Often called the best winemaking village in the Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée certainly has the best Grands Crus of any Burgundy village. There is the famous Romanée-Conti, the home of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's extraordinary flagship cuvée, the runner-up monopole of the same name (La Tâche) and four other Grands Crus which also have great magnitude and importance in the wine world.
The Grands Crus of Vosne-Romanée are considered some of the best red wines in the world, up there with wines such as the first growths of Bordeaux like Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Margaux, Pomerol stunners such as Château Pétrus, prime-time Italian cuvées such as Solaia, great Barolos, and Gaja Sperss, and top Napa Cabernets such as Harlan Estate, Dalla Valle, and Screaming Eagle. For those who love Pinot Noir, Vosne-Romanée is the place to be, as even its Premiers Crus reflect the style that's considered the best way to make the Pinot grape. Within Vosne, a variety of different styles exist; La Tâche practices a powerful but feminine style, while Richebourg is especially rich and concentrated.
Vosne-Romanée wine is produced mainly in the commune of the same name; this village is only 1.42 square miles in total area. In addition to their own 12 Premiers Crus, Vosne-Romanée produces wine from Flagey-Échezeaux's Premiers Crus. There are three of these, one of which overlaps between the two villages. There are 67.9 acres of Grand Cru vineyards, which are the most famous, 135.5 acres of Premier Cru vineyards, and 265.5 more acres for the village wine. There are only about 70,000 cases a year of red wine made from the non-Grands Crus. Vosne-Romanée's 6 Grands Crus make its number of top-end vineyards second only to Gevrey-Chambertin itself. But Vosne's Grands Crus are higher-regarded than Gevrey's since only two crus in Gevrey make wine that could possibly rival Vosne's Grands Crus.
Vosne-Romanée wine has become so expensive that it is often crucial for non-collectors to look to other villages, but for the top quality, it's almost always Vosne-Romanée that they come back to. The reasons for this are complicated, but Burgundy hounds agree that the best reds almost always come from this appellation. Aging potential is often cited as the reason Vosne-Romanée's wines, especially the Grands Crus but to a lesser extent the Premiers Crus as well, are so good. Some of these wines have Bordeaux-like aging potentials of 30+ years. This also has its side effects, one of which is that the wines are hard to appreciate after only 5-10 years, and only are worth their full value if left to evolve for even longer.
But aging isn't the primary reason for Vosne's success. The main reason is that the climate simply produces wines that combine powerful flavor and silky elegance in a way that no other villages can really rival. Most people in the world can't afford the Grand Cru wines that Vosne produces, since the legendary status of the wines has brought them to ludicrous prices. Even the most avid Vosne lovers will still have difficulty coughing up $100 minimum for a Vosne Premier Cru, while they could easily pay around the same amount for a top négociant-bottled Grand Cru wine from another village. Why, then, is there still more demand than supply for Vosne's top wines, even when they are priced at unheard-of levels? Because there's no real place elsewhere in the world that can compare to Vosne for sheer diversity and quality. Vosne is simply the best place in the world for what it does.
The village of Vosne-Romanée, which was originally named Vosne, has its origins in prehistoric times, although Gevrey-Chambertin has a much longer history in the business of growing and vinifying grapes. The Abbey of Saint Vivant, which was founded in the 9th century, actually owned a large part of Burgundy itself, including the original vineyards, which at that time were not yet delineated.
The turmoil of the French Revolution would cause the demolition of the abbey, and a great amount of upheaval in the area. But the elite were devoted to the wines produced in Vosne-Romanée, and the wealthy family known as the Croonembourgs eventually came into possession of Romanée-Conti. In this way the vineyards were preserved, and in 1866 La Romanée had become famous enough to be appended to the Vosne name.
Since then Vosne-Romanée has gone through even more turmoil, acquired its AOC status in September of 1936, battled phylloxera, gone through periods of obscurity, and relatively recently has emerged as positively the best red wine village in the Côte de Nuits. Record prices are continually being set for Romanée-Conti bottles new and old.
Climate and Viticulture
What is the secret? Certainly, Vosne-Romanée has great weather conditions and climate, an almost perfect growing season for Pinot Noir, and well-located vineyards, both sloped and flat, at village, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru level. But so do all the other Côte de Nuits villages, and they don't produce wine nearly as legendary as Vosne-Romanée.
