Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hail Puliniacus! Getting emotional with one of Burgundy’s great wines.

This post submitted by Alasdair.

Think of your absolute favorite food, and feel the sensation of desire and anticipation. It’s a thought process that leaves you wishing you could eat those dishes more often and your thoughts might tale off wondering when the next time might be.

The same can be said when your thoughts turn to your favorite wines. These are the wine names that bring back memories of perfect food and beverage occasions, when the company was the best, and the food was delicious and the wine was ideally matched and singing from the glass. I have many such memories and at the risk of over-generalizing a few wine names keep popping-up more regularly than others. In the world of dry white wine, one of those is the much sought after Puligny Montrachet. What is it about Puligny? What makes drinking it so memorable? Most people agree that some of the most highly respected white wine-makers in France, indeed in the world, hail from this beautiful little village. They are famous for making superlative wines, and even in difficult vintages when the weather is not kind these few producers invariably craft stunning wines – they have the best vineyard sites, the oldest vines, the most dynamic soil and then they have generations of tried and tested vineyard management systems, normally certified as organic, and also often certified as bio-dynamic. They have brilliant winemakers, who have all the resources they need, including the finest oak barrels and centuries old underground storage cellars.

One of the very first full cases of white wine I purchased was a case of 6 magnums of Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Le Clavoillon 1990. I still remember it all vividly. I bought the case in 1992 from a cash-strapped friend, who, a year or two later, was to take a job with Unilever Arabia, as a junior Wine Manager with their Dubai-based importer and distributor African and Eastern. (He’s still here, but now with MMI). I felt very grown up to be buying such a grand wine and although he let it go on the cheap, it was a lot of money to me – even as a free-spending young bachelor. The reputation of Domaine Leflaive had me suckered and, convinced I had bought a great wine, I stuck it in a friend’s underground cellar and promised myself to leave it there for at least 5 more years.

Domaine Leflaive’s history goes back to 1717 when Claude Leflaive arrived in the region, previously established in the Gallo-Roman era by a certain Puliniacus. Since then 10 generations of the Leflaive family have nurtured vineyards in this prestigious appellation. Today the Domaine is managed by Anne-Claude Leflaive and the wines are still made in very small quantities and sell for hundreds of pounds per case. Here is a wine producer whose wine, every single bottle, is sold before it is packed into the distinctive Domaine Leflaive cartons. There is no official UAE distributor, although both MMI and A&E have managed to access a few cases of various 1er Cru wines and even a few bottles of the Grand Cru wines. There is no exclusive UK importer and agent. Instead Anne-Cluade allocates stock to a handful of highly-respected fine wine importers and distributors including Richards Walford, Justerini & Brooks and Corney and Barrow.

These allocations could be as few as 80 cases, made up of all the various different wines, and generally it’s the long-standing private customers who have a good record for paying their bills on time and for buying lots of other more ordinary wines who get offered the wines first. The only other way to buy Domaine Leflaive wines is to go to a reputable auction house and hope to bid for it. One tip I can give you is to look out for the Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc. This wine can be as good as most other local producer’s Puligny wines. I have some Bourgogne Blanc from the excellent 2001 vintage which I hope to drink over in the UK this summer. Back in 2002 it cost me GBP70 for 12 bottles, and it’s worth every penny. This wine may be a fraction of the price of the more illustrious Puligny appellation, but it’s made from superb 28 year old vines, following the same Biodynamic viticulture practices and given the same tender loving care in the cellar.

So what of my precious magnums? Not surprisingly, given the super-high quality of corks used at Domaine Leflaive, every one of them was utterly delicious. They were consumed over a period of a year or so, the first was opened at Christmas time 1997, and the last one late Autumn time 1998, shared with groups of family and close winy friends. This is when it all becomes clear. Suddenly we can understand why people try to buy Leflaive wines whenever they see them for sale, why people tuck them away in storage space for years, and why they finally open the bottles on very special occasions. The wines from Leflaive have the capacity to evolve into truly great wines, elegant and complex with gorgeous notes of honeysuckle and almonds, and delicate white flowers. They have the capacity to make things emotional, an ingredient which makes for such special memories. The wines make us savour every mouthful, banishing all other dry white wines to relative obscurity. All this and organic too. If money were no issue I would have a cellar full of Domaine Leflaive wines, with a special place for the 4 hectare vineyard 1er Cru Clavoillon wine, and I would drink some bottles of 10 year-old 1er Cru and 15 year-old Grand Cru Leflaive wines with anyone who says they don’t know what all the fuss is about.

If you are ever lucky enough to visit the lovely village of Puligny Montrachet, (and when in Burgundy you must), one place to eat at is the hotel Le Montrachet, a handsome stone manor house sitting proudly in the village square, Place des Marronniers. Here you will find elegant surroundings and an interior recently refurbished using fine local materials. The wine list is outstanding and is bulging, not surprisingly, with all the great wines and vintages of all the best Puligny and Chassagne producers, including a stunning range of Domaine Leflaive wines. Check out www.le-montrachet.com for more details.

I last visited a few weeks ago on a chilly February morning for lunch with Sebastien Roux whose family has been making superb wine in the village of Saint-Aubin for generations. We had a long and delicious lunch, served by staff that made the whole experience even better. We drank lots of wine, including an outstanding Roux-crafted Corton Charlemagne 2001. Once again I found myself thinking of those first few magnums of 1990 Leflaive Puligny, and how they had cast their spell over me, showing for the first time how extraordinary these wines can be.

This post submitted by Alasdair.


EyeOnDubai said...

Welcome! Eloquence and erudition make for an oenophilic delight. A worthy fourth mouseketeer.


alexander... said...

Oh dear. I think I might have to splurge tonight and go on the Puligny...