Richebourg has become a legend in the wine world, now on a par with the most outstanding multiple-owner Grand Cru vineyards such as Musigny. It lies within the village of Vosne-Romanée and is surrounded by other Grands Crus, many of which are also considered to produce some of the top wines in the world. Richebourg has become its own status symbol, gaining great respect by many Burgundy hounds, and the top cuvées are often considered to be among the best red wines in the world.
Lovers of Richebourg's completely distinctive wines, which reflect their terroir in a way that couldn't be clearer, know that the name is accurate: Richebourg produces wines of great richness. Although rarely sweet, the flavors themselves are so rich that they are often called heavy, but the lovers of the wine see this as a good thing. Also, it provides the ability to age for at least 20 years.
At 18.3 acres, the vineyard is fairly small, not much larger than La Tâche, but there are now many owners. Still, unlike Chambertin and its satellites, the Richebourg vineyard is completely reliable; in fact, there are no slackers among the domaines that bottle wine here. This can be attributed to the audacious expense that a domaine must invoke to get a parcel of the vineyard, higher than perhaps any other in the world. Annual production is around 2,000 cases.
Richebourg's fame is increased by the fact that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti owns close to half of the vineyard land, and produces the most famous and expensive cuvée here. Smaller, less exclusive producers attempt to make wine of an even higher quality, and when they succeed Richebourg's pedigree is brought an inch closer to perfection. Unfortunately, lovers of the style need to be wealthy in order to satisfy their habit, as even the lowest-end bottles cost a few hundred dollars apiece.
Richebourg's ownership began with the Abbey of Citeaux, but the historical abbey was unable to maintain a consistent grip on the land, and it slipped away during the French Revolution. When the dust settled there were multiple owners, and no domaine was able or desired to gain a complete hold on the vineyard. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti eventually bought up half the land, but they did not make it into a monopole.
As for AOC status, Richebourg was one of the first to obtain it, in 1936.
Climate and Viticulture
The mysterious, grand soil of Vosne-Romanée is what gives Richebourg is exclusivity and its wines their elegant richness. It's not just about having great weather conditions, or being beautifully located on a slightly sloped hill where clay and limestone abound. It's about a concentration of these three things, taken to new highs, that gives Richebourg a viticultural climate comparable only to a select few vineyards in the limestone escarpment known as the Côte d'Or.
While wines from Musigny and Chambertin may subjectively be better than any Vosne-Romanée, the Vosne village's undoubted trump card is the great diversity amongst its own Grands Crus and even Premiers Crus. The best Richebourgs distinctively shout out dark fruit, smoky minerality, and a rich heaviness that could only convey that particular vineyard. It's something that fascinates and baffles all Burgundy hounds, and makes Richebourg one of the most sought-after vineyards in the world.
- Pinot Noir: The great Pinot Noirs from Richebourg both compare to the best wines in the world and declare themselves as completely unique. It's hard to find Pinot like this outside of Burgundy, or indeed anywhere, as the soil is so completely distinctive that it would be impossible to replicate the style elsewhere. Heaviness is what Richebourg wines are notorious for; this requires some explanation. Most wines are either acidic, minerally or ripe in order to prevent themselves from being heavy; heavy is usually a bad thing for Burgundies, which are really supposed to be elegant. But in Richebourg it's completely different, as the wine's richness and heaviness is actually an asset. At a young age, the best Richebourgs are rich, powerful and unabashedly heavy, with great tannic power but little acidity. As for actual flavors, they usually range from black cherry and black raspberry to more unusual notes such as plum or olives. But there's also a very intense earthy element, which in flavor translates to bitter chocolate, smoked game, and coffee. These wines are essentially soil-driven, rich liqueur-style drinks of great power but fabulous concentration and also purity; a wine that in terms of sheer breadth and power is rivalled by Bordeauxs and Italian reds rather than other Burgundies. As a result, it's not surprising that they can age like the best reds of the more intense zones, easily lasting 30 years and more. They usually become mellow and even more rich and smoky, but the sheer power and concentration of the wine will never really dissolve. These all-time greats will tend to cost $300 at bare minimum, to a medium price point of around $600-$700, and up to thousands for the best bottles.
