Domaine des Comtes Lafon’s Montrachet is remarkable. The estate’s rare, famous flagship wine comes from a tiny plot – just 31.82 ares, less than a third of a hectare–at the southernmost point of the world’s most famous white wine vineyard, with Blanchot Dessus across the road, and right next door to plots belonging to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. In fact, the plot is so tiny that in the low-yielding 2016 vintage, the property joined forces with DRC, Leflaive, Domaine Guy Amiot & Fils, Domaine Lamy-Pillot and Domaine Fleurot, pooling together their grapes to produce two barrels of Montrachet from their combined 1.25 hectares.
The Lafon family has owned their plot since 1918, however the vines were farmed by the Morey family for a long time. Indeed it was only in 1991 that Dominique Lafon officially reclaimed it. The vines here are very old, with the vast majority planted in 1953, and a small section planted in 1972.
These old vines bask in the sunshine, facing south, their roots on deep limestone soils that preserve minerality and freshness. The wine produced is remarkable. Tasting through a vertical back to 2001 at our recent dinner, the style really shone through: it is one of the richest and most powerful Montrachets, possessing both great concentration, yet also an amazing freshness that carries it through a long drinking window.
Being fortunate enough to drink through 15 vintages really highlighted the wines’ capacity to age. The top 2017, 2014 and 2010 vintages were a masterclass in Chardonnay perfected, but it was the supposedly “lesser” years such as 2006 or 2011 that showed the sheer class of both the site and the winemaking.
While Dominique Lafon has long been the face of the estate, we were joined by his daughter Léa Lafon who – alongside her cousin Pierre – is leading the estate into a new era. The new generation is looking to the future and continuing her father Dominique’s relentless drive for continual improvement and innovation, while protecting her father’s legacy. Her mission remains the same: to produce the greatest possible expression of a year, adapting as needed to that single window in time.
It was exciting to taste with Léa, who was incredibly open about the challenges the estate faced in the past. She explained how the domaine, over the last 20 years, has made important adaptations both in the vineyard and winery that has led, she believes, to big improvements in the wines today. One significant shift has been the reduced use of bâtonnage, producing a more precise, brighter, fresher style of wine. Her desire to continually improve shone through during our dinner and conversation, and it’s clear that the future of this estate is incredibly exciting.
Vertical of Lafon's Montrachet
2017: The first vintage of the evening did not disappoint. In fact it silenced the table, truly setting the tone for the evening ahead. A remarkably powerful rich nose unfurled with ripe lemon, honey, blossom and buttery roasted nuts. It was delicate and refined, yet with deep concentration and levels of dry extract that coat the mouth. Multi-dimensional, multi-layered with extraordinary potential, this is a remarkable effort and was one of the great wines of the night.
2015: This has a ripe nose, but took a little coaxing to showcase the bright, well-defined, rich, ripe fruit. It was dense, bright and full (indicative of the vintage?), but with huge depth and potential. The salinity wasn’t quite as evident as on other vintages from the same era, with this showing a more waxy, honeyed ripeness. Very satisfying and long, with a buttery finish.
2014: As expected, the 2014 leaps from the glass, almost making itself known before any swirling has begun. It was very ripe with pungent limes, lemons and a slight hint of herbs. Smokey and mineral, there’s a touch of struck-match and slate. Once again, the harmony of all the components – weight, concentration, dry extract, acidity – is remarkable. The classic Montrachet power and weightlessness is very evident, clearly a wine for the long-term but how special to try it in an early phase of its evolution. Saline and complex. Classy and rich, simply outstanding.
2013: Considerable reduction evident here, slightly outweighing the fruit and perfume. Lots of slate and struck-match dominated at first, but with air it was rich and bright, with well-defined flavours of honey, ripe lemon, hints of smoke, minerals and an almost chalky finish.
2012: This had a bright, energetic nose of ripe lemon and lime, with a hint of apricot. Everything is aligned and seems to be in perfect proportion – deeply concentrated, but light and fresh – very harmonious and complete.
2011: This was another vintage from this remarkable line-up of triumphs that outperforms the vintage, showing an unbelievable balance of bright, dense, concentrated fruit balanced by high acidity. On the palate, it feels like this could last forever. Lime and minerality hides in the background, with a slightly waxy and tropical finish. Long and memorable.
2010: Standing up to the reputation of the vintage, the ’10 delivers in abundance. It is ripe, but with underlying slatey, chalky, smokiness; tense, but with huge concentration and a core of rich stone-fruit character. Layered and textured, it’s captivating. The wine is complex with hints of honey and nuts emerging with gentle coaxing. The oak is perfectly resolved and integrated. Hugely impressive, standout.
2009: Corked sadly! Though evidence was there behind the TCA of a brilliant wine.
2008: Wow – this was sensational, with a captivating nose of ripe lemon, lime, honeysuckle and even a hint of guava and limey, oyster water. Intense, focused and concentrated, there’s layer after layer of viscous, dry extract balanced perfectly by massive acidity, with citric bite. Very mineral and multi-dimensional, it’s complete and faultless. Hard to say how this outstanding 2008 could be improved in any way at all. Stunning.
2007: More reserved than the very pronounced 2008, this offered fleshy pears, stone-fruit, lemon rind, with slightly less concentration than some of its counterparts, but remained perfumed and charming.
2006: The consensus was the 2006 was one of the stars of the evening – show-stoppingly good, emphasised by what is a fairly ordinary vintage in the Côte de Beaune. It was ripe, almost tropical, but with the characteristic saline, mineral, high-acid backbone found in the top vintages of this extraordinary wine. It was floral, ginger and orange-zest scented, while the palate is sumptuous, multi-layered and penetrates the whole way through. Weightless and powerful, it build to a nutty, saline finish. Extraordinary, it’s surely a contender for wine of the vintage.
2005: This was apparently a tricky vantage at Lafon, with some bottle variation Léa noted, but it was another outstanding ex-domaine bottle on the night. It offered a quieter nose than the sublime 2006, with hints of honeysuckle, candied apple, hazelnuts and ginger. It has a rich core of concentrated, dense, buttery, ripe nuttiness, which follows through to an elevated, slightly floral finish.
2004: Another challenging vintage for Lafon, with some bottle variation possible, the bottle on the night, however, was outstanding. With notes of limey, fresh apples, it has the characteristic marine, saline character, if not as pronounced as other vintages. It has a soft, slightly reticent texture, but an undeniable power, reminding us of the quality on show. Perhaps slightly shorter than previous vintages, but still superb.
2003: Completely not the expected profile for such a warm vintage, this was quite lean and high acid. It’s very pure and seductive, yet still with a saline note, pears, slightly candied apple, cream and a limey finish. Exceptionally long and satisfying.
2002: A very strong showing, this was bright and alive, with a mineral nose showing fresh citrus, with a more rounded and almost silky mouth-feel. With hints of pine nuts, minerals, slate, it was dense and rich but with balancing high acidity that makes for a wonderfully fresh palate and saline finish. Outstanding.
2001: This was perhaps slightly more mature than expected (not a perfect bottle), but was the right side of oxidised, with excellent depth and freshness. Notes of baked apple, nuts, clove, butter and honey blossom mingle. It was quite viscous and full-bodied, with a long, rich finish.