Wine Vault: Leroy Burgundies

I have recently crossed paths with a handful of older Leroy wines re-released from the property. While some of the wines have been as magical for their respective appellations as we have come to expect from wines wearing the Leroy label (including the excellent 1985 Savigny les Beaune), a number of the wines have not seemed up to the usual high Leroy standards. Wines such as 1972 Vosne-Romanee "Beaux Monts", 1976 Savigny les Beaune "les Narbantons", 1971 Echezeaux, 1985 Beaune "Perrieres", 1985 Volnay "Santenots" and 1980 Chapelle-Chambertin have varied from merely adequate to truly disappointing. In addition, a 1959 Grands Echezeaux tasted twice was clearly not the same wine, though there was nothing to indicate this on the label. One was truly profound, the other, adequate. What's the story here? Are we witnessing the new Leroy reality of economic expedience in the face of losing the lucrative distribution rights to the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti wines? I have been a fan of Leroy wines for years, but a few of these most recent "cellar treasures" have begun to shake my faith in the domaine.

Initially, I planned to focus solely on the recently-released older wines that have been emerging from the Leroy cellars. However, given how depressing my notes on many of these wines were, I expanded this report to include a number of recent notes on "regular" releases from Leroy to balance out the ledger. Given the financial sacrifices that many wine lovers must make in order to salt away wines sporting the Leroy label, these are usually some of the last wines to be opened from their respective vintages. (Opportunities to pull a cork on a few Leroys over pizza are relatively rare.) Through fortuitous timing, I have been able to taste a sizable number of Leroys over the last year and a half. While most of these wines were not even near their apogees, their sacrifices have given me a much clearer picture of when the handful of Leroys in my cellar will be nearing their peaks. I hope they will be equally useful for others.

Clearly, Leroy is still one of the great names in Burgundy. Madame Lalou-Bize Leroy has spent decades earning here reputation as a quality zealot of uncompromisingly high standards. These high standards seemed to have moved to an even higher level with the creation of Domaine Leroy through the purchase of the fabulous holdings of the old Charles Noellat domaine in Vosne-Romanee. Commencing with the 1988 vintage, stunning Leroy wines were available in relatively bountiful quantities. The future never looked brighter for Madame Bize. Then came the vitriolic squabble amongst the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti shareholders. Madame Bize was unceremoniously shown the door, and the Leroy negociant house was stripped of its right to market the Domaine's wines throughout the world. (Previously, Leroy had been in charge of distribution of DRC wines for every market other than the United States.) In the wake of the obvious financial setback of losing this lucrative franchise, the Leroy cellars of older wines has been opened. While some of these wines may be of fine quality, the examples that have crossed my path have been shockingly mediocre. They have clearly been wines that should have never been sold under the Leroy label.

1992 Puligny "Folatieres"- Leroy

Here is a prime example of the new reality at Leroy. Madame Leroy had two separate bottlings of Folatieres in 1992: vines she owns (and sells under her Domaine d'Auvenay label) and this little offering of purchased wine that was labeled under her negociant Maison Leroy label. All of this would be fine if my offer sheet had explained this to me, rather than my having to play detective after the wine arrives. Did she make the wine? Heaven knows. Fortunately, the wine is superb, so, with this wine, at least, it becomes more a question of propriety. Whoever made the wine, her magic touch is quite evident: apple, lemon, minerals, spring flowers, beeswax, and vanillin oak on the nose; almost Chablis-like in its minerally profile. Deep and very full on the palate, with a more forward personality than most young Leroy whites; great acidity and extract promise a long, fruitful life. A very, very impressive bottle. 1999-2008. 93.

