With the whites of the Côte-d’Or in scarce supply and increasingly priced out of reach of all but the very well-heeled, the search continues for credible alternatives. Domaine Leflaive set their Mâcon project in play in 2004 and have farmed these chardonnay parcels biodynamically ever since. Lovers of good chardonnay, look no further. These 2019 vintage releases are some of their finest to date, elevating this often humble appellation to truly compelling status.
The 2019 Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé (A$85, 91 points) is delicious with ripe peach fruit delivered in a very pure and fleshy mode with apple and crunchy pear, too. This has impressive composure and the phenolics carve a deep finish. Drink over the next three years.
There are two single parcel bottlings, which offer quite distinctively different styles, both excellent quality. The 2019 Mâcon-Verzé Les Chênes (A$100, 92) is an elegant, fine-boned expression with impeccably fresh lemon, apple and pear as well as stony notes. The 2019 Mâcon-Verzé Le Monte (A$100, 93) is richer and more concentrated with acidity balancing the weight so well. Plenty of peach, apple, pear and citrus here, drink over the next five years.
Domaine Leflaive now farms 60ha in Pouilly-Fuissé and their 2019 Pouilly-Fuissé (A$130, 92) is concentrated and fruit-filled with aromas of sliced peach, lemon curd, wet stones, nectarine, background spices and poached pear. The palate delivers boldly flavoured and fleshy orchard fruits with such smoothly composed style. Fresh, supple and gently flinty, acidity holds it succulent, this is so drinkable now.
And there’s a very composed 2019 Leflaive & Associes Auxey-Duresses (A$135, 93) available, with a stony, mineral edge to the nose, hazelnut and spiced nougat-like notes, flint, fresh bread dough, and a mix of nectarine, lemon and peach fruits. The palate has appealing fleshiness, with ripe peachy fruit presented in such uncluttered, pure and mouth-watering style. Drink now.
Adding to the plethora of quality 2017 Barolo reviewed last issue, there’s a good supply of 2017 Sordo on our shores thanks to importer David Ridge. These are incredible value and represent a range of genuinely distinctive styles.
They start with the 2017 Sordo Barolo del Comune di La Morra (A$130, 92), which is primarily sourced from the south-east-facing amphitheatre of Galina. Attractive spiced strawberry aromas with a gently herbal edge, blackcurrant and orange peel. All very classic. The palate has sleekly defined style and plenty of juicy flesh. Drink over the next eight years.
The 2017 Parussi (A$130, 93) is loveable Barolo with early-drinking appeal and so much sweetly ripe and fleshy fruit on the palate.
Monvigliero is a Cru I am always drawn to. The 2017 Sordo (A$100, 94) has attractive violet and spiced blueberry in an alluringly restrained style, more subtle than overt. The palate has vividly defined red cherry and blueberry, plenty of fine tannin and the acidity elevates the finish brightly. Drink over the next decade.
The 2017 Ravera (A$130, 94) is filled with sweet spices and adds savoury rust-like tones to blueberry, terra cotta and blood orange. The long, fine and ample tannins are deceptive; this will age so well. The 2017 Sori Gabutti Riserva (A$140, 94) is a more savoury expression with notes of sweet old leather, tar, coal dust, bone broth, toasted grains and dark stones as well as fading rose perfume. The palate is bold and big-boned. Drink over the next decade.
The 2017 Monprivato (A$260, 94) exudes fresh violet and dark rose florals, deep spices, leather, forest wood, tar, orange peel, blueberry and more. Fresh and complex. The palate holds a very sleek, long feel with a smooth outer edge, vivid acidity and a wealth of fine sweet red and blue fruit flavours. Drink over the next decade.
The concentrated 2017 Perno (A$130, 95) melds herb and leaf notes with attractive red cherry, violet and sweet baking spices. Very fresh and energetic palate, with a rich, sweet-fruited core of ripe, concentrated blueberry fruit. Impressively deep and sustained plum through the long pure finish. Acidity chimes in bright. Drink over the next decade.
Meanwhile, the 2017 Rocche di Castiglione (A$130, 96) is hard to fault with its subtle, fine brand of complexity. Aromas of graphite and pencil shavings, fresh rose and tarry accents, coal dust, orange peel, sweet spices and fresh red cherry. The palate holds a boldly fleshy stance with such effortless long blueberry and cherry fruit flavours. Such fine tannin with a granular build into the finish. Classy as always from this vineyard. Drink over the next decade.
My annual visit to taste with Roederer Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon has long been a highlight of the calendar and so I spoke with him online recently to learn about a new cuvée and a new approach at Roederer.
Say farewell to Brut Premier NV as this is now replaced with a sequentially numbered release called Collection. The first edition is Collection 242, picking up the number as the 242nd release since Roederer was founded in 1776 (245 was blended early in 2021). Like many, I had been impressed with Brut Premier, particularly the upward trajectory of quality in recent years. What has changed? Fundamentally, according to Lécaillon, the changing climate is a driving force in this move.
“We developed an oxidative way of managing our wines with higher dosage to mitigate greener, less ripe fruit,” he says.
“But 40 years later, this has changed and we harvest with 2% more potential alcohol than we did in the 1970s. We must now give freshness to ripe grapes, not ripeness to unripe grapes.”
It also represents a shift in philosophy. The aim is no longer to make to a consistent style.
“Quality is the new point of consistency,” says Lécaillon. “Our challenge is to make the best possible wine each year, with the blend no longer the goal of our work but rather a consequence. Quality first.”
Each Collection will carry a clear identification of the blend and returns to a traditional multi-vintage approach. It really is a revolution and it’s a completely different vision of Champagne.
Brut Premier was blended taking the base year then adding reserve wines, but in 2012 Lécaillon decided to establish a very large reserve as a base wine, calling it réserve perpetuelle. This is an even split of pinot noir and chardonnay, and is held without malolactic fermentation in a reductive state in stainless steel (compared with the oxidative reserves kept in large format oak).
This perpetual reserve represents 34% of the blend in Collection 242. Then 56% is from the 2017 vintage, which Lécaillon describes as “the fast and furious vintage” in reference to staying ahead of botrytis.
Chardonnay fared better and therefore makes up the majority of this 2017 component. Half overall went through malolactic, half did not. Finally there is 10% of reserve wines from oak, which Lécaillon has also trimmed to a fresher, younger and more reductive path. The resulting Champagne is altogether quite different from Brut Premier. The Collection 242 (A$90, 93) is a more seamless style overall, very fresh and composed, with strong fruit influence. Aromas and flavours of fresh ripe peach and nectarine fruits take centre stage. Some gentle sliced strawberry, too. The palate is attractively vinous. Very supple and fleshy, it has a silky texture and concentrated stone fruit flavours run long with a citrus flush through the finish. It is a very modern, polished Champagne (93).
A very limited and special, cellar-matured wine marks the debut of a new series of Champagnes from Piper-Heidsieck – Hors-Série (A$750, 96). This 1971 vintage has rested in the cellars for 50 years before being called to the disgorging table and dispatched to the world. Just 2021 bottles have been released globally (96 for Australia) and the retail price tag actually represents admirable value. Expect complexity like you have never tasted, savoury and layered, fine bead and a soft bubble.
This Champagne was originally released as a special vintage cuvée called 1971 Florens-Louis. The Hors-Série initiative will see Piper-Heidsieck’s newly arrived Chef de Caves Émilien Boutillat select Champagnes of special interest and not just old, rare bottles like this. Champagne lovers, watch this space.