JUNE 2007 # 171
By David Schildknecht

  • 2005 POMMARD EPENOTS (91-93)
  • 2005 CLOS ST. DENIS (92-94+)
  • 2005 CLOS DE LA ROCHE (94-96)
  • 2005 CHARMES-CHAMBERTIN (91-93)
  • 2005 MAZIS-CHAMBERTIN (95-97)
  • 2005 CHAMBERTIN CLOS DE BEZE (96-98)
  • 2005 BONNES MARES (94-96)
  • 2005 GRANDS ECHEZEAUX (92-94+)
  • 2005 ROMANEE-ST. VIVANT (97-99)
  • 2005 RICHEBOURG (95-97)

Mounir Saouma is a négociant of a unique sort (  »Le Moine » because his visit in the late 1980s to a Trappist monastery in Jerusalem ultimately conferred a wine-making vocation on this would-be journalist). In business for only seven years, He and his wife Rotem Brakin, working alone, purchase and vinify tiny batches of juice (in the case of whites) and young wine (immediately following primary fermentation) from manifestly exceptional and strictly premier and grand cru sites. Raising them (in the grower’s cellar for the first 3-4 months) in custom-constructed new oak barrels from the Jupilles forests of western France (a source renowned for laminates and which Saouma champions for its lightness of grain and relative flavor neutrality) Saouma and Brakin also put great stock in phenolic maturation and acid-retention in the fruit, some employment of whole clusters, retention and absorption of lees in the young wines (especially he asserts in a tannic vintage like 2005 not to mention 2003) cold temperatures, low sulfur, late malolactic, one sole gravity racking, late bottling and in general as close as possible an approximation to the way they imagine vinifications proceeded prior to the second World War. From 2005 they vinified 50 lots destined to represent a mere 2,000 total cases, somehow  »focusing », as Saouma puts it  »on there individuality ». Caught unawares by this sheer number of wines and with an incredibly tight schedule, I was very regrettably unable to paste all of the 2005 vintage reds in this caller. But based on the exceptional quality of those selected for me to taste, It seems likely that virtually any of the many tiny lots of 2005s from this address are worth – and indeed will require – a concerted if not strenuous effort to obtain.(And in fact the same could be said of the several 2004s I tasted from bottle last autumn).

