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“As if, in this square of earth, the gods had bequeathed us a memory of the fascinating vestige of a timeless perfection.” — Richard Olney. The wine of Prince de Conti, she is velvet, seduction and mystery. It is the most Proustian of all great wines.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is without question the most famous estate in Burgundy and arguably the greatest, producing some of the best wines in the world. It is probably one of the most traditional wineries in France. Wines are produced in small quantities while the demand is huge. The domaine has 25 hectares of vineyards, all Grand Crus, including the jewel in the crown, the 1.8 hectare monopole of Romanée Conti.
Romanée-Conti, a vineyard of four and a half acres,was originally the property of the Abbey of St. Vivant. In 1760 Prince Conti acquired it against the competition of a famous collector of jewellery, Madame de Pompadour – the king’s minister against the king’s mistress. He withdrew it from the market and reserved it for his own dazzling social events. It was he who created the myth surrounding Romanée-Conti.
The price of this tiny, treasured vineyard was 80.000 livres, which in those days was worth a small kingdom. Reclaimed as property of the nation during the Revolution, the vineyard passed through the hands of several proprietors to an ancestor of the present owner for 14.000 gold pounds in 1868.
–We are the keeper of a certain philosophy of wine and, mainly, we are concerned by the perfection in details" assures Aubert de Villaine.
Romanée-Conti lies on brown limestone soils 60 cm deep with a major clay component. Romanée-Saint-Vivant has similar but deeper (90 cm) soils. Higher up, La Romanée occupies a markedly sloping site (12%) and the soil texture is less clayey. La Tâche and La Grande Rue share brown limestone soils, rather shallow at the top end with deeper rendzinas lower down. The same is true for the Richebourg, depending on slope and aspect. The underlying rock is hard Premeaux limestone dating from the Jurassic (175 million years BC).
Lying between Flagey-Échezeaux (home of the ÉCHEZEAUX appellation) and Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée occupies a middle position in the Côte de Nuits. The vines grow at altitudes of 250 to 310 metres and face east or, in some cases, slightly south of east. Vosne-Romanée, the central jewel in the necklace of appellations which is the burgundian côte, is not content with holding a mere four aces but boasts a total of six Grands Crus, each one famous the world over. A thousand years ago, it was the Cluniac monks of Saint-Vivant de Vergy and the Cistercians of Cîteaux who first realised the value of these very special plots of land.
One of these vineyards takes its name from Prince Conti who lost his heart to it in 1760. Romanée-Conti is one of the wonders ofthe world and has always been a singly-held entity. Next door to it, Romanée-Saint-Vivant recalls the medieval monastery of the Hautes-Côtes which is currently undergoing restoration and which is linked to it by its own path. La Romanée, La Tâche and La Grande Rue are also singly-held entities, as is Richebourg, whose mere name is enough to fill a glass.
These Grands Crus frequently give good results from long laying-down. As a general rule, they shouldn't be drunk under about ten years of age but sometimes they will be aged up to 20 or 30 years. Each appellation has its own distinct personality depending on its year of production and on the stage it has reached in its development. These flamboyant red wines fully express the subtlety and complexity of the Burgundian Pinot Noir grape. Their colour is a dark ruby turning crimson with age. Their wide-ranging bouquet is divided among small red and black fruits, violet, spices and, with time, underbrush. On the palate, this wine is well-defined with a powerful body. It is delicate, sensual, frank and full.
In addition to their powerful structure and exceptional longevity, these great wines develop tertiary aromas of truffle, underbrush, leather and fur. It goes without saying that strong-flavoured meats will do them justice : furred or feathered game, braised, in sauce, or simply grilled. Wild-fowl (eg Peking duck) or a nice cut of roast veal will be gently enveloped by the close-packed but elegant tannins of these mighty Pinot Noir wines.
Serving temperatures : 15 to 16 °C.
Burgundy 2018: An ideal vintage
The 2018 vintage was met with a unanimous show of satisfaction from the north of Bourgogne to the south. The exceptional weather, especially during the harvest period, resulted in grapes with perfect health, allowing picking to extend over almost a whole month. Initial tastings ahead of the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction have given an early idea that 2018 will be a truly great year.
