Friday Focus; Vosne-Romanée
Originally just known as Vosne (pronounced Vonne), this small village chose to add the extra name on the end in 1866 to advertise the fact that this tiny little commune is home to one of the most highly regarded pieces of vineyard on this earth; La Romanée. This tiny piece of land has been synonymous with wines of the highest regard for over a thousand years. Something about the coming together of vine, site, weather and experienced hands has the ability to produce, even in the most difficult vintages, wines that evoke full dictionaries of aromatic descriptors and superlatives, but are summarised best as one thing; haunting. Those of you that have tried wines from this region do not soon forget it; the aromas and flavours stay with you. But is this simply because of the qualities of the wine? Or perhaps is it the scarcity, prestige and esteem associated with each rare bottle that makes them memorable? Click for larger image
The total area under vine of the Vosne-Romanée appellation is a tiny 67 hectares. To really drive that point home, this whole appellation would fit twice into the neighbouring Grand Cru vineyard of the Clos de Vougeot! The region sits on the east-facing slope of the Cote d’Or (hills of Gold), perfectly positioned to catch all the morning sun, which burns away the cool morning mists, allowing perfect ripening. It has 6 Grand Cru vineyards within its boundaries;
La Romanée; located on the western, steeply hilly section of the appellation nearest to the central mountain range, this miniscule 1.5 hectare Grand Cru has poor calcareous sub-soil with clay topsoil- similar to the rest of the Grands Crus, however the topsoil layer here is more worn at the top of the hill, giving denser, more tannic and concentrated wines.
La Tâche; is the sole property of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), consisting of 6 hectares of vines to the very south of the appellation. The wines are known for being explosively powerful, even in youth, and the wine made here is some of the most expensive in the world.
Richebourg; is the largest of all the Grands Crus at 8 hectares, with the vines shared between 10 growers. Wines produced from this northern-most part of the region, where the slope of the mountain turns slightly north, tend to be denser, heavier and with chewier, more sinewy tannins.
Romanée-Saint-Vivant; is named for the monastery of St Vivant which owned and worked this land, dating back to the 9th century. This Grand Cru is the eastern-most of the region, and furthest down the hill slope. This means it has the deepest soil, as the topsoil from vineyards further up the slope has run down over the centuries. The wines of this Grand Cru are the lightest and softest, with vines shared between 6 growers.
La Grand Rue; is a miniscule 1.5 hectare east-west running strip of land that is squeezed between the La Tâche and Romanée-Conti vineyards. This is owned entirely by Domaine Lamarche, and is as rare as hen’s teeth.
Romanée-Conti; Perhaps the most famous 1.8 hectares of Pinot Noir plot on the planet, located in the dead centre of the region, surrounded by all the other Grands Crus. The wines from this tiny plot are some of the longest living Pinot Noir made, and take years to express their full potential. Their complexity is legendary.
The remainder of land in this appellation is made up of 14 Premier Cru vineyards, as well as a selection of smaller Village plots. Some of these plots, such as the ‘Aux Malconsorts’ and ‘Les Chaumes’ 1er Crus, which sit on the very border of La Tâche, can fetch higher prices than Grands Crus of other appellations! As a broad tasting note, the wines of Vosne-Romanée show ripe fruit (strawberry, raspberry, bilberry, or blackcurrant) over complex spices and earthy, mushroom notes. These refined aromas evolve with age into cherries-in-brandy, preserved fruits, leather and fur, and gamey/woodland scents. On the palate the wines are always velvety and smooth. The wine may seem a little austere in its youth; it needs time in the bottle to develop structure and fleshy texture.
Vosne-Romanée is the peak of Pinot Noir; the “central pearl in Bourgogne’s necklace” (so wrote Gaston Roupnel, a late 19th century Burgundian author). Interestingly though, legally up to 15% “native other grapes” are allowed in the final wine. This is because the Pinot Noir variety is renowned for being “genetically unstable”. As mentioned above, this region has grown grapes for over 1000 years, and throughout that time, the monks, and then later grower families who worked the land noticed that several vines worked better in the specific plots, giving better flavours, more reliable ripening in the marginal climate, or more complexity. Cuttings from these better vines were taken and planted into the soil when other less-suited or less-delicious vines were removed. Eventually over the centuries, the chosen few perfectly suited vines populated the vineyards, and these were only non-sexually bred to retain this perfect fit to the vineyard (the Vitus Vinifera grapevine can propagate both sexually and asexually). This constant form of in-breeding, over centuries created a group of vines that would mutate quickly and unexpectedly, giving us varieties we know and love today such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris. When this mutation occurs in the Vosne-Romanée vineyards, growers are allowed to add this ‘mutant’ in!
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