Vosne-Romanee

Hello again!  Yes I realize this is a quick turn around compared to normal, but you have to take advantage of time and motivation when you have it right?!  The good news is since it hasn’t been several months since our last rendezvous, I won’t have as many updates on my non vinous life which should shorten this a bit.  I suppose we will see.  Sadly, my professional amateur cycling career has yet to take off after my recent podium.  I was fully expecting to be contacted by a couple of teams from the continent… so it goes. With the lack of interest in the transfer market, I’ve lost motivation and the watts/kg are plummeting.  The good news is that with less time spent cranking out miles, I’ve had more time to focus on wine!  A recent week of vacation spent lounging on a lakeside with some of our family provided plenty of options for delving into some excellent wines.  A few recent highlight bottles include Jean Grivot Echézeaux 2011, Christian Moreau Chablis Les Clos 2014, Spottswoode cabernet sauvignon 2009, Georges Noëllat Nuits St Georges 1er Les Boudots 2009, Tempier Bandol rosé 2016, Eyrie Sisters pinot noir 2014, Chateau Certan de May Pomerol 2008, and last but not least Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour cabernet sauvignon reserve 1981.  These were all excellent, but the Grivot Eché, Noëllat Boudots, and Beaulieu cabernet were really special.  The Noëllat was my first bottle from this highly regarded producer and corresponded to right about when Maxime Cheurlin began to take over.  I don’t think he was actually fully in charge of this particular vintage, but it was a stellar wine nonetheless.  More Vosne in style than Nuits really, but it showed lovely red berry fruits, lots of spice and black tea, hints of lilac, and just a whiff of forest floor.  The Beaulieu was fun to taste given the vintage which happens to be my personal vintage as well.  It was probably a bit over the hill, but still gave a memorable experience with dried dark berry fruits, menthol, eucalyptus, leather, humidor, and a hint of bell pepper.  The Echézeaux from a maligned vintage again shows that good producers can make excellent wines in tough vintages.  It was fabulous with loads of dark fruits, Chinese five spice, cardamom, clove, hints of iron and game, freshly turned earth, and crushed rose petals.  The palate had exemplary depth and power and yet remained incredibly balanced and elegant.  A great example of really fine Echézeaux.  In fact, this bottle (along with some reading I’ve done recently) led to the focus of this edition which will be the village of Vosne-Romanée in Burgundy!

I suspect many of you will groan as I return again to my favorite region… you’re begging me to focus on some regions that are more available, more affordable, and maybe off the beaten path.  My apologies… I’ll try to get to one like that in the near future, but once you become a disciple of Burgundy, it’s hard to want to talk about or drink anything else!  So we will enter our 3rd discussion about a specific village in Burgundy.  Vosne-Romanée (pronounced vohn romahnay; the s is silent which I learned by embarrassing myself multiple times with my incorrect pronunciation…) is a village in the Côte de Nuits as are the two other villages we recent reviewed (Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny in case you forgot).  Vosne is often discussed as the greatest village of all of Burgundy and while you will certainly get people that argue for others (notably the other two we have discussed) there is no doubt that Vosne is home to the most storied vineyards and a multitude of incredibly talented vignerons.  I recently read a fabulous tome that was entirely dedicated to the village written by none other than the Burghound himself Allen Meadows.  His book “The Pearl of the Côte” The Great Wines of Vosne-Romanée is an enthralling read for those of you wishing to delve more in depth into the wines of Burgundy with a fabulous breakdown of the best 1er and grand cru vineyards and discussion of many of the producers in Vosne.   It is approximately 400 pages… I will try to cover the same village in only 5 or so… which is quite a difficult task!

Vosne is located as you can see between Chambolle to the north and Nuits to the south.  I will note that in general the small village you see, Flagey-Échezeaux, is essentially Cote de Nuits mapconsidered to be a part of Vosne when it comes to wine production, so I will combine them.  From here forward I will only refer to Vosne, but we will also mention some vineyards which are technically in Flagey-Échezeaux.  With regards to grapes, only pinot noir is produced in this village.  The levels include village Vosne-Romanée, 1er cru Vosne-Romanée, of which there are 14, and grand cru of which there are 8 (6 in Vosne, 2 in Flagey).  We will discuss individual climats more below.  First, lets review everyone’s favorite topic; the geographical and geologic features of the village!

The soils of Vosne-Romanée, as with all of the Côte d’Or, are complex.  However, as with the rest of the Côte, the defining characteristic is limestone.  There is limestone subsoil throughout the region and Vosne is no different.  There are different types of limestone in different areas of Vosne including some Premeaux limestone, oolitic limestone (which is essentially limestone formed from the compression of limestone sands), organic limestone made up of fossilized invertebrates, and varieties of limestone marl (which is essentially clay mixed with limestone particles).  In addition there is the typical sand, clay, scree, and other aspects of normal soils, but the great vineyards are centered on these deposits of limestone and limestone marl.  Again, if you have interest in the soil compositions of specific areas/vineyards, I recommend the book by Allen Meadows.