Saouma asked me to relay two further points regarding his wines, first, that due to their manner of élévage they should always be decanted; second, that for this house’s first five vintages ex-cellar prices remained the same, and that in vintage 2005 – although growers were paid as much as a 30% premium over 2004 – Lucien le Moine prices were increased by only 10%.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Bonnes Mares
RATING: (94-96) points
Saouma makes no secret of the fact that his 2005 Bonnes Mares – and in fact that cru in general – is his personal favorite. The nose suggests concentrated confiture of red and black raspberries with salty, resinous and smoky accents – almost archetypal for this site, in fact. And like so many 2005s from this vineyard, the wine has a slightly gamey, tart, savage edge of fruit and mineral to it. Bitter black chocolate low tones and floral high notes add complexity. For sheer intensity, it is hard to beat this amazing performance – but for refinement, complexity or mystery, there are other Le Moine wines I would place ahead of it.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Chambolle Musigny Charmes
RATING: 92 points
The Le Moine 2005 Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes leads with aromas of red currant, sour cherry, vanilla and sweet, musky flowers. Suggesting silkiness on the palate, it displays utmost purity of ripe yet refreshing fruit, then finishes with ginger spice, chalk, salts, red berry sweetness, and a faintly bitter fruit skin edge and touch of roughness. I suspect this might be even better than its showing today suggests, given it has been in bottle only two weeks. Saouma insists that a seam of clay Charmes has in common with Clos Vougeot always makes for a bit more prominent tannin in the wines early days.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Chambolle Musigny les Amoureuses
RATING: 95 points
By Le Moine standards, there are a generous hundred cases of 2005 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses. It exhibits an almost confectionary, caramel- and vanilla-tinged black currant and boysenberry fruit, prominent cinnamon and ginger spice, and sweetly-perfumed florality. Remarkably polished and seamless, this wine offers overtly chalky and wet stone minerality to meet its sweetness of fruits and flowers more than half way, and fresh and invigoratingly tart suggestions accompany its riper fruit manifestations. The wine lingers with amazing sweetness and succulence yet without becoming superficial or losing definition, mineral tone and refreshment.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Chambertin Clos de Beze
RATING: (96-98) points
The Le Moine 2005 Chambertin Clos de Beze erupts from the glass with scents of black cherries, black tea, rose petals, brown spices and roasted meats. Yet more polished and refined than even its most remarkable predecessors, this fans flavor to all four corners of the palate while suggesting a lift and elegance and offering an invigorating, tart, primary fruit juiciness that defy its sheer density. Spectacularly persistent and possessed of positively bloody meatiness and ineffable but unmistakable nuances for which « mineral » represents merely a conceptual groping, this combines the intensity of the Le Moine Mazis with the elegance and seduction of the Charmes.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Charmes Chambertin
RATING: (91-93) points
Saouma and Brakin’s 2005 Charmes-Chambertin announces itself with alluring scents of ripe cherry, almond and fennel pollen, and comes to the palate polished, subtly creamy, yet freshly-fruited and juicy as well as relatively delicate by the standards of their 2005 collection. Long, refined and pure, this takes wings and lifts with an effortless that spells « grand cru » without offering especially obvious density, intricate complexity or aggressive grip. It’s all about insinuation and subtle seduction.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Clos de la Roche
RATING: (94-96) points
The Le Moine 2005 Clos de la Roche opens with an aromatic volley of wood smoke, jellied red fruits, and roasted game. Rich, broad and powerful on entry, its fruit and meat concentration is suffused with salty mineral suggestions, soy-like savoriness, and wet stone. As with so many of the wines in this collection, we are offered sensational richness, depth and length in the finish, with salt, stone, and (groping for some way to put this in words) ore-like mineral profundity.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Clos St Denis
RATING: (92-94) points
Amazingly, Saouma relates not only that his 2005 Clos St.-Denis only finished its alcoholic fermentation (with 14.5% alcohol) more than a year after harvest, but every year the wine from this cru completes its alcoholic fermentation only after completing the malolactic. He claims that this site’s sandy, porous soil promotes both high extract and high sugar. Bitter-sweet black cherry and chocolate, peat, and humus fill the nose. The rich, voluminous palate is dominated by chocolate-covered cherries with bitter cherry pit accents. Opulent and rich, certainly amazingly powerful, this wine nevertheless retains clarity and subtlety, betraying only the slightest trace of heat in its long, palate-staining, smoky, peat-like, bitter-sweetly black-fruited finish. Certainly this seems a candidate for long aging, although its shape and personality may well change significantly in coming months, given how recently it began its post-fermentative existence.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Gevrey Chambertin les Cazetiers
RATING: 94 points
From nearly ninety year-old vines and in bottle three weeks when I tasted, a 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin Les Cazetiers offers an alluring bouquet of flowers, backed by blackberries and tiny Maine blueberries. This manages in the mouth to combine overt chalk and stone minerality as befits its rocky, high-elevation origins, plus deep marrow and beef stock meatiness, with a refinement, purity and sweetness of fruit that are hallmark Lucien Le Moine. Bitter-sweet florality refined minerality and pure fruit inform a finish of superb penetration and length. This certainly makes a strong case for the quality of its site, if not quite for Saouma’s opinion that Cazetiers is the finest premier cru of Gevrey. I especially regret having learned only later that I was not being offered a taste of the corresponding Lavaux St.-Jacques.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Grands Echezeaux
RATING: (92-94) points
The Le Moine 2005 Grands Echezeaux commands attention with a face-smacking intensity of bright black fruits, citrus oils and sea breeze. Pure, brash raw fruit intensity supplies the principle palate theme, building energy for a rapier finish that draws red blood amid all of its black, berry-ish juices. This is probably hiding its depth for now, and I know of no olfactory equivalent to donning polarizing sun glasses. (A highly promising Echezeaux, incidentally, was slightly lactic and reductive and not really amenable to evaluation on the day I visited.)

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Mazis Chambertin
RATING: (95-97) points
The 2005 Mazis Chambertin signals its origins with aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, and licorice. Salted meat juices and saline, chalky mineral nuances impinge on a palate of enormous concentration of blazing, bright, ripe black fruits and, improbably, citrus. The finish displays grip without grit: « palate-staining » is too weak to describe its persistence, yet it is also persistently polished and refined.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Nuits St Georges les Cailles
RATING: (94-96) points
The 2005 Nuits-St.-Georges Les Cailles represents Saouma and Brakin’s first interpretation of this great site. The results display a rarified, refined structure and mineral character that familiarity with other renditions of this vineyard would lead one to expect. The nose is quite gamey and the palate vividly marked by chalk, pencil lead and wet stone, but all the while there is a glorious abundance of black cherry and red currant fruit with the sort of layering of distilled, liqueur-like and fresh manifestations by now recognizable as house style. This finishes with positively ethereal florality and, heavenly purity and length, laying down a sumptuous carpet of fruit and a grand mosaic of minerals.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Nuits St Georges les Vaucrains
RATING: (92-94)
Lucien Le Moine’s 2005 Nuits-St.-Georges Les Vaucrains offers another instance of distilled black fruit intensity with a liqueur-like palate impression, seamless, creamy richness, yet at the same time bright freshness of fruit. Salty, chalky mineral notes contribute complexity and a faint bit of extraneous woodiness in the long, penetrating finish may or may not prove to represent – like the wine’s hint of residual sugar – merely a passing phase. All in all, this displays remarkable sheer richness, class, and clarity.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Nuits St Georges les St Georges
RATING: (90-92) points
Le Moine’s two barrels of 2005 Nuits-St.-Georges Les St.-Georges were quite reduced after having undergone protracted malo, but there could be no question about its concentration. Smoky, stony, meaty, black fruit aromas and flavors are densely-packed into a creamy mouthful, but the finish is a bit perturbed and lacks the refinement displayed by most of the wines here today. Saouma says he and his wife gave up on Les St.-Georges for a couple of vintages feeling that the site inherently lacked some refinement and was « too earthy in taste », but they then opened a bottle of their 1999 from this site and said « let’s go back! ».

