On the Trail

Dining with Leoville Las Cases

David Driscoll

Last night we hosted our first ever dinner event with the esteemed Léoville Las Cases at nearby Mathilde in San Francisco, and—let me tell you—it was quite the affair. Not only is the St. Julien château one of the most prestigious and elegant wines of Bordeaux, it's also one of the oldest. The property dates back to the 17th century when it was owned by a group of wealthy French nobles, before eventually passing into the Las Cases family stewardship. It's also arguably the finest three-fifths of the original Léoville estate that once included Léoville-Barton and Léoville-Poyferré before it was divided due to the French Revolution. Depending on who you ask, some folks (like us) might even go so far as to say Léoville Las Cases would be the one property that could argue for first growth status should the wines of the Médoc ever be reclassified. The vineyards of Las Cases run right up to those of Château Latour and are separated only by a small estuary, the Ruisseau de Juillac that runs from the nearby Gironde River. There are even sections where the vineyards from both châteaux meet and the vines overlap. In the past, both properties have traded parcels back and forth from these vines, further adding to the perceived value of the Las Cases fruit. Given the terroir and the proximity to greatness, the wines of Léoville Las Cases are therefore expensive, but perhaps not as expensive as they could (or should) be. To get a three course meal at Mathilde along with nine wines from the Domaines Delon for a buck-thirty was an absolute steal. Luckily, I was working the event, so I brought my camera along for the ride.

Our distinguished owner Clyde Beffa Jr. oversaw the evening's events and welcomed everyone to the intimate affair. We were joined by Léoville Las Cases director Pierre Graffeuille, who walked us through the line up and explained the differences between the selections. Domaines Delon, the group that owns Las Cases today, also manages Château Nenin on the Right Bank in Pomerol, as well as one of our favorite estates here at K&L: Château Potensac (I think I've drunk at least five cases of Potensac myself over the last five years). We were beginning the night with a few selections from these properties before breaking out the big guns. While Potensac has always been part of the family business, Jean-Hubert Delon, head of the domaines, purchased Château Nenin from his cousins back in 1997—the family that had owned the estate since 1847. He revamped the entire operation and today the wines are entirely improved. I was excited to taste some of the more recent vintages, having only tasted older expressions in the past.

I was also excited to try them with a proper meal. If you haven't been to Mathilde, I can't recommend it highly enough. Not only is the atmosphere utterly charming, the food is exquisite, traditionally French, and well-priced. It's the absolute perfect spot to do a French wine event in the city. We started with a roasted quail with white truffle, paired along side the 2009 Fugue de Nenin, the 2012 Nenin proper, and the 2009 Potensac. My co-worker Alex Schroeder was quite pleased with both the wines and the cuisine, as you can see in the above photo. What was great about the 2012 Nenin was how well it represented what is in my opinion an underrated and underpriced vintage in Bordeaux, especially on the Right Bank. That wine was singing after an hour in the decanter, full of pretty fruit and a juicy core of structured merlot. 

As we moved to round two, Pierre talked with us about the transition of Las Cases's second wine to the Petit Lion label and away from the Clos du Marquis. For years and years, the Clos du Marquis was thought of as the second wine of Las Cases, but the cuvée is made from a completely separate parcel of fruit across the street from the château on the western side of the main road away from the river. Today the goal is to distinguish Marquis as its own unique wine from its own separate property, since the vines from which it is made were never part of the original Leoville estate. The official second wine of Las Cases is now le Petit Lion, a blend of younger cabernet vines that have been replanted over the last twenty years and a parcel of older merlot that are from the same terroir as the grand vin. We tasted the 2009 Clos du Marquis along side the 2009 Petit Lion and both wines were absolutely stellar, albeit completely unique. The Marquis had a lovely fleshiness with pretty fruit and faint hints of earth, while the Petit Lion was juicier with a chewiness that you could sink your teeth into.

Speaking of sinking your teeth into something, by the time the second course came around I was famished! The filet mignon with seared foie gras was just what I need to pair with the aforementioned wines. In our third glass was the 2012 Leoville Las Cases, a wine I bought a half-case of earlier this year, but had no desire to touch for another decade. I was excited to check in on its progress without relinquishing one of my own precious bottles. Repeating what I mentioned before about 2012, not only is the vintage completely underrated, the Las Cases might be the best wine I've tasted from that little gem of a millesime. The wine had grace and presence, subtle tannins that melded beautifully with the soft fruit and hint of crushed violets. If you're in the market for some high-end cellar additions, I can't say enough good things about the Las Cases 2012—especially considering the price in comparison to other more heralded vintages.

We were prepping the two older Las Cases vintages for last—the 100 point 2005 edition and a lovely '83 from magnum—when Clyde decided to present us with a little surprise. He had dug deep into his cellar and located a five liter bottle of Las Cases 1985, a gift that had been bestowed to him by Jean-Hubert some time back in memoriam of the year Clyde first visited the château. With a plate full of stewed figs and earthy cheeses, we washed down that thirty year old elixir in complete bliss. If you're interested in dipping into the wines of Domaines Delon and Leoville Las Cases at home, we've got a number of different selections currently in stock. If you're new to the château and have never tasted its wines, I might start with the Petit Lion to get a sense of the style. But I also highly recommend grabbing a ticket the next time Clyde decides to hold an event at Mathilde. Not only do you get more than your money's worth, you get a first class education in fine claret. Many thanks to Pierre for taking the time to join us! Look for more K&L wine events at Mathilde in the near future.

-David Driscoll