One geographical aspect of Vosne that gives its vines a slight advantage is that the vineyards are essentially directly east facing.  This allows earlier light and less heat and helps with ripening while not burning or stressing the plants.  The geography is also affected by a couple of combes that come down from the top of the Haute Côte.  These provide cooling influences due to the cool air that flows down the combes into the vineyards that are in the vicinity.  For example Combe d’Orveau located above the vineyard En Orveaux and Combe de Concoeur which is located above Aux Brûlées.  This additional ventilation can be good in warm years or when rot is rampaging, but in a cool year may retard ripening a touch.  Otherwise, as is typical of most of the Côte, the sweet spot for the vineyards is in the middle of the slope.  The upper reaches on the slope are almost too deplete of topsoil and these vineyards are generally village level.  Just below this are 1er crus that abut the famous grand crus just below.  There are a few more 1er crus just below the grand crus and then you transition back into village level and finally into regional Bourgogne.  This is fairly typical distribution in most villages as the mid-slope seems to have optimal exposure and soil depth, while still having enough slope to provide good drainage and force the roots deep into the limestone.

Ok, now that we’ve survived the geo-monologue, we can move on to what you came for!  Wines and producers!  Vosne wines are a perfect marriage of power and finesse.  While the wines may not be as powerful as a great Chambertin or Clos de Bèze and may not have the pure elegance and ethereal nature of a great Musigny, they combine the two aspects arguably better than any village.  The wines have a robe of deep ruby with some vineyards giving even a darker almost purplish hue.  One of the classic notes on the nose is what is often referred to as “Vosne spice”.  The notes of Asian and baking spices is often more prominent here than in other villages of Burgundy and blends seamlessly with notes of ripe red and black berry fruits.  Raspberry, red currant, strawberry, black cherry, and bilberry are some of the typical notes that you will see in these wines.  In warmer years you will get notes of preserves or liqueurs of these fruits.  There are also underlying hints of the savory and sanguine; blood, fresh game meat, and other animal notes though often not as prominent as say Gevrey or Nuits wines.  Floral notes of lilac, blooming roses, and lily are often notable.  With a little age you will start to smell the forest floor with damp underbrush and leaf litter coming out.  The bouquet on these wines can be simply entrancing… and luckily the fun doesn’t end there!  The palate of classic Vosne wines shows ample power and depth with silky tannins that are often hidden by the beautiful fruit and spice, but still manage to give structure that allows these wines to age beautifully.  A bigger wine than a classic Chambolle, with more spice and less floral notes; Vosne delivers its power and size more gracefully and ethereally than many other villages.  Many prior reviewers have noted the “breed” and “class” of Vosne is quite notable.  I personally am not really able to taste breed or class, but I think I get it as the wines simply seem refined beyond many of their counterparts.  Reminiscent of the great Michael Jordan who despite his size and power had the grace and deftness of a ballet star.  If that doesn’t convince you to try one, I don’t know what will!

Let’s now look a bit more in depth at some of the specific vineyards in Vosne.  First the grand crus (I’ve included a more in depth map of the villages below):

Romanée Conti – I’ll mention this only in passing as unless you want to part with around $15,000 for a bottle, you won’t be tasting this.  A monopole of the great Domaine de la Romanée Conti (AKA DRC), this is largely considered to be the greatest Burgundy in the world.  Sadly, it is a small vineyard and desired by people with huge bank accounts everywhere… In fact, I doubt much of it even gets drank, simply passed along as a trophy…  Given the hallowed status and absolutely absurd price tag I doubt any will ever pass my lips… if you have a bottle and want to share a sip I’ll be glad to come by!

La Tâche – I will not spend too much time on this one either sadly… this is another monopole of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti (often referred to simply as The Domaine) and is often considered to be one of the few wines than can nearly go toe to toe with the above mentioned Romanée Conti.  The vineyard is larger and therefore more available, La Tâche is maybe a bit richer and seductive in its youth compared to Romanée Conti, becoming more velvety and developing aromatic intensity and breadth with age.  The two wines are probably about as good as it gets and its likely just a matter of personal preference as to which is better…  I’d love the chance to do a taste-off, alas, La Tâche generally runs in the $2500-5000 range a bottle so again unless you have a huge expense account or use summer as a verb, it’s not likely to be in your cellar….

