Lalou Bize-Leroy is one of the wine industry’s legends – but you wouldn’t know it meeting her.
The slim 90-year-old flings open the door of her Auxey-Duresses estate to greet me open-armed, her two dogs running out to say hello as she gushes over the flowers I’ve brought her. Just as we commented after our visit last year, despite making some of the region’s finest (and most sought-after) wines, there is nothing grandiose about Leroy – here you are treated like family.
The reason for my visit, of course, is to taste the 2023 collection from Bize-Leroy’s négociant arm, Maison Leroy. This label is the most affordable entry-point and window into Leroy’s empire – with the rare wines of Domaine Leroy and Domaine d’Auvenay almost impossible to get your hands on.
Although the Leroy family has owned vines for centuries, the family’s reputation was built on its négociant bottlings – with the operation dating back to 1868, when it was established by François Leroy (Lalou Bize-Leroy’s great-grandfather). While Bize-Leroy’s father Henri focused on Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (purchasing a 50% stake in 1942), Bize-Leroy joined the family business in 1955 and developed the négociant. It is only under her tenure that the company really flourished and became known for offering the very best of the best. Over almost 70 years, she has built and shaped both the Leroy reputation, and that of Burgundy as a whole.
The négociant project is a massive undertaking, with Bize-Leroy tasting hundreds of wines blind each year en primeur. She will know the appellation but not the grower/producer, and picks only the very best to be bottled under her family name, looking for the most typical examples, with the most beautiful definition. She is known for her incredible palate and, given her position in the region, has unrivalled access to the very best vineyards – the combination makes for négociant wines of unusual pedigree.
The wines are then matured in the Leroy cellars, released to the world only when she deems them ready. It’s particularly important to Bize-Leroy that the wines are sold only when ready to drink – feeling that far too many wines today are consumed too young, wastefully consumed when they haven’t realised their full potential. “Waiting,” she says, “makes all the difference.”
She talks about the Maison wines as if they’re her children, with an affection and care that is hard to describe – but makes sense given the personal relationship she has with each and every wine selected.
The 2023 release focuses on vintages ending in three – including a host of vintages that she feels are under-rated and misunderstood. Starting with the 1983, she notes how the reds were rustic at first – with massive tannins, but the acidity was there, and the best wines have length, subtlety and a sense of completeness that is rare.
“Everything has been written about 2003,” she tells me of this infamous year. Despite the year being known for its hot conditions – with then unheard-of temperatures and a record-breaking early harvest – she secured lots of the wines, finding that they had “une petite côté de tendresse”, showing a tenderness that was enchanting. The 2003 Savigny-lès-Beaune Les Ratausses that we taste shows this beautifully; Bize-Leroy describes it as “adorable”, which is hard to disagree with – sweet-fruited yet dainty and with a freshness that you wouldn’t expect of this warm year.
The 2013 vintage might not have been great for red Burgundy, with wines that were hard to taste in their youth with their tannin levels, but there are some wines “drinking beautifully now” in Bize-Leroy’s view. And this is something that I’ve seen time and again recently, with many bottles from this “off-vintage” really impressing over the last couple of years.
As for the whites, the 1993 Meursault Perrières unashamedly stole the show. As Bize-Leroy said, it’s “une pure petite merveille” (literally “a pure little marvel”): this incredible Chardonnay kept evolving in the glass, offering such complexity that it is almost impossible to capture in words. Endless facets revealed themselves, with florals, fruit and the nutty tones from its age and a creaminess that drove a long, mouth-watering finish. Returning to the glass after five minutes, there’s a whole new layer that has opened up. It was stunning.
Comparing a 2018 Auxey-Duresses and 2017 Meursault was a treat – the Auxey-Duresses taking more time to unravel in the glass, its delicacy needing air to emerge, while the tension of the 2017 offered more immediate pleasure. Although Bize-Leroy favours the Auxey, the Meursault won me over – a wine that made me smile with its sheer joy.
Even for us, it’s rare to get the chance to re-taste these wines, so it was a particular treat to revisit her Bourgogne Blanc Fleurs de Vignes. This magical multi-vintage blend was first released in 2013, with the aim to craft the “ultimate Bourgogne Blanc”, partly due to the low volumes of Bourgogne made in the early 2010s. Combining Premier Cru Puligny-Montrachet (Champ Gain) fruit with village and regional plots from the vintages between 2008 and 2011, it’s an extraordinary wine that is gaining in complexity exponentially.
Tasting with Bize-Leroy is a special experience. She’s precise in the way she tastes and talks about the wines, each word carefully considered and deliberate –that sense of familial pride shining through as she presents these newborns to the world. Once we’ve tasted, it’s on to lunch – a low-key affair, choucroute, elevated by the rest of the 2017 Meursault, for first and foremost Bize-Leroy crafts wines to be enjoyed at the table – and what wines they are.