Domaine Lignier: Clos de la Roche 1978-2014
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | MAY 2, 2017
Domaine Lignier’s Clos de la Roche is one of Burgundy’s most
renowned wines. This remarkable vertical of twenty vintages went back to 1978
and encompassed three distinct eras of the domaine’s distinguished history.
Domaine Lignier was founded in the late
1880s, but its modern-day history begins with Henri Lignier, who first planted
some of the parcels that remain core holdings today. Hubert Lignier ran the
family domaine for several decades. An immensely proud, stoic man, Lignier embodies
all the qualities of Burgundy’s old guard, a generation of vignerons who worked the land when times were tough and long before
Burgundy wines became glamorous and highly coveted. The wrinkles and hands are
those of a farmer.
Lignier’s son, Romain, took over winemaking
in 1992. One of the emerging talents of his generation, Romain Lignier, passed
away suddenly in 2004 at just 36 years of age, pushing the domaine into a
period of tumult. Laurent Lignier, Hubert’s son and Romain’s brother, returned
to the domaine after his brother’s death. Laurent had worked at the domaine in
1987 and 1988 before leaving to fulfill his military service and then pursuing
commercial roles at Albert Bichot and Pernod Ricard. Hubert Lignier made the
2004s and 2005s, and Laurent, assumed full-time winemaking responsibilities
with the 2006 vintage.
Clos de la Roche
Domaine Hubert Lignier owns 90 ares (9/10ths
of a hectare) in the famed Clos de la Roche, one of the most prestigious Grand
Crus in the Côte de Nuits. The holdings are composed of 65 ares in the Monts
Luisants climat, in the northern
sector of the vineyard, and 25 ares in Les Fremières, which lies to the south. Laurent
Lignier’s grandfather, Henri, began planting the vineyards in 1955. Subsequent
plantings of the original plots were done using selection massale through 1966.
Located on the route of Grand Crus in Morey
St. Denis, Clos de la Roche takes its name from the rocky terrain and very shallow
topsoil that is as little as just 10cm deep before reaching pure rock. Wines
from Clos de la Roche are distinguished by intense minerality, salinity and
tension. Even in warmer years, where the risk might be to lose some site-specific
character, the personality of Clos de la Roche is always evident. With time in
bottle, the wines acquire depth and volume, but they do that while maintaining
the signatures of focus and drive that make Clos de la Roche such a singular
site among Burgundy’s Grand Crus. Iron, smoke, game, chalk and bright saline
notes are some of the flavor signatures that are often found in Clos de la
As Lignier fans no doubt know, the domaine
went through a difficult period between 2006 and 2013 (both inclusive)
following Romain Lignier’s death. During these years, the Lignier family was
involved in an acrimonious dispute with Romain Lignier’s widow, Kellen. It is
impossible, and perhaps even inappropriate, for an outsider to know all of the
details of these very delicate family situations, so I will simply relay the
facts as I understand them and as they pertain specifically to the wines.
Upon Romain Lignier’s death, Kellen Lignier
set up her own domaine with vineyards that
were leased to Romain Lignier but that belonged to Hubert Lignier.
Kellen Lignier made wine from those
parcels for several years. Her early wines were quite promising, but subsequent
vintages were highly problematic, something that I saw firsthand during my tastings.
The stress of being a widow, single mother of two young children and running a
winery, all while living in a foreign country is probably more than most people
could possibly bear. Without getting into details that must be extremely
painful for all involved, control of the vineyards Kellen Lignier had farmed
for several years reverted to Domaine Hubert Lignier after the 2013 harvest.
