“I've never been to a wine dinner where all the wines showed so consistently well.” We heard this comment many, many times on Tuesday night (and Wednesday morning) and I for one have to agree: the Leoville Poyferre dinner, at top BI haunt The Harwood Arms in Fulham, was nothing short of a triumph.
What made these wines taste so good on this particular evening? Was it their impeccable provenance, having come direct from the Chateau's cellars only a few days before? Was it their prime magnum format? Was it the perfect serving temperature so well handled by the restaurant team? I can't say - all I know is that these wines rocked, well and truly.
We've always loved Poyferre at BI - its ideal blend of generosity and classicism making it both the perfect way to introduce people to great claret and to satisfy those stalwarts who have been happily glugging the stuff for years. It's always been priced for the drinker, so you don't have to break the bank to enjoy it (or feel guilty for cracking open yet another case) and being family owned, rather than by a large financial institution, you get the sense there's a lot of love in every bottle.
We were lucky enough to have the diminutive but powerfully-spoken Anne Cuvelier, the cousin of owner and manager Didier, to present the wines to us and explain the driving forces behind the estate. Anne was utterly charming and a world away from some of the faceless beaurocrats many (unfairly) associate with grand old Bordeaux. The fare was exceptional as ever, with huge platters of rare and slow-cooked lamb taking centre stage - but the wines completely stole the show. Here's my assessment of the evening's sluicing.
1999 Leoville Poyferre
Vintages like this are where Poyferre puts its hand up - its terroir and the quality of fruit really shine through. Drinking beautifully now, this was a great way to kick off the evening with soft, round, rich and truffly characters. Fine tannins were well wrapped with glossy blackcurrant and dark cherry fruit, the acidity just softening to create a finely balanced, classically styled St Julien. 92pts
2001 Leoville Poyferre
Another example of why 2001 is by no means a sub-prime vintage. This is truly elegant stuff, with more complexity than the 1999, more minerality and gravel, pencil shaving and cigar-box notes alongside lovely damson and blackcurrant fruit. The acidity is fine but bright, making this worryingly easy to drink. Lightly stuffed, elegant and balanced, this made me very happy indeed. 93+pts
1996 Leoville Poyferre
God I love 96s. I have been fortunate enough to tuck into a fair few bottles of near neighbour Leoville Las Cases over the past couple of years and they share the same fabulous, baked earth, warm brick, wild strawberry and plum characters. Linear, pure, focused and immensely stylish, this is just starting to drink beautifully but has a good few years ahead of it. A proper, proper wine. 95pts
2000 Leoville Poyferre
I had to rap myself on the knuckles when trying to describe this wine – my mind just kept coming back to the rather daft descriptor ‘sexy’. There always has to be a better way to describe wine than this, so what was it I was trying to say? It’s so, so enticing and complex on the nose; both lifted with white flower and musky like a rich, damask rose, intertwined with layers of ripe, darkly perfumed fruit and warm stones. It just keeps you coming back on the nose, over and over, and the palate is utterly seamless and lush but still freshly balanced. Not as complex or ‘grown up’ as the 1996? Perhaps, but who cares when it’s this darned generous. Sheer enjoyment. 95+pts
2005 Leoville Poyferre
The cause of some debate - but not on quality. Personally I could not believe how closed down this still was - almost 9 years old and it had the nose of a primeur sample! Tightly closed and showing mostly primary fruit, it was like a member of the magic circle: giving NOTHING away. Texturally it reminded me why the 05s are destined to be so great; it was both silky smooth and yet quietly, but confidently structured. I mean this is a really big wine which remains hugely elegant. Others found more to love right now but for me, this was pure infanticide. A learning experience. I won't score as it's simply not fair but its potential has to be 96+
1989 Leoville Poyferre
What a treat to end on. Perfectly mature, beautifully structured, richly fruited with classic St Julien notes of gravel and pencil lead, alongside warm black truffle and soft, sweet black fruit. This is absolutely in its prime. Featherweight on the palate but still concentrated, this is what claret is all about. Not as sultry as the 2000 or as austere and straight-backed as the 1996, but as welcoming and comfy as a pair of cashmere socks. 94pts