There aren't many Richebourg producers, and it's hard to actually find a bad wine here. In fact, these excellent wines generally have some of the highest pedigrees of any Grand Cru multiple-owner vineyard. The side effect of this, and also the fact that many producers split up a small amount of land, is that production is low and prices are high. So, most Richebourgs cost $300 or more, probably an average of $500, and many top bottles can easily cost thousands.
We discuss nine producers here that make exemplary wine of a very consistent pedigree.
- Domaine Anne Gros: The Gros clan is responsible for a lot of the wine produced here. Domaine Anne Gros, formerly bottled as Domaine Anne et Francois Gros through 1995, makes an outstanding cuvée that symbolizes a more elegant style of Richebourg. Recent vintages have taken the cuvée's potential to new heights, displaying ripe red fruit, especially cherry and raspberry, flowers, and sweet spice, made in a distinctly elegant style with silky tannins. Although much more forward than typical Richebourgs, this wine shows the same underlying smoky minerality and bitter earth components of its kin. The depth, richness and density of this wine's flavor is what makes it great, and there's enough to allow a long, beneficial evolution in bottle for up to 30 years. The 2005 will prove to have even more longevity, although it's also the priciest of these wines at $1,400. Less renowned vintages are usually $300-$400.
- Domaine Gros Frere et Soeur: This domaine is now operated by Bernard Gros, the cousin of Anne Gros. What appeared to be a disappointment in the 2008 vintage was the first in a long while, with the 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004 vintages all competing closely with the Anne Gros version. What we have here is a much different wine, however, a classically intense Richebourg with all the flavors that the Grand Cru vineyard is famous for. Ripe and ultra-rich but classically dry, the young wine contains earthy notes of black cherry, bitter chocolate, soil, and spices, built into an incredibly powerful but somehow balanced wine. Although appealing early on for the smooth density of its flavors, this should be left to rest so that the minerals and roaring tannins can integrate with the flavors. It might be drinkable within 10 years, but 20 would be better. This wine will cost around the same as the Anne Gros, $300-$400 but much higher for the 2005.
- Domaine Jean Grivot: A completely earthy wine from start to finish, Grivot's Richebourg shows flavors of both red and dark berry fruit, from raspberry to cherry to blackberry, coffee, underbrush, and, contradictorily, more elegant notes of fruit and spice as well. Experts call this amount of flavor "multidimensional." A powerful smoky minerality, combined with powerful acidity and roaring tannins, makes this a wine of great intensity, but somehow the concentrated fruit flavors also show a silky texture and great roundness. In fact, the wine is so richly flavorful and perfectly harmonized that it could be drunk early on, like many great Musignys could be, but this would unquestionably improve with bottle age and, in the best vintages, perhaps close in on vinous perfection. Prices seem variable, from $300 to $1,300 for the 2005, but they are almost always less than those of the most highbrow wines here.
- Domaine Hudelot Noellat: This fancily-labeled wine has an admirably consistent pedigree and is probably the least expensive great Richebourg, sometimes available for under $300. Dense earthy fruit and flowers are among the flavors in this rich wine, along with minerals, smoked game, coffee, and many kinds of black fruit. The style is powerful but silky, and the wine has quite a bit of balance and refinement to go along with intense tannins. Still, the sheer density of it and the force of its flavor, as well as the subtle underlying minerality, make this a masculine wine. There's so much to the wine that it would be a shame not to age this, since the power of the flavor may take decades to truly mellow.
