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La Romanée's tiny 0.84ha, under half the size of its neighbour La Romanée-Conti, make it the smallest Appellation Controlée in France. A monopoly of the Liger Belair family since the 1830s, La Romanée is just above La Romanée-Conti and therefore has a slightly steeper slope and shallower soil. Since 2002 the wine has been made by Vicomte Louis Michel Liger-Belair who heads up the Domaine du Comte Liger Belair estate, turning La Romanée into one of the truely great Burgundies it always had the potential to be. Though closed and reserved in its youth, the wine habitually displays an elegance and haunting brilliance, and after a minimum of 7-10 year's bottle age blossoms into one of the very best red wines in Burgundy, if not the world. Approximately 300 cases are made each year.
Louis-Michel Liger-Belair’s wines keep getting better. The improvement is less a reflection of the underlying vintages and more the result of the work the estate has done to convert their vineyards to biodynamic farming. These are some of the most unique and compelling wines being made anywhere in Burgundy. The house style emphasizes the weightless transparency, finesse and sweetness that only Pinot Noir (and perhaps Nebbiolo) is capable of. As good as the 2010s are, the 2009s have also turned out beautifully. I will report on those wines in the April issue. Readers may also want to check out my video interview with Louis-Michel Liger-Belair posted on www.erobertparker.com for more historical perspective on the domaine.
2016 RED BURGUNDY VINTAGE REPORT
The 2016 harvest was, of course, later for Pinot Noir in the Côtes de Nuits, and some climats had different productions depending on how they weathered the frost of April 26th. In this report I will talk about each of the producers’ allocations to illustrate the variations between the totals from the 2015 and 2016 vintages. I will also seek to give you an idea of the style of the 2016 red wines versus those of the 2015 vintage.
Depending on the producer, some growers actually preferred the 2016 red wines to the 2015s. There are definitely stylistic differences. The 2015 wines are more structured and powerful, and I consider the top 2015 wines to be superior to the top 2016 wines. However, this does not mean that there are not some fabulous 2016 red wines. I do feel that 2016 was a better vintage for red wines than for white wines, which is opposite of the 2015 vintage. And from what I heard and observed during my visit, the 2017 will also probably favor the whites. I actually think that 2017 could be the best vintage for white wines in quite a while, with the wines showing much more concentration than those of the 2014 vintage but possessing similar acid levels. Needless to say, it will be exciting to try them in June.
The Pinot Noir harvest in 2016 varied from as early as September 22nd for some villages in the Côte de Beaune to as late of the first week of October in the Côte de Nuits. The only other harvests that lasted into October in the past twenty years were those in 1998, 2001, 2008, and 2013. 2016 is by far better than any of those vintages. Looking on the flip side, there have been four harvests that started in August: 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2017. It appears as of now that 2017 will be the best of those. When I tasted the 2016 red wines, I was surprised by the supple textures and abundance of fruit. This fruit was very fresh and the ripeness and lovely acidity made the fruit last long on the palate. The acids were strong on the finish due to the high levels of tartaric acid. The wines are never alcoholic due to the quite cool weather throughout the growing season. Since there were no real heat spikes, no grapes were harvested with a potential alcohol level of over 14.5%, no matter when they were picked. That was not the case in 2015 where some growers that like to push the limits of ripeness went overboard and made top-heavy wines with too much tannin and too much alcohol. What is nice about the 2016 red wines is that even in areas where the frost was severe, it did not affect the quality, although the growers definitely did have to do a lot of work in the vineyards to prevent mildew after the frost and due to a very wet May. Luckily the mildew affected the leaves more than the grape skins. June weather returned to normal and flowering began midway through the month. This meant that harvest would start the last week of September. The areas that did not experience frost, such as Santenay, Morey-Saint-Denis, the northern side of Nuits-Saint- Georges (Vosne-Romanée side), some parts of Corton, and some plots of Bourgogne Rouge, had a larger harvest than in 2015. Some climats of Morey-Saint-Denis, such as Clos de la Roche and Clos de Tart, had their best harvest since the 2009 vintage. Happily, due to dry conditions in July, August, and September, there was beautiful weather for harvest. Rains on September 15th and 19th provided relief from hydric stress that had arisen from the lack of rain from August 5th until September 15th
(5 inches total fell in a month and a half ). So if the grower waited just a little bit after the last rain on September 19th, there was very little rain afterwards, except for about 3 inches on October 2nd. After this it did not rain again until October 14th at which point harvest was over for the vast majority of growers.
What was depressing was seeing so many upright barrels at the Domaines in many areas. Some producers in villages such as Pommard, Volnay, much of Nuits-Saints-Georges, and Vougeot had tiny harvests. Mongeard-Mugneret was down 58%, but given that they had normal crops in their Bourgogne vineyards, the drastic drop in quantity was in vineyards such as Échezeaux (down 70%) and Clos Vougeot (if your parcels were towards the back). Grands Échezeaux was a disaster, as was Savigny- lès-Beaune, which produced no villages level wines (thus we received no villages level Savigny-lès-Beaune from Mongeard- Mugneret). Another example, our allocation of Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru Les Narbantons, which is usually around 170 cases, was only 15 cases in 2016. Also from Mongeard-Mugneret, Pernand-Vergelesses was down from an average of 45 cases
to just 14; Grands Échezeaux, down to 27 cases from the usual 85; Échezeaux, normally 100 cases was just 30; and Vosne- Romanée Premier Cru Les Orveaux, which is usually 87 cases was down to 37. Villages level Vosne-Romanée from vineyards that were lower in altitude also suffered terribly, as did Richebourg. In the end, it all depended on the wind currents, clouds, and if the vineyard was protected from the currents by walls.
My growers in Nuits-Saint-Georges that mostly have holdings in the southern side of the village gave me half of the 2015 allocation. Concerning Domaine Henri Gouges, I got half the allocation of Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Saint- Georges as well as half the allocations of Premier Cru Les Vaucrains and Premier Cru Clos des Porrets Saint-Georges. While not as drastic as the previous appellations, I also received less Premier Cru Les Pruliers and villages Nuits-Saint-Georges. In the case of Thibault Liger-Belair, some vineyards in the Hautes-Côte de Nuits had to be combined into one cuvée because there were not enough grapes to fill a fermentation tank. In 2017, Liger-Belair only produced 8 barrels of Premier Cru Les Saint- Georges compared to 24 in 2017. To really get a picture of the situation, in 2009 he made 30 barrels. He has produced a few new wines in 2016. We will be introducing a villages Chambolle-Musigny made from purchased grapes, as well as a Corton Grand Cru Clos du Roi. He made 2 barrels of this wine, as well as 2 barrels of Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru. Thibault
is one of the growers who likes his 2016 wines almost as much as his 2015s. With regards to Thomas Morey and Vincent & Sophie Morey, the allocations are almost the same as in 2015. Domaine Matrot will be slightly less. Domaine Henri Boillot is almost identical to the 2015 vintage, but with more Pommard and Volnay. And, finally, Alain Gras and Domaine Michel Briday allocations are pretty much equal to those of the 2015 vintage.