Domaine Leflaive are thought of as one of the finest white wine producers of Burgundy if not the world, making the purest and most long lived chardonnay, and described by author Jean-François Bazin as ‘allowing one to go so far as imagine the sex of angels….’
I’m not sure exactly what he means by that but maybe that’s how you feel after consuming a bottle of Leflaive Montrachet, the world’s most expensive white wine, all to yourself!
Based in the rather upmarket village of Puligny-Montrachet in the cote de Beaune and located just off the Place du Monument, they have total vineyard area of around 24 hectares so are a rather large domaine when you consider Puligny-Montrachet in total is only 230 hectares. Their vineyards are located in the communes of both Puligny-Montrachet & Chassaagne-Montrachet and they also own just over 9ha in the Maconnais and produce a Macon-Verze that sells for around £20 a bottle.
They were also one of the first domains in Burgundy to trial biodynamic farming in the early 90’s, completely switching over in 97’ thanks to the impetus of Anne-Claude Leflaive the current manager & winemaking legend. Biodynamic farming is rather hard in Burgundy due to there being so many scattered parcels belonging to so many different people thanks to Napoleonic inheritance laws, if your neighbours are using pesticides there is a definite chance that winds will spread these onto your vines making it rather pointless. The domaine set up a school called Ecole du vin et terroirs in 2008 to encourage others to take up biodynamic farming practisesand share best practise.
Leflaive came up with a straight forward but sensible way of dealing with this by creating a Société civile d’exploitation agricole, effectively a single operating company. Each member of the family owns shares in that can be traded, this means the domaine is able to stay in one piece rather than have various plots sold off when a family member requires some dosh.
Wine making at the domaine consists of fermentation in oak casks (usually 25% new oak) then 12 months in barrel, racking before the following vintage and 6 months in tank prior to bottling. I was lucky enough to visit the domaine in May 2012 and tried tank samples of the 2010 vintage which was harvested between 17th & 24th September 2010 and only just about to be bottled due to slow malolactic fermentation. Even straight from the tank these wines are thrilling if far from ready, their potential clear to see with the most approachable at this time being the Le Clavoillon with its slightly more rounded mouth feel, all the wines showed great intensity and nuance.
They produce the following wines (Noted are the size in ha=hectares & a=ares, how many parcels in that vineyard and Average Price this is across all vintages and does not include sales tax);
- Montrachet – 8a 21ca in 1 parcel (AP – £3,489)
- Chevalier-Montrachet – 1ha 99a in 3 parcels (AP – £323)
- Batard-Montrachet –1ha in 4 parcels (AP – £247)
- Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet 1ha 15a in 1 parcel (AP – £218)
- Les Pucelles – 3ha 06a in 3 Parcels (AP – £139)
- Le Clavoillon – 4ha 79a in 1 parcel (AP – £79)
- Les Combettes – 73a in 1 parcel (AP – £121)
- Les Folatieres – 1ha 26a in 3 parcels (AP – £113)
- Meursault sons le Dos D’Ane 1ha 62a in 1 parcel (AP – £77)
- Puligny-Montrachet – 4ha 64a in 7 parcels (AP – £56)
- Bourgogne 3ha 24a in 2 parcels (AP – £31)
Tasting 5th October 2012
2008 brought a smaller than average crop, saved by good conditions at harvest, luckily Puligny-Montrachet avoided summer hail that affected nearby Meursault.
On the nose this has a well knitted mix of slightly spiced apple, bread dough and well polished furniture as well as white floral notes.
The palate has very high, taught acidity that is incredibly racy giving green apple fruit on the mid palate and lemon notes on the length giving a very fresh mouth feel.
90pts (Voted best value wine of the tasting)
1er Cru Clavoillon 2004 (£95 from Fine + Rare)
2004 was a better for the white wines although a good rather than great year, with an abundant harvest of well balanced grapes.
Leflaive own almost 86% of Le Clavoillon which borders Les Pucelles, its soils less fine with higher amounts of clay giving the wines a broader feel with a little less finesse.
An enticing nose with deeper fruit character, quince, lightly toasted almond and a clear dairy note with background notes of grilled artichoke and asparagus.
The palate delivers richer apple fruit but acidity is only reveals itself on the length and it seems to lack the vivacity of some of the other wines of the domaine.
1er Cru Les Folatieres 2002 (£160 from Fine + Rare)
2002 was an excellent vintage with the whites fairing slightly better than the reds, a dry year that has produced some exemplary wines that will age for many years to come and usually require plenty of time in the decanter.
Les Folatieres is the largest premier cru vineyard of Puligny, at over 17 hectares with its name coming from the French folle-terre meaning mad earth with aptly describes this rather hotch-potch vineyard that is steep, prone to erosion and bordered by scrub land.