La Romanée – this is the smallest AOC in all of France at a tiny 0.85 hectares.  La Romanée is a monopole of the Comte Liger-Belair family, though in the past it has been primarily tended by other local vignerons.  The wine was bottled solely by Bouchard Père et Fils until 2001; however Louis Michel Liger-Belair has now reclaimed the production.  This had been long considered an underachiever given its location directly above Romanée Conti, however in the last 20 years Louis Michel has revitalized this vineyard and it is now one of the most exciting wines in Burgundy.  Unfortunately, word has gotten out, so this is generally priced in a similar vein to La Tâche and I’ve yet to taste one… not to mention there are only about 3000 bottles a year total…

La Grand Rue – this is the final monopole of the Vosne Grand Crus and is owned Domaine Lamarche.  This has also largely been considered an underachiever for many years, however over the last decade Nicole Lamarche has continued the improvement that her father François started.  This is a wine that is getting better with each year and is according to Mr. Burghound generally a wine built on finesse and refinement rather than power, yet with a richness that matures into pure silk.  I’ve yet to try one and as prices are generally in the $400+ range it may be awhile.  Maybe one of these days I’ll grab a taste…

Romanée St. Vivant – this grand cru at its best is often considered to have the most dazzling nose of any wine in Burgundy.  It is according to Monsieur Meadows a wine that is generally based on finesse and aromatics rather than power.  I have yet to taste an RSV and while they are expensive, for a Burghound such as myself there are bottles that could be picked up in a splurge (which I am certainly planning, though don’t tell my financial manager).  This is not a monopole and has multiple owners.  The best producers are generally consider to be Domaine Leroy, DRC, Sylvain Cathiard, Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat, and Dujac.  Some of the other solid producers include Follin-Arbelet and JJ Confuron which can be picked up sometimes as low as $250-300.  Yes, I realize that isn’t exactly bargain shopping… we’re getting there, but if you are thinking of a really nice gift for your favorite wine scribe (that would be me) I’d be thrilled!

Les Richebourgs – this wine is sometimes considered to be the most powerful wine of Vosne (though some would argue for Grands Echezeaux).  A wine that needs a minimum of  15 or so years to shed some of its tannic clout and come into its own, revealing its sensual spice, minerals, and rich fruit with layers upon layers caressing your palate.  Richebourg can be extremely long lived and can develop fabulous complexity and richness with age.  This is the first wine on the list so far that I actually have some of in my cellar though I have yet to try one.  The prices here certainly vary by producer, withGreat Vosne Wines Leroy, DRC, and Meo-Camuzet being the most expensive ($1500+), but also generally considered to be the best.  Other top notch producers that are a bit less include Jean Grivot, Anne Gros, A-F Gros, Gros Frere et Soeur, Mongeard-Mugneret, Hudelot-Noellat, and Thibault Liger-Belair.  Yes I realize that is a lot of Gros’… Napoleonic inheritance at its best!

Grands Echézeaux – the Grands version of Echézeaux generally has a much better reputation than than its neighbor.  Still relatively large for a grand cru, it is markedly smaller than Echézeaux (9.14 hectares v 36 hectares) and is much more consistent.  These wines are generally more toward the muscular and dense side rather than the elegant and explosively aromatic.  A wine of power and depth, though not to say the nose is poor!  These wines take years to come around and many people recommend a minimum of 15 years of bottle age before the wines really start to show what they are truly made of.  Price wise, these are generally much less than the above vineyards (except for the DRC version), but still in the definite major splurge category.  I have managed to acquired a few, but be prepared to pay a minimum of $200 or so…. The best producers of Grands Echézeaux include: DRC, Mongeard-Mugneret, d’Eugenie, Lamarche, and Drouhin. 

Echézeaux – this is the 3rd largest Grand Cru in Burgundy behind Corton and Clos de Vougeot.  Large size generally means it has variability and Echézeaux is no exception.  There are over 60 growers who produce an Echézeaux!  In fact Echézeaux is actually divided into multiple climats (all are still labeled Echézeaux, though a few producers who have vines in only one section will label their wines with the specific lieux did i.e. Echézeaux du dessus) and they can have different characteristics.  Echézeaux is a wine you must know the producers before you buy or you will end up with a disappointing bottle that only shows its grand cru by the label.  It is the most affordable of all the Vosne grand crus, though that doesn’t mean cheap… I have picked up Echezeaux in the past for sub $100; sadly those days seem to be gone… That being said, a great Echézeaux is an absolutely stunning and fabulous wine.  The 2011 Grivot I just sampled being a prime example of how good this can be.  The best have a spicy and dark fruited nose with hints of game, earth, minerals, and floral notes.  The density is significant, yet the wine doesn’t feel heavy or fat, though you can certainly tell the power is there.  Really enjoyable.  The best producers here include: DRC, Meo-Camuzet, Jean Grivot, Arnoux-Lachaux, Mongeard-Mugneret, Mugneret-Gibourg, Dujac, Emmanuel Rouget.