- Domaine Leroy: The extremely exclusive prices of Leroy combined with the extremely exclusive prices of "your average" Richebourg, make this wine one of the most expensive in the world. But it's in no small part due to the greatness of this cuvée, which almost never misses and can be guaranteed to improve with age. However, in its youth it shows none of Leroy's usual wild, earthy, exhilarating flavors, instead almost unpleasant powerful tannins. However, the great richness and concentration of this cuvée guarantees that it will age to a still intense, but now expressive, maturity, of black fruit, flowers, and minerals combined with classically Richebourg soil notes of dry earth, coffee, and bitter chocolate. The flavor is all there; it's just a matter of patience before you drink it. After 10 years this wine will just be beginning to evolve, and it would be unsurprising if it was still going 35 years in. Sadly, $1,000 is the bare minimum for new wines, with top vintages ranging into the thousands.
- Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair: This wine is a newcomer, having only been produced since 2002, but it has quickly joined the ranks of the greatest Richebourgs. Dry, complex, and dense with fruit, it is definitely a masculine Richebourg, but can be counted on to improve with age. Extremely powerful, layered flavors include blackberry and black cherry, very bitter chocolate, flowers, smoked meat and earthy elements, making a wine so powerful that it almost seems Bordeaux-like. The power also comes from tannins and a smoky minerality. One of those wines that would be wasted if not given time to age; perhaps the correct amount of time is 10-20 years, although it might be accessible within six. Prices range from $300 to $400 for the past few bottlings.
- Domaine Méo-Camuzet: Méo-Camuzet's wine may not have the same aura as those from its boutiquery neighbors, but that doesn't take away from the négociant's success here. The rich, layered flavors are ripe and silky but powerful, ranging from blackberry to spice to dark chocolate, expressing many of the Richebourg soil elements that are considered to exist in every great Richebourg. Concentrated and thick, it nevertheless remains pure and precise due to its strong mineral element. A great wine, but it will express more with age, and perhaps 10 years will be the minimum here. Even though this is a négociant, expect the wines to be very expensive—at least $500, and four figures for the 2005 or aged bottles.
- Lucien Le Moine: It appears that this wine has only been available since 2004, but négociant Lucien Le Moine has quickly caught up in Richebourg status and now makes easily one of the best wines here. Although much more vibrant and less intense than typical Richebourg, its perfume is still resonant of the vineyard's defining flavors: thick black and red fruit, smoked game, chocolate and coffee. The minerals are present as well, although not as intense as some other cuvées. Immediately expressive without the heaviness of some young Richebourgs, this is a great wine with the potential for drinking early if not the capacity to age for 30-35 years like the more intense cuvées. Still, the flavors have Grand Cru thickness and definition, and this one could easily keep going for 20-25 years. Count on paying $400 or more for one of these bottles; the 2005 is more like $1,000.
- Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: While it's not necessarily the greatest Richebourg every single vintage, the cuvée produced here is certainly the most iconic and famous. DRC itself is the most famous domaine in all of Burgundy, known for its low production runs, outrageous prices, and quality that is often fabled to be unbeatable. Perhaps the reality is not so dramatic, but with over half of the Richebourg vineyard to work with, it's unsurprising that DRC has been able to make an incredibly consistent wine. Recent vintages have been masculine and intense in the first years, but retain the classic flavors of powerful, soil-driven black fruit, sweet flowers, and a chocolaty, coffee-like element that is pretty much definitive Richebourg. Distinctively spicy and wild but pure, ripe but rich, it is a wine that has many contradictions, but what's inarguable is the expression of terroir that it conveys—and that, truly, is what makes DRC as great as it is. Either way, this wine is expected to be hard to appreciate if drunk at only 5-10 years old; in good vintages, 20 years is the minimum amount of time required for the wine's magic to show clearly. At $800-$1,000 per bottle new, though (not counting the $2,000 2005), this wine can be thought of as a type of long-term investment, rather than a purchase for immediate gratification.
Wines here simply say "Richebourg" or "Le Richebourg" followed by the Grand Cru designation.