Lovely La Louvière and Couhins Lurton: tastings in red and white
By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com
September 15, 2015
Special note: Unless otherwise indicated, all photos published here were taken by the talented Hélène Brun-Puginier, with her authorization. However they cannot be copied from this site and re-used without her authorization.
When I first came to France, back in 1996, I recall enjoying a bottle of Château La Louvière (red) 1990. It was a very tasty wine at about five years of age in bottle. Château La Louvière is a wine I have purchased ever since. Vintages like 1998 and 2001 bring fond memories.
So I was thrilled to be invited to a comprehensive vertical of the estate earlier this month at the château, led by winemaker Vincent Cruege.
The tasting included both reds and whites, as the estate is known for both. I joined two tasters from the UK merchant Berry Bros and Rudd for a vertical spanning four decades of reds and whites, including neighboring estate Château Couhins-Lurton, both owned by legendary winemaker and owner André Lurton.
The sumptuous architecture of the château building of La Louvière, where the tasting was held, dates from the late 18th century, but wine growing there stretches back 700 years. The first vines were planted in the early 14th century, although modern winemaking dates from the 17th century and was handed down by monks from the Carthusian monastery in Bordeaux, who had acquired considerable talent as viticulturists and winemakers.
The parish of Léognan, virtually unsettled back in the late Middle Ages, was largely covered with trees and full of wolves. The latter likely account for name La Louvière (which means “den of wolves” in French). The wine however is not as tough, except perhaps in tougher vintages…
The estate – like many in France – has a long and interesting history, and I highly recommend readers to take a look at this page for more details.
The people who produce the wine in the 21st century add innovation and modernity to make the most of the terroir, which includes soils of deep gravel and limestone slopes. The 61.5 hectare Pessac Léognan vineyards of Château La Louvière yield red wine from 48 hectares and white from 13.5 hectares. La Louvière has famous neighbors, located almost next door to Château Haut Bailly and not too far away from Château Smith Haut Lafitte.
In 1965, André Lurton – a winegrower in Grézillac – acquired the estate, restored the gorgeous château and restructured the vineyard, making it what it is today: a bargain for any wine lover, because prices for both reds and whites have remained reasonable as many other Bordeaux wines started reaching stratospheric pricing beyond the reach of most mortals.
Most recently, in 2013, Michel Rolland became a consultant for the red wines. Denis Dubourdieu has been for a longer time the consultant for the white wines.
Château La Louvière’s red wine, a blend of about two-thirds Cabernet Sauvignon and one-third Merlot, is fermented partly in stainless steel tanks with punch down maceration and partly in concrete. La Louvière Rouge is aged for 12 months in French oak barriques, usually between 50 and 75% new. The average age of the vines is 25.
Ch. La Louvière’s white wine, is typically a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Semillon. It undergoes cool-temperature fermentation in oak barrels (33% new in most cases, but lately up to 50%) and is aged for 12 months on full lees with battonage (lees stirring).
Also of the Pessac-Léognan appellation, this estate ranks among the Premiers Crus for dry white wine in the Classification of Graves wine of 1959. The winery is located in close vicinity of the city of Bordeaux, in the commune of Villenave-d’Ornon.
Once a large and celebrated estate, with a long history as well, it was once owned by the famous Gasqueton family – known for longtime ownership until recently of Château Calon Ségur in Saint Estèphe. It was later acquired by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in 1968. André Lurton who had worked at the estate as a fermier since 1967, bought from INRA a smaller portion of Château Couhins in 1972.
In 1992, he purchased the château, the cellars, the outbuildings and the beautiful grounds, completing the creation of Château Couhins Lurton. In 1998, he undertook the total reconstruction and renovation of the cellars and the château.
It took him some 10 years to fully renovate it, with many vines planted in 1987. In 2002, he made the first vintage of Couhins Lurton rouge, which is mainly Merlot (67% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet). The soils have more clay, better suited for Merlot, than at La Louvière. And Cruege explained that the goal was to make a wine that would be ready earlier so the reds have a bit more alcohol than at La Louvière, as there is more Merlot, but not more than 13.5%. Since 2012, Michel Rolland has been consulting here as well. There has been more leaf clearing for example since his arrival. “We want to make the wines a little more flattering young,” explained Creuge, “but also retaining their longevity.”
Couhins Lurton blanc is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and like La Louvière, it is aged in about 30% new oak barrels and undergoes lees stirring.
Alternative enclosures – revealing differences!
The 2003 vintage of Château Couhins-Lurton was the first classified Bordeaux wine to be sealed with an alternative wine closure when it was released with a stelvin screw cap closure. Indeed the same practice was done at La Louvière and so it was interesting to taste some of the vintages this month from bottles sealed with screw cap and cork, to compare their evolution: very interesting!
Wines I liked in bold. If I really liked in red and bold. If underlined, too, top of the wine pops.