If there is any provable difference, it's in the soil. The earth is characterized by exceptional purity, being almost entirely made up of red-brown clay interspersed occasionally with rather large bits of limestone, and in some places small pebbles. While fairly damp, the soil drains excellently and as such the flavors are kept concentrated and incredibly powerful. Romanée-Conti takes the soil of Burgundy to a new extreme of depth and concentration, the one-of-a-kind clay making a one-of-a-kind wine.
- Pinot Noir: Except for the allowed blending of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, it's all Pinot Noir here. The blending is unlikely to happen, as all wines attempt to compete for recognition on the grounds of incredible purity and style. The Pinot Noirs from Vosne-Romanée are mainly associated with the Grands Crus of Romanée-Conti, which brings red Pinot Noir wine to a whole new level, and other great monopoles such as La Tâche. Robust and powerful in their first years of life, after 25-35 years the Grands Crus showcase incredible purity and elegance of fruit that still has great concentration and flavor. As for the Premiers Crus, they usually emulate the style with some distinguishing features at a lower price. The flavors themselves are extremely vibrant, and sweep through berry fruit, licorice, fresh flowers, tons of spices, and more rarely the earthy flavors of chocolate, coffee or brush. In almost all good wines, a particularly noticeable mineral element can be found; this keeps the wine fresh and vibrant and also serves to preserve it for many years. The explosive perfume of these wines helps to make them some of the best in the world, and for experts on the village, the terroir is often recognizable instantly. But they are backed by quite firm tannins and acidity, and often it would be a mistake to drink these wines upon release. How early, then? There are disagreements on this question, as the wines are often pristine within 5-10 years and some think they should be drunk then. But the great Premier Cru bottles have been proven to evolve further and gain richness and complexity after even as much as 20-25 years of age. A good point of compromise is anywhere from 15-20 years in.
There are a total of 19 producers within Vosne-Romanée's village and Premier Cru boundaries that we consider among the best. Their wines at the Premier Cru level are talked about below under the subregions Premier Cru section.
- Domaine Robert Arnoux
- Bouchard Pere et Fils
- Domaine Sylvain Cathiard et Fils
- Domaine Bruno Clavelier
- Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair
- Domaine Confuron Cotetidot
- Domaine Dujac
- Domaine Forey Pere et Fils
- Domaine Jean Grivot
- Domaine Hudelot Noellat
- Dominique Laurent
- Domaine Leroy
- Maison Frederic Magnien
- Domaine Méo-Camuzet
- Lucien Le Moine
- Domaine de Montille
- Domaine Perrot Minot
- Domaine Emmanuel Rouget
Vosne-Romanée's quality land means many of the vineyard sites designated Premier Cru could really be Grands Crus if they were located in other villages, and they often are as good as the less esteemed Grands Crus. Market prices, however, reflect this reality, with good Vosne Premier Cru bottles seldom costing under $100. However, this compares quite favorably to the village's pricey Grand Crus!
Since each Premier Cru has a good pedigree of its own, and detailed information is available on all of them, we will give the Premiers Crus a little bit more description than usual. These climats are just as worth knowing as any Grands Crus; any Burgundy hound should be familiar with them. The 15 of these terroirs are listed below.
- Au Dessus des Malconsorts: This small parcel is interchangeable with the bigger Aux Malconsorts allotment, and as such rarely uses its own name. It has no reason to, as the Malconsorts name is widely known and the Au Dessus part might be expected to confuse less knowledgeable customers. Domaine Remoriquet seems to be the only domaine that uses this anymore; their offerings are quite reliable.
- Aux Brûlées: Although the name means "broiled" in French, it doesn't seem to be literal, as the hill on which the Premier Cru lies isn't especially sunny. Slightly more than 11 acres, the Premier Cru covers only territory that is absolutely outstanding for Pinot Noir production. It actually runs up a direct slope and is parallel to Richebourg's outer vineyards; by all accounts it can make wine that emulates and in rare cases even equals good Richebourgs. They are sometimes labeled as La Combe de Brûlée. Notes of ripe dark fruits populate the cuvées of Domaine Bruno Clavelier and Domaine Comte Liger-Belair, and they show great complexity, but additional notes of spice and earth need time to show up. Age these wines for 10 years. Domaine Leroy makes wine of a completely different style, a hot-climate Pinot Noir with roasted, rich flavors of spice, dark chocolate, and dark fruit—almost a liqueur-like wine, and totally distinctive. The Méo-Camuzet often leads the vineyard, showing outstanding depth and power in combination with tons of wild red and dark fruit, plus earthy elements of spice and coffee. The success of this vineyard has put it on a par with Malconsorts and Suchots; at this level it is very subjective, but these are generally considered the top three.
