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Richard Leroy Anjou Blanc Les Noels de Montbenault 2004

Richard Leroy Anjou Blanc Les Noëls de Montbenault 2004

Last week I wrote of 2002 Quadrille, a very fine example of Crémant de Loire from one of the Loire’s leading sparkling wine houses, Bollinger outpost Langlois-Chateau. More relevantly I also made mention of the reaction of Richard Leroy, one of Anjou’s leading vignerons (if not the leading vigneron) when he heard of my visit there. I don’t think he was impressed to learn that I should be demonstrating an interest in winemaking which, compared to Leroy’s tiny venture, is on an industrial scale.

I spent a fascinating evening with Richard, first driving out to see his Noëls de Montbenault vineyard, a short distance from his house in Rablay-sur-Layon, before returning to his property in order to taste some recent vintages, including barrel samples of his 2009s. He doesn’t sell anything at the domaine but the wines are so compelling that I have been unable to resist the urge to track some down and add them to the cellar, in a wide variety of vintages as it happens. And it wasn’t long before I was equally unable to resist opening one. So, while I continue my Loire write-ups from my two trips to the region this year, Richard Leroy makes an appearance as my Weekend Wine. Perhaps we could view this as a Leroy ‘primer’?

Richard Leroy Anjou Blanc Les Noëls de Montbenault 2004

Richard’s domaine is small, just 2.7 hectares, divided between two sites, Noëls de Montbenault and Clos des Rouliers. The former is the larger of the two accounting for 2 hectares, situated at the summit of the slopes just to the north of Rablay-sur-Layon (of note, just to the east is a very broad terraced vineyard – I have no idea who owns it but it is certainly an impressive sight). The Clos des Rouliers, meanwhile, accounts for the remaining 0.7 hectares and lies some distance away, to the east (or at least that was the vague direction Richard indicated when I asked him about its location). Today’s wine originates from the Noëls de Montbenault vineyard, where the soils are mainly metamorphosed sandstone and volcanic rhyolite. Both sites are 100% Chenin Blanc, with Noëls de Montbenault having been 20% replanted in 2002 when all the dead vines were replaced. He aims for yields in the order of 25 hl/ha, although with inclement weather not an unknown phenomenon in this part of the world he sometimes achieves much less. As an example, a late frost in 2008 meant that Les Noëls de Montbenault was picked at just 3 hl/ha – that’s far lower than many domaines picking botrytised fruit (botrytis dehydrates the grapes thus reducing water content and volume of harvest) which often bring in a yield of 8-12 hl/ha. But everything at this domaine is dry; although Richard once made sweet wines his desire to drive down sulphur use has pushed led him into producing only dry wines. So his low yields really reflect the low quantity of fruit hanging on each vine.

And with that, onto this week’s wine, the 2004 Les Noëls de Montbenault, an Anjou Blanc from Richard Leroy, a fairly recent vintage although not one I tasted at the domaine – I picked this up from a French merchant before returning to the UK. It has a gorgeous colour in the glass, a golden hue, although a clean one that suggests richness and concentration rather than oxidation or premature age. Thankfully this impression carries through onto the nose and palate; there is a beautiful array of aromas generated here, multilayered, with honey and beeswax at the surface, golden pear fruit underneath, then tinges of sweet caramel, coffee and angelica. There is still a little residual wood showing, and in fact there is also a lightly oxidative streak coming through as a sweet and heady scent of nutty whisky mash, rather reminiscent of aging Bollinger – as the temperature is allowed to rise a little – so this certainly isn’t a negative point, in my opinion at least. There is a savoury concentration, dry and structured underneath the exotic but tightly bound upper layers. Great substance on the palate, peppery and spicy behind the rich texture, but always dry and well framed. Lemony acid behind it all, and plenty of grip. And it is very long and full of spice. Stunning wine. 17.5+/20 (11/10/10)

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