The wines of Domaine Leroy are amongst the most collectible and long lived in Burgundy. Few estates can boast as broad a collection of wines covering the most important vineyards in the region, nor can they rival the vertical treasures held in the Domaine’s cellars.
Winemaking here has always been of the finest quality with remarkably low yields producing bottles of highly concentrated flavors and achieving complexity rarely found anywhere else in the region. Correspondingly, prices for the Domaine’s premier cru wines often exceed those of grand cru at other estates. Ultimately, the marketplace sustains or rejects this pricing structure and so far the appreciation of the wines’ quality and rarity have allowed the current owner and director, Lalou Bize-Leroy, to make wines in a style which she believes is Burgundy at its purest.
Domaine Leroy has been at the forefront of the biodynamic movement and while annually offering the current vintage’s releases, the Domaine frequently releases well aged selections from the cellars that give buyers an opportunity to acquire perfectly stored bottles from their cold cellars in their prime. Historically, Leroy was primarily a negociant buying wines and grapes and selling them under the Leroy name. Today Lalou Bize Leroy separates her wine empire into three parts. Those produced from her own holdings are labeled as either Domaine Leroy or Domaine D’Auvenay. Those purchased from other growers labeled Maison Leroy, the name associated with the company going back before World War II when Lalou’s father, Henri, was primarily a negociant.
Recently a group of admirers of Domaine Leroy’s wines organized a tasting of Grand Cru vineyards selected from the most important vintages of the last 65 years. The tasting was held at the premier French restaurant in Los Angeles, Mélisse, owned by Michelin two star Chef Josiah Citrin. Mélisse is a restaurant well known by the cognoscenti in Los Angeles for consistency and cooking of the highest order. Chef Citrin is a modest man, does not seek celebrity and is never found on cable TV cooking shows, but year in and out produces food of outstanding quality served by a highly professional and well-trained staff. The wine service is directed by Brian Kalliel whose experience is unrivalled by any of the youthful sommeliers in the city.
Mélisse in Santa Monica has long been considered the top French restaurant in Los Angeles. While many young chefs in the city have entered culinary combat on cable TV cooking duels, Chef Josiah Citrin has been content to labor in his kitchens, perfect his craft, add elements of molecular cuisine where appropriate, but staying true to his roots. He trained with the greatest chefs in Los Angeles, Wolfgang Puck and Joachim Splichal, and spent years in kitchens in France. The last time Michelin deigned to visit Los Angeles, they awarded him two stars, a ranking exceeded by no other restaurant in Southern California. As the years have passed, Josiah has only gotten better. His sourcing of products is beyond reproach, his style has gotten purer and lighter, and the restaurant now is better than it has ever been. To complement the kitchen brigade that features Ken Takayama as Chef de Cuisine, Brian Kalliel runs an excellent wine program as head sommelier, and no one in the city does a better job of caring for and pouring great old wines at special wine dinners.
To call Josiah a French Chef is perhaps unnecessarily restricting his broad world vision and grasp of ingredients. A quick look through the following menu that accompanied our Leroy tasting gives you a hint of what treats can be expected during an evening spent at this restaurant.
Wagyu Beef Tartare
Haokkaido Scallop and Surf Clam
Tromboncino Squash and Eggplant
Razor Clams, Celery and Black Australian Truffles
Slow-cooked John Dory
Sunchokes and Matsutake Mushrooms
Smoked Garbanzo, Carrot, Jus Daube
Charred Celeriac, Haricot Verts, Sauce Civet
New York Steak
Porcini, Red Cabbage, Brown Butter Porcini Sauce
Fig and Fourme d’ Ambert Tart
Dom Perignon 1988
Coche Dury Meursault Rougeots 1999
Coche Dury Meursualt Rougeots 2002
Coche Dury Corton Charlemagne 1994
Leroy Corton Charlemagne 1999
Leroy Clos Vougeot 1978
Leroy Chambertin 1980
Leroy Bonnes Mares 1980
Leroy Musigny 1949
Leroy Richebourg 1962
Leroy Mazis-Chambertin 1985
Leroy Mazis-Chambertin Hospice de Beaune Cuvée Madeleine Collignon 1985
Domine Faivelely Mazis-Chambertin 1985
Ch. Rieussec 1945
Ch. Doisy-Daëne L’Extravagant 1997
Domaine Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance 1997
Usually a favorite as the wine had a 20 year slumber before it started to soften and is now approaching a stage of attractive drinkablility. This particular bottle was marred by slight corkiness that didn’t totally obscure its fruit and toastiness, but was disappointing. This is now recognized as a great vintage Krug and would usually be rated Extraordinary.
A millennial bottling fitting its place in history. Full bodied with great complexity as one would expect from the dozens of individual villages and vineyards from which the Krug family traditionally sources its blends. There is lovely toastiness in the nose with crisp acidity, forward fruit and beginning approachability; something not noted in the first years of release of other recent heralded vintages such as 1990 and 1996 — Outstanding Plus.
1988 Dom Perignon
A wonderful opportunity to compare the marquee tête de cuvée bottlings from two of the world’s most famous Champagne producers. This bottling was in many ways the opposite of its Krug counterpart. Where the latter was tight and acidic, this was round and fruity. Where the Krug was backward and a bit reticent, this bottle was in its prime revealing all its flavor elements and featured a bit of round sweetness not noted in the other two Champagnes. Enjoy this now — Highly Recommended.
