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The Grands Crus of Vosne-Romanée

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 18, 2008 2:14am ET

Tuesday afternoon I was in Vosne-Romanée to visit Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, then to Beaune for a look at the 2006s from négociant Alex Gambal.

One of my favorite stops in January is the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, where the wines are strictly grands crus, from some of the best terroirs. These are reference-standard Burgundies that provide me with a sense of the quality of the vintage.

Romanée-Conti in winter.
It’s also a pleasure to see Aubert de Villaine, the modest, soft-spoken, codirector of the domaine.

“Purity is an important part of the character of 2006,” he explained, drawing a sample from a barrel of the Vosne-Romanée Cuvée Duvault-Blochet. This premier cru is made in certain vintages from a second passing of the grapes that are less ripe or considered less fine than those destined for the grands crus.

In 2006, the heterogeneous flowering resulted in some grapes being left behind after the main harvest and they were picked at a later date for this cuvée, declassified as a premier cru. It was very pure, with floral aromas, cherry, berry and spice flavors (89-92).

We tasted the Echézeaux next, a direct, balanced red with a spicy character and subtle length (89-92). The Grands Echézeaux was very classy, with more flesh. It was structured too, yet silky and very long (90-93). “The nose is more profound, more racy,” commented de Villaine.

One of the highlights of the range in 2006 was the Romanée-St.-Vivant. The aromas are gorgeous, evoking floral and cherry scents and there’s richness on the palate. Nevertheless, it’s balanced and fine, with an excellent finish. A seductive RSV (92-95).

By contrast, the Richebourg, a wine I usually find very opulent and precocious, was more powerful and structured, even stern. But there was also a lush texture, spicy cherry and violet flavors. The tannins were more assertive at this stage (92-95).

The La Tâche was more reserved, cooler, with wild berry, licorice, coffee and nut notes. Overall, it’s dense and mysterious, yet also sleek and stylish (93-96). “The greater a wine is, the more you have this feeling of freshness,” said de Villaine, referring to the exceptional terroir of La Tâche.

Perhaps he was preparing me for the Romanée-Conti. There are times when you taste this wine and it takes your breath away. The ’06 was showing extremely well, displaying beautiful aromas of rose, red currant and raspberry. Its balance was precise, its texture silky and its tannins completely integrated. What a finish. Simply a superb 2006 grand cru (94-97).

“I’ve never seen Romanée-Conti already become Romanée-Conti at such a young age,” said de Villaine.

“In 2005, there’s a battle between the vintage character and the terroir,” he said of the vintage in general. “In 2006, it’s more transparent.”

Next Stop: Alex Gambal

Alex Gambal, an American, fell in love with Burgundy and decided to move there and make wine. He started his négociant firm in 1996. Now installed in a new cuverie and cellar on the péripherique of Beaune, he continues to make rich, elegant wines from small estate holdings, as well as good grape and must sources.

The 2006s in the range confirm what I have tasted so far: purity, elegance and balance. “There’s less tannins [in 2006] so we decided to go for the fruit and middle palate,” Gambal said. “We vinified lightly, over two weeks instead of the four to five weeks in 2005.”

Unless noted, the following were in tank ready to be bottled.

There was a rich, mouthfilling Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes (88-91), refined and seductive Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses, with its floral, raspberry, cherry and spice flavors (90-93) and harmonious, detailed Clos Vougeot (90-93). “[Clos Vougeot] has a lot of good things, but it has an extra dimension in ’06 that makes it exciting,” Gambal said.

Among the whites, the Bourgogne Blanc Cuvée Prestige was a standout Bourgogne and should be good value. Its bright apple and citrus notes are accented by honey and a chalky intensity on the finish (86-89). It was bottled in August.

The Chassagne-Montrachet La Maltroie offered a smoky, mineral intensity on the attack, a vibrant structure and long, subtle finish (91-94). Gambal’s Corton-Charlemagne, potentially as good as his 2002, started out cool and reserved despite its rich texture and weight. It builds on the palate with apple, honey and mineral flavors with concentration and length (92-95).

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