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Average critic rating : 90.0 points
The 2012 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Clavoillon was matured in 25% new oak. It has a light bouquet of grass clippings and green apple, the mineralite just dialed down a notch. The palate is crisp and fresh on the entry with very good acidity, although the finish is missing just a little weight and presence at the moment. Still, this is a pleasurable if not such an intellectual Clavoillon at the moment. ||Anne-Claude Leflaive made a brief appearance during my tasting at the domaine since she was hastening off to Italy. I have been visiting here for as long as I can remember, first meeting former winemaker Pierre Morey in the 1990s. Back in those days, the tenets of biodynamism were evident, although back then I did not really understand them. Today, there is almost evangelism towards Steiner’s philosophy, not in a monomaniacal sense, rather a strong belief that Anne-Claude’s wines would be pale shadows without them. Parking outside their gates, it was good to be back after a three-year absence. Nothing much had changed. On this occasion it was Antoine Repetit de la Bigne who escorted me down to the stainless-steel vats where the final blends were resting prior to bottling, which is where I always taste. I wondered whether finally I would hear “Oui” when I ask whether I could taste their single barrel of Montrachet? I decided not to ask. That would be rude. Antoine told me that the harvest began on September 14 and everything was picked by September 21. Of course, I had to bring up the topic of hail damage. Antoine explained that here it was de facto the second hail storm on August 1 that inflicted the most damage, particularly on their parcels of village cru. In the end, Leflaive ended up losing approximately half their crop depending up the vineyard. “Fortunately it was just before veraison so the berries did not have a lot of juice in them,” Antoine informed me, clambering up the ladder to dip his pipette into another vat. “Curiously, even the big berries had little juice. It was important to apply the treatments quickly so that the vines do not become stressed and retard the vegetative cycle. We used nettle and velarian (a source of phosphorous) that were both very effective. Then when it came to sorting, the vibrating table de trie was crucial.” Many of the treatments had to be done on foot, much to the chagrin of the team plodding through the vines in their heavy muddy boots. Usually for the last three years it has been horses hooves in the vineyard. However, in 2012 it was found that two human legs were better than four equine ones. It is always an intellectual as well as satisfying sensory exercise tasting through Anne-Claude Leflaive’s wines. It always serves as a lesson in terroir expression: same grape, same approach. As so often I find, those not wishing to spend too much money ought to head directly from their village cru, their Puligny-Montrachet one of the finest you will find in Cote de Beaune. Beyond that, well each year springs up a different premier cru that catches you off guard. Myself, I was taken with stunning Les Pucelles due to its precocity and intensity that lifted it equal to the grand crus. Others might prefer something subtler. I do not think Anne-Claude wines are beyond criticism. Sometimes the aura that veils the estate and Anne-Claude herself, creates a shield so that they are impermeable to dissenting comments. Biodynamics itself has never precluded an intrinsically superior wine to one where a load of chemical was dumped onto the vineyard. The question is more: if given the choice, which would you prefer to put in your mouth? Antoine hands me a copy of his paperback entitled “What’s so Special About Biodynamic Wine.” I read the chapter on wine critics on the way home. I agree with him that we should strive to taste as much as possible at the domaine, but at the end of the day, a biodynamic wine should not be critiqued with preferential treatment. Whether Anne-Claude Leflaive’s Chevalier-Montrachet is biodynamic or not is irrelevant. I am more interested in its intrinsic qualities vis-a-vis their Les Pucelles or Bienvenue, vis-a-vis the Chevalier-Montrachet from Alain Chavy, Jean Chartron, Etienne Sauzet or Michel Niellon. And the Chevalier-Montrachet here is a sublime expression of the vineyard no doubt destined to age with grace and style. That is what matters. You may have noticed there is no Montrachet note here. The reason is not personal. Just that there is so little that it is being matured in a specially made small barrel, which renders the elevage extremely sensitive and fragile (see Frederic Barnier’s comments about his Criots-Batard-Montrachet.) I would not want to ruin what little there is for the sake of vanity. eRobertParker.com.December, 2013
Domaine Leflaive: The Importance
Domaine Leflaive has long been an icon of white Burgundy and is globally recognised as the most famous estate in Puligny-Montrachet. Adored by Chardonnay connoisseurs, this family-owned winery is distinguished by the care they take throughout the vinification process. Wine Advocate’s Neil Martin put it exceptionally well when he said: “If you do not like Leflaive's wines, then you do not like white Burgundy.”
