Last week the FINE+RARE team visited Lalou Bize-Leroy for our annual tasting of her latest releases. Buyer Jessica Bryans describes the quality, the history and the surreal – practically religious – experience…
What can you say about such a legendary producer?
Leroy: “Absolute Perfection”
The critical acclaim for Lalou Bize-Leroy’s domain speaks for itself:
“Lalou Bize-Leroy stands virtually alone at the top of Burgundy’s quality hierarchy… her wines embarrass much of what is produced in Burgundy.” – Robert Parker
“This is the greatest estate in Burgundy… The sheer concentration, depth and intensity Lalou Bize-Leroy manages to squeeze into her bottles is breathtaking.” – Clive Coates MW
“Leroy, absolute perfection. More than a model, the wines are an absolute reference.” – La Revue du Vin de France
And Leroy’s wines are just as popular with collectors and connoisseurs. This perfect storm of huge demand, extremely limited supply and high critic praise makes them some of the most expensive and highly sought after wines in the world.
The exclusivity of this domain makes it virtually impossible to arrange a tasting appointment with Lalou Bize-Leroy. However, over the last two decades selling her wines, FINE+RARE has become a valued partner of Madame Leroy. This puts us in a privileged position of receiving a direct allocation and our team being personally invited to taste the new release each year with her. FINE+RARE is therefore the marketplace for Leroy-lovers, providing you with access to a huge range of collectables…
Due to FINE+RARE’s network on the secondary market, at time of writing we can give you access to Leroy wines going back to 1937 (browse them all here). And the domain has just granted us access to extensive back vintages marking significant anniversaries for 2016, i.e. 1986, 1976, 1966 and 1956. Highlights include Chambertin (95 points – Allen Meadows), Corton (94 points – AM), Grands Echézeaux (94 points – AM), Chapelle-Chambertin (93 points – AM) and Musigny (93 points AM) from the 1966 vintage and the Vosne-Romanée (91 points – AM) from 1976. Find out about the latest upcoming allocation here. But before I get back the matter at hand – our 2016 visit last week – allow me to recap the history and quality control that has put Leroy on a pedestal above its peers…
Lalou Bize-Leroy is described by Jancis Robinson as “Burgundy’s most celebrated vigneronne”. She started in the 1950s working for her father’s négociant business, Maison Leroy. Her time was devoted to studying the vineyards of Burgundy and her mission was to understand the unique terroir of each individual site, how the wines are made and what they should taste like. This gave her a staggering almost unrivalled knowledge. By 1971, the studying had paid off; she was the President/Directrice of Maison Leroy. Her duties included accompanying her father to weekly meetings at Domaine Romanée Conti, a little investment he had made in the 1940s giving him fifty percent ownership of the winery. By 1974, she became the co-manager of DRC, where she worked untiringly to raise the status of the domain.
In 1988, during her post at DRC, Bize-Leroy purchased Domaine Charles Noellat (Vosne-Romanée) and Domaine Phillipe-Remy (Gevrey Chambertin), which swiftly became Domaine Leroy. The acquisition and subsequent competition did not please the board of Domaine Romanée Conti. In an epic bust-up in 1992, Madame Bize-Leroy was ousted from DRC (although she maintains a 25% share) and turned her attention full-time to Domaine Leroy.
Today, Lalou Bize-Leroy’s empire is comprised of three entities: Domaine d’Auvenay based around an old hunting lodge, the original Domaine Leroy and the Maison Leroy Collection (browse listings from the latter pair here). Domaine Leroy forms the top tier and for many the pinnacle of Burgundian wine. The Maison Leroy Collection, a continuation of her father’s négociant business, offers an affordable entry to the domain, something not provided by the likes of DRC. The reputation of Bize-Leroy’s wines stand at the top of the quality pyramid and her fearless dedication to perfectionism is apparent in every bottle. She attributes the success of the wines to the meticulous care taken in her vineyards.
At her impressive holdings, which include nine Grands Crus and eight Premier Crus, yields are restricted to just four bunches per vine and only perfect grapes make it past the sorting table. Bize-Leroy recently commented that she has as many sorters as pickers (34 during harvest)! Biodynamic viticulture is strictly adhered to within her 23 ha of old vines. which are never replanted or removed, only replaced with her own cuttings. She has not employed a winemaker or oenologist since 1993 and firmly believes that this is not a requirement of a domain with perfect fruit. But it also because Bize-Leroy is very assured of her own abilities…
Lalou Bize-Leroy’s confidence is perfectly illustrated by the process behind the Maison Leroy Collection. Leroy has no contract with any grape growers. Instead three courtiers present a selection of unlabelled wines to Lalou Bize-Leroy, who tastes them blind with no knowledge of price or provenance. She stakes her considerable reputation on her expert palate and market knowledge and selects the Maison’s outturn from what she has tasted. She takes her chosen assortment, which in any given year could be all Grand Cru classified, all basic Bourgogne or any combination between, and she makes them sing. Lalou Bize-Leroy is an almost peerless master of elevage. Very few winemakers are in her league, except maybe Etienne Guigal. But Bize-Leroy is no one trick pony, she also makes Beaujolais Nouveau and Châteauneuf-du-Pape for the Japanese market.