1992 Corton-Charlemagne- Leroy

Once again, we have gone up a level in terms of sheer density. This is a spectacular, painfully-youthful Corton-Charlemagne. While is bigger, and potentially much longer-lived than the Roumier Corton-Charlemagne served alongside, it is not a bit better! A great, tight nose of green apple, lemon, honey, minerals, spring flowers, and vanillin oak is riveting. On the palate the wine is mammoth, with a tight girdle of acid that gives the wine flawless shape and laser-like focus; layer upon layer of ripe fruit, impeccable balance, and a long, thick, almost chewy wave of a finish. Is this wine tannic? Amazing example of vinuous immortality. This will unquestionably be one of the longest lived wines of the vintage. 2005- 2030? 95.

1989 Corton-Charlemagne- Leroy

Did this wine come from the same source as the riveting 1992? I have serious reservations that that would prove to be the case. I had this wine on four separate occasions, and each time it showed just plain weird. A very strange wine: seriously underripe aromas of green apple, grassiness, sour lemons, minerals, olives, and vanillin oak. Deep, hard and closed on the palate, with real concentration and racy acidity for the vintage, but strange, strange flavors today. It tastes and smells of Verdicchio on steroids! hard to say what is going to emerge from hibernation. Perhaps this wine was hit with enough sulfur to keep it dormant for a decade, and there really is an important wine lurking down there somewhere. However, after four dismal bottles, I frankly don't care. 2000-2020? 84-92?

1992 Vosne-Romanee "les Brulees"- Leroy

Here is a perfect example of why it is so damnably impossible to just say no to Leroy wines. I have had this wine three times, and have found it to be a magical rendition of the vintage. The las bottle was another excellent showing, though this wine may have suffered ever so slightly from its commute from New York to Vermont. The nose is still excellent, with scents of raspberry, plum, chocolate, game, minerals, violets, and vanillin oak. Full-bodied and very minerally on the palate, with the terroir showing through much more than in riper vintages such as 1990. Still quite a bit of ripe tannin on the finish, but well-covered by sweet fruit. An excellent wine that totally transcends the vintage. 2000-2015. 93.

1991 Corton "Renardes"- Leroy

Like the above wine, here we have a Domaine Leroy wine. Clearly, there is much less risk of disappointment with the domaine stuff. Like so many of Leroy's 1991s, this could clearly be mistaken for a 1990! A fine showing: closed and black fruity on the nose, with scents of cassis, plum, meaty tones, chocolate, coriander, and minerals. Huge, powerful, and palate-staining on the palate, with layers of ripe fruit, plenty of tannin, and along, complex, powerful finish. A very, very stylish example of a powerhitting Corton. A wine to bat cleanup. 2001-2020. 92.

1991 Clos de la Roche- Leroy

I had this wine a year ago (Spring of 1996), and at the time I felt it was a good ten to twelve years away from its prime. It has moved forward at a rather surprising pace, and now seems about six years away from its plateau of maturity. While it has lost some of the iron grip of its youthful tannins, it has lost none of its concentration and complexity. The nose is stunning, though still quite adolescent, with scents of plum, black cherry, coffee, gamey tones, smoke, herbs, minerals, and toasty new oak. Deep, full, and rippling with muscular fruit (chiseled like a 1990 Grand Cru!), excellent focus, a huge core of fruit in reserve, and a monumental finish. As profound as this wine will be, I have yet to see anything more than fleeting glimpses of Clos de la Roche terroir in the wine. That may well come with more bottle age, but for now, I have to score it down just a tad. If it develops more typicity, my score will seem conservative. 2003-2025. 95.

1990 Chambolle-Musigny "Les Fremiers"- Leroy

My slight reservations about the 1991 Leroy Clos de la Roche are even stronger with the 1990 Chambolle "Fremiers". It is unmistakably great pinot noir, but I have a hard time associating this wine with Chambolle-Musigny. Certainly more Chambolle character could emerge with more time, but for now, this is a big, massive, impressively extracted wine that could hail from anywhere on the planet. I realize that there are many, many tasters that do not care one bit whether or not the wine shows typicity, as long as the wine possesses excellence in terms of depth, balance, and complexity. On those three counts, this wine scores very highly indeed. However I find myself longing for a bit more terroir. The bouquet is stunning, though still quite closed: black raspberry, plum, prune, woodsmoke, hints of game, violets, herbs, chocolate, minerals and toasty new oak. Deep, full and packed with fruit on the palate, with fine focus, firm tannins, and a long, complex, thickly fruity finish. This beautiful wine is years away from its apogee, and I hope that its shape and layer of soil-inflected flavors will emerge with more bottle age. I would gladly drink this wine anytime, but as it shows today, it is not a wine I feel compelled to go out and add to my cellar. 2003-2025. 91.

