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The Grand Cru Chevalier Montrachet sits high on the hillside overlooking Le Montrachet, Bâtard Montrachet and the village of Puligny Montrachet far below.
As a leader of biodynamic viticulture, Domaine Leflaive is renowned for the attention to detail and care that goes in to nourishing each vine from ground to bottle. This organic method of cultivation enriches the soil with plant-based compounds, thus sparing the vines of harmful herbicides and allowing the wine to exude the particularities of the Puligny-Montrachet terroir.
Their Grand Cru wines have consistently scored highly with Wine Advocate, Neal Martin describes them as “wines with audacity and ambition.” Le Montrachet, Batard Montrachet, Bienvenue Batard Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet dominate Wine Advocate’s top scorers from this domaine, all of which are produced in tiny quantities. It is also worth noting that Neal Martin flags up Domaine Leflaive’s ability to “transcend the limitations of the growing season” – so even in less than favourable vintages their wines are worthy of consideration.
For those looking for an accessible opportunity to taste the top quality white Burgundy produced by this domaine, their Bourgogne Blanc and Mâcon Verzé provide just that.
Domaine Leflaive’s wines age excellently. Allen Meadows has previously noted that one particular vintage of Le Montrachet “even at almost 20 years of age… is still cruising along like it was only 10 as the freshness of the aromas is uncanny.” To help judge when the wines are ready to drink, Domaine Leflaive’s website provides an excellent database of recommendations by wine and by vintage.
Sol argilo-calcaire: 3 parcels in the Chevalier-Montrachet appellation.
Chevalier du bas sud: 6.5 ouvrées (0.69 acre) planted in 1957 and 1958.
Chevalier du bas nord: 21 ouvrées (2.22 acres) planted in 1955, 1964 and 1980.
Chevalier du haut: 19 ouvrées (2.01 acres) planted in 1974.
Surface: 1ha 99a (4.92 acres).
Method of culture: Long, gentle pneumatic pressing, decanting over 24 hours, then racking and running into cask of the must.
Alcoholic fermentation in oak casks, 25% new (maxi 1/3 Vosges, mini 2/3 Allier).
Maturing: after 12 months in cask, the wine is aged 6 months in tank where it is prepared for bottling.
Homeopathic fining and very light filtering if necessary.
Biodynamic: Manual harvesting with grape sorting and optimisation of choice of date through parcel-by-parcel ripeness monitoring.
The 2014 vintage in Burgundy was a very complicated one, although less so than those in 2013, 2012 and 2011, which featured dramatic crop shortages due to shatter, bad fruit sets and hailstorms.
In 2014, there were two problems which resulted in crop loss: hail in the Côte de Beaune, especially inMeursault; and poor flowering in some of the hillside vineyards of Puligny and Meursault.
The winter temperatures were above average with only 4 days the entire winter below freezing. Rain amounts during the winter months were way above normal in January and February but below average for March and April. Temperatures in March and April were above normal but not extreme. May was slightly below normal both in temperature and rainfall.
June was also dry with below average rainfall (.2 inches of rain fell on the 4th, and .67 incheson the 12th), so flowering was much more uniform than in past years. There was no crop loss or rot. Flowering began in early June. By June 6th, flowering was 50% completed and almost entirely overby the 13th. June 6th until the 21st was the warmest stretch of the summer, with temperatures above86 degrees from the 7th to the 13th. On June 28th, the communes of Meursault, Pommard, Volnay and Savigny were hit twice by a devastating hail storm. These same communes had also suffered hail damagein the 3 preceding years.
July and August were unseasonably cool months. There was 65% more rain than the average.There were only 2 days in July with temps above 86o, the highest temps for the remainder of the summer and fall. From August 11th to September, temperatures never rose above 78 and mostly stayed around 72 for the high. It rained quite often in early August. There were no downpours, but it was always grey and damp. Because of the cool weather, the acids were maintained and since it was not too wet, there were few problems with mildew and odium as there had been in 2013.
September was quite dry. A small amount of rain fell on the 9th, 1.02 inches of rain on the 18th,and finally .39 inches on the 19th. Some growers started harvesting around the 11th of September andhad to hurry to get the grapes in before the rain on the 18th.
The 2014 vintage has similar acid levels to the 2013s, which were high. Because the acids in the2014s were 50% malic and 50% tartaric, the resulting wines are richer and more concentrated than the2013s. Natural alcohols were about a half a percent higher than the 2013s. Because of the high levels of tartaric and the less ripe grapes in 2013, it is a vintage of soil expression with lots of precision. 2014
is more of an expression of grapes with lots of juicy, concentrated acidity, refreshing with great bodyand balance. I really enjoyed tasting the wines. The malos had finished because the winter was so warm,therefore the wines were quite easy to taste and advanced, totally the opposite of 2013. The quality was much more heterogeneous than 2013, and quality should be quite high across the board.
It disturbs me that some growers are so concerned with premature oxidation that they will harvest slightly underripe grapes in order to keep the acids, and will add a lot of sulphur. Because the wine lacks alcohol, they will compensate by adding sugar, stirring the lees and using new oak. This is ridiculous – you cannot make wine because you’re concerned about those who want hold the wine for 10 years, and leave consumers who want to drink wines young with acidic, mineral, sour wine. I hope this is only a phase.
I would like to put 2014 in perspective in relation to the previous vintages:
2013 – Mineral, citric-lemon acids with salt and earth and lots of stony terroir.
2012 – More a vintage style with concentration because of the low yields. Good acids but not at all racy. 2011 – A year of the fruit, somewhat like 2014, but without the density. With texture, but not tremendous length on the palate.
2010 – A great year with perfect balance.
2009 – The last year of the sun, with high alcohol and very ripe wines with high pH and low acidity.
What’s lovely about the 2014s is that, along with its lush fruit, there are racy acids and the expression of terroir, too. It’s rare to get such high levels of acidity with so much concentration, and it’snot because of the crop size, but more a reflection of the sunlight hours, which were high without theheat. This allowed the grapes to ripen, and the cool days and nights in August kept the high acids. The fact that there was a lot of wind in September, combined with sunny days and very little rain, made for a perfect harvest window. Even those growers who waited out the few rainstorms in and around the 18thof September were able to let the vineyards dry out and finish their harvest. I am also excited that 2014should be seen as a vintage that is consumer friendly, with its up front fruit and concentration, and also one for purists where the vineyards’ intrinsic character is present, too. It is commercial, yet profound.
I wanted to briefly talk about pricing for 2014s. Given the tiny crops for white Burgundies in2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, you might expect some big price increases. However, the growers have beenreasonable with 2014s, mostly keeping pricing the same, with the maximum increase being 10% at one domaine and 0-5% from all my other growers.
By Clive Coates MW