2011 Burgundy – A Vintage Certainly Worth Buying – IF You Can Find Them

A prime success in 2011 ~ Clos de la Roche | Cote de Nuits

A prime success in 2011 ~ Clos de la Roche | Cote de Nuits

Let’s cut right to the chase: My conclusion on the 2011 Red Burgundy vintage (born from recent tastings as well as ongoing critical analysis of the region’s top estates) is that this is most certainly a collection of wines worthy of representation in any serious Burgundy aficionado’s cellar. Naturally I’m referring to the top estates when I make this statement, as the weather conditions preceding harvest (practically from the moment of bud-break and continuing unabated throughout August) were anything but ideal – Burgundy continues to witness more August harvests in this century than were ever reported in the previous. So it should be repeated (with exclamation point added) that serious consumers of Burgundy should be highlighting serious producers of Burgundy on that proverbial shopping list when it comes to filling their carts with 2011s.

That point being duly noted, 2011 is most certainly a vintage that yours truly will be buying not only as a professional but also as a consumer. Simply put, the wines showcase purity of place – immediately out of the bottle – while offering succulent fruit which is unencumbered by that “classic vintage” tannic spine. I expect to enjoy these 2011s across the span of the next decade (plus) while I’m patiently awaiting the unwinding of my 2005s (which remain tight as nails) as well as my 2010s (which have now quietly slipped into a slumber that I honestly hadn’t predicted). And based on the comments from the wine-makers I’ve spoken to, they concur that the 2011s will make for pleasurable drinking young as we monitor those more tannic wines that are tucked away in our cellars.

And what of “hot spots” for 2011? Where are the “go-to” appellations in this vintage? In my analysis, I have discovered some truly outstanding wines (very nearly rivaling their 2010 counterparts) from the villages of Pommard and Volnay for the southern reaches of the Cotes de Beaune – again, stressing that I have paid primary attention to the top estates. Prime examples of these successes may be found at Nicolas Rossignol, Pousse D’Or and Henri Boillot. Another “hot spot” for 2011, the hill of Corton turned in notable successes to include the estates of the aforementioned Pousse D’Or (whose Clos du Roi is especially worth seeking out) as well as Etienne de Montille’s biodynamic farmed Domaine de Montille where his version of Clos du Roi is quite unique from Landanger’s yet equally thrilling.

Turning our eyes and palates north, a particular favorite of mine may be found in the tiny village of Morey St Denis, where I have discovered a healthy dose of superb Grand Crus to include a host of outstanding Clos St Denis, Clos de la Roche and Bonnes Mares bottlings. These examples offer what may be the most interesting and delicious variations from these hallowed vineyards since the ‘05s and 2010s – they’re THAT good (in particular Virgile Lignier Michelet’s 2011 Clos de la Roche is a showstopper). And across the line-up I found the 2011s from Romain at Domaine Taupenot Merme consistently excellent to outstanding – very nearly equaling his chart topping 2010s.

From there, I’ve found relatively consistent results throughout the Cote de Nuits to include multiple successes specifically in Gevrey Chambertin. In particular I was struck by the generous style at Domaine Jean Michel Guillon (where these folks are bottling some of the most succulent wines in the Cote) – if you can find any of Guillon’s Premier Cru bottlings (Champonnets, Petite Chapelle, etc.) BUY THEM. Other highlights in Gevrey include Dugat-Py and Geantet-Pansiot – to name a couple of the very best (sure to be on my professional as well as personal short list). From there – as long as enthusiasts perform their due diligence – the Cote de Nuits is plentifully packed with excellent to outstanding (90-95+ point rated) wines.

Just how good IS 2011? Well, in the more positive words posited by Allen Meadows of Burghound, he informed us it would be a shame to overlook this vintage and even stressed that he himself would be layering in certain selections. After all, to cherry pick exclusively 5-star vintages clearly isn’t the point if you’re a Burgundy enthusiast seeking to CONSUME the Cote’s treasures products. It’s those vintages nestled between the “classics” that offer daily drinking alternatives.

So there we have it: 2011 is most certainly a vintage worthy of serious Burgundy consumer’s attention. It would be a travesty to overlook such a vintage – one considered “the most interesting vintage after 2005 and 2010” according to (arguably) the world’s foremost authority on the subject. So if your merchant isn’t yet stocking these wines, ask them why. Better yet, if you’re not seeking these 2011s out, perhaps it’s time to begin filling out that shopping list.