- Aux Malconsorts: Sometimes called "Les Malconsorts", this is another one of the top Vosne Premiers Crus. Close to Nuits-St-Georges, the vineyard's land is very high up on the hill, in places overlooking the whole Vosne village. The vineyard spans 14 acres, but much of the poorer soil is not used. The best dirt makes for wine of a fabulous nature, with great power and complexity but often an earthy elegance that makes it rather unique among Vosnes. Bouchard's is so good that it competes with many of the négociant's top red Grands Crus, with dark rich fruit and soil-driven earth and spicy herbs. Unusually for this village, the wine has hardly any mineral edge, and it can be drunk earlier than some other Vosnes. From Domaine de Montille there is a similar style, especially in the "Cristiane" example: an earth-driven wine with exotic coffee and chocolate flavors plus whopping acidic minerals and tannic power. To a lesser extent the basic Montille Malconsorts is minerally, powerful and soil-driven, but it is more of a seamless, early-drinking style. But most of the styles are even more ripe and elegant. Cathiard's has recently improved to compete with Bouchard's, although in a completely different style of vibrant, zesty fruit and flowers. This wine is powerful but weightless, as is Dujac's spicy, silky-sweet but rich and intense cuvée. Hudelot Noellat makes an early-drinking style, although in inferior vintages the red fruit and spice need time to harmonize with the tannins. Lucien Le Moine's cuvée has a strong mineral edge, but is also very elegant and slightly sweet, with enough complexity to age for a while and still be good.
- Aux Reignots: One of the most underrated Vosne Premiers Crus, this one is much better than its pedigree, and is just as capable of making a Grand Cru-level wine as any other climat from the village. The vines reach incredible depth here, and so the wines have great complexity. At the top of the vineyard the plantings border with those of La Romanée, and the vines are owned by the La Romanée owner Domaine Comte Liger-Belair. So it isn't surprising that they make a wine of almost the same pedigree from the Premier Cru land. Full of wild, almost completely soil-driven flavors of smoky dark fruit, underbrush, coffee, and chocolate, the wines are thick and rich but kept energetic by minerals. Although they cost several hundred dollars in most vintages, you could do easily do worse even in Chambertin. The much less pricey cuvées from Domaine Robert Arnoux, Bouchard, and Domaine Sylvain Cathiard et Fils have difficulty comparing, but all will exhibit good complexity after a mandatory aging period.
- Les Beaux Monts: This Premier Cru is partially located in Flagey-Échezeaux; the wines are sometimes found under the label "Beaumonts." Perhaps due to the size (over 27 acres), this Premier Cru can be inconsistent, but the best wines are elegant, with notes of red fruit and spice, and accessible early for their ripeness and vibrancy. The top wine is definitely made by Jean Grivot; it is full of rich fruit, flowers and spice, with smoked game and a strong mineral backbone to keep the wine fresh. With age the perfume will open to reveal richer, more earthy notes, but this wine will always be precise and have a good mineral edge. Leroy fans will favor their outrageously expensive Beaux Monts, since its vibrant flavors of wild fruit and earthy spice and herbs make this one of the top Leroys at the Premier Cru level. For less expensive but similarly great wines, Dujac's seamless but minerally and precise cuvée shows similar flavors to the others. Dominique Laurent's, labeled Beaumonts, comes in both a young-vine and an old-vine version; both are rich and gamy but silky-sweet, with a great combination of tannic power and elegant flavor. Domaine Perrot Minot also makes their wine from old vines, although it isn't always labeled as such; floral elegance combines with richer, more powerful earthy fruit and coffee here. Very firm styles are produced by Domaine Bruno Clavelier, Hudelot Noellat, and Jadot; expect very soil-driven flavor and great richness from these wines after the appropriate aging period.