The vines had built up some reserves over winter thanks to some very rainy weather, and the growth cycle began on the late side. When the sun started to show in April, the vines sprang into life, with budburst taking place very rapidly. The mild weather then allowed the plants to make up for lost time, even getting ahead of the average. Frosts in April sent a shudder across the whole region, but damage remained very limited. Flowering and fruit setting took place without hindrance.
Summer saw constant heat and drought, apart from a few hail storms in early July that were of no great consequence. The vines continued to grow at a fast pace until mid-August. Veraison took a little longer in places, the heat and lack of water affecting some of the younger vineyards. Nonetheless, since the hydric reserves had been restocked over winter, most of the vines came to maturity nicely thanks to the ideal weather conditions.
The first grapes were picked in the last 10 days of August. Since the dates of flowering, the rainfall and temperature varied greatly from one area to another, harvesting extended into the last 10 days of September.
The fruit was in extraordinarily good health, and the weather was perfect, allowing each winemaker to harvest at the optimum moment. The mood was serene across the whole wine region, producers enjoying this magnificent vintage that combined quality and quantity. Many think this will be one of the best vintages in many years.
Vinification of the whites went without a problem, the grapes having retained a good level of acidity despite the heat.
The reds required a little more attention during vinification due to the relatively high level of potential alcohol.
The 2018 reds have a seductive intense color. They are already well structured and powerful, with nicely- integrated tannins and good concentration of fruit. These exceptional wines are perfectly balanced, and are already tasting well in their first flush of youth.
This is a delicious vintage with splendid maturity.
Crémant de Bourgogne
This is a benchmark year, with expressive aromas that vary from one varietal to another, promising balanced and aromatic base wines. The Pinot Noirs are generous, with notes of cherry and rose, resulting in balanced wines with a pleasant freshness. The Chardonnays are powerful, with moderate acidity, making them well- rounded. The fruit aromas reveal some exotic notes, nuanced by fragrances of apple and peach. The Gamays have delicate aromas of raspberry and strawberry, underscored by citrus touches (clementine, lemon). The Aligotés are sharp and lemony, as usual, with good length in the mouth.
In 2018, the aromatic complexity of the white wines is incredible. They are explosive on the nose, with an amazing diversity that reflects each terroir. The wines have a certain crispness and good minerality. In the mouth, they are rounded and generous, balanced with a nice tension.
Concerning white Burgundy, 2018 was another atypically early harvest. Since 2000, there have been six vintages where some grapes have been harvested in August, but 2018 could be the earliest. I am unaware of a vintage besides this one when grapes were harvested before August 24. Often the determining factor for the date of harvest is early flowering due to a warm winter, occasionally it is due to intense heat (2003 for example), and sometimes it is a combination of both. Just because it is very hot does not mean it will be an early harvest. Vines will shut down photosynthesis due to hydric stress if there is no rain and the water tables are so low that they cannot absorb water from the subsoils (the case for 2019 so far). In 2018, you have the combination of very warm temperatures in January and some periods with hot weather during the growing season yet enough rain for the vines to mature, which led to the exceptionally early harvest.
January was one of the warmest on record. It was about six degrees warmer than average. There was not one day where
the temperature dropped below the freezing point, and 11 days where the temperature went over 10oC (54oF). These temperatures are unheard of. February was slightly cooler than normal with 20 days below freezing and one day at the end of the month that went as low as -10oC (14oF). March was also below normal with seven days below freezing. This was probably a good thing in that it delayed budbreak, which lowered the frost risks (such as what happened in 2016).
Rainfall was way above normal in January and returned to normal patterns in February. March was another very wet month, even more so than January, with only six dry days the entire month. April had normal temperatures with no days below freezing, so there were no frost issues. There were 19 days where there was no rain at all, and this lack of rain continued throughout the season. Luckily, in each month there were a few days of rain, so the vines did not shut down. There was a cold front during the first days of May and worries of frost in some areas, but no damage was reported.