1999 Coche Dury Meursault Rougeots
Golden in the glass and quite mature appearing. Quite advanced with round fruit and complex mineral essence with a slight hint of key lime in the finish. Very distinctive Coche signature in all elements — Highly Recommended Plus.
2002 Coche Dury Meursault Rougeots
Much lighter in color and backward in development. Great acid-fruit balance, elements of honeysuckle and citrus, complex and tight with long finish. Coche through and through. Years to go — Outstanding Plus.
1994 Coche Dury Corton Charlemagne
Advanced golden color. Now quite forward and in its peak years of drinkability, gentle and delicate with good balance, a bit simpler than the preceding wines now with a pleasant finish, but lacking the mouth filling flavors present in finer years. This is a low profile vintage for whites and reds whose wines were always modest, but this bottle is well preserved and a credit to what the winemaker can do in a so-so year — Highly Recommended.
1999 Leroy Corton Charlemagne
Heavy petrol nose, like the 1990 Leroy Corton Charlemagne. Very prominent smoke and herbal elements. Good acidity and mouth filling flavors. A very distinct, fleshy Corton Charlemagne style quite the opposite of in vogue minimalist wine making — Highly Recommended.
1978 Leroy Clos Vougeot
From one of the best sites on the Clos Vougeot hillside, a very large wine with concentrated fruit, very complex and full bodied with great balance and a long finish — Outstanding Plus.
1980 Leroy Bonnes Mares
Lovely perfume on the nose with mouth filling fruit, full bodied and a long finish. The merits of the respective vintages ’78 vs. ’80, concentrated fruit vs. fruity flare was on display in these two wines – Outstanding.
1980 Leroy Chambertin
Great anticipation preceded the opening of this wine, alas, it was of dubious provenance and identity. The cork was softer than all the others and unbranded with the Leroy logo. Much darker in color and suffused with barnyard “aromas.” It was concluded this was a fake.
1949 Leroy Musigny
Anticipation in this case rewarded. This was a spectacular wine of great concentration and breed with enormous kaleidoscopic bouquet and mouth filling flavors with quite an extraordinary finish that went on and on. This 65 year old will ultimately give Betty White a run for her money – Extraordinary Plus, bordering on Perfection.
1962 Leroy Richebourg
Powerfully aromatic bouquet with huge spicy flavors in the mouth that reveal great complexity as they continue to evolve and reveal themselves. Very rich and balanced with a long lingering finish lasting several minutes – Extraordinary Plus, bordering on Perfection.
1985 Leroy Mazis-Chambertin
Wonderfully fragrant nose with intense aromatic essence. Huge and complex in the mouth with elaborate spice chest treasures revealing themselves one after another and lingering with a very long finish – Extraordinary Plus, bordering on Perfection.
1985 Leroy Mazis-Chambertin Hospice de Beaune Cuvée Madeleine Collignon
The companion wine to the preceding one in the Leroy cellar. Always a fun comparison. Initially this was the tighter of the two and possibly the larger wine in their first decade of release. Tonight this wine was sweet and full of complex perfume with lovely complexity and a fine lingering finish. These two Mazis had not been cellared together – Extraordinary.
1985 Faiveley Mazis-Chambertin
A serendipitous addition to this tasting, another Mazis from the same vintage and from a famed house. Sweet floral elements with hints of rose on the nose, quite concentrated in the mouth with complex flavors and a long, lingering finish. A bit more forward than the Leroy wines, but a very impressive effort – Outstanding Plus.
The Leroy Red Burgundies tasted this evening were stunning wines showing great concentration and complexity with remarkable staying power. It is interesting to note that these were all examples made by the winemaker who preceded Andre Porcheret, whom Lalou hired away from the Hospice de Beaune and before she started farming biodynamically. As good as these are, she believes the wines that followed them and the ones in the future will eclipse these. Alors!
1945 Chateau Rieussec
This wine displayed the color of dark caramel. It had a profound nose full of vanilla and was huge in the mouth, tasting like the world’s richest crème brulée. Each drop seemed to saturate the mouth with flavors. It had a very long, lingering finish – Perfection.
1997 Chateau Doisy-Daëne L’Extravagant
This is a huge, full bodied Sauternes with mouth filling flavors. It features great complexity with a very long finish. It is appropriately named and quite a challenger to the best bottling from the Sauternes chateaux – Extraordinary.
1997 Domaine Huet Vouvray Cuvée Constance
This was a fortunate treat to have these two great late harvest wines from the same vintage to compare side by side. The Vouvray wines have gone in and out of favor over the years. This house was recently sold to new owners and quite a bit of the wine has found its way into the marketplace. At one time these wines, particularly the late harvest Vouvrays were prized like Sauternes and were thought to be ageless. It is not uncommon for older stocks from the 1920s to still show many features of youthful fruit and acidity and this very acidic backbone which is characteristic of the wine allows it to accompany many elements in a traditional multi-course meal, everything from richly sauced main courses to cheeses and desserts. This particularly bottle was notably acidic and backward with bright concentrated fruit and a tightly wound intensity suggesting a many decades long future – Outstanding Plus.