Château La Louvière Blanc
- 2013 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Lovely grapefruit aroma. Herb, grassiness. Fresh attack on the palate. Quite grassy and rather varietal on the palate. Smooth and lively. Bring on the oysters. (90 pts.)
- 2012 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This has a creamier texture. Lovely. I like the creaminess here a bit more than the almost too nervy 2013, as this has energy too. (91 pts.)
- 2008 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Wait! It depends my friends. We had two 2008s: one with screw cap, the other with cork. The cork enclosure was oxidized. Fit for your salad. The screw cap enclosure (La Louviere encloses nearly half its bottles in cork, half in screw cap). So, let’s talk about the screw capped bottle, which exuded a lovely mineral aspect. Red apple. White peach notes, too, with lime/lemon. Pure fruit expression. (90 pts. – the bottle sealed in screwcap)
- 2004 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Once again, a screw capped bottle and one with cork. This time, BOTH were interesting…2004 (screwcap): Pear and white stone fruit, orange. Lovely energy, smooth… Perfect for roast chicken. Or fish. (90 pts.)2004 (cork): This is not as bad, as the 2008 was unpleasant, this showed more buttery texture – and even a thicker texture. I rather like this cork expression! Smoky aspect. Hint of nut but not outrageous. Flavorful. You can have this with a more substantial dish, with cream or with chicken and orange. (90 pts.)
- 2001 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Wet stone aromas. Touch of lanolin. Scallops and fettucini cream sauce? Here I come! (91 pts.)
- 1994 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Freshness on the nose. Brisk. Aniseed. Pine. Spice. Tangerine aspect, but subtle. Overall impression of youth and freshness, with medium body. Long finish. Superb wine. Indeed, at first I thought it was overshadowed later in this great vertical by the Couhins Lurton 1993, but I tip my hat to the more youthful and feisty aspect of the La Louviere Blanc 1994. If anyone has this, consider yourself lucky. Probably the wine of the tasting. (94 pts.)
- 1990 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Not as good as the 1994, a bit flat by comparison. Less freshness. But still a lovely white, showing energy and purity. Just a bit warm by comparison… But, if one did not have the 1994 before, one would be impressed. A dry white at 25 years? Darn good. (89 pts.)
- 1986 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Fig and dry fruit. White pepper. You would almost think a sweet wine… On the palate? A touch of nuttiness, but the overall feeling is a fresh wine, with extract and body. Really a pleasure. (92 pts.)
- 1982 Château La Louvière Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Smooth and flavorful. Even aspect. Tonicity and focus. I was expecting a flat wine, given the vintage, but this is quite good. (87 pts.)
Château Couhins Lurton (Blanc)
- 2013 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
More nuanced than the La Louviere Blanc of the same vintage. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Seems more expressive. Notions of white pepper even if it is also quite lemon like… Very contoured mid palate leading to a medium plus finish. Lovely. (91 pts.)
- 2012 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This has a slightly closed aspect. But there is richness. I think the 2013 is more expressive and I prefer it, at this stage. (89 pts.)
- 2010 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Reductive notes. Loads of energy, concentration. Coiled in body, too young, not, but an excellent bottle of wine! Red apple, citrus, extract and body. Substantial enough – almost – for a steak. (92 pts.)
- 2006 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Once again, a comparison of cork and screw cap enclosure…2006 (cork): Smooth and spicy… More ready to drink than the screw-capped wine. This is also quite rich and slightly warm. Suffers by comparison… after tasting the 2010! (88 pts.)2006 (screwcap): Much slower evolution here. Body and plenty of ripe fruit, apricot. Stone fruit. A bit reduced… Slight warmth here, as if a bit more than the usual 12.8% alcohol. (89 pts.)
- 2003 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Licorice like, fennel, cotton candy. Somewhat sticky aspect that detracts, but very tasty for a 2003 dry white, and not tired. (87 pts.)
- 2001 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Very straightforward. A bit short on the finish, so disappointing for the vintage, but lovely body. Can white wines be closed? I prefer the La Louviere 2001. (88 pts.)
- 1995 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Lovely salty aspect on the nose, buttery. Almost like a Meursault. Freshness on the palate, perhaps just a touch “dog eared” but overall a pleasure. If you have any bottles, don’t hesitate and be sure to enjoy with veal in a cream sauce. (91 pts.)
- 1993 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Very smooth, with subtle touches of exotic fruit at this later stage, still, especially mango and quince, curiously matched with tertiary aspects, not quite nutty, but in that direction. Full body, as if you can chew it, but never “New World” heavy. What makes it special is the freshness and the acidity and lifting finish. Excellent, and almost the very best wine of this entire tasting, reds and whites included… (93 pts.)
- 1985 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Compared to the 1993, a bit more tired. It has character – please, don’t get me wrong. Unfortunately, it comes after the magnificent 1993. A touch of kerosene, perhaps, as a BBR buyer, who was at the tasting, put it. But good energy and it rather kicks ass for a 30 year old dry white.(89 pts.)
