For our Christmas dinner I wanted to open a special bottle of red wine and after some research and thinking I bought this bottle of 1996 Léoville Poyferré. Why this pick? I wanted something big that pairs well with beef and something worthy, something from a great vintage. I assumed that while 2005 and 2000 would still be way too young, 1996 might start to open up and bring genuine high-end Bordeaux drinking pleasure. And I picked this Château because I absolutely wanted to have some Saint-Julien instead of Pauillac this time, a little less austere and with spice I presumed, and also an estate I never tried beforehand.
Super-short presentation: Léoville Poyferré is one of the oldest Châteaux’ in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, it is originally linked to the other two “Léos”, Léoville-Barton and Léoville-Las-Cases. Since the end of the 19th century, the Château is owned by the Cuvelier family. For finding out more about the Léoville estates and their history, I suggest reading the Winedoctor’s brilliant profiles. As for the vintage, 1996 is often cited as one of the best Bordeaux vintages of the 1990’s, but especially for the Northern part of the Médoc region, which was spared by the heavy August rains after a hot and dry summer.
When poured for our main course, the wine shined in a dark and elegant manner. The nose appeared rather closed and not so expressive, and this despite 6 hours of slow oxygenation (“audouzing”) and another hour in the decanter. I’m positive there was “something”, like a tiny aromatic cloud on top of the wine, but it was truly hard to define or describe with more detail: maybe some fruit, maybe some spice. Well, as I said: something. Then on the palate, the wine showed strictly no sign of age on one hand, and on the other hand one could tell that it was in a certain phase of its maturation process. Body is one with a wonderful structure, muscular, but just so much, marked by very present and fine grained tannins. There still was a rather strong grip. Nevertheless it is a balanced wine, with also the right amount of amount of acidity. A little more time for the tannic skeleton to loosen up and I would think that this will come together even more beautifully one day. Flavor-wise there was much more going on on the palate as well: a mix of spice and pepper as well as seductive red and black fruit were hitting our palates. Later, some dark and ethereal liquorice notes joined the party. It had the lively presence of a great wine and also a compelling finish with the right length. It only appeared a touch austere through the massive tannic structure and I guess this needs another 5-10 years to open up fully and unveil more complexity, especially when you uncork a well-cellared bottle, as this one presumably was.
I’m not disappointed with the wine, it was a great experience and it also paired really well with our braised beef but I truly expected this wine to be much readier. I guess many other 1996 wines are more than ready, but this one’s just starting to show. I would be curious to re-taste it in 2 or 3 years.