1989 Vosne-Romanee "Les Genevrieres"- Leroy

One of the great, great bargains in the Domaine Leroy portfolio, this wine has shown very Richebourg-like on every occasion that I have had it. It has a finer purity and more classic Vosne flavors than the slightly pruney 1990 Genevrieres. Initially quite closed on the nose, this wine opened quite nicely after thirty minutes of air. A fine bouquet of roasted plums, raspberry, forest floor, game, minerals, violets, chocolate and toasty new oak wafts from the glass. Medium-full, deep and complex on the palate, with fine grip and a juicy core of fruit. The finish is long, potentially lush, and still a bit tannic. Expect this over-achieving, old-vine village wine to hit its peak in another three or four years. As is often the case with this wine, clearly top, top Premier Cru in quality. 2000-2015. 92+.

1988 Savigny "Narbantons"- Leroy

Every time I get a little (mind you, a little) disillusioned with Madame Leroy, another one of her wines comes back to nip at my heels. Clearly, her winemaking has moved to a higher level with her Domaine Leroy bottlings. I had the 1976 Savigny "Narbantons" and found it mediocre at best (see below). After tasting the 1988, I cannot believe that they came from the same parcel. The 1988 is super stuff, but still a little while away from really opening up and hitting its apogee. The nose is fabulous: classic Savigny aromas of red cherry, quince, coffee, venison, vinesmoke and herbs, coupled with scents of rose petals, plums, and sweet vanillin oak. This wine has been given the same loving care as her Richebourg! Full-bodied, flawlessly focused, and just packed with sweet fruit at the core. Right now this fruit is like the sun behind the clouds, but the breeze is blowing, and that fruit will be beaming down from on high in another eighteen months or so. Right now, the fabulous terroir takes center stage, and no one at the table is complaining! Ripe, modest tannins and bouncy acidity carry through on the long finish. This is very, very special Savigny, as well as another convincing example of how great this vintage is going to be in another few years. Patience...2000-2015. 94.

1988 Vosne-Romanee "Les Beaumonts"- Leroy

This wine is quite closed at the present time, but even in its shut down state, it is one extraordinary bottle of wine. It takes a good half an hour to soften up on the finish, and though the nose is wonderful after fifteen minutes, it does not really hit on all cylinders until it has been open at least an hour. However, when it has been given the requisite time in decanter, it is an immense wine of First Growth depth and complexity. The nose offers up scents of cassis, plum, prune, woodsmoke, game, herb tones, minerals, French roast, and cedary wood. Huge and palate-staining on the palate, with perfect focus and balance, tremendous extract, firm tannins, bouncy acidity, and a long, powerful, tannic and extremely long finish. This can be one of the few "values" in the Leroy portfolio, as it is often priced at a similar level to many of the Grand Crus in Vosne-Romanee, and it is at least that good! A profound wine that deserves at least another decade in the cellar. It will be drinkable before, but like this bottle, it will be admired as much for its potential as its pleasure at the time. Just forget it in a corner of the cellar until 2005, and reward yourself with a seminal bottle of Pinot. 2005-2035. 96+.