- Les Chaumes: About 16 acres, this Premier Cru isn't quite as legendary as some of its neighbors, but there can also be some Grand Cru-level wines in here; the vineyard does border La Tâche. Domaine Robert Arnoux's is rather underrated, since its dark fruit and flowers are unconventional for Vosne and need time to improve. Comte Liger-Belair has the best land here, and the wine's ripe, powerful perfume of red fruit isn't too complex, but can be a pleasant change from the more intense cuvées here.
- Clos des Réas: The only Premier Cru monopole in Vosne, and one of a select few great ones in the Côte de Nuits, this one is owned by Domaine Bernard Gros. Although somewhat roasted-ripe, the flavors are precise enough, ranging from red and dark fruit to spice, with some more subtle notes of game interspersed. There's nothing really wrong with drinking this early, but it would probably be better with 5-10 years' age.
- La Croix Rameau: Only about 1.5 acres, this vineyard is one of the most obscure in Vosne-Romanée, having been a former Romanée-St-Vivant parcel that was declassified at some point due to its perceived inferiority. Despite its less desirable land, wine prices are high.
- Cros Parantoux: Formerly owned by none other than Henri Jayer, the French vintner who made many innovations in Burgundy wine, this vineyard has been split between négociant operation Domaine Méo-Camuzet and Domaine Emmanuel Rouget. On the same hill as Richebourg, at a slightly higher and more sloped altitude, Cros Parantoux's soil was always a problem, but modern technology has helped it to its full potential, and the wines now are mini-Richebourgs of outstanding quality. Méo-Camuzet's example is close to Grand Cru level in most vintages; although it rarely has mineral power, it is a rich, highly aromatic liqueur of berry, licorice, and earthy chocolate that could be drunk early or aged for decades. Rouget's is of a completely different style, ripe and stylish with silky-textured red berry, spice and earthy fruit. Some very expensive wine under the Jayer label is available as well.
- En Orveaux: This Premier Cru is one of three that actually lies in Flagey-Échezeaux, and one of only two that are fully within the boundaries of that village. As such it is much more obscure than almost any of Vosne's Premiers Crus, and if the wines are a "mini" Grand Cru they are closer to Échezeaux or Grands-Échezeaux than Richebourg or Romanée. Either way, there are a number of good wines to be found here, although don't expect them to cost less than Vosne Premier Cru examples. Domaine Sylvain Cathiard produces such a good wine that their name has become associated with the Premier Cru. Full of vibrant, accessible fruit and earth flavors, it can be drunk early on for its freshness and precision, or aged to show even more character. It's actually better than many, if not most, Échezeauxs.
- Les Gaudichots: This small Premier Cru is spread out and actually encompasses three separate parcels of land, all of which are tiny. Much of what used to be Les Gaudichots was converted to La Tâche when regulators realized its potential, and what's left is the only land that they found to be inferior...only a few acres. The wine is so limited-production that it can often be very pricey and hard to find, but the style is alleged to be fascinatingly thick and smoky.
- Les Petits Monts: As it sounds, this Premier Cru is the "little brother" of giant Les Beaux Monts, high on the lofty hill surrounded by Richebourg and a few other Premiers Crus. Its great soil is quite different from Richebourg's, however, making for wines of much more elegance, but out of only nine acres there are over a dozen owners, so the quality is at least as variable as the larger Beaux Monts. Domaine Comte Liger-Belair's spicy, well-structured wine is one of the best, although production of this smoky, minerally but totally elegant and accessible cuvée is very limited.
- Les Rouges: Even more obscure than En Orveaux, this is one of only two vineyards that lie completely within the village of Flagey-Échezeaux, but are still considered part of Vosne. The name comes from the red color of the soil.