2016 Visit & Tasting
Our midnight arrival in Beaune was promptly met with a quick overview of the wines we would taste the next day. I nursed myself to sleep on thoughts of 1984 Beaune Bressandes and 2008 Chassagne Embrazées…
The morning of our tasting was charmingly crisp and tranquil. We arrived at the estate in Auxey-Duresses and enjoyed a few moments in a room full of Lalou memorabilia. Old black and white photographs hanging on the walls painted memories of the most lavish wine tastings in the history of the world, capturing the extraordinary accomplishments of La Grande Dame.
We were summoned to the tasting room where twenty wines waited to be tasted. Their time had come. Madame Bize-Leroy carefully chooses her releases each year based on their readiness to be consumed. This year she has chosen the vintage 1984 as her focus. Although on paper this is an unremarkable vintage, Leroy’s selection is quite remarkable.
As we make our way through the line-up there are plenty of surprises, though it is no surprise that the wines are all resolutely stunning. We start with the reds which are delicate yet concentrated and full of character. One of my favourites was a 2011 Chorey Les Beaune that in theory shouldn’t be a profound wine, but it was, with bright red fruit, lavender and shivers of tense acidity. The 2008 Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Les Emrazées brought tears to my eyes with its perfect gloss and stacks of complex flavours of lemon custard, honeycomb, orange peel, salt water and on and on…
The 84s were definitively the biggest surprise because 1984 was one of the worst vintages worldwide on record. I know this because it is my birth vintage and I have searched high and low for a nice bottle of 1984. Until now this has been a fool’s errand. But Leroy’s 1984 vintage is a wonderful anomaly; the wines are pure, silky and delicious. A personal highlight was the shockingly good 1984 Beaune 1er Cru Les Bressandes. If Lalou Bize-Leroy’s can produce a wine like this in a year like 1984, it would appear that her wines almost transcend vintages.
February 2016 Tasting Notes & Scores
The tasting turned up some absolute pearls that we are happy to offer this week. Here are the top picks from our tasting:
Comprised of Bourgogne Blanc 2010/11, village level Bourgogne 2009 and Puligny 1er Cru Champ Gain 2008. Expressive nose of baked apple, beeswax, honey-lemon and blossom leads to a rich and expansive palate. Lovely intensity with textured layers of caramel-coated apples, baked lemon, yellow fruits and white flowers. Honeyed texture, ripe acidity and a long saline finish make this a stunner from start to finish. Incredible value. Drink now-2019.
91-93 points F+R
Expressive nose of orchard fruits, pear, fresh cut apple and grapefruit. The palate is pure and vibrant with ripe acidity and exuberant flavours of green apple, citrus oils, crushed stones and an inner core of soft caramel. Long salinity on the finish. Clean and pure with incredible energy. Drink 2017-2026
91-93 points F+R
Coche-like reduction on this nose, lively and pure. Intense ripe citrus and expressive. Fresh butter, some nuttiness on the nose, slightly smoky. Taut and very pure on palate, touch of honey with a long mineral finish with hint of salinity. Bright and energetic. Mouth-coating and long, seamlessly put together. Very impressive. Stylistically, reminds me a bit of Lafon’s Charmes from a good vintage. Drink 2017-2028.
94+ points F+R
Deep and aromatic nose of orange zest, blossom, honeycomb, spice and ripe peach. The palate is rich and fleshy with mind-blowing complexity and depth of flavour. Long and concentrated layers of salted caramel, baked apples, lemon, custard, fleshy peach and sea spray are seamlessly fused with juicy acidity. Long and luxurious, Grand-Cru-esque. Drink now-2026.
98 points F+R
Beautiful nose of red berry fruit, exotic perfume and lavender. Textural on the palate with powdery tannins and vibrant acidity. Flavours of pure red fruit, tangy raspberry, violets and crushed herbs with an inner core of natural fruit sweetness. Wonderfully fresh and alive with a long, lavender infused finish. Drink now-2024.
94 points F+R
Dark, deep core. Cool, ripe, pure blueberry and strawberry fruit. Fresh on the nose, not overripe, but chunky, rich almost decadent. Fleshy, sumptuous in the mouth with layers of ripe, quite fine tannins. Core of sweet, dark, blueberry, plummy fruit. Hint of spice on the finish. Very fresh throughout. Already open enough to enjoy but will age nicely. Rich and very satisfying. Drink now-2025+.
Amazing, bright ruby colour – shimmering. A pure, mature nose of dark cherry, mushroom, earth and forest floor. Smokey. Complex and elegant. Fresh entry on palate, silky texture. Deep core of mature sweet Pinot fruit that carries all the way through to a long, gamey finish. Layer of slightly rustic tannin adds depth and character. Lovely. Absolutely charming. Drink now-2020.
95 points F+R
View all Leroy wines.
View all Domaine d’Auvenay wines.