Vosne Romanee vineyards

Ok, now that I’ve overwhelmed you with information about the grand crus, let’s do a brief run through some of the better 1er crus.  Malconsorts is often considered the best of the 1ers and given that it sits right next to La Tâche this makes sense.  Excellent producers including de Montille, Hudelot-Noëllat, Dujac, Lamarche, and Cathiard make grand cru quality wine here.  Bichot also produces a Malconsorts that is very good and while not at the level of those mentioned above, generally only costs about 1/3-1/4 as much.  Cros Parantoux is the other 1er cru that can often be grand cru quality (and price) this is a supremely famous vineyard due to the fact that Henri Jayer (a legendary vigneron, now retired) reclaimed this land that had been abandoned to rocks and replanted it with vines.  It is now produced by Meo-Camuzet and Emmanuel Rouget (Jayer’s nephew).  Due to small size and the mythical status associated with this vineyard because of Henri Jayer it is quite $$$$… Les Brulees is another excellent 1er cru that can often be reasonable value as is Les Suchots.  Suchots is the largest of the 1er crus and generally the easiest to find.  This is another place where you want to pay attention to producer as not all Suchots lives up to the reputation.  Les Petit Monts is another stellar 1er that is often priced well.  This wine has beautiful texture and density and many people consider it somewhat of a mini-Richebourg.  Worth trying if you can find some!  Les Beaux Monts produces excellent wines that are often more elegant and ethereal.  En Orveaux is another vineyard that is sometimes overlooked, but can produce explosively perfumed wines that age beautifully.  Clos de Reas is a monopole of Michel Gros that can be delicious as well and often is not as expensive as the top Vosne 1ers.  An additional 1er cru that I’ve yet to sample but that has a very good reputation is Aux Reignot; this is a small vineyard and difficult to find, but if you happen to run across a bottle, it may be worth a try as it is made by top notch producers.

Now that you have a few 1er crus to keep in mind when shopping for Vosne-Romanée wines, lets get on to some of the better producers of some of the non Grand Cru wines.  These are the folks that you want to keep an eye out for the village level Vosne or good value 1ers and snap them up if you see them!  DRC unfortunately only produces Grand Cru…. too bad for us.  My personal favorites (again with limited tasting experience… I do the best I can you know) include the following:

  • Sylvain Cathiard
  • Jean Grivot
  • Francois Lamarche
  • Dujac
  • Michel Noëllat
  • Hudelot-Noëllat
  • Georges Noëllat
  • Michel Gros
  • Anne Gros
  • A-F Gros
  • Perrot Minot
  • Mongeard-Mugneret
  • Mugneret-Gibourg
  • Gerard Mugneret
  • Confuron-Cotetidot
  • Felletig
  • Drouhin
  • Jerome Chezeaux

Other producers that I have not had personal experience with (at least not with their wines from Vosne), but have very good reputations include:

  • Bizot
  • Cecile Tremblay
  • Dugat-Py
  • Christian Clerget
  • Bocquenet
  • Bruno Clair
  • Emmanuel Rouget
  • Comte Liger-Belair
  • Jean Tardy

All of these producers would certainly be worth your attention should you see them.  No wine from Vosne is cheap sadly, but I have been able to pick up village level wines from some of the above for as little as $40.  So if you put a little effort into your shopping, you should be able to find some for a price that doesn’t threaten to push you into bankruptcy.

Well, I suppose I have said enough at this point. Since I have previously discussed some Burgundy pairing pointers, I’ll just briefly share some suggestions on food.  I personally very much enjoy lamb with savory herbs, roasted fowl, elk/venison stews and steaks, and roasted pork loin stuffed with mushrooms with the wines of Vosne.  The variation in style of the different vineyards and levels allow for a wide range of possibilities from vegetarian to robust beef, so be creative and enjoy!  The wines of Vosne may suck you in like no other Burgundy and pull you into the orbit in which I revolve; a place where you spend hours searching for a specific 1er cru at a price you can stomach!  I hope that you will take my advice and try at least one of two of these magnificent wines.  While the 1er crus and grand crus are the things that vinous dreams are made of, a good village level Vosne-Romanée can be a phenomenal experience and stimulate all of the senses and neurons in ways that you didn’t think were possible.

I promise next month I’ll try to review something other than Burgundy.  Then again maybe not!  Until then I hope you enjoy some beautiful summer weather, stellar adventures, and fabulous wines.

J. “Spicy Marl” Newman, CSW

 


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