1985 Monthelie- Leroy

I am not usually a fan of this commune, whose wines are often a bit "leafy". This wine transcends any experience I have had with Monthelie. The nose is lovely, with a deep-pitched, black fruity quality of plum, blackberry, bitter chocolate, herbs, and a solid underpinning of forest floor. Medium-bodied, round and lush on the palate, with just enough acidity to give the wine structure and freshness. Delicious now, but do not hold onto this wine too long, it is poised to start down the far side of its plateau. 1997-1999. 88

1985 Savigny les Beaune- Leroy

Absolutely incredible stuff! A huge, classic nose of raspberry, quince, grilled meats, coffee, herbs, woodsmoke, minerals, and cedar explodes from the glass. On the palate, the wine delivers Grand Cru weight and depth (this is only a village wine!), with excellent structure and focus. Firm tannins and tangy acidity crop up on the finish. Just approaching its stretch of maturity, this wine will be even better with another couple of years in the cellar. This is as extraordinary a bottle of village wine as I have ever tasted outside of Coche-Dury! 1997- 2005. 93

1985 Volnay "Santenots"- Leroy

This wine is pretty enough, with sweet fruit and floral tones, but the terroir seems to be a bit buried. It is quite reminiscent of Leroy's 85 Beaune "Perrieres" ( a wine I was singularly unimpressed with). Sweet notes of cherry, chocolate, herb tones, violets and new oak come from the glass on the nose. On the palate the wine is full and sweet, but a bit unfocused and chunky, with soft tannins, and a long, but somewhat flat finish. If this bottle is representative of the wine, this is not special stuff. Nowhere near the quality of the 1985 Savigny les Beaune! 1996-2002. 88.

1985 Mazis-Chambertin Cuvee Madeleine Collignon- Hospices de Beaune (Leroy)

I have had this wine previously, and had always wanted to have it alongside the "regular" Mazis from Leroy. Serendipity was on our side this evening, as we had brought the "regular" to dinner at NY's most exciting restaurant, Luma, and another table of serious wine enthusiasts had the Hospices Mazis at their table. Glasses were exchanged between tables, and we all got to compare these two dazzling wines. The Hospices Mazis is just beginning to open up and reveal its boundless depths of blackberry fruit, coupled to superb terroir, scents of grilled meats, shoe polish, herb tones, bitter chocolate, smoke and toasty new oak. On the palate, the wine behaves as if it were La Mouline made out of pinot noir with a huge, creamy, opulent palate impression, layer upon layer of sweet fruit, excellent focus and intensity, and a long, complex, bracingly powerful finish. The tannins are quite suave and well-integrated, but substantial. This is a very atypical Mazis in its lack of sauvage character, and perhaps the single greatest example of this vineyard that I have tasted. Interestingly, there are two separate cuvees of this wine, as Madame Leroy bought two-thirds of the barrels, and Bouchard Pere et Fils bought the other third. The Bouchard wine (93) was also stunning when I tasted it back in 1989, but it did not possess quite the depth and opulence of the Leroy version. It would be fascinating to see how it has evolved. 2002-2030. 96+.

1985 Mazis-Chambertin- Leroy

I have had the good fortune to swish this around between the cheek and gum on more than a few occasions, and it has never failed to delight. Unfortunately, on the last couple of sightings, it has had to sit on the table with some pretty stiff competition. It has not faired as well as I had hoped, but outside of the context of multiple Henri Jayer wines and the legendary 1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis, it is an extraordinary wine. The nose is classic Mazis, but taken to a very high level of concentration and flamboyance: scents of roasted cassis, plum, hints of prune, French roast, loads of smoked meats, herbs, earth, and toasty new oak soar from the glass. On the palate the wine is deep, powerful, and just packed with ripe fruit. Firm tannins and moderate acidity give the wine a lush, opulent, somewhat chewy finish. It is a superb bottle of wine, that is three to five years ahead of the Hospices Mazis in terms of development. I would opt for drinking it over the next ten years, but it may well last another twenty-five! 1997-2010. 93.

