2017 Rene Leclerc Bourgogne Rouge “Petite Gevrey”
Driving through the village of Gevrey-Chambertin with Francois Leclerc, he tells you he is nothing like his father and doesn’t want to be compared to him.
And then you arrive at his small garage-of-a-winery and Francois introduces you to Rene, his dad, who is exactly the same as his son, right down the wavy-crazy salt-and-pepper hair and a smile that says,“I’m going to drink too much Burgundy with you and cause mischief.” They are two peas in a pod, charmers both – the grape didn’t fall far from the vine, even if neither wants to admit it.
But for how alike they are, I believe there is a major difference between them, and it’s a difference you can taste in the wines. Here is a domaine that was handed down from father—who made the wines the way they have always been made, in a style most commentators agreed was “rustic”—to his son, who has tasted a greater variety of wine than his dad, has had the experience of making wine on several continents, and has studied the science of viticulture. Francois Leclerc is really taking his family’s winery up to the top of Burgundy’s winemaking.
To start with, the domaine’s “Bourgogne” is not a Bourgogne. When Rene founded the domaine in 1961, he was in the completely enviable position of having all Gevrey-Chambertin vines, and he established a Bourgogne Rouge comprised from vines on the “wrong side of the tracks” – vines on the lowest sloping portion of Gevrey-Chambertin, east of the D122. But with François at the helm, this fruit is now sold off to negociants. With a big smile, François jests that he wishes there were a category of “’Petite Gevery’ like there is Petite Chablis.” He’s also serious. The Domaine’s Bourgogne Rouge is now comprised of fruit exclusively from the higher slope of Gevrey-Chambertin, from vineyards that are 50 to 80 years old. But because the wine is made from a selection of vines from across the property, it’s labeled a Bourgogne. Yet once you taste the wine, you too will want to label it Petite Gevrey.
Quite simply, this wine is stupefyingly good. Last time I tasted it, I was shocked by the superior quality of the wine relative to the modesty of its price. And I’m the guy who negotiated the price! The wine has only gotten better since I tasted it in barrel and it’s absolutely scrumptious right now.
A gorgeous aroma of blueberries and blackberries fills the glass, with earth, smoke and mineral in the background. These are clues clearly identify the place that this wine is from as Gevrey-Chambertin. For Pinot lovers, there’s nothing like a wine that announces its place in taste and smell. And there’s only one place that makes a wine smell as exceptional as this.
The palate is supple, brilliant, graceful and smooth. Its fruit character is perfectly balanced by its vibrancy, which is present as background harmony. The tannins are eased in its body, making the wine sleek and pure, fully displaying its fruit. It’s delicious right now and, while it will probably age for a decade, I’ve charged through five bottles already and see no reason to stop.
But there’s more.
When François took over the family domaine, he made the bold decision to sell off 50% of the fruit they grow because he wanted to work the vineyards himself. No crew. No hired guns. Nobody but himself working the vines. I imagine being a farmer on that scale is a 400-year-a-day job, but that’s the quality François is pursuing across the entire range of wine the domaine makes. And this one—Gevrey Chambertin Clos Prieur—displays Pinot’s majesty.
Here the complexity of the Petite Gevrey’s blue-and-black fruit character is joined by notes of ripe strawberry, black cherries, raspberry and dried currant. The palate joins with what most tasters would describe as “mineral” or “earth,” but those don’t quite hit the mark. From these 80-year-old vines there is a clear flavor of Gevrey in this wine, a drama and explanation of place that is striking and profound. For those who play super inside-Burgundy baseball, this comes from the Clos Prieur Haut. If you leave that clos on its north side and cross the Route des Grand Crus, you’ll find yourself in the Mazi Chambertin Grand Cru. Simply put, while this wine is not cheap, its delectability is mind-blowing.
I would quite sincerely pay double for both of these wines. But because François’ work remains relatively undiscovered, we don’t have to.
Simply put, these are two amazing red Burgundies that are not to be missed.