I have old, fond memories of Domaine Leflaive, and have for many years treasured the Leflaive style.
While Leflaive has what one could call the “full monty” of Puligny-Montrachet’s great wines, one vineyard is a bit overlooked: Clavoillon.
This is for me, however, a wine with extraordinary emotional qualities that offers delightful hedonism. In plain English: It drinks very well indeed.
The delights of Lameloise
In 1999 I made my first visit to the three-star Michelin restaurant Lameloise in Chagny. I sat in the front room at a table in the back part of the room, and got the full treatment.
This was back in the days when the former sommelier was there, observing the room over the top of his spectacles, and the food was rich and truly Burgundian, with Jacques Lameloise still running the kitchen.
With the foie gras (three different ways) we had the Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon 1992.
The food and wine were a perfect combination, with the liveliness and drinkability of the vivid 1992 Clavoillon a delightful match for the rich dish, dancing its airy steps of vinous graciousness and mineral intensity. A charming Puligny Girl that appeared just in from the vineyards, yet which complemented the delicate food perfectly.
Clavoillon can have a unique, airy lightness that offers freshness and perfect Puligny minerality as the backbone for energy and zen-like balance.
The 1992 vintage had this unique vinous balance that makes some of the village wines and lesser 1er crus shine. On that occasion, the last drops of Clavoillon ’92 graced our palates with the cheese on a beautiful summer night.
That fabulous first dinner at Lameloise was followed by a glass on Place Carnot in Beaune after taking the train back from Chagny. Those were indeed the days.
The red Pulignys – almost gone
Clavoillon has lovely qualities as a white wine, but in fact it was producing red when Lavalle and Rodier wrote their famous books.
Today, the village of Puligny-Montrachet is associated with gorgeous white Burgundies, some of the best white wines in the world.
This was, however, not the case when Lavalle wrote his book in 1855. Quite a few of the famous vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet were producing reds, and they were therefore not included in Lavalle’s classification of the white terroirs.
Three of the top Puligny 1ers crus were missing in the white classification, to be found in the classification of the village’s red terroirs.
The red classification included the following highly esteemed terroirs1:
- Les Caillerets – Premiére Cuvée (5 ha 41 ares 50 cent)
- Clavoillon ou Clovaillon – Premiére Cuvée (5 ha 56 ares 10 cent)
- Les Pucelles – Premiére Cuvée (6 ha 80 ares 95 cents)
Particularly Les Pucelles and Les Caillerets are today ranked among the very best 1ers crus in Puligny-Montrachet, and are often mentioned as among the most obvious candidates for elevation to grand cru.
Even my beloved Clavoillon is mentioned as a red terroir by Lavalle. The map below shows the location of the old red terroirs. Please note that Les Caillerets was significantly larger in 1855, as it then included the northern section of Chevalier-Montrachet (the two areas in white above Caillerets). These sections were added into the Chevalier-Montrachet appellation in 1938, 1939 and 1974.
According to Lavalle,1 the Premiére Cuvée reds in Puligny were highly regarded in 1855 and many people considered the quality to be on par with the Premiéres Cuvées from the Beaune appellation.
The Rodier classification in 1920
In 1920, Rodier3 also mentioned the three terroirs Les Caillerets, Clavoillon and Les Pucelles as red wine-producing vineyards. The quality classification was, however, more nuanced than Lavalle, as Les Caillerets was the only red Premiére Cuvée (and only the best part of that vineyard). The lesser plots of Les Caillerets, much of Les Pucelles and all of Clavoillon were classified as Deuxiémes Cuvée. The lesser parts of Les Pucelles were classified as Troisiéme Cuvée.
In Rodier Leflaive is already included amongst the owners of Clavoillon hence more than indicating that they in 1920 made reds from the Clavoillon plot – see below.
Replanting from red to white
It’s unclear exactly when these vineyards were converted from red to white. Many vineyards were replanted with chardonnay after the phylloxera epidemic, but it appears the three vineyards mentioned as red by Rodier in 1920 survived phylloxera and were replanted later. I have researched the age of the vines in these vineyards, and so far have not found plots planted before 1944.
Looking at Clavoillon and Pucelles, I have found no evidence of their producing red wine in recent decades. The oldest vines among Domaine Leflaive’s holdings in these vineyards were planted in the 1950s. The oldest Leflaive plot in Clavoillon is from 1959, while the oldest vines in Pucelles were planted in 1954, in the section La Grande.
The Domaine Leflaive plot in Clavoillon
Domaine Leflaive is by far the largest owner of Clavoillon, with 4.796 ha at the northern end of the vineyard – 86% of the full area of 5.59 ha.
All the Domaine Leflaive parcels are assembled in one large section: cadastre plots 66, 77, 76, 75, 74, 73, 64 and 63, seen from the south.
The vines were planted, respectively, in the years 1959, 1960, 1962, 1972, 1973, 1981, 1983 and 1988. Hence the youngest is now just north of 30 years old.
This variety of vine age produces a rich, full wine, perhaps not the most delicately complex, but a wine with charming, pleasurable vinous joy – hedonistic and often even a vin d’émotion.
I have tasted quite a few Clavoillons over the years, and while many have been great, none have matched the magnificent 2014, aside perhaps from the tremendous 1992 tasted at Lameloise.
Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon 2014
The 2014 Clavoillon is a very refined, elegant wine. The nose offers pure, crystalline white orchard fruits supported by lovely citrus-infused minerality. On the palate, very delicate and detailed, offering plenty of length and intensity in an effortless, airy way. This is one of the best young Clavoillons I have ever tasted; it certainly makes the most of this magnificent vintage for whiles. A beautiful and very refined wine. I can’t wait to taste some more 2014s from Leflaive.
(Drink from 2024) – Very Fine – (93-94p) – Tasted 28/08/2016
References & Sources:
- Jules Lavalle, Histoire et Statistique de la Vignes et Des Grands Vins de la Côte d’Or (1855)
- M.R. Danguy et M. Ch. Aubertin, Les Grands Vins de Bourgogne (1892)
- Camille Rodier, Le Vin de Bourgogne (1920)
- Clive Coates, Cote D’Or (1997)
- Clive Coates, The Wines of Burgundy (2008)