There are many useful facts available to the Bordeaux enthusiast, armed with the grandest of all Bordeaux tomes – Cocks & Feret's legendary Bordeaux and its Wines. In the case of Chateau Lanessan, we learn that its a 240 hectare estate of Garonne gravel with plantings of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot. The visiting hours are displayed, along with the telephone contact numbers and address for the chateau. The profile for Lanessan in David Peppercorn's book, Bordeaux, is a bit less data-oriented and offers some subjectivity,
This must surely be one of the best growths in the Médoc not to be classified in 1855. And the strange thing is that its excellence is no recent feature. Nineteenth-century editions of Cocks & Feret sing its praises and speak of its wines as above their class, and the old vintages of Lanessan that I have drunk have all been superb.
Chateau Lanessan is located just outside the commune of St. Julien, nearby the property of famed second-growth Gruaud Larose. Their wine is old-school in style, delicious, and harbors a reputation for being very long-lived. Peppercorn wrote back in the late 1980's:
Some of the old vintages of Lanessan are remarkable. This is a wine...of strong individuality, having a very marked bouquet, great fruit and richness in some years, a tendency to firmness at first, with rich finesse and breed. When these are allied to considerable consistency, it is easy to see that Lanessan deserves its reputation in Bordeaux and ought, indeed, to be even better known.
That's high praise coming from one of the world's Masters of Wine who specializes in Bordeaux. We're in complete agreement here at K&L, which is why we've just purchased a huge shipment of Lanessan back vintages, all at fantastic price points for you Bordeaux enthusiasts. However, some of you might be wondering: if the wines of Lanessan are so good, then why are they so inexpensive? Why is K&L able to secure back vintages with ease? Why isn't Robert Parker rating them with any regularity? Why aren't they selling out in seconds? These are all good questions. The short answer is: there's a lot of Bordeaux wine out there. Not every one of them can demand the world's attention. We prefer it that way, actually, because it allows us to use our expertise to find great deals for our customers. Nevertheless, a bit of history helps to explain how a storied producer in the region has continued to go unnoticed amidst the continuing hype surrounding Bordeaux.
The documented history of Lanessan dates back to 1310 when records show that Dame Paironne la Montagne, the widow of Henry de Lanessan, sold the estate to Sieur de Blaignan. Not until 1793 was it purchased by Jean Delbos, a Bordeaux négociant, and remained in the family ever since. In 1855, Louis Delbos, who was the manager at the time, refused to submit samples for consideration in what is now the most famous classification in wine history – the decree from Emperor Napoleon himself that ranked the great wines of Bordeaux's Médoc into the five-tier growth system we still recognize today. While Delbos then regarded the procedure as "bureaucratic nonsense," Peppercorn calls his disinterest "a piece of high-handedness that has cost Lanessan dearly." The 1855 Classification remains in place today. It has never been updated, despite a failed attempt to do so in 1960. Personal rankings from established Bordeaux critics are published from time to time, but they don't carry the weight of the original. Therefore, whenever enthusiasts peruse the one official ranking of top Bordeaux estates, Lanessan's name is nowhere to be found.
In 1907, one of the Delbos daughters married Etienne Bouteiller, the grandfather of today's owners Hubert and Bertrand Bouteiller. The names of both families still adorn each label on all but the most recent labels. Bertrand (who was busy running Chateau Palmer) had turned over responsibility to Hubert in 1972. Hubert retired in 2009 and handed the reigns to newcomer Paz Espejo who now makes the wine. While Espejo's winemaking techniques have moved Lanessan's flavor profile a bit closer to the new world, the wines have always carried a reputation for rusticity – a trait celebrated by old-school Bordeaux fans, but one not destined for big scores or inclusivity. With rusticity, however, comes durability. As Peppercorn stated before, the older vintages of Lanessan continue to hold up beautifully and all of us at K&L can attest to that. The powerful tannic structure and earthy flavors that dominate the wines in their youth begin to give way over time, integrating slowly and softening the palate much like the flavors of a stew simmering for hours on end.
