’s, I bet dog noses are universal. Anthony’s down-to-earth nature was refreshing. He was such a class act. I thoroughly enjoyed being around him and his family.

The rest of the day we had private tastings at seven other chateaux.