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Steeped in the Classics and Tradition

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Feb 2, 2009 2:41pm ET

What a way to end the week. I started the day at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and ended it at Domaine Leflaive. What more could a Burgundy lover want?

It was a miserable morning as I drove to Vosne-Romanée, dull and raining. My mood brightened as I descended into the cellar at DRC with co-director Aubert de Villaine and cellar master Bernard Noblet.

"It was a year that was difficult, 2007," began de Villaine. "It was precocious, with an early start, then lots of wet weather, with problems of mildew, oidium and botrytis. But from the middle of August on, the weather allowed for good ripening. The vines responded well to the sun once it reappeared and the ripening continued rapidly."

The extraction was moderate, with both punching down and pumping over, but more of "an infusion and a shorter period in vat," according to Bernard Noblet.

Because of botrytis and sorting, the yields are quite low, ranging from 22 to 28 hectoliters per hectare (approximately 1.6 to 2.1 tons per acre). As a result, the alcoholic degree is higher here than in many cellars, 12.8 to 13.0 natural. Nonetheless, the range is elegant and beautifully balanced, the 2007s are like a Mozart string quartet compared with 2005’s Beethoven symphony.

If the theme of 2007 reds is purity, aromatic complexity and harmony, the wines of DRC embody the vintage at its best. It has been a cold winter thus far in Burgundy and de Villaine noted that they would bottle once the weather warmed up a little, perhaps at the end of February.

The Echézeaux was very pure in aroma, very floral, with berry and cherry flavors, finesse and intensity (89-92). The Grands Echézeaux was another level, very perfumed and refined and a sappy midpalate carrying cherry, strawberry and spice notes (90-93). "The Grands-Echézeaux typifies the vintage," said de Villaine. "Perfumed, elegant, transparent."

Despite more generosity and flesh, the Romanée-St.-Vivant was reticent, offering concentrated flavors of cherry and rose and a tightly wound finish. I liked its backwardness at this stage and this should be special (91-94). The Richebourg, as it often is, was the most open wine in the cellar. It displayed pure, piercing aromas of cherry, vegetal and spice notes, an opulent profile and terrific length (91-94).

Tasting the La Tâche, it struck me that this was the least ’07-like in character. Immediately deeper and darker, evoking black cherry and black currant flavors, it was more austere, yet with plenty in reserve (92-95). Again, I feel this is a good sign, when most 2007s are very approachable already.

The Romanée-Conti itself showed a discreet nose of flowers and red fruits. On the palate it was all silk and refinement that just kept building to a very long aftertaste (93-96).

If DRC is one of Burgundy’s benchmark domaines for Pinot Noir, Domaine Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet is its equivalent for Chardonnay of the highest order. Not only is quality high, but at 58 acres, it is a large estate with 14 acres of holdings in four of the five grands crus. Under the direction of Anne-Claude Leflaive, the vineyards are farmed biodynamically.

The 2007s were racked from barrel into tank in September. They had not yet been fined and will be bottled in March. Eric Remy, who joined the domaine in 2003, is now responsible for the winemaking since the retirement of Pierre Morey last year.

The Bourgogne was not assembled. The sample we tasted came from Les Houlieres, one of two parcels owned by Leflaive. It was fresh, clean and lemony, balanced, with a crisp structure (86-89). The Puligny-Montrachet was a blend of two out of five parcels, Les Grands Champs and La Rue aux Vaches. Fine and linear, it revealed lemon cake note on an elegant frame (87-90).

Though less aromatic, the Meursault sous le Dos d’Âne nonetheless exhibited a rich, sappy texture, with mineral, honey, peach and almond flavors that lingered on the palate (88-91). The Puligny-Montrachet Le Clavoillon, a representation of the approximate blend, smelled like white flowers, followed by lemon and peach notes (89-92). Its clay soils give it a little more weight and density.

Les Folatières is higher on the slope, with less topsoil and more chalk and limestone than the Clavoillon. As expected, it is more delicate and elegant, lacy and tinged with mineral (89-92). The sample was from the largest of Leflaive’s three parcels in Les Folatières.

The next two whites are among the best premiers crus in Puligny. Les Combettes abuts the upper portion of Meursault Charmes. It was firm, almost racy, with lemon and stone notes and a long finish (90-93). The Les Pucelles vineyard is well-situated mid-slope, just north of Bâtard-Montrachet and Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet. It featured wonderful perfume, lemon and hazelnut flavors, and a touch more intensity than Les Combettes (90-93).

Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet showed aromas of juniper and spice, with a hazelnut note and fine concentration (91-94). Its cousin, the Bâtard-Montrachet, was more open, offering citrus, floral, peach and nut flavors on a compact, dense frame (91-94).

Leflaive’s Chevalier-Montrachet revealed a more ethereal character, light, yet intense, exuding floral, hazelnut, citronella and mineral notes matched to a creamy texture. It’s very complete already and long on the palate (91-94). The Montrachet is from barrel, because there is so little of it. It spends one year in new oak and 8 months in used oak before bottling. Nectarlike, it delivered honey, vanilla, peach butter, mineral and toast flavors that resonated on the long aftertaste (92-95).

Italo T Lombardi
New York —  February 3, 2009 2:14pm ET
Great blog Mr. Sanderson. What a day in fact!Among the premier crus at Leflaive, do you notice consistently better results [complexity, body and aging potential) in Les Combettes than in Les Folatieres? The same for other producers?
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  February 3, 2009 4:33pm ET
Italo, Where I have been able to taste both Combettes and Folatieres from the same producer (Leflaive, Jadot, Girardin and Sauzet), I almost always prefer Combettes. It has a bit more intensity and body, combined with a mineral element that's very compelling. Folatieres is generally a more elegant wine, lacier in texture, but also very minerally. I think both age very well, but the extra weight may allow Combettes to develop more slowly. It's really a question of what style you prefer. A comparative tasting of both wines over about 10 vintages would be educational!
David Bowler
Bronx, NY —  February 3, 2009 5:47pm ET
You have a tough job Bruce! Are prices coming down in Burgundy? Do the winemakers give you any sense that they see tough times ahead?
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  February 12, 2009 1:46pm ET
David: I spoke with Louis-Fabrice Latour during my trip. Louis Latour is reducing wholesale prices 15-35 percent for the 2006 vintage. Other than that, I have not heard of any price reductions. Some have increased prices for their 2007s.

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