Château La Louvière (red)
- 2013 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Fine luncheon claret. Has ripe enough red fruit. Short finish. (85 pts.)
- 2012 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Riper nose than the 2013, more sumptuous by comparison. Yet a bit of green on the nose. Pyrazine. Still, Ok. (88 pts.)
- 2011 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Strongest of the 13-12-11 flight, most substance and most tannic of the three… This has impressive body and is serious. I bet that in 10 years, this will be more interesting, even if the tannins are somewhat rough, perhaps like a 1994 red Bordeaux style. (88 pts.)
- 2010 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
A noticeable step up after the 13-12-11 … A very fine vintage. Concentration, but freshness. Red and, especially, dark fruit. Dry extract. Tannic edge, far too young, but a lovely future ahead! (92 pts.)
- 2007 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Initially very pleasing, charming. Merlot like plum coming to the fore. Tasty but then there is a bit of under-ripeness and a shortish finish. (86 pts.)
- 2004 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Riper nose than the 2007. Fuller body. Plum and some earthy elements but sweet and tasty. Riper and more pleasing on the palate than the 2007, with a smoother aspect. But the tannins are a bit rough and – by comparison – the 2001 kicks the 2004’s ass. (88 pts.)
- 2001 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
What freshness on the nose! There is earthiness, but the tannin is smoother (not as edgy, by far) as that found in the 2004. A really nice 2001 and if you have a bottle, it is drinking very well. (90 pts.)
- 1990 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Mushroom fresh nose. Love the smooth texture, polished tannins, if not a hugely deep 1990 Bordeaux, it is ready to go. Could you please put a prime cut on the grill? (90 pts.)
- 1989 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
A touch of brett on this one. This seems tired by comparison (1990 or 1988), with rougher tannins that dry on the finish…
- 1988 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Old Church wood like on the nose at first, but gets better with time in glass. Palate is not nearly as tired as the 1989 – as the acidity and energy of the vintage engages the taster more than the 1989. At first the 1990 seems the best of this 88-89-90 trilogy for its more evident smoothness, but, no, the 1988 will live longer and has more energy… (91 pts.)
- 1986 Château La Louvière – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Quite an evolved color, with volatile acidity and the palate shows a bit of over evident wet leaves that detract the taster. Perhaps an off bottle? No score.
Château Couhins-Lurton (red)
- 2013 Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Deeper “Rolland” nose. Michel Rolland has been consulting since 2012, at La Louviere as well, for the reds. Denis Dubourdieu consults for the whites. I must say that I like the dark fruit aspect to this wine, although the finish is short. Still, for a 2013, not bad at all. (87 pts.)
- 2012 Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Deep black fruit aromas with more depth on the palate than the 2013, more interesting. With a medium finish. (88 pts.)
- 2011 Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
This has more noticeable tannin but not quite as ripe as the 2012. The structure is present, and seems to have more going on, but whereas the La Louviere 2011, dominated by Cabernet, was certainly superior to the 2012 and 2013, I am less sure about Couhins. Since Merlot did comparatively well in 2012, I tip my hat to the 2012. (88 pts.)
- 2010 Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Fresh and red fruit ripeness on the nose. The palate is zesty and tasty. A vague hint of pleasing chocolate comes through but is there something just a bit imprecise about this 2010? While the La Louviere really shines in this vintage, the Couhins Lurton Rouge shines just a bit less. It has vivacity and energy but seems less complete. (89 pts.)
- 2006 Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
The nose is pleasing, just starting to show a bit of girolle mushroom, earthiness but maintaining ripe fruit. Full bodied. Slightly drying tannin on the finish, which is on the longer side. Nice overall. (88 pts.)
- 2004 Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Quite ready to drink, yet fine energy and vivacity. One gets some torrefaction and dark chocolate, tertiary, notes. Fresh given the acidity but also ripe tannin for structure. Somewhat noticeable tannin on the finish if not drying and this screams for a summer barbecue with fatty meat. I’ll take it! (89 pts.)
- 2002 Château Couhins-Lurton – France, Bordeaux, Graves, Pessac-Léognan
Mushroom and wet earth on the nose. Palate has energy and vivacity as it is still young. So, how is this very first red Couhins Lurton? The vines had been planted in 1987. So a bit young, not to mention the fact that August was crap in 2002 so Merlot did not do so well. No surprise then that the wine has drying tannins, but it still has gas left. (86 pts.)
All in all, this tasting confirmed the notion that both La Louvière and Couhins Lurton constitute great deals for savvy Bordeaux lovers of red and white, with Couhins Lurton red being the weakest of the flights. It also revealed interesting differences between screw cap and cork enclosures.
Special thanks to friend Laure Pradel for arranging my invitation to taste: it was great!