The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Lunch with Winemaking Legend Patrick Léon

Posted on | February 5, 2015 | Written by Robin Kelley OConnor | No Comments

photo 1 Last week I jumped at the opportunity to join in on a lunch meeting with legendary winemaker Patrick Léon. A native of Bordeaux who calls the beautiful appellation of Fronsac his home, Patrick has been spreading his winemaking talents around the world for 50 years. He has an unparalleled résumé, making some of the world’s great wines. He received a Diplôme d’œnologue from the Institut Œnologie de Bordeaux in 1964, including a Diplôme d’Etudes d’Ampélographie (the study of Ampelography, the field of botany concerned with the identification and classification of grapevines). From 1985 to 2004, he served as Châteaux Mouton Rothschild’s Directeur Général-Membre du Directoire, which is to say he was the head winemaker; curiously enough, the French don’t have an exact translation for our “winemaker.” Patrick oversaw winemaking at Mouton Rothschild, including all the associated properties of Châteaux d’Armailhac, Châteaux Clerc Milon, Le Petit Mouton, Aile d’Argent Mouton Rothschild Blanc, Opus One of Napa, Almaviva and Escudo Rojo of Chile, and de Lambert et Baron d’Arques in the Languedoc.

Patrick is known for his serious and detail-oriented approach to winemaking, his great sensibility, and his finessed touch in melding wines of great power with elegance. These qualities comprised his calling card when making the wines for the Domaine Baron Philippe de Rothschild. A true classicist, he brought intellect and a deep sense of Bordeaux know-how to the Opus One project where he was joint winemaker with Tim Mondavi. Prior to his arrival at Châteaux Mouton Rothschild, Patrick worked for the larger-than-life Alexis Lichine, making wines and managing Mr. Lichine’s estates at Château Lascombes Crus Classé in Margaux and Château Castéra in Lesparre-Médoc.

When he retired from Mouton and the Baron Philippe de Rothschild enterprises, Patrick turned his attention to his own property in Fronsac, a 37-acre estate called Château Les Trois Croix, which is planted with 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc on soils of chalk and clay. The property dates back to the time of the Christian pilgrimages in the 12th century and had its first vineyard plantings in 1712. Patrick runs the estate along with family, and his son Bertrand works side by side making one of the best Fronsacs I’ve had to date.

photo 3Organized by Gabriella Macari, the lunch was at Carbone Restaurant. Patrick served the 2010 Château Les Trois Croix with a mixed plate of Sea Bass Oreganata and Veal Parmigiana. A deep dark ruby color with hints of purple, this 2010 is a beautiful example of one of the best Bordeaux vintages in the last 40 years. The dense, complex nose is deep and defining with dark plum, chocolate, and red flowers. The palate is rich, showing lovely structure and incredibly ripe fruit of blueberries, plums and dark cherry with hints of spice.

Patrick continues as a very active consulting winemaker. One of his best-known projects is making the wines for Sacha Lichine, son of Alexis, at Château D’Esclans, located in Provence, in the Department of the Var, on the Mediterranean coast. This magnificent property, dating back to 1201, has a château built in the mid-19th century, inspired by a Tuscan villa design. Château D’Esclans’s wines have become globally famous for making the best range of rosés produced anywhere. The primary grape is Grenache followed by Rolle (aka Vermentino), with other plantings of Cinsault, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Tibouren. To begin the lunch Patrick treated us to four cuvées of the Châteaux rosés: Château D’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2014, Château D’Esclans Cotes de Provence Rosé 2013, Château D’Esclans Les Clans Rosé 2013, Château D’Esclans Garrus Rosé 2012

Patrick Léon is a man of great wisdom, humility, and kindness, and it was a joy to be his presence.


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