We kicked off Food and Wine month last week with an excerpt from the Oxford Companion to Food about Slow Food and an article about holiday wines by Jancis Robinson, editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine. Today we bring you an excerpt from the Oxford Companion to Wine about Romanée-Conti, an estate in France, which just helped Acker Merrall & Condit break Sotheby’s auction record, which had stood since 1999. But what is so special about wine from Romanée-Conti that buyers were willing to pay over $8,000 for a glass of wine? Find out below.
Vosne-Romanée, village in the Côte de Nuits district of Burgundy’s Côte D’or producing arguably the finest red wines made anywhere from Pinot Noir grapes. As well as excellent wines at Village and Premier Cru level, there are six Grand Cru vineyards, three of which share the name Romanée, the suffix to which Vosne was hyphenated in 1866.
The grands crus are Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, Le Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-St-Vivant, and La Grande Rue. Between them they produce, with Musigny and Chambertin, the greatest wines of the Côte de Nuits. They have more finesse than any other but to this is allied as much power and stuffing as their nearest rivals.
A vineyard formerly known as Le Cloux was rechristened La Romanée in 1651, presumably on account of Roman remains being discovered nearby. In 1760, the property was bought by the Prince de Conti, subsequently becoming known as Romanée-Conti. Just above this sublime vineyard, whose wines can be the most expensive in the world, is La Romanée. Romanée-Conti has brown, Calcareous soil about 60 cm/23 in deep with 45 to 49 per cent clay and liable to serious erosion in the upper, steeper part. La Romanée also has a notably steep slope with less clay and more rendzina in the make-up of the soil. The former is the monopoly of the Domaine De La Romanée-Conti (DRC), the latter of the Liger-Belair family. About 300 cases are made each year from the tiny 0.84 ha/2 acres of La Romanee, double that is produced from the 1.80 ha of Romanée-Conti.
Another monopoly of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and regarded as nearly as fine as the vineyard from which it takes it name, is La Tâche, whose 6 ha (including the vineyard of Les Gaudichots, which used to be separate but is regarded as being of the same quality) produce a wine which is explosively seductive even when young, whereas Romanée-Conti takes longer to show its astonishing completeness. La Tâche seems to thrive even in lesser years, being judged the only wine worthy of bottling by the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in 1950 and 1951.
The next most sought-after Vosne-Romanée wine is Richebourge, whose 8 ha are shared between ten growers, notably Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leroy, branches of the Gros family, and Domaine Méo-Camuzet. As the name suggests, this is one of the most voluptuous wines of Burgandy and can equal La Tâche in some years.
Romanée-St-Vivant, taking its name from the monastery of St-Vivant founded at Vergy c.900 and subsequent owner of the vineyard, can also make very fine wine but it is usually lighter and less powerful than its neighbours, being further down the slope and having deeper soil. There are a half dozen owners, of which the largest is Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (5.3 ha out of 9.43). Domaine Leroy and Louis Latour’s Domaine de Corton Grancey are the next largest owners.
Between La Tâche to the south and La Romanée-Conti to the north lie the 1.4 ha of La Grande Rue, originally classified as Premier Cru but promoted, as its location suggests is only right, to grand cru. The vineyard is a monopoly of Domaine Lamarche, whose wines have not so far stood comparison with those of their illustrious neighbors.
Amongst the best of Vosne-Romanée’s premier cru vineyards are Close des Réas, Les Malconsorts, and Les Chaumes on the Nuits-St-Georges side, Cros Parantoux made famous by Henry Jayer, above the grande crus, and Les Beauxmonts and Les Suchots abutting Blagey-Échézeaux. Part of Les Beauxmonts is actually in the latter commune, although it is sold as Vosne-Romanée, as is the village wine of Flagey.
While the renown of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti dominates Vosne-Romanée, it should not overshadow other signifigant influences, Henri Jayer, for his unparalleled wine-making skills; Réne Engel for his patriarchal influence and local historical research and publications; Lalou Bize-Leroy, who has bought and transformed the former Domaine Nöellat. Other particuarly fine domaines are those owned by the various members of the Gros family, Domaine Jean Grivot, and Sylvain Cathiard.
This article is by Jasper Morris MW, joint founding editor of the Journal of Wine Research, wine merchant and authors specializing in Burgundy.