The Wines of Vosne-Romanee and Nuits St. Georges

The Wines of Vosne-Romanee and Nuits St. Georges

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Continuing from the Clos de Vougeot, neighboring Vosne-Romanee to the south(with Flagey-Echeveaux, which contains portions of the grand cru wines Echezeaux and Grands Echeveaux) is, like Pauillac in the Medoc, a destination of its own. Its wines are justly world renowned, and also the priciest and rarest wines in Burgundy. There is a spectrum of grand cru and premier cru wines, but let us begin with the famous grand cru wines of the most famous producer, the Domaine de la Romanee Conti. There I was pleased to have a private wine tasting.  At the Domaine de la Romanee Conti, an understated rustic style substitutes for apparent luxury. The cool cellars laden with barrels of the maturing vintage reminded me of one of the excellent Bordeaux cellars, like Chateau Ausone perhaps, but certainly without the sweep of those of Chateau Margaux. There I tasted the grand cru wines in order of complexity, and compared impressions with the cellar master. The wines were all from the 1988 vintage, but they have taste suggestions for other DRC vintages as well.


First, the 1988 Echeveaux. It had a very pleasant aroma and was full-fruited with what seemed an odor of violets. It rather reminded me of Chateau Margaux, which I had tasted along with all of the Bordeaux first growths at their estates earlier in the week. At Christmas, 1999, in the English countryside, we had a bottle of the 1988 Domaine de la Romanee Conti Echeveaux with a venison dinner. During our stay we had enjoyed several excellent wines, but this wine held its own. It was just sturdy enough to accompany the venison, but still flavorful and on the light side. Possibly a sturdier Burgundy, perhaps a Chambertin-Clos de Beze, might have stood up even better. A lighter game bird would have been a better choice for the Echezeaux, all things considered. But this is quibbling with minute degrees of perfection.


Then we tasted the Grands Echezeaux. Like Echezeaux, Richebourg, and Romanee-St. Vivant, the Domaine de la Romanee Conti owns a portion of this vineyard. Their monopoly holdings (if you can speak of a monopoly when such tiny acreages are concerned) are of La Tache (15 acres) and Romanee-Conti (under 5 acres). And so the DRC owns in whole or in part six of the grand crus of Vosne-Romanee and Flagey-Echeveaux. They have no part of the minuscule vineyard of La Romanee, which is marketed by Bouchard Pere et Fils. I was pleased to note by the vineyard a tablet marking the 50th year of the ordination of Father Liger, a member of the owning family. Now we have also an eighth grand cru in Vosne-Romanee, La Grande Route, which is produced by the Domaine Lamarche.


The Grands Echezeaux was a revelation. It tasted like a deeper progression of the Echezeaux. I thought that it had more evident tannins than the Echezeaux just tasted, which gave it more backbone. My notes were to leave it alone in the cellar fr twenty years. (At this point, the DRC and its prices, which range upwards of $1,000 for a bottle of the rarest grands crus, and I have to part company. It is of some interest, therefore, to compare my tasting notes with grand cru wines from other fine producers, where that is feasible. For example, we have enjoyed from our cellar a bottle of 1988 Grands Echezeaux from Mongeard-Mugneard, that also was a deeper wine. We look forward to comparing both that bottle and the DRC Echezeaux with the Echezeaux from Mongeard-Mugneard’s vieilles vignes from the same year.)



The Romanee-St. Vivant (named for the St. Vivant Chapel) was tasted next. Some writers have been condescending about this wine, as light compared to other DRC wines. The owner asked if I found it “feminine.” I answered, “Of course, if your definition of ‘feminine’ includes Barbara Stanwyck!” For this Romanee-St. Vivant was steel wrapped in velvet, or if you prefer, it was a Cardinal Richelieu of a wine, with great elegance and breeding, peppery notes and fine structure, a keeper. As the Echezeaux had brought to mind Chateau Margaux, so this Romanee-St. Vivant reminded me very much of a Cheval Blanc from St. Emilion from a fine vintage. I will look forward to seeing if our cellar’s 1988 Romanee-St. Vivant from the Domaine Jean Jacques Confuron has the same breeding.


 


Having said all that, I was surprised when the Richebourg turned out to be my clear favorite from the tasting. From the cask it was just perfect, smooth and very, very elegant. I hope that the 1988 Richebourg Gros Frere et Soeur in our cellar is just as memorable. The La Tache had great character, and was a complete contrast to the Richebourg in style and taste. There was a clear gout de terroir, or sense of the earth, the precise locality where the vineyard is located, as a prevailing undertaste. When mature, this wine would be sensational with game and wild mushrooms. And then came the final wine, the Romanee-Conti. It was well-proportioned, and less accessible than either the La Tache or the Richebourg had been. Here was grandeur in the making. It had a mouth-filling generosity of taste, not unlike the style of Chateau Latour. This is a wine for decades to come.