The 1996 vintage was a tricky one, but it favored Cabernet-driven wines of the northern Medoc. Rain was a problem for some Margaux and Graves producers, but with Lanessan situated next to St. Julien, they were in the clear. The powerful tannins are still present after more than fifteen years and the fruit is nicely integrated. The 1997 vintage wasn't anywhere near as successful overall as the solid 95 and 96 vintages, but prices didn't drop as a result. When the wines didn't sell, many negociants ended up with leftover stock, which explains why we keep finding great deals from this year. Though many experts predicted this vintage would not be one for long-term aging, we've tasted fantastic wines from Terrey Gros Cailloux, Langoa Barton, Potensac, and now Lanessan that still show no signs of slowing down. The tannins are supple and soft while the fruit has now given way to more secondary flavors of earth and savory herbs. The 97 Lanessan is a wonderful wine in a perfect spot for drinking now.
1998 was seen as a Right Bank vintage, but there are always exceptions to every generalization. The 1998 Lanessan needs more decanting than the 96 and 97, but the cabernet fruit is there underneath. The wine opens wonderfully with air, bringing out the minerality of the soil and the earthiness that has come to characterize the wine's rusticity. The 98 could continue to age and soften for those looking to put a few bottles away. 2001 followed the amazing 2000 vintage, but because the wines weren't quite as spectacular many collectors continued to focus on the previous year. Nevertheless, 2001 proved to be a great vintage for short term-aging, resulting in spectacular flavors after only ten years in the cellar. The 01 Lanessan has lovely red fruit on the palate with a solid mineral core that one often finds in the wines from St. Julien. It's a lovely wine for drinking now. The harvest in 2004 didn't occur until late Autumn and results were uneven. The 04 Lanessan came through unscathed, however, exhibited some dusty notes with sweet fruit underneath it all. With decanting, it drinks very well along side a hearty meal.
2009 marks the first vintage from new winemaker Paz Espejo, the Spanish woman who turned heads with her wines in Spain and Italy. Since her arrival, the wines have become more modern (a new label and a bit more new oak), but they still taste like Lanessan. The ripe 2009 vintage is brimming with lush dark fruit, balancing out the earthy flavors that continue to characterize the Lanessan releases. It's a delicious wine that should continue to mature well over the next decade and beyond. Even good ole' Parker jumped on board, saying:
"Ripe black currant fruit with some cedar wood, licorice and wood spice are all present in this generously endowed, concentrated, low-acid Lanessan. The tannins are silky, and the overall impression is one of elegance, plumpness and beautiful intensity. This is a sleeper of the vintage and one that should only improve over the next several years and merit an outstanding rating. It should keep for up to two decades."
Our Bordeaux buyer, and one of our owners, Clyde Beffa has had a soft spot for the Lanessan wines over the last fifteen years. Since 1996, he's forged a relationship with the underrated chateau and that friendship has blossomed over time. Because of his support and enthusiasm for the wine, Lanessan has agreed to sell us back vintages directly, without distribution fees driving up the price. When we can buy wines directly from the chateau, not only can we keep the cost down, but we can also guarantee that they've been cellared in optimal conditions.
So there you have it - the story of Lanessan. An old world Bordeaux producer who, due to a "high-handed" career decision, was kept out of the most important wine classification in history. A chateau that has always held true to its terroir-driven roots and made wine the old-fashioned way, regardless of who was handing out big points and fancy awards. K&L owner Clyde told me recently:
Just think how much the owner’s refusal to submit samples in 1855 has cost the property over 157 years. It would have been rated at least a fourth growth - so many St Julien wines are rated 2nd growths. You figure the price would be double at least what it has been over the years.
Instead of fourth-growth status, however, Lanessan continues to fly under-the-radar, alluding the attention of most Bordeaux afficionados. While it's fun to go trophy-hunting among the top-rated, classified growths, we love telling our customers what we're excited about drinking after work. It's a pretty easy answer. We're always looking for great deals. With wine this good and affordable, we're mostly drinking Lanessan.