Thursday, May 15, 2014

Vosne-Romanée: "The pearl of the Côte"

We just concluded a trip to Burgundy, the highlight of which was a visit to, arguably, the producer of the world's finest wines, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The domaine's famed wines are made from grapes grown on fabled Grand Cru sites in Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Échezeaux (Pinot Noir), Puligny- and Chassagne-Montrachet (Chardonnay), and, since 2009, Aloxe-Corton (Chardonnay). As a prelude to a discussion of the trip, I will provide some background on each of these regions, beginning with Vosne-Romanée in this post.

Vosne-Romanée is a small commune in the Côte de Nuits that, according to BBR, is the region's "brightest star" and "produces the finest and most expensive Pinot Noir wines in the world. Its wines have an extraordinary intensity of fruit which manages to combine power and finesse more magically than in any other part of the Côte d'Or." Writing on (Vosne-Romanée, April 7, 2005), Stephen Brook spoke glowingly of Vosne-Romanée: "Its wines are the epitome of fine and great red Burgundy. They are the apotheosis of Pinot Noir. ... Vosne's glory lies in its remarkable blend of richness and perfume, vibrant fruit and a profound structure. Few red burgundies are as long-lived as Vosne, nor evolve so subtly with bottle age."

As a whole, the Côte -- due to its location east of the Morvan Mountains, west of the Eastern Mountains, and south of the Vosges Mountains -- is sheltered from prevailing winds and, as a result, experiences higher temperatures and lower precipitation than neighboring areas. Saulieu, as an example, is only 73 km (45 miles) away yet gets 200 mm more rain per year than does Beaune.

Vosne-Romanée is dominated by cool weather which is somewhat tempered by continental and southern influences, the latter emanating from the Rhone Valley. The region experiences moderate and regular rainfall (730 mm) and temperature averages 10.5℃. The area is subject to occasional hail and frost attacks, which, like the hailstorms of the 2013 vintage, can significantly impact harvest volumes.

Henri Jayer (A Tribute to the Great Wines of Burgundy, with Jacky Rigaux), legendary Burgundian winemaker, described the Vosne-Romanée soils as brown and chalky and being partly the result of clay and limestone activity in the Jurassic period. The underlying rock is a hard, fossil-rich limestone which dates back to the intersection of the Upper Bajocian and Lower Bathonian ages. The limestone slope is covered by a thin layer of soil -- a few decimeters thick above the village -- that is comprised of: decomposing clays from the underlying limestone; colluvial deposits; collapsed rock; and silt brought down from the upper portions of the slope.

The primary soil layer varies in quantity and nature along the slope. For example: the soil is mostly thin and of limestone at the top of the slope; enriched clay further downslope; and relatively deep soils on spreading silty clay at the foot. This is rather poor soil but, combined with the excellent drainage provided by the cracked limestone substrate, and the excellent sun exposure provided by the slope and aspect, provides the perfect environment for growing Pinot Noir.

The Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Échezeaux vineyards have historically been considered jointly. The vineyards in the two communes are east- and south-facing, following the convention in the region. Between the two communes, approximately 230 ha are devoted to grape growing, 157 ha in Vosne-Romanée and 73 ha in Flagey-Echezeaux. The distribution and geographic location of the vineyards were captured in the map above.

The Grand Cru vineyards are located on the mid-slope just above the villages of Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Échezeaux at elevations ranging between 220 and 300 m. Vines are planted at a minimum of 9000 vines/ha. Additional details for the Grand Cru vineyards are presented in the table below.

Grand Cru Vineyard
Size (ha)
La Tâche
Brown calcareous; deeper at top
Domaine de La Romanée-Conti (DRC)

Romanée Conti
Brown limestone soils 60 cm deep; major clay component

La Grand Rue
Brown limestone; thick at top; 12% slope
Domaine Francis Lamarche

Brown calcareous over hard limestone
DRC (3.51 ha) + 10 other producers

La Romanée

Similar to Romanée-Conti but deeper
DRC (5.28 ha) +
nine others
Grands Échezeaux
Marl and gravel over limestone; eastern exposure; 230 - 300 m elevation
DRC (3.5 ha) + 20 others

Same as for Grands; 3 - 4% slope; 250 m elevation
DRC (4.7 ha) + 20 others

Below are characterizations of selected Grands Cru wines as presented in the Jayer text.

Grand Cru
Power, amplitude, and character
One of Burgundy’s greatest wines
Exuberantly fruity when young, with powerful, generous structure that gives touch of firmness
On aging, intense and complex aroma of red fruits, violet and spices
Complex and whole
Full-bodied and supple
Delicate fruity nose with concentrations of red and black berries
Musk and fresh leather as the wine ages
Les Grands Échezeaux
Fleshy wine
Encjhanting bouquet of blackcurrant, strawberry, cherry and raspberry
With age aromas of forest, rare mushrooms, moss
La Romanée
Sumptuous color, full body, complex aromas
Long aging
More delicate than powerful
Always elegant
Delicate flowers
Remarkable balance and length
La Tâche
Strong color, rich bouquet, fullness of mouth
Aptitude fro aging
One of the Côte’s most complete wine
La Grand-Rue
Very rich bouquet with traces of violet and raspberry
Ages gracefully
Source: Henri Jayer, A Tribute to the Great Wines of Burgundy, with Jacky Rigaux

The Premier Cru vineyards are located above the Grand Crus as well as lower down the slope, to the north and south of the Grand Crus. The soils above the Grand Cru vineyards are poor but favorable for good wines due to excellent drainage and an eastward orientation. The quality of the Premier Cru soils to the north and south of the Grand Crus is somewhat lower than the quality of the soils at the top of the slope. A total of 57 ha of vineyards are classified as Premier Cru with 46 ha located in Vosne-Romanée and the remainder in Flagey-Echezeaux. The Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru vineyards are drawn 11 from Vosne-Romanée proper, two from Flagey-Échezeaux and one is shared.

The Premier Crus are described thusly in the Henri Jayer book: "The Vosne Premiers Crus are rich, elegant, and they have an innate aptitude to aging. Some are very close to Grands Crus. At their best they give off an exceptionally refined bouquet mixing flowers (peony and wild rose in particular) forest, cherry, leather and fur." M. Jayer was especially favorably disposed to Cros Parantoux (which he vinified for 40 years) and Les Brûlées. Clive Coates is enamored of Les Brûlées ("one of the three best 'first growths' ", "wine of voluptuous richness and backbone, quality and depth, and the ability to last"), Les Suchots ("most noble of the first growths") and La Croix-Ramea ("wine with a Grand Cru flair") but not so much Charmes ("second division Premier Cru"). See the map above for a full listing of the Premier Crus.

A total of 96 ha is devoted to vines for the production of Village wines. These vineyards are located above the Grand Cru rim, at and below the village level. Jayer felt that the best Village vineyards are below Suchots and Romanée -Saint-Vivant -- in the direction of Clos Vougeot -- and that the least interesting wines came from the vines in the hollow to the north of the village. Soils for this class of vines tended to be limestone mixed with clayey marls with soil depths that range from tens of centimeters to 1 meter. These vines have an easterly exposure. As is the case for Premier Cru wines, the name of the climate from which the grapes are sourced can be so indicated on the label following the official AOC designation.

Up next, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

No comments:

Post a Comment