 


For good measure, we opened a bottle of 1982 Romanee-St. Vivant, and found it agreeable but somewhat light, reflecting the fact that 1982 in Burgundy (but not in Bordeaux) saw too much rain. A bottle of 1979 Grands Echezeaux, on the other hand, was fuller, more complex, with some earthy undertaste, a great wine in the making, then still years away from maturity.

 


Visiting the Vosne-Romanee vineyards, I was struck by their small size of course, but also by the near uniformity of their location. As seemed true with virtually all of the great vineyards of the Cote d’Or, the finest were on a gentle slope, here adjoining the Route des Grands Crus, that had a south-southeastern exposure. The drainage, and the protection from severe weather and winds, was excellent. That cannot be approximated by wines mixed in a garage.

 


By all means, in the Vosne-Romanee as elsewhere in the Cote d’Or, get out of the car and walk. There are a number of premiers crus as well, that are well worth your notice. My favorites include Les Malconsorts (I wonder about the origin of that name), and Les Suchots, but there are other fine vineyards, often within hailing distance of an unaffordable grand cru. You will greatly enjoy discovering your own favorites.

 


The Domaine Lamarche, 9 rue Communes 21700 Vosne Romanee (telephone: 03-80-61-07-94: FAX 03-80-61-24-31), producers of the grand cru La Grande Rue, also have a website in French and English (www.domaine-laroche.com) which is a helpful glimpse of their wines and the topography of Vosne-Romanee. It would be helpful if more wine producers in Burgundy followed this lead. That would permit more consumers to form their own conclusions, based on the evidence of wine producers themselves.

 


I would also recommend your contacting the Domaine du Clos Frantin, 2 Chaumes 21700 Vosne-Romanee (telephone: 03-80-61-01-57: FAX 03-80-61-33-08). The Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret is at 14, rue La Fontaine, 21700 Vosne-Romanee (telephone 03-80-61-11-95: FAX 03-80-62-35-75), and the Domaine Prieure Roch is at the rue Chateau, 21700 Vosne-Romanee (telephone 03-80-62-00-00: FAX 03-80-62-00-01).




Now we rejoin Route Nationale 74, going south. Neighboring Nuits-St. Georges, which completes and names the Cote de Nuits, rather reminds me of St. Julien in the Medoc. I say that because of the extremely high quality level of their wines, here expressed in premiers crus, and the absence of any grand cru for the appellation. The finest vineyards, as you will suspect by now, lie to the west of the village, on the slopes. We have spent many an enjoyable Sunday dinner getting to know these excellent wines, and would recommend Les Vaucrains, Les Saint-Georges, Clos de la Marechale (said to be named for Marechale Petain, and the name’s origin now conveniently forgotten), Les Portets, Les Cailles, and Aux Boudots. That hardly exhausts the list, for there are some forty premiers crus entitled to the designation. From the 1988 vintage, we have enjoyed superb bottles of Clos de la Marechale from Faiveley, Les Vaucrains from Henri Gouges, Les Saint Georges from Robert Chevillon, and Les Boudots from Louis Jadot, a wine that surprised me for its largeness, for want of a better word. Its style was reminiscent of Chateau Mouton Rothschild. From the 1983 vintage, we greatly enjoyed a 1983 Les Boudots from Mongeard-Mugneret and a Robert Chevillon Les Saint Georges, which I characterized as “an excellent wine, full of character.”


So, I invite you to make your own discoveries f

rom one of my favorite regions, where the best wines of the current vintage remain for the time being in the $35-$50 range. You will find Robert Chevillon, 21700 Nuits-St. Georges (telephone 03-80-61-19-33: FAX 03-80-61-13-31) a reliable producer of high quality wines, as is the Maison J. H. Faiveley, 8 rue Tribourg, 21700 Nuits-St. Georges (telephone: 03-80-61-04-55). The Domaine Jean Chauvenet, 3, rue Gilly 21700 Nuits-St. Georges (telephone 03-80-61-02-72: FAX 03-80-61-12-87) is worth contacting in advance, as is the Domaine Georges Chicotet, 15 rue Generale de Gaulle, 21700 Nuits-St. Georges (telephone 03-80-61-19-33: FAX 03-80-61-38-94).  The Domaine Moillard, Route Nationale 74, 21700 Nuits-St. Georges (telephone 03-80-61-42-20, FAX 03-80-61-28-13), also is one of the few firms in this beautiful countryside to have a website (www.maillard.fr: email [email protected]).

 


I hope that inspires other producers in the direction of open communication with potential consummers, like you and me.





Bill Shepard is Bonjour Paris’s wine editor, and the author of Shepard’s Guide to Mastering French Wines: Taste Is for Wine: Points Are for Ping Pong.

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