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Pommard Grands Epenots
RATING: (91-93) points
A 2005 Pommard Grands Epenots offers a black cherry fruit counterpart to the Epenots’ red cherry. Ripe aromas of distilled fruit intensity lead to an intensely concentrated palate impression of chocolate and caramel-tinged black cherry. So creamy, rich and ripe as to display a liqueur-like disposition, this nevertheless preserves freshness and sheer refreshment. Pure-fruited and with a stony underlying mineral sense, the finish of this Pommard reminds me of a great Charmes Chambertin. With ample but exceptionally refined tannins, this seamless and single-mindedly fruity Pinot is surely built for at least a decade in the cellar, during which time it should acquire further complexity.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Richebourg
RATING: (95-97) points
Saouma speculates that the source of his single barrel of 2005 Richebourg (a new grower, and not the supplier for previous Le Moine Richebourgs) may represent the oldest vines in this famed appellation. Lightly-cooked cherry aromas of imposing sweetness and high-toned notes of distilled intensity join notes of roasted meats on the nose. In the mouth, a brambly Bonnes Mares-like tartness of cherry and berries mingle with charred, salted meat, beef blood, low-toned mineral suggestions. This builds to a magnificent finish and seems to gain momentum the longer it is in the air. Like any of Saouma and Brakin’s grand crus, it surely deserves a decade or more before one of its precious bottles is opened, at which point one hopes – hard though this is to imagine in some instances – that the experience will be yet richer and more multi-faceted than today’s

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Pommard Epenots
RATING: (91-93) points
The Le Moine 2005 Pommard Epenots underwent a very late malo and was a bit gaseous and reduced when I tasted. Smelling smoky, meaty, and ripely red-fruited, if slightly oaky, in the mouth this was overtly leesy but remarkably deep in its red meat and red berry richness and possessed of a finer tannic grain and more polish than one usually finds in Pommard. Lightly-salted beef juices, fresh strawberry and cherry, and chalky minerality inform the finish. In what proves to be typical Lucien Le Moine fashion, this combines overt creaminess and fat with purity and flavor delineation.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Romanee St Vivant
RATING: (97-99) points
The single barrel of 2005 Romanee-St.-Vivant at this address smells of roasted game, super-concentrated, fresh purple plum, black raspberry, cumin, coriander and other exotic spices. Fantastically clear, concentrated and gripping, with tart fruit skin, concentrated, salty, soy-drenched meatiness, mysterious florality, and tactile spiciness, this finishes with length, eloquence and intrigue like some great, vinous novel. (Any suspicions I may have harbored, incidentally – and I did – that this famous grand cru simply couldn’t challenge the best of red Burgundy, were forever shattered by this wine and several of its 2005 counterparts.)

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Volnay Caillerets
RATING: 95 points
In bottle for three weeks, a 2005 Volnay Caillerets offered vivid cherry and red currant, rich meat and mushroom stock, chalk dust, flowers and brown spices on the nose. In the mouth, a lovely counterpoint of creaminess of texture with fresh, firm black fruit character, highly refined tannins, and a striking level of purity and delineation of floral, carnal, fruit and fungal flavors offer convincing evidence for Saouma’s thesis that Caillerets is the greatest site in the Cote de Beaune. This finishes with enormous concentration yet also elegance and ravishing refinement, truly the epitome of great Volnay. Too bad there are only two barrels! The last comment I spoke into my tape recorder on tasting this was « it’s a little disconcerting to come to a cellar and have this be the first wine »!

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Vosne Romanee les Suchots
RATING: (95-97) points
There are 75 cases of Le Moine’s 2005 Vosne-Romanee Les Suchots, scented with black currant, blueberry, coriander, ginger, white truffle, musk, and citrus zest. Wonderfully creamy, rich, ripely-, purely-fruited and exotically accented, this grips with astonishing intensity, positively turning your mouth black and blue with fruit, and leaving nearly indelible marks of a great site. And for all of its overt sweetness and enveloping richness, there are also invigorating brightness and juicy refreshment here in spades.

2005 Maison Lucien le Moine Vosne Romanee les Malconsorts
RATING: (91-93) points
Saouma judged that his 2005 Vosne-Romanee Les Malconsorts had finally, just, finished malolactic fermentation. Bitter-sweet blackberry and charred meat aromatics lead to an almost savagely intense palate impression of black fruits, charred meat and stone, as formidable as anything that has gone before in this collection, but much less flattering, polished or charming. Meaty, stony, gripping but obviously tannic and a bit austere in its finish – an effect doubtless reinforced by remnants of CO2 – this needs time even short term to properly assess its genuine personality. Certainly though, it is already promising and will be a candidate for a decade or more in the cellar.