After this cool start, May warmed up and was very sunny. From May 4-9, each day had a high of over 23oC (74oF), and then after May 21 all days averaged a high of 23oC (74oF). There were eight days with some measurable rainfall (12 mm (0.47 in) on May 13 and 19 mm (0.75 in) on May 22) but no downfalls, which made it easy to work in the vineyards and mitigate the risk of rot. Flowering started in mid-May, making it the third earliest flowering in history after 2007 and 2011. The difference between those three years is that in 2018 the rest of the growing season was warmer, and the harvest was slightly earlier. Budbreak occurred in mid-April and flowering was finished by the end of May, easily two to three weeks earlier than normal. June was neither hot nor cold but was very sunny, so the vines had no issues finishing flowering, which allowed for a generous crop to develop. Only two days the entire month (June 20 and 30) made it to 30oC (86oF). There was only one day of significant rain, June 3, where 25 mm (0.98 in) was measured (another 9 mm (0.35 in) fell the next day). After these showers, the weather was nice, and from June 12 to July 3 there was no rain whatsoever. Around July 10, veraison occurred.
Up until the end of July, the heat was reasonable, but from July 24-28 the high temperatures were between 31-34oC (88-93oF). After this span, temperatures cooled down again. July was very dry with only six days of rainfall. The only significant amounts were 11 mm (0.43 in) on July 15 and 22 mm (0.87 in) on July 22. There were 21 days with no rainfall at all. August began with a hot spell with high temperatures over 35oC (95oF) from August 3-8. This spell along with a wet day on August 12 had a large effect on the harvest date. After August 12, there were a few days that hit 30oC (86oF), and only August 22 surpassed it. Then it turned cooler but stayed sunny. There was a small rainstorm on August 29 (only 3.6 mm/0.14 in). Only five days in August had any rainfall, so harvest conditions were perfect. A few growers waited out the last storm on August 29 to start harvesting, but others started as early as August 24. There were two schools of thought. Some growers were concerned that by waiting until after August 24 the acids would drop, and they would end up with heavy wines, so they rushed to harvest.
Depending on production levels, the growers who had large crops and harvested early did not obtain maximum ripeness and ending up chaptalizing. This was ridiculous because all they had to do was wait, but growers hate having to acidify and would rather harvest early and chaptalize. I do have an issue with growers trying to retain acidity and having to chaptalize, which is making their style, not the style of the vintage. This is a mistake. As evidenced by those who waited to harvest, just a few days of waiting caused the grapes to come in 1-2% higher in alcohol with more concentrated acids and sugars. These wines had the highest sugars along with super high yields. I have never tasted wines so rich with such high acid levels.
2018 will have many surprises and quality levels ranging from good to exceptional. During my visit in early June, I was amazed to taste all the wines, which were very forward due to the malolactic fermentations being finished. Many of the malolactic fermentations were finished not long after fermentation because there was very little malic acid. The abundance of tartaric acid will make for very lovely wines with great balance. Since there was only one rainstorm between August 24 and September 6, most of the growers had finished harvest in the Côte de Beaune. There were 23 mm (0.9 in) on September 6 and nothing more until September 23, which led to one of the most successful vintage in the Côte de Nuits since 2005.
Pricing is very stable with some tiny increases. However, most of the prices remained the same. The crop levels were huge, so bulk wine prices should be stable. Without any frost in 2017 and with good crop levels in 2018, prices should stay steady. The days of prices going up then down seem to be over as far as Burgundy is concerned.
Finally, to preview the red wines, with perfect conditions and since the growers waited until the beginning of September
to harvest, there are some incredible red wines in 2018. One way to gauge this quality is that the lower level Bourgogne Rouge wines are rich, full-bodied, super ripe, and powerful. This is going to be a joy to sell. There were some problems with overproduction, so some of the red wines will not have the power of others, and some growers who waited too long
to pick will have some crazy overly ripe and alcoholic wines. I heard that there were many wines that had trouble finishing fermentations once they surpassed 15%. I will be looking forward to tasting the red wines and seeing how they have turned out during my trip in November.