1980 Chapelle-Chambertin- Leroy

I hope this is not what this wine really tastes like! I have had it twice and been consistently shocked with the abysmal quality of the wine. An objectionable nose of dill pickle, herbs, chocolate, meaty tones, and compost heap. Long on the palate, but with the same off-putting tones that marred the nose. Big bucks for a big nothing, if this is not an off bottle. However, the cork looked fine, and no signs of temperature extremes or other mishandling. I would say retaste it, but I would hate to be out another three figures and find the same wine. 1997-2000. 80.

1976 Savigny les Beaune "les Narbantons"- Leroy

After the above wine, this was not shocking, but still a major disappointment. Tough, hard and aggressively acidic, this wine (tasted four times) seems to be losing its fruit. Mature notes of game, cherry, coffee, and sous bois, as well as a whiff of volatile acidity on the nose. Scrawny and astringent on the palate, are these representative bottles? This wine should never have been released. A true New York bargain. 80 (and falling fast!)

1972 Vosne-Romanee "Beaux Monts"- Leroy

A very silky, easygoing interpretation of what can be a pretty tangy, chewy vintage. Totally ready, with a bouquet of crushed raspberries, duck, Vosne spices, forest floor, minerals, and cedar. Medium-bodied, round and silky, but without the usual core of fruit of this Leroy wine. Since Madame Leroy started making this wine in 1988, it has been of GREAT Grand Cru quality in every vintage, and with that in mind, this is not a wine that deserves to wear the Leroy label. Probably made by Charles Noellat (the previous owner of what is now Domaine Leroy), and not bad for a Noellat wine. Drink up. 88

1971 Echezeaux- Leroy

Good, not great is how I would characterize this wine. Tasted twice, with similar impressions. We had it paired up the first time with a 1971 Rousseau Chambertin, and it was quite a bit outclassed. Good gamey notes interspersed with red fruit, plums, flowers, and a touch of oak on the nose. Medium-full, soft and ready, but without quite the length and grip that I had hoped to find here. Drunk on its own, without the expectations that come with a Leroy label in a fine vintage, this is a pretty tasty wine. Still, I hoped for more. Drink up. 89

1969 Vosne-Romanee- Leroy

It would be very interesting to know if this wine hails from either of Leroy's superb village plots: Les Genevrieres or Aux Reas. A lovely showing: typically powerful for the climat, with scents of raspberry, coffee, "sous bois", bonfires, venison, herb tones, minerals, and cedary wood. Medium-full and a point on the palate, with lovely delineation and length. A pretty fine wine for drinking over the next four to five years. Infinitely more impressive in the context of its appellation than the above. 1995-2000. 88.

1959 Grands Echezeaux- Leroy

With all of my indifferent luck with these recently released "cellar gems" from Leroy, this wine on two occasions has been an incredible success. That said, there are clearly two distinctly different cuvees of this wine that have been shipped to the United States. Oddly enough, two of us brought the same Burgundy to the same 1959 dinner! The wines were released ten years apart from the cellar, and showed dramatically different. The two wines were served double blind (the sommelier chose the order of the bottles), with only the person who brought the wine aware of what the wine might be. The bottle shipped in the mid-1980s came through Slocum in Rhode Island, and was purchased at Pop's on Long Island. Since its immediate purchase, the wine was stored perfectly. The second bottle was shipped into New York by Wine Cellars Ltd. in 1995, and was clearly the superior bottle. The Rhode Island bottle (88) was very tight and unforthcoming, with reasonable depth and notable complexity, but, also with high acids starting to take over the finish, and a hint of alcohol poking through as well. If anything, it was on its way to drying out. The New York bottle was perfection: cherry, raspberry, meaty tones, herbs, forest floor, coffee, minerals, and cedary wood on the nose. Rich, full, and packed with sweet, opulent fruit on the palate, Burgundy does not get better than this wine! Perfect focus and balance, with a whisper of tannins bouncing away on the finish. I thought this wine was 1959 La Tache! The most recent bottle was also from that 1995 shipment, and was another profound revelation. But how does one tell the difference? The more recent cuvee is clearly a wine of legendary proportions. 98+. 1995-2015.