A more delicate nose than the Clavoillon but with a good depth of character with cooking apple, quince even edging into soft tropical notes on the nose. A vivid vein of acidity runs all the way through this wine with mineral notes coming to the fore on the mid palate followed through with layered apple fruit and nuts, leaving a real freshness in the mouth.
1er Cru Les Pucelles 2005 (£165 from Roberson/Fine + Rare)
2005 was a rather legendary vintage across France and Burgundy was no exception producing quality wines comparable to the 2002 & 1996 vintages. A hailstorm in July largely missed the domains parcels and was followed by good weather helping the grapes back to health with a dry summer and perfect harvesting condition in mid to late September.
Les Pucelles meaning ‘The Virgins’ is known as one of the greatest premier cru vineyards of Puligny and can produce wines at Grand Cru level, which it pretty much is in everything but name being just north of the Batard GC’s and is a standard bearer for the domaine.
The nose has way more intensity than the colour suggest with refined macadamia, hazelnut and smoky mineral notes. The palate is tightly strung with a weighty minerality showing on the length and dominating the general palate, despite being decanted this could have done with a bit more time in the glass and obviously still has a long life ahead of it.
The Legend of Puligny
We all love a bit of a story and the French are no different (though maybe lacking somewhat in much detail). So the legend go’s that in the middle ages the Lord of Puligny divided up his Mont Rachet estate between his children, part went to his eldest son who had been away spreading the good word of the lord in the crusades (pillaging etc.) and become a ‘Chevalier’ or Knight to you & me hence we have Chevalier-Montrachet. His other son was born out of wedlock giving us the Bâtard-Montrachet ‘bastard’ vineyard and his daughters, the virgins (he hopes!) got Les Pucelles! So there you have it, a bit of ye olde skool marketing!
1er Cru Les Pucelles 1999 (£195 from Fine + Rare)
1999 was a massive vintage in terms of production with the white harvest being up 24% from the 82’ vintage, luckily the fruit was of a very high quality as well so a rather bounteous year for Burgundy!
The 99’ is rather less pronounced on the nose than the 05’ but at this stage possibly more refined and showing a great floral intensity on the nose and an acidity that dances across the tongue with classy green apple fruit & wet stone mineral notes, concentration seems to be weighted on the mid palate.
Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2004 (£278 from Armit/Fine + Rare)
The ‘Knight of the Mont Rachet’ is the highest of the five Montrachet Grand Cru vineyards at up to 300m, soils here are thinner giving the vines good access to the limestone below and it is considered to be the second best Grand Cru after Mon trachet, located just below.
Another wine that still seems pretty tight and really benefits from plenty of air time, even after being double decanted with a number of hours in the glass the main thing here was green note of snap peas, rather mealy with a strong minerality slowly unwinding a little to show acacia and white flowers. The palate is incredibly well balanced and sensual with mineral notes far outweighing the fruit.
93pts (Voted best wine of the tasting)
Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2005 (£350)
Bâtard-Montrachet or ‘Bastard’ to you and me is located below Montrachet and has two other segments that are small appellations in their own right; Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Leflaive is the principal proprietor.
The nose has good, wet stone mineral complexity, more open and evolved, looser than the Chevalier, green & yellow fruit mixing with more tropical notes. The palate is zesty, succulent with long apple and lemon acidity, further mineral notes on the length.
Batard Montrachet Grand Cru 1996 (£551) from Fine + Rare)
1996 was another great vintage that although not reaching the heights of the 99’s was more abundant than the 90’ vintage and produced wines with very dominant acidity due to good levels of sunshine but lower temperatures. Down the line there have been some real problems with oxidised bottles, meaning these bottles are always risky to open. This appears to have been due to a number of factors such as protective sulphur being added to the wines a number of months later than usual due to slow malolactic fermentation and not integrating properly with the wine before bottling. This along with the use of a declining quality in the standard of cork being used seems to be most likely and many collectors have been put off ageing white burgundy for long periods of time, the phenomenon has become known as ‘Premox’ (premature oxidation).
An epic nose that is fantastically layered offering baked apple, toffee, fig, raw honey, very slight oloroso nuttiness backed up by heavy mineral notes, incredibly enveloping.
Refined and balanced with an electric vein of acidity coursing through the heart of it, deep and encompassing honey’d fruit that lingers on the length, an outstanding wine, my favourite of the night and really showing these wines are best appreciated with a decent amount of age.
So there you have it, some rather incredible wines from an exemplary domaine and legendary wine maker, but there-in lies the problem, the price! These wines are very well known and sought after by collectors around the world meaning they are pretty awful value for money on the whole. The entry level Bourgogne is affordable at around the £30 mark and should be interesting enough to age but would I buy it? Probably not, for that money (or a few pounds more) you could have your pick of super amazing Grand Cru Chablis, Leflaive is not really for us mere mortals (bugger the angels!).