Tasting with James Handford MW
Thursday November 14th 2000
The village of Vosne-Romanée, source of some of the greatest red
Pinot Noir. Don't do it. One of the world's great grape varieties,
with a sensuous, subtle and dangerous appeal. You think you can handle the odd Pinot here
and there, but before you know it, you'll be hooked. And Vosne-Romanée, arguably the best
known wine village of Burgundy and possibly the world's most expensive agricultural land,
produces the sort of Pinot Noirs that will have you addicted -- and broke.
Affluence has come relatively recently to the vignerons of Burgundy. Over the last 25
years, thanks to the worldwide surge in demand for their wines, they have become rich. And
some of them have gone crazy. A inbred bunch to start off with, the money has gone to
their heads. They party. They drive flash cars. Their kids are out of control. One
vigneron has apparently been sailing in the Caribbean seven times in the last year. But,
thankfully, the wines are better than ever, and the 1990s has seen a string of successful
One of the great appeals of Burgundy is the complexity of the vineyard holdings. Look
at a map, and you'll see that Vosne-Romanée is split into scores of different vineyards,
each with subtly different characteristics. Each of these vineyards is then further split
into plots -- often just a couple of rows of vines -- each owned separately. There are no
markers or fences, as each vigneron knows exactly which vines they own. The vineyards
themselves are graded by quality as village-level, premier cru and grand cru, in ascending
order. But the crucial factor in this region, as in so many others, is the ability of the
producer. Indeed, one of the great crimes in the world of wine is the number of poor wines
that are made from wonderfully sited grand cru vineyards. What a waste of potential.
This was a fascinating tasting, led ably by James Handford. It's rare to get a chance to try some of
these wines, and there were some real stunners, most particularly the three premier crus
of the second flight, and the three grand crus of the final flight, all of which were
excellent, sublime wines. The rather poor showing by the three Rene Engel Grand Crus was
the only disappointment of the evening. It's a shame these wines are so expensive and hard
to obtain, but I'm hooked.
Flight 1 Village wines
Three contrasting but very nice village wines, all very good.
Vosne-Romanée 1996 Jacques Cacheux et fils
Big, youthful wine in a powerful, pungent style. Deep red/purple colour. Pungent nose with
cherry and raspberry nose is followed up on the palate with firm tannins and a slightly
medicinal edge. Very good +
Vosne-Romanée Les Hautes Maizières 1995 Domaine Robert Arnoux
Dark red with a brickish rim. Soft, ripe nose with a touch of undergrowth. Tannic and
youthful on the palate with good concentration and complex mushroom and animal notes. A
bit rustic, but still lovely. Very good+
Vosne-RomanéeVieilles Vignes 1996 Domaine Bizot
Deep red/purple colour. Slightly muted nose with sweet herby/cherry fruit. Sweet cherry
fruit on the palate with nice balance and complexity, and some tannic structure. Very
Flight 2 Premier Crus
Three beautiful wines, in quite different styles
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru les Suchots 1998 Jean Marc Millot
Bright red/purple colour. Bold, rich, pungent, smoky, herby nose. This is a big,
complex, tannic wine with high acidity. It's youthful and a bit of a brute at present, but
it has a really bright future ahead of it. Very good/excellent.
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru les Chaumes 1988 Domaine Daniel Rion
Mature wine: a deep red/brown colour with a brick rim. Mature nose of leather and herbs
opens out with great complexity. On the palate it has evolved nicely, with great
complexity: there are notes of mushrooms and undergrowth. Lovely balance with firm tannins
and good acidity, but drink now. Excellent.
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru les Chaumes 1998 Domaine Daniel Rion
Youthful purple colour. Attractive, almost exotic nose of cherries, raspberries and beef
flavoured crisps, with a herby edge. Open and attractive on the palate, with bright fruit
and gamey complexity. Good acidity and soft-ish tannins finish what is a lovely, moreish
wine that is drinking beautifully now. Excellent.
Flight 3 Grand Crus from René Engel
Technically we are moving outside Vosne-Romanée, into Flagey-Echézeaux and Vougeot.
I was a bit disappointed with these wines; they were less impressive than the previous 1er
Clos Vougeot 1995 René Engel
Muted nose with cherry, herbs and undergrowth notes. Good concentration on the palate;
richly tannic with some balance and complexity. Made from young vines, this is good but
not compelling. Very good.
Echézeaux 1995 René Engel
Deep red purple colour. Again, quite a muted nose. Firm and tannic with good acidity and
nice balance. Cherry and raspberry fruit dominate the palate; youthful, this will develop
further. Very good/excellent.
Echézeaux 1983 René Engel
Hmm. Colour of an amontillado sherry (brown with tawny rim). Caramelised, oxidised nose,
this has died and gone to heaven. Others who had pours from the other bottle thought that this
still had life in it, so I'm reluctant to write it off altogether.
Flight 4 Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru
Three excellent wines to finish with. Real stunners!
Romanée St Vivant 1998 Domiane Robert Arnoux
Youthful, concentrated purple colour. Pungent, exotic nose of cherries, raspberries, herbs
and medicinal notes. On the palate this is a lovely, rich, concentrated mouthful, with
complex ripe fruit, firm tannins and high acidity. Intensely savoury, with nice balance.
Approachable and lovely now. Excellent.
La Tâche 1994 Domaine de la Romanée Conti
Deep red/black colour, with brickish edges. Knockout, powerful nose: herby and smoky, with
a menthol edge. Very tannic palate, with complex gamey, earthy and leathery notes. High
acidity balances the rich flavours nicely. Will obviously develop, but it is still lovely
Le Richebourg 1991 Domaine de la Romanée Conti
Exotic herby, smoky and earthy nose with some leafy notes. Explosive flavours of tea,
leather, undergrowth, mushroom and barnyard, all in great balance. Tannins have softened a
bit and acidity is in nice balance; drinking perfectly now. Excellent.
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