by Mort Hochstein
July 29, 2008
Many years ago, as a TV producer, I accompanied the late food-and-wine authority, Baron Roy Andries de Groot, on a trip to Bordeaux. One of the highlights was a lunch at Château Haut-Brion, where we tasted many of the wines of Graves. Aperitifs before lunch seemed to drag on endlessly as producers lionized the great visiting writer and, unfortunately for me, conducted their discussion in French.
Numbed by my inability to understand the conversation, I wandered outside to join my camera crew under a shade tree where servers enriched our downtime with non-stop servings of oysters and white wines of the region. I never went inside for lunch, and it was at Haut-Brion that I first encountered and learned to respect La Louvière, one of the great white wines of France.
Just the other day, here in New York, I took a refresher course in La Louvière and other wines from the Bordeaux dynasty of André Lurton. It was at a luncheon at Restaurant eighty one, where Ed Brown — chef for many years with the Patina Group and Restaurant Associates — has raised the culinary standards of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The Lurton wines, white and red, were perfectly matched with a tasty sweet white shrimp salad, enriched by summer vegetables and apple shavings, a towering Black Angus sirloin dressed with wild mushrooms and a concentrated red wine sauce, and artisanal cheeses.
The 2004 La Louvière Blanc, which accompanied the shrimp salad, and the 2006, tasted separately, were primarily Sauvignon Blanc with a small percentage of Semillon. They showed a consistent style, firm acid structure, and racy citrus and gooseberry flavors.
Lurton, with properties in the sub-regions of Pessac-Léognan and Entre-Deux-Mers, fields a variety of whites. From Entre-Deux-Mers, we sampled the 2007 Divinus de Château Bonnet Blanc, a crisply acidic 100% Sauvignon Blanc; and the 2007 Château Bonnet Blanc, a softer blend, half Sauvignon Blanc, and 40% Semillon, its aroma bolstered by 10% Muscadelle. An everyday, refreshing and approachable summer white at $14, it’s slightly under half the cost of the Divinus and about a quarter the tariff of the La Louvière labels, which go for about $47.
We also tasted from the same appellation, the 2006 Château de Rochemorin Blanc, 100% Sauvignon, but not as tangy as the Bonnet and La Louvière whites. The Bonnet Blanc ages in stainless steel tanks, while the others see 10 to 18 months in oak.
With our steak, I preferred the 2003 Château De Rochemorin Rouge, 60% Cab and 40% Merlot. At five years of age, it is mellowing into a traditional Bordeaux, still shy, but with bright black currant fruit-propelled aromas, followed by berry and slight vegetal flavors on the palate. It is drinkable now and for the next eight to ten years. The 1986 from the same vineyard was browning, showing its more advanced years, but complex and concentrated with tobacco and cassis aromas, remaining a formidable red. It should be good well past 2010. The more austere, more classical 2005 Graves La Louvière red is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, with small percentages of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. Like the Rochemorin, it also ages in oak barrels and should continue to deliver for another 20 years.
In Pessac-Léognan, the Lurtons also make wine at Château Couhins-Lurton. The dynasty originated with a distillery in Branne near the city of Bordeaux in Entre-Deux-Mers, operated by Léonce Recapet. Recapet, prospering in the distillery, became an aggressive buyer of distressed vineyard properties, and in 1922, made his most notable acquisition, Château Brane-Cantenac in Margaux.
Like his grandfather, André Lurton sought to expand the family holdings and purchased La Louvière, with its beautiful château, in 1965, adding Cruzeau in 1973, and Rochemorin in 1974. In the immediate post-World War II years, right up to my visit in the early seventies, the Bordeaux wine trade was in a slump from which it did not fully recover until the early 1980’s.
Over the years André Lurton spent heavily, modernizing each of the estates, the most recent venture being a new winery at Rochemorin in 2004. He also controls vineyard and winery operations at Château Dauzac and maintains a half interest in Château de Barbe Blanche in Saint-Émilion. Now the senior member of the dynasty and residing at Château Bonnet where he was born, André Lurton is father to seven children and has 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Unless the family becomes involved in Mondavi-like strife, the Lurtons look to be leaders in Bordeaux for generations to come.