Sandwiched between the vineyards of Vougeot and Nuits you might expect a vineyard to produce a rather rustic and concentrated wine, one to make the hairs on your chest curl – if you have them…
It’s interesting then that this is the home of the most fabulously expensive pinot noir in the world, just occasionally the most fabulous tasting too, with, as Hugh Johnson observes; “reserves of flavour beyond imagination” this is, of-course, Vosne-Romanée.
Like several villages in the Côte d’Or, Vosne added a little cachet by appending the name of it’s most famous grand cru vineyard. The Imperial decree arrived on the 11th April 1866 and the village of Vosne-Romanée was born.
The AOC of Vosne-Romanée currently has in production an area of 156 hectares, 56 of which are 1er cru. The grand cru’s of Vosne have their own AOC’s covering an additional 26.8 hectares; the two largest, Romanée Saint-Vivant and Richebourg accounting for almost two thirds of that total. Then there are the ‘jewels’ of Vosne-Romanée; Romanée-Conti, La Romanée and La Tàche. Finally we shouldn’t forget the fast improving La Grand Rue. Then there are the domaines…
Domaine Robert Arnoux
Since 1858, five generations of Arnoux have been making wine in the Côte de Nuits. There is already a 6th generation waiting in the wings with the three sons of Pascal and Florence Lachaux. Pascal was working as a pharmacist specialising in homeopathy when he met Florence Arnoux, daughter of Robert; marriage and winemaking were soon to follow. Today Florence and Pascal are working hard to accommodate this sixth generation; it’s hard to miss their large new cuverie sited behind the bright red restaurant La Toute Petite Auberge at the side of the RN74. Externally it’s complete but it will require a few more weeks of internal work to be ready for vintage 2005.
The first vintage where Pascal was fully responsible for the winemaking was 1990. The domaine has since that time built a reputation for itself as a fine source of wines from Nuits, Vosne, Chambolle and a small parcel of Côte de Beaune – apart from a small plot of Aligoté all the wines are red. In-all, the domain exploits 14 hectares in 16 appellations, augmented most recently (2000) with parcels of Chambolle-Musigny villages and since the 2002 vintage a small negociant operation that’s literally one or two barrels of each wine. The négociant wines offered for the 2003 vintage are a Chambolle 1er Fuées, a Gevrey 1er Lavaux-St-Jacques, Latricières and Griotte-Chambertin, Chambertin and Richebourg. Pascal says that it is for him a pleasure to have the opportunity to vinify other ‘terroirs’. These vins de négoce are bought in as grapes or part finished wine and the elevage done in the cellars of the domaine just as the domaine wines. I actually found the 2003 Chambolle Fuées a little sweet, but it’s impossible to make generalisations from one wine – particularly when we’re discussing 2003.
Although Pascal works without insecticides and in a very organic way, he chooses to attach no ‘labels’ to the domaine – such as biodynamic or organic – he aims simply to make the best wine he can by spending ~70% of his time in the vineyard to achieve the best fruit possible; “without good grapes you can’t make a good wine” he says.
Once the fruit leaves the vineyard it is 100% destemmed followed by a prefermentation maceration and a vinification of 15-22 days. Ten years ago the vinification was much faster and more ‘stressful’, today the wines show an extra roundness and more sophisticated tannins. Only natural yeasts are used, and the wines are aged for around 16 months in French oak – 100% new oak for the Grand Cru’s, 40-60% for the 1ers and 30% villages. The villages wines from 2004 are currently maturing in the larger 600 litre ‘demi-muids’. I would characterise the wines as clean, concentrated and well but not over oaked.
The ‘flagship’ wines from the domaine are their Vosne-Romanée 1er Les Suchots and their Grand Cru Romanée-Saint-Vivant, the Suchots in particular is held up to be the benchmark for the appellation. Prices for these two wines are high, indeed the Suchots’ price-tag surpasses those of most Grand Crus. The parcel of Suchots is right at the top of the appellation in an area once described as ‘Hautes-Suchots’ whereas their Romanée Saint-Vivant parcel lies towards the bottom of the appellation and just across the road from La Grand Rue.
The wines of Domaine Robert Arnoux
First a selection of 2003’s – Pascal started picking from the 27th August onwards – but only in the cooler mornings. These 2003’s are already sold-out at the domaine. The wines from this domaine tend to be clean, modern and have concentration without overextraction, there’s plenty of oak, but it never gets in the way. It’s a very consistent address for high quality wines.
Bottled only six weeks before. Sweet black nose that very slowly releases a red berry note too. Lovely mouth wrapping tannins and a creamy texture. Medium-plus length. This is a nicely controlled wine until it reaches room temperature – than it gets a bit loutish. Just keep him cool!
A brooding, tight nose matches trhe deeper colour. The palate is less fat and shows another (higher) level of tannin. The fruit is up to the challenge, but this is a much fresher wine. Also medium length.
The nose is high-toned with a little pepper – initially fresher and not so obviously ripe and forward as the previous wines – given time though, it shows it’s 2003 roots. The palate is very 2003 but has some wonderfully chewy and sweet tannins with a very long finish – it took Pascal 4 days to extract the juice from these grapes as they were so small – the same as the following Clos de Vougeot. Terrific extract – a serious yet very tasty wine.
There is some freshness to the nose, beneath which is a classic 2003 fruit complexion – but not overexaggerated. Nice freshness to the palate with beautifully textured tannins – just as well as there is plenty to chew on but they are deftly balanced by the fruit extract.
Less expressive on the nose than the 2003 NSG Les Procès, linear with a herbal note. The entry is understated, but there’s really impressive burst of fruit from the mid-palate onwards. Very good acidity and there’s the perception of something green/herbish on the finish.
There’s a dense core of fruit that’s a more roast expression than for 98. Sweeter and more intense palate, even the mid-palate has more intensity – though less fireworks. Better length, and that green note is there again – it’s more easily identifiable this time as fresh mint. Interesting, vs the 1998 this has more of everything – except charm! No worry about waiting another 5 or so years to see if it mellows, but drinking today I prefer the 1998.
Purer and denser nose than the 98 Corvées Pagets, higher toned too. The palate is fresh and is one of those crescendo wines that builds with intensity. Still primary but very, very long and understated – I’m quite impressed by this.
Medium-plus ruby with a browner rim. The nose is more about forest floor than fruit, quite understated and earthy. An elegant and very balanced palate thats a middle-weight in terms of concentration. Really fine texture and almost zero tannin. The acidity is just right, helping to push the finish a little longer. In isolation a very nice, mature wine that predates Pascal’s influence. In the context of the current output from the domain, I think that Pascal has now injected an extra element of excitement.
The deepest colour of all these wines. A brooding raspberry and black cherry nose. Dense palate with staining flavours. Very long with a little rasping texture to the tannins. A rough and ready wine that falls short of elegance but has undoubted eloquence. Really very, very good.
What an interesting nose; open, forward and effusive, Slowly evolving, it has both width and depth, savoury and meaty rather than fruit driven, there’s undergrowth too like turning over piles of brown leaves. Understated entry but then there’s an explosion on the mid-palate before slowly fading into the finish. For me this is an unusual but rather compelling RSV, certainly not the greatest I ever tasted but very fine for all that – I’d be rather pleased if I found a bottle or two in my Christmas stocking!