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Frost Warning

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 28, 2009 12:05pm ET

Bruce Sanderson is in Burgundy tasting the soon-to-be-released 2007 reds and whites. The evaluations of individual wines below are score ranges, because most wines were tasted non-blind from barrel or tank, or had recently been bottled. Sometimes the tastings took place in cold cellars, giving the wines a harder, more angular impression. Final reviews will be based on blind tastings in Wine Spectator's New York office.

Thursday morning was colder still, as the “Risk de Verglas” warning on my car’s instrument panel reminded me. I could have walked the few hundred yards to Benjamin Leroux’s cellar in Beaune, but needed my car afterwards, so after defrosting the windshield enough to see, I drove around the corner to the rue Colbert.

Leroux, who completed his tenth harvest at Domaine Comte Armand in 2008 and continues to make the wines there, has a new project—a négociant operation in which he buys fruit from other growers. In 2007 he made a dozen wines, both red and white, under his label. He did a little negoce activity at Comte Armand, but that has now ceased; he continues to use some of those sources in this new, separate endeavor.

“When I started, the idea was to look at a lot of vineyards and select those with good viticulture, because if you have good grapes, you can make good wine regardless of the appellation,” he explained. “Now, I am focusing on the appellations that I have.”

Leroux has a delicate touch, and his wines are pure, elegant and beautifully balanced. He doesn't do a cold maceration before fermentation, as confirmed by the wines' light colors, and he did more pumping over than punching down in ’07 because it extracts more gently, especially at the end of the fermentation when there is more alcohol. Yet, both the reds and whites reveal plenty of substance and vibrant personalities. With the exception of the Savigny-lès-Beaune (red) and Auxey-Duresses (white), both of which were in tank ready for bottling, all the other Leroux wines were still in barrel.

Benjamin Leroux has a new négociant label.
The Savigny-lès-Beaune, which contains 15 percent declassified premier cru fruit, was light, fresh, supple and tasted like spicy berries (85-88). The Savigny-lès-Beaune Hauts Jarrons, from 60-year-old vines, offered cherry and berry flavors, nice depth, sappiness and length (87-90). The elegant Volnay Carelle Sous la Chapelle, a premier cru, showed violet and black currant notes, silky texture and a smooth finish (87-90).

Leroux controls the cultivation of the 1.2-acre Volnay Clos Cave des Ducs, an ethereal, juicy, harmonious red with fine length (88-91). The vines are 15, 40 and 60 years old and were selected from Comte Armand’s Clos des Epeneaux vines.

Moving to the Côte de Nuits, Leroux drew a sample of Gevrey-Chambertin. It’s a blend of Les Seuvrées and Aux Etelois fruit, displaying ripe cherry and spice on a dense, round frame (86-89). A Nuits-St.-Georges from Aux Allots was very aromatic, sporting black cherry, and though the tannins are a bit more rigid, it showed nice length (86-89).

We finished the reds with the premier cru Nuits-St.-Georges Aux Torey, a rich, intense, black cherry and mineral infused red (88-91).

The range of whites began with the Auxey-Duresses, already in tank and ready for bottling. Fresh, fruity and long, it exhibited lemon, apple mineral and a touch of spice flavors (86-89). The Meursault Les Vireuils was broader in aroma, with grapefruit and honey displayed on a linear, tensile structure (86-89).

“What I like in 2007 is the purity and the tightness of the [white] wine,” said Leroux.

I was impressed with the Meursault Narvaux, a village-level lieu-dit above Genevrières and adjacent to Perrières. It was riper, revealing peach and apricot notes, nice weight and power (88-91). The Puligny-Montrachet combines grapes from Les Reuchaux and Corvée des Vignes. Focused and racy, it showed good intensity and length (88-91). The Chassagne-Montarchet Les Embazées was rounder by comparison, with a honeyed richness, but also good acidity (88-91).

After Leroux, I visited Domaine Marquis d’Angerville in Volnay. Guillaume d’Angerville took over management of the estate in 2003, and the style of wine is more refined now, thanks to efforts in both the vineyard and cellar. With the help of estate manager François Duvivier, the vineyards have gradually been converted to biodynamic farming (100 percent in 2009), and the wines are neither fined nor filtered.

“The typical 2007 has a fresh attack and in the mouth it’s very straight. I like this kind of wine,” stated d’Angerville. “I think we were right to wait a little later to harvest. We gained a little bit more in maturity, which I feel was good for the wines,” he added. “It helped to integrate the tannins.”

The Volnay was bottled earlier in the week. It was rich, with black cherry and spice flavors and a lovely texture (86-89). The Volnay Premier Cru, a blend of smaller parcels from Pitures, Les Angles and Les Mitans, also in bottle, was more refined and silky, offering black currant, floral and mineral flavors and fine length (88-91). D’Angerville acquired a little more than an acre of Les Angles in 2008, giving him 2.5 acres in total, and may bottle it separately in that vintage. (See "Volnay Reconfigures Vineyards.")

Volnay Fremiets also showed black currant and blackberry notes on a firm, tight frame (88-91). The Volnay Taillepieds exuded lovely perfume, more in the red cherry and rose flower range of flavors, yet had good underlying firmness and length (89-92).

The Volnay Champans and Volnay Clos des Ducs were racked from barrel into tank, but not yet bottled. The former always shows density for the appellation and was full of cherry fruit, follwed by a firm, almost chalky finish (89-92). The latter featured a different profile: peppery, spicy, voluptuous and ripe, it kicked into overdrive midpalate with cherry and blackberry notes and a long aftertaste (90-93).

The domaine also makes a small amount of Meursault Santenots. It displayed lime, peach and a hint of vanilla from the oak, with fine elegance, balance and a mineral finish (89-92).

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