The winery was hailed by the Wall Street Journal as “the greatest of all Puligny producers, the kind of wine that should be delivered by Grace Kelly.” And Robert Parker rates them as “Outstanding”, saying that they “set standards for white Burgundy that few other estates can approach” and that “their Puligny Premier Crus and Grands Crus combine richness and polish with depth and at times almost a lacy intricacy of flavour that can take a taster’s breath away. No one should pass up a chance to purchase villages Puligny or generic Bourgogne from this estate either, and even those are worth cellaring.”
In 1976, Leflaive’s Premier Cru wine Les Pucelles was chosen to compete in the renowned Judgement of Paris, one of only four French whites selected. Les Pucelles is a true testament to the producer’s transcendent craftsmanship and has also been welcomed at the prestigious Grand European Wine Jury of 1997 as well as the 1980 Great Chardonnay Showdown in Chicago.
Domaine Leflaive: The Insight
As a leader of biodynamic viticulture, Domaine Leflaive is renowned for the attention to detail and care that goes in to nourishing each vine from ground to bottle. This organic method of cultivation enriches the soil with plant-based compounds, thus sparing the vines of harmful herbicides and allowing the wine to exude the particularities of the Puligny-Montrachet terroir.
Their Grand Cru wines have consistently scored highly with Wine Advocate, Neal Martin describes them as “wines with audacity and ambition.” Le Montrachet, Batard Montrachet, Bienvenue Batard Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet dominate Wine Advocate’s top scorers from this domaine, all of which are produced in tiny quantities. It is also worth noting that Neal Martin flags up Domaine Leflaive’s ability to “transcend the limitations of the growing season” – so even in less than favourable vintages their wines are worthy of consideration.
For those looking for an accessible opportunity to taste the top quality white Burgundy produced by this domaine, their Bourgogne Blanc and Mâcon Verzé provide just that.
Domaine Leflaive’s wines age excellently. Allen Meadows has previously noted that one particular vintage of Le Montrachet “even at almost 20 years of age… is still cruising along like it was only 10 as the freshness of the aromas is uncanny.” To help judge when the wines are ready to drink, Domaine Leflaive’s website provides an excellent database of recommendations by wine and by vintage.
Domaine Leflaive: The Background
The winery traces its roots back to 1717, when Claude Leflaive relocated to Puligny-Montrachet to cultivate several acres of vineyard. It was in the early 1900s when Joseph Leflaive, a brilliant marine engineer and descendant of Claude’s, expanded the family’s foothold with a series of vineyard purchases and established Domaine Leflaive as a top quality producer.
Today the domaine extends over 22 hectares with nearly 11 hectares of Premiers Crus (in Les Combettes, Les Pucelles, Le Clavoillon, Les Folatières and Sous le Dos d’Ane) and 5 hectares of Grand Crus (in Chevalier Montrachet, Bâtard Montrachet, Bienvenues Bâtard Montrachet and Le Montrachet). Domaine Leflaive became Burgundy’s leading biodynamic producer thanks to the stewardship of Joseph’s granddaughter, Anne-Claude, who became head of the domaine in 1990. She ran this in tandem with her cousin for two years, but he broke off to run a separate négociant business: Olivier Leflaive. After Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée Conti put her in touch with a biodynamic consultant, Anne-Claude became a real pioneer of the farming practice.
After her untimely death in 2015, Anne-Claude was succeeded by her nephew Brice de La Morandière - the fourth generation to lead the domaine. The winery continues to uphold the Burgundian tradition with year-long fermentation in oak barrels before clarification in stainless steel tanks throughout the second winter. It is this respect for exceptional viticulture and winemaking that has earned Domaine Leflaive a place in the cellars of Burgundy aficionados across the world.
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