Chris Kissack on Richard Leroy

Chris Kissack in Wine Doctor 24th June 2013 on

Richard Leroy Les Noëls de Montbenault 2009

Following a fabulous tasting of the wines of Richard Leroy, a full report onwhich I will publish tomorrow, it seems inevitable to me that my chosen'weekend wine' this week should be one of Richard's. One of the most iconicnames in Anjou winemaking, Richard Leroy makes exceptional Chenin Blanc fromtwo distinct plots of vines - the Clos des Rouliers and Les Noëls deMontbenault - near his home in Rablay-sur-Layon.

Looking down the roll call of the eleven wines in the tasting at least half ofthem had me in raptures, and I could have chosen any one of them as a favouriteon which to throw the spotlight here. But I think the 2009 Les Noëls de Montbenault has it for me. Ioften prefer the wines of this vineyard, which sits on the very gentle slopesbetween the village of Montbenault and the Layon in the commune of Fayed'Anjou, to those from the Clos des Rouliers. And of all the recent vintages,the 2009 is one of the most convincing.

I was reminded of my confidence in the wine justlast week when I received an invitation to submit three wines for the annual(well, this is its second year, so it's 'annual' now)Absolutely CrackingWines from France tasting. In case you're unfamiliarwith the event, the tasting features wines available at retail in the UK, andall chosen by the UK wine press for inclusion. Each invited individual submitsthree wines, in three price categories; last year I suggested two Muscadets(from Chéreau-Carré and Domaine de la Pépière if you're interested) for the two lower-price categories, but for the£15-30 price category I proposed - you guessed it - the 2009 Les Noëls de Montbenault fromRichardLeroy. The idea was to suggest a wine suitable for Christmas celebrations(the tasting was held in September) and as requested I added a littledescription of the wine, stating that it was an alternative to white Burgundy for the Xmas table, noting that it was "individual, honest andstunning" (which it is).

Coming back to the wine this weekend, tastedalongside other wines from Richard from the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008vintages, I was once again struck by its delightful, confident, composedpresence. This is very serious Chenin Blanc; I know some feel that Chenin Blancand oak (Richard favours oak barrels, some new, for fermentation andélevage)are simply not great bedfellows, but for me Leroy's wines show such rules to befalse. Despite my admiration for the wine, the only other published review Iread after theAbsolutely Cracking tasting came fromJancis Robinson who described it as "Very tense - almost stomachclenching." I'm not being selective here; that is the entire tastingnote, and it does not suggest to me the wine found favour (unless stomach-clenchingis a good thing?). Oh dear.

Having revisited so many of Richard's wines thisweekend, I feel they display harmonious energy, concentration and substance.This is especially so in 2009, which was one of the warmer and more benevolentvintages for the Loire Valley in recent years. Against a context of tastingnearly every wine Richard Leroy has ever made over the past ten years (although I confess I have yet totaste the 2010s, because I missed hooking up with Richard at the 2012 Renaissance tasting in Angers), I find the 2009Les Noëls de Montbenault to have great balance and vigour, and it is perhaps myfavourite Leroy cuvéeand vintage of all.That is, you probably won't be surprised to hear, why I chose it for theAbsolutelyCracking tasting. And that's why, out of allthe wines I could have chosen, from half a dozen different vintages, I'mfeaturing it here, today.

In the glass, the 2009 Les Noëls deMontbenault shows a pale lemon-gold hue, one thatdoes not suggest the oak this wine has seen will have had any untoward effect.The nose, in keeping with this thought, is pure, rich and very expressive, witha very fresh and confident character. The fruit is dominated first of all byscents of sweet apple, a lightly perfumed variety perhaps, with the suggestionof a dense and pithy concentration to it. This seems to gel as the wine opensup, showing more citrus pith nuances, along with more exotic notes redolent ofsweet melon, with a fresh, crystalline edge. In the mouth it is no lessappealing; it has good polish and depth here, showing energy, form and aconfident grip running right into the finish. The acidity feels correct, and thereis a lot of concentrated Chenin character, great backbone and substance to it,and overall it seems totally spot on. A superb wine, my favourite from Richardin recent vintages, and like all great examples of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc itis one that needs time in the cellar to show its best I think. 18.5/20. (24/6/13)