In the Cote d’Or, 10 km from Beaune, lies Puligny-Montrachet. The mere whisper of the name causes oenophiles to perk up. Why? This sleepy 400-inhabitant village is synonymous with the greatest white wines of the world.
A storied appellation, Puligny-Montrachet was created in 1879 when Puligny received permission from the French government to hyphenate its name to its famous Grand Cru vineyard, Montrachet. Although a small percentage of Pinot Noir is produced here, it’s hallowed for Chardonnay.
This is a place where terroir reigns supreme. Complex soils weave together like a tapestry, with limestone, especially on the slopes, playing a leading role. The climate is continental – warm, dry summers and cool winters. Fog and hail loom as constant threats in the spring. Generations of winemakers have studied the area’s topography, developing a detailed map of the region in an effort to understand its influence on the wine.
In the late 1930s four Grand Cru vineyards were established – Le Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier Montrachet and Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet. Fifty years later, in 1984, the land around the village was officially demarcated and classified into seventeen Premier Cru vineyard sites. Situated between Chassagne-Montrachet (south) and Meursault (north), the wines of Puligny-Montrachet are revered for high minerality and firm structure. Case in point, at last year’s Hospice de Beaune, a single barrel of Bâtard-Montrachet sold for $152,440, establishing a new record.
The most famous estate in Puligny-Montrachet is Domaine Leflaive. With ancestry in Puligny dating back to 1717, the Domaine was founded by Joseph Leflaive in 1870. In 1990, Anne-Claude Leflaive took the helm, spearheading the winery into a leader in Burgundy’s biodynamic viticulture. After years of chemical farming, she believed the soil’s microbials were out of balance and the health of the vineyards needed to be restored. Beginning with small experiments, by 1997 the entire Domaine was being farmed using biodynamic principles.
Upon her untimely death in 2015, Brice de la Morandiere, great-grandson of Joseph Leflaive, retired from 27 years of managing multi-national corporations to run the Domaine. Morandiere shares. “I returned because it’s important the Domaine is run by family to keep it steered toward excellence.” Since becoming managing partner, Morandiere is expanding the winery’s presence in Mâconnais, explaining he is “seeking to find the best expressions, even singling out specific terroir in search of unique vineyard sites” for future wines.
Domaine Leflaive produces wines from all four Puligny-Montrachet Grand Crus, four Premier Crus, plus one Mersault Premier Cru, and four additional wines from Mâcon-Verzé, Pouilly-Fuissé, Puligny-Montrachet and Bourgogne. I tasted all but three – Montrachet Grand Cru (unavailable due to limited production), Pouilly-Fuissé, and Puligny-Montrachet.
My overall impression of my first Domaine Leflaive tasting – WOW! Beginning with the simple elegance of Mâcon-Verzé, through all four Premier Crus, and ending with three Grand Crus, I was in wine heaven. I took notes, but upon reflection found them useless – asking myself: “These are some of the greatest white wines in the world, what do notes matter?”
The wines were characteristically shy for their age, muted orchard and under-ripe stone fruit, steely minerality, mouth-watering salinity and lanolin evolving as I marched toward the Grand Crus. The redundancy demonstrated in my notes emphasizes the wines elegance, linear focus, finesse and expressive terroir.
The three Grand Crus really grabbed my attention. The Chevalier-Montrachet was the most demonstrative of the group, round, with notes of butterscotch and ripe apple. After tasting the Bâtard-Montrachet, I wrote: “Slap my momma.” Translation – amazing. Finally, the Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet reminisced of a baked cinnamon apple pie. A favorite? Not a chance. Each of these wines truly stuns.
Built for ageing, tasting the 2016 vintage does no justice to how these wines will evolve, except to say they are going to dazzle. Buy a bottle, age it properly for twenty years, and then drink it.