A Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy Dinner

A Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy Dinner

Friday 2nd November 2018
by Alex Turnbull

Two weeks ago a very special dinner took place at 61 St James’s Street celebrating the wines of Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy and others. 

It was a magical evening, made all the better by exceptional food from Simpkin and Roses. All of the Bize-Leroy wines, including the Romanee Conti’s, came from the Justerini & Brooks Cellar, where they have been sitting since shipping from the respective Domaines on release. These are my notes.

Kicking off the evening with a glass of fizz and a canapé, we tried two vintages of iconic Champagne Salon from Les Mesnil Sur Oger. Easily one of the most instantly recognisable Champagne houses, it was fascinating to try the 1999 and 1996 in quick succession. Some wines have the remarkable ability to transport you back in time, and the 1999 did just that. Orchard and citrus fruits of apples and lemons, with a lovely creamy texture and a perfumed finish, I am pleased to report that the 1999 has barely developed since the last time I tried it and shows all of the signs that it will continue to age at a snail-like pace. The 1996 which we drunk next was marginally more evolved but no less delicious, and definitely entering its drinking window now.

We then moved upstairs to the Dining Room to begin the whites. With the table laid out for ten, and with twelve glasses at each place, we were ready for a veritable feast of a vinous nature. We started with two whites from Arnaud Ente, the same cuvee in fact – Clos des Ambres – but from two different vintages, 2012 and 2013. Two vintages I enjoy greatly for white Burgundy; the 2013s in particular have been and continue to be drinking extremely well, their acidity now complemented by a little bit of weight and texture. Both paired exquisitely with our starter of seared scallops and smoked pancetta.

We then moved on to a middle course of homemade linguine with Crab and the beginning of the main attraction: a D’Auvenay Auxey Duresses Les Clous 2005 and a D’Auvenay Meursault Les Narvaux 2004. Made in sparingly small quantities, and notoriously difficult to find back vintages of, it is not hard to see why Bize-Leroy’s boutique Domaine commands some of the highest prices and a cult following like none other. Both bottles were, quite simply, sublime. The Auxey performed well above its station and showed exactly what can be done of a lesser appellation when in the right hands. The Meursault was on cloud nine. Crystalline with a hint of reduction, flint and quince, and barely showing any age. It struck me that there is a purity to this wine that is seldom found in Burgundy, and certainly not usually associated with Meursault. Indeed every drop was a hedonistic crescendo that tapered out beautifully and left me wanting more. Bravo.

Alongside a main of lamb and dauphinoise potatoes we started our flight of Domaine Leroy reds. The first four: Volnay Santenots du Milieu 1998, Chambolle-Musigny Les Fremieres 1999, Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes 1998 and Latricieres-Chambertin 2007. In this flight we had our unexpected wine of the night, although it took another five wines to determine as such. The Chambolle was arguably the underperformer, perhaps in an awkward stage of its life, and maybe symptomatic of 1999 reds at the moment, it felt a little taut in comparison to the generosity and opulence of the others. Volnay Santenots du Milieu is well-known for providing extremely good “value” when it comes to Domaine Leroy’s 1er Cru wines. I put value in inverted commas because there is no such thing as a cheap bottle of Domaine Leroy in 2018, but I suspect many drinkers of Leroy often overlook the Volnay because of the appellation, not fully knowing what they are missing. This 1998 is in a gorgeous place right now, generous with the fruit and displaying some lovely development but by no means evolved.

The Gevrey Combottes 1998 remains one of the best bottles of Burgundy I have had the pleasure of drinking this year. Take one look at a map of the vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin and you will instantly understand why this 4.57 hectare plot makes some unbelievably special wine. Quite literally on the same line as Chambertin, and nestled in between Latricieres, Charmes and Clos de la Roche, the geographical explanation for why this vineyard was left out of Grand Cru classification is that it sits in a very slight hollow (hence Combottes, from Combes meaning hollow or valley). The political explanation is that the vines were largely owned by growers based out of Morey-St-Denis and so those in Gevrey saw little value in pushing for its Grand Cru status. Regardless, the bottle of 1998 we drank over dinner was faultless and performed quite comfortably as a Grand Cru ought to: the fruit was rich and polished and was complemented by sweet spice, a faint hint of tobacco, and a mouth-wateringly moreish finish. The Latricieres 2007 tasted like rocket fuel by comparison. Firing on all cylinders and lifting off at great speed, it was a valuable lesson for why Domaine Leroy wines need time above all else. I hope to try this again in ten years to see how it has evolved.

The superb dinner created in house by our private chef. 

We then moved on to a spread of cheese with another four reds: two Domaine Leroy Vosne-Romanee Beaux Monts - 1996 and 2008 - and two Romanee-Conti wines from one of Bize-Leroy’s final vintages - 1988 Romanee-Saint-Vivant and 1988 Echezeaux. Vosne Beaux Monts is one of Leroy’s flagship wines and it is a magnificent vineyard that some argue is worthy of Grand Cru status. Comparing the 1996 to the 2008 was somewhat unfair as the 1996 had a twelve year head start and was in a perfect place. Beginning to develop those secondary and tertiary aromas, the 1996 was classic Vosne-Romanee: elegant and refined. The 2008 by contrast is a powerhouse of a wine only just beginning to get comfortable with its appearance. Virtually no evolution of flavour and densely packed full of fruit, this is another of Leroy’s wines that I wouldn’t mind retrying in ten years’ time. The Romanee-Conti’s were yet another step change. For those unfamiliar with the history between Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, in 1942 Leroy’s father bought 50% of DRC from Jacques Chambon and since then DRC has been equally owned by the de Villaine and Leroy families. Lalou Bize-Leroy was President-General of DRC from 1974 until 1992 when she focused her efforts on Domaines Leroy and d’Auvenay. To round off the evening with two bottles of mature Romanee-Conti was a treat. Both displayed the virtues of having been stored perfectly since release and both were on fine form. Lifted, ethereal, and unmistakably Vosne-Romanee, both of the DRC’s understandably displayed a bit more evolution to the other wines of the evening. The Romanee-Saint-Vivant I thought was spellbinding and the star performer of the two.

The night finished with a refreshing glass of Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 1993, a cuvee I have a soft spot for and have had the privilege of trying many vintages of. Wonderfully truffled with rich brioche and Creme brûlée notes, it was the perfect “dessert” and finish to the evening. All in all, a very special dinner that I will not soon forget. Thank you Brian.