- Les Suchots: All of the top Les Suchots Pinots are on the level of good wines from many Grands Crus, such as Chambertin satellites and perhaps even Bonnes-Mares. In fact, some of them can even range to the level of Romanée, Romanée-St-Vivant or Richebourg in the best years. Effectively, the Les Suchots vineyard should be considered a Grand Cru. Considering the generally high quality, it's odd that the vineyard is both large (over 30 acres) and widely subdivided between various different owners. Recently, the pedigree of the wines has grown even more; the Premier Cru competes with Les Amoureuses of Chambolle-Musigny, Clos St-Jacques in Gevrey-Chambertin, and a few others in Vosne itself, for the title of the best in the Côte de Nuits. The soil is very similar to that of Richebourg and Romanée-St-Vivant. Négociant Bouchard makes a vibrant, light example here. The layered but youthfully backward Domaine Sylvain Cathiard et Fils needs age but is promising. Comte Liger-Belair makes a lush, elegant, early-drinking wine that contrasts dramatically with their other, usually much darker Vosnes. The Hudelot Noellat is sweet and perfumed but kept fresh by powerful smoky minerality. Rich but dry, the Jadot is another step up, with superpowerful earth-driven notes of soil and black fruit, but good fresh minerals to keep the wine precise. Dominique Laurent also makes a liqueurish wine, with exotic herbs as well as red and dark fruit packed together into a greatly thick wine. Maison Frederic Magnien makes a good négociant example, with soil-driven red fruit, spice and coffee in an elegant but dense style that is distinctively Suchots. Lucien Le Moine makes the most elegant wine here, which has sweet but wild notes of fruit and spice with a Chambolle-like texture, and is ready for drinking early. Domaine Confuron Cotetidot makes a more earthy wine, with coffee, chocolate and underbrush supplemented by fruitier notes of raspberry, made into a complex but balanced and seamless wine. Its combination of depth and thickness with finesse and class reminds of the even better Domaine Robert Arnoux, the flagship wine here, which has a knockout perfume of red fruit and spice, to go along with earthier soil and chocolate, with fresh minerals and mint to keep it precise.
As you can see, Vosne-Romanée has great Premiers Crus that are, in many cases, capable of catching or surpassing Grands Crus from other villages. It seems difficult to surpass the Premiers Crus here, but that's why Vosne's Grands Crus make the undisputed best red wine in the world.
- La Grande Rue: This Grand Cru, 4.1 acres in size, is the latest addition to the Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru list, having been added in the late 1980s. While it doesn't compare to some of its neighbors', the wine is great by anyone's standards, being solely produced by monopole owner Domaine Francois Lamarche. At their best the wines have fabulous concentration of flavor combined with ripe elegance and offer good value next to their much pricier neighbors.
- Richebourg: One of those Burgundy vineyards that needs no introduction, this Grand Cru is the all-time favorite of many a Pinot devotee. Rich, liqueur-like and concentrated, these are among the most masculine Pinots, with smoky flavors of dark fruit and earth, but there is also a powerful perfume. Right now there are many competing producers, but some of the best have monopole-like exclusivity, price and quality due to the small size of the vineyard.
- La Romanée: This four-figure wine comes from a 2.1-acre Grand Cru vineyard owned entirely by Domaine Comte Liger-Belair—for many years it has been one of Burgundy's top monopoles. At this level of quality it's hard to say it's worse than Romanée-Conti, since it's almost as famous for its combination of powerful concentration and balance. A top expression of Vosne, it is easily the favorite of many lovers of the village.
- Romanée-Conti: When Vosne took on the name of its smallest Grand Cru vineyard, La Romanée, it was before the rise of Romanée-Conti. Gradually, the 4-acre vineyard became a monopole of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and started on its journey to become one of the most well-known red wines in the world, and certainly the most famous Pinot Noir. Not all would agree that Pinot Noir finds its best expression here, especially since the wine needs 15-20 years to reach maturity. But the velvety-textured wine combines Pinot's red fruit with heavenly earthy elements to make for a superconcentrated but ripe and elegant cuvée that could well be the best of them all. Only a privileged few, though, will get to try it, as the wine costs at least several thousand dollars and as much as $16,000 for the 2005.
- Romanée-St-Vivant: It's difficult to compare Romanée-St-Vivant to its fabulous neighbors, but the vineyard nonetheless produces some great wines from its 23 acres. There's plenty of competition here to keep prices lower than any of the monopoles, and quite often relative bargains can be found. The wines are considered more feminine in style than those of their neighbors, but nonetheless are exceptionally rich and layered.
- La Tâche: Not heard over the rumble of Romanée-Conti, La Tâche is often forgotten, but the 12.5-acre vineyard is also completely owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and can equal or surpass Romanée-Conti easily. La Tâche exemplifies the mysteries of terroir by being almost completely the flavor opposite of Romanée-Conti, having a totally soft, light flavor complex. Costing around 20% of Romanée-Conti (still thousands!), La Tâche is one of the top few red wines in Burgundy in almost any given year.