Tick-tock…

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Domaine Rene Leclerc – Pas de Chêne Pour Moi s’il Vous Plaît

Traditionalists through and through!

Traditionalists through and through!

Generational changes in Burgundy – when responsibilities for the care and management for the family Domaine are passed from pere to fils – often mark a time of exploration, experimentation and growth. As the new generation spreads its wings, intent upon honoring the past while developing their own ineffaceable style, the newly appointed vignerons frequently test the waters with all sorts of trickery. But in the case of Domaine Rene Leclerc, no such “nonsense” is to be witnessed. So rooted in tradition is the “young” Leclerc – Francois, to be specific – that his father’s teachings have actually been antiquated (whereas Rene’s philosophy called for the limited use of one-year old barrels, that recipe has been replaced by a strict avoidance of anything but older wood).

Prior to 1976 there was one Domaine Leclerc, run by the brothers Leclerc: Philippe and Rene. The former – a man who professes to balance modernism with traditionalism, while leaning heavily on a high percentage of new wood – found himself constantly at odds with the latter – a truculent man deeply rooted in what many consider an antiquated style of winemaking. When the two men split their domaine in 1976, a divergent style would emerge from their identical holdings within Gevrey that to this day is as different as night and day. On the one hand there is the Philippe style, with the wines often marked by their 18 to 24 months in oak. While on the other side one witnesses the Rene versions of the exact same lieu dits where (as of 2005) absolutely no new wood at all is used for the wines.

And yet when one sets out to compare and contrast the wines (once bottled), the Leclerc 1er Crus – be they from Champeaux or Combe Aux Moines – while qualitatively similar, consistently split the room. As for professional critics (Burghound comes to mind), vintage reviews tend to run consistent (the 2009s received nearly identical points). However, once the wines are poured for Burgundy lovers, that’s when the tale of style vs terroir makes itself heard. It’s a fascinating experiment. But where does this individuality come from? Who is to be thanked for the style – the magic? – at Rene Leclerc?

Rene Leclerc – father to Francois and brother of Philippe – has long believed in relatively cool fermentations (contrary to many of his contemporaries), minimal handling of his wines and the barest use of new wood (about 20%). And while his wines were certainly drinkable through the 1970s and 80s, they lacked that certain “punch”. Joining the team in 2002, Francois (Rene’s son) – having trained in Oregon – would bring to his father’s domaine nothing particularly radical in terms of vinification routines or viticultural practices, and yet the improvements were immediately obvious. And yet, other than reverting to 100% used oak, it seemed that Francois had done nothing to change his family’s ways. In fact, visitors to the domaine would swear that Rene – not Francois – is running the show, even today.

So what it is; why are these wines (particularly in successful vintages such as 2009), so transparent and laden with fruit? Why, when one compares the brothers Leclerc’s Champeaux bottlings, is one marked by its wood (Philippe’s), and the other so stacked with high toned fruit and minerality (Rene’s)? And why, when one compares the wines across the range is this stylistic diversity so consistent?  The age of the vines is the same, the sites are the same; so: what is it? In a word, the difference is: oak. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, the MAJOR difference between the two Leclerc philosophies (and there are plenty) is oak.

If you’re one who seeks uniqueness, freshness, individuality, and above all else terroir in your wines (and let’s face it, if you’re drinking Burgundy, these are precisely the traits you seek – above all else) then the 2009s from Rene Leclerc will fit very nicely into your collection. From their Village Gevrey to any number of their 1er Crus from Gevrey, each is an individual expression of that particular lieu dit. And with the son’s insightful decision to eliminate the use of new wood (ca 2005), each wine’s expression of terroir is further elevated by beautiful and succulent fruit that is completely unmasked by even the slightest interference by oak.

Add to that sale prices that represent the lowest currently available prices for each of these selections (with some being the lowest prices ever seen for these lieu dits from ANY vintage) and you have one of the more compelling offers to come out of Burgundy in several years.

For a complete listing of currently available 2009s from Rene Leclerc, please visit:

http://www.jjbuckley.com/search/c~0~st~rene%20leclerc%202009