Despite the fact that there are six Grands Crus in Vosne-Romanée, only two of them have multiple owners, the rest having been monopoles for a long time. Among the multiple-owner vineyards, Richebourg gets by far the most attention, while Romanée-St-Vivant is rather overshadowed. The reason for this is that Richebourg's rich, powerful, exotically tinged wines are considered to express an unusual Pinot Noir character, while Romanée-St-Vivant makes a more feminine style with fruity elegance and silky simplicity.
But on technical merits, the vineyard is almost equal to Richebourg, and is admirable for its expression of terroir just as much as any other vineyard in Vosne. In fact, Romanée-St-Vivant wines break from the tradition of power among Vosne-Romanée-sourced wines, and therefore express terroir even better than some of the more acclaimed regions.
There are 23 acres of vineyard here, not much more than Richebourg, but there are a number of owners. There are less than 3,000 cases total produced each year. The greatest claim to fame for Romanée-St-Vivant is that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti owns some vineyard space here, in fact over half of the land. This is a great boon to the vineyard's reputation, although in recent years the DRC offering has not been of ironclad quality.
Romanée-St-Vivant has an interesting history. It started out as the Clos St-Vivant, owned by the Abbey of St-Vivant. At one point, the abbey also owned Romanée-Conti and Richebourg, but they would hold RSV for longer and it was only this vineyard that took the abbey's name. However, the French Revolution dissolved the abbey's control, and eventually the vineyard was bought out by the Marey-Monge family.
This takes us into modern times: as expected, Romanée-St-Vivant became a Grand Cru in 1936. At this point, the Marey-Monge family was selling off their holdings, but still had the majority of the vineyard; during the 1960s they would lease it out to DRC, giving that domaine the majority of the vineyard land. In 1988 the domaine bought the family out, but recent vintages have still had the name Marey-Monge on them. This is confusing, but there seems to be no overall difference in quality between the Marey and non-Marey bottles.
Climate and Viticulture
Located directly to the east of Romanée-Conti and Richebourg, a bit above La Grande Rue on the hill, and otherwise surrounded by Vosne's best Premier Cru vineyards, Romanée-St-Vivant undoubtedly has prime growing space in the premier village in the world. They convey unique flavors from their unique terroir.
There is certainly more clay in the soil than in the surrounding vineyards, although the underlying base of limestone is still there. The reason for this is likely that clay has flowed down the hill into the vineyard over time due to its slope; the higher vineyards have less clay and more limestone. While the soil varies here, more clay is the likely explanation for the reason the wine is so drastically different than its direct neighbors. Clay is considered to make a much more feminine wine than limestone, which is the source of many powerful examples.
- Pinot Noir: The best Romanée-St-Vivants combine silky elegance and soft red fruit flavors with the additional complexity that could only be found in a Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru. Although the wines are delicate, there's plenty of tannic power to keep them going for a long time. The flavors of red raspberry and red cherry are lighter than those of most of the neighbors, and there are even more elegant notes of dried rose and violet. There's also an intriguing smoky earth element in many of the best wines, which combines exotic spice and pepper with creamy coffee and underbrush flavors. As a result, these wines manage to have complex, very precise flavors without going too far on either intensity or concentration. Still, the wines are amazingly dense, packed with all kinds of multidimensional flavors, which can be expected to only improve with time. Silky and light, they nonetheless retain their elegance in a way that reminds of the greatest Musignys. Ideally, the flavors should be clearly defined and vibrant within the first few years and the wines are good to drink within the first five. Additional aging is possible but by no means necessary.
There are actually a rather large number of producers here, since they all lease the land to each other and many different bottlings are produced. It's fairly easy to find a good bottle, but there are some that have little pedigree and charge as much as they want to. Speaking of prices, expect to pay at least $250 for most of these wines. Usually $400 will be a typical starting point, with top DRC bottlings commonly wandering into the thousands.
Here are eight of the most consistent and good producers in RSV.
- Domaine Robert Arnoux: For decades this domaine has produced good RSVs in almost every vintage, but since the late 1990s the wines have been particularly outstanding, and in the new millennium not a single vintage has been in the slightest objectionable. This remarkable Grand Cru wine shows red as well as dark fruit and a soil-driven element of underbrush, chocolate, and exotic spice, along with a strong minerally intensity. It truly shows the trademark flavors of its vineyard. Concentrated but silky-textured and vibrant, this wine is classically dry and more rich than ripe in its first years of life. Still, it could be drunk young for its lush berry and earth flavors, or given time to become more vibrant and appealing. It tends to go for between $350-$450 per vintage.
- Domaine Sylvain Cathiard et Fils: The 2008 vintage has been a particular highlight here, but recently almost all vintages of this Grand Cru have been world class. Although highly oaked at first, the wine's flavors are clearly defined: red berry and cherry, flowers, and earth elements of underbrush and dark chocolate. Spicy and elegant, it also displays a reserve of minerals, which should preserve the wine well for years but fade away with age. Moderate acidity but little tannin is present in this light, feminine cuvée; it's not for all tastes, but lovers of aromatic Burgundy will find plenty here. Drink young or age for 5+ years. This one costs around $350 to $450 per vintage, although the 2005 is expected to be more expensive due to its additional complexity.
- Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron: Once again, starting in the 2000s the wines have been especially outstanding, with both clear flavors and great aging potential. They tend to show dark berry and cherry flavors in a heavily oaked style. Sweet, lush, and ripe, these feminine wines also show an alternative earthy element which usually includes classic Romanée notes of spice, coffee, and smoked game. These flavors are usually not thought of as elegant but in Romanée-St-Vivant they reach a height of purity. Minerality and acidity also keep the wine vibrant and energetic. This outstanding feminine wine could be drunk young, a rarity for a Grand Cru, or left to mature for up to 15 years. Expect to pay between $250 and $350.
- Domaine Dujac: This new cuvée has rapidly established itself as one of the best Romanée-St-Vivants, if not better than the DRC bottling at least very close to it. Dujac itself is a famed domaine, able to produce some of the best Grand Cru cuvées in the Côte de Nuits; while still expensive they offer a far better price-quality ratio than wines from Domaine Leroy or DRC. The Romanée-St-Vivant is remarkably vibrant and perfumed, showing classic vineyard notes of red fruit, flowers, and a soil-driven element of earth, coffee, and sweet, exotic spices. However, it combines these weightless flavors with stupendous concentration and intensity derived from both minerals and acidity. Classy, vibrant, and accessible early on, there's very little not to like about this wine. Still, it should approach perfection with the right amount of aging—probably not more than 10 years is necessary. The wines have been seen to cost around $400-$600, which is of course very pricey but a far cry from DRC's bottlings.
- Domaine Hudelot Noellat: Domaine Hudelot Noellat generally has one of the most consistent, if not outstanding, pedigrees, in Vosne-Romanée, if not all of Burgundy, and the Romanée-St-Vivant Grand Cru makes one of their flagship cuvées. Plush, classy and elegant, it has mild but aromatic flavors of red and dark fruit, pepper, and an amazingly powerful exotic spice element. Its smooth, silky texture and smoky flavors suggest that this is a style of elegance, but there is a great mineral backbone to the wine, and the flavors are just as dense as any Grand Cru. Deceptively accessible early on, it nonetheless would be better in 5-10 years. The minimum here is around $250, with some bottles ranging up to $500.
- Domaine Leroy: One of Domaine Leroy's best wines, this one combines Leroy's wild earthiness with the scents of a classic Romanée-St-Vivant in a way that can't be replicated. Although lower-level offerings such as that from Domaine Dujac offer better price-quality ratios, for those who love Leroy this bottling can't be missed. Totally silky, it offers up abundant, open flavors of smoky red fruit and flowers, along with Leroy's giveaway note of sweet, wild earth. More rich than the typical Romanée-St-Vivant, it still avoids heaviness via its elegance and flamboyancy, in a way that could only be Burgundy. This multidimensional wine is on another level from many of its competitors, particularly since it would be perfectly drinkable within its first few years of life. Still, this would be better off after 5-20 years in a cellar. As for the prices, they are outrageous enough to rule the wine out for most drinkers: $1,000 minimum, $2,500 for the 2005, much more for aged vintages.
- Lucien Le Moine: This new cuvée has only been bottled as Lucien Le Moine in the past few vintages, but almost all of them have been outstanding. Particularly the 2005 and 2007 have shown as promising newcomers. Berry fruit and earth makes up the majority of the flavor character, with the flower element present but a little more subtle than many other Romanée-St-Vivants. Pure and elegant, kept fresh by a strong but not harsh core of minerals, there's hardly anything objectionable about this new wine. It seems worthy of aging for a few years at least, although there's enough density so that more is certainly not out of the question. Prices so far have ranged between $350 and $600.
- Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: DRC owns the majority of the Romanée-St-Vivant vineyard, producing a great cuvée that is the best-known, if not always the best, of the region. Running counter to DRC's typical style, the wines are initially highly perfumed and feminine, with notes of wild red fruit and smooth herbs, earth and spice all mixed together into an appetizingly fresh and ripe drink. Concentrated and packed with fruit, it avoids heaviness entirely in a way that only great Burgundy could. Almost liqueur-like due to its combination of sweetness, richness and ripeness, this isn't for all palates, but it's yet more proof of the amazing terroir variances that Burgundy is capable of. Age this wine for several decades if you age it at all, but only expect it to get more rich and exotic with time. At $600 base, this is much less expensive than DRC's other bottlings and less even than the Leroy, but aged bottles and the outstanding 2005 are likely to retail for thousands.
The parcel leased out to Romanée-Conti was originally called "Le Clos de Quatre Journeaux", but since then DRC has bought out even more than that. In fact, lieux-dits were originally rather common here, but in keeping with most of the Côte de Nuits Grands Crus lately, these designations are rarely used on the labels anymore.