Two thousand fourteen is therefore the first vintage in which the original
Domaine Hubert Lignier holdings are back together. In the intervening years
during which they lost access to some of their historic parcels the Ligniers
acquired more land, so the estate is larger today than it was before it was temporarily
Between 2006 and
2013, the Ligniers lost access to two-thirds of their holdings in Monts
Luisants, but retained all of their land in Les
Fremière, which means that between these years (both inclusive) the Lignier
Clos de la Roche was a blend of approximately equal parts Monts Luisants and Les
Winemaking & Farming
Winemaking over the last forty years is best
described as an evolution. Hubert Lignier’s wines are typical of the era during
which they were made. Tools were rustic, temperature control was done by
natural means rather than in a more controlled environment, as is the case
today not just here, but pretty much everywhere. The first sorting table
arrived with the 1983 vintage, a year in which there was much to discard.
Romain Lignier introduced a pre-alcoholic
fermentation of 4-6 days and brought in more modern sorting equipment. Over
time, winemaking evolved towards gentler extractions with more pumpovers and
fewer punchdowns. New oak, around 50% circa, decreased during the 1990s to
around 33%, where it is today. Beginning in 2006, 20-25% of the wine is done
with whole clusters.
Clos de la Roche spends about 20 months in
barrel, with no racking after malolactic fermentation, which is quite classic
and on the longer side by present day standards in Burgundy. Some of Hubert
Lignier’s wines saw as much as 24 months in barrel. One of the aging concepts
practiced by Burgundy’s older guard calls for the wines to spend two winters in
the cellar to mature properly in barrel and settle naturally over time. Racking
is kept at a minimum and is done from barrel to barrel in order to move the
wines as little as possible. The wines have always been bottled unfined and
In 2011, Laurent Lignier began moving the
vineyards towards organic farming. According to Lignier, the incidence of
cancers and other diseases is four times higher among vignerons than in the
general population because of the use of chemicals and pesticides in the
vineyards. The domaine began the formal process for biodynamic certification in
Clos de la Roche is bright, focused and finely cut. Translucent and wiry in
style, the 2014 speaks to precision above all else. The flavors and textures
are wonderfully chiseled throughout. Red-toned fruits, chalk and floral notes
abound. Today, the 2014 is fabulous. It won’t be ready to drink anytime soon,
but it is terrific just the same. This is a textbook expression of Clos de la
Roche. Lignier’s 2010 Clos de la Roche (magnum)
is superb. There is a real density and power to the 2010 that distinguishes it
in this tasting. Broad, ample and deep in all of its dimensions, the 2010 is
truly exceptional. Readers will have to be patient. The tannins are imposing,
that much is obvious, and yet somehow there is enough fruit to provide balance.
In this tasting, the 2010 is a real highlight. The 2005 Clos de la Roche is just starting to develop the first hints of
tertiary nuance. Smoke, leather, game, licorice and dark-fleshed fruits abound.
Deep, bold and super-expressive, with elements of gravitas and baritone
darkness, the 2005 possesses off the charts richness and intensity. Even so,
the brisk, saline notes that are a signature of this site are very much present
beneath the fruit. The 2005 is now approaching its first plateau of maturity,
which makes it an excellent choice for drinking now and over the next two
decades or more.
Tasted from magnum, the 2003 Clos de la Roche is stunningly beautiful. Rich, voluptuous and
ripe in all of its glory, the 2003 is a real head-turner. It might not be as
complex or intellectual as other vintages, but frankly, who cares? Hard candy,
super-ripe red cherry, wild flowers, rose petals and sweet spices are pushed
forward. Even with all of its ripeness and intensity, the 2003 has plenty of
tannin, underlying structure and salinity. For current drinking, the 2003 is a
total pleasure bomb. This was the last vintage made by Romain Lignier, who fell
ill right after the harvest. Lignier gave the 2003 just 12 days on the skins,
with only pumpovers and no punchdowns, in order to not extract too many
aggressive tannins. Mother Nature did not give Romain Lignier a great vintage
for his last year, but Lignier made a great wine anyway. The 2000 Clos de la Roche is a fabulous
choice for readers who enjoy Burgundies with a great deal of aromatic
complexity. Crushed flowers, mint, pine, red-toned fruits and chalk are some of
the signatures. On the palate, the wine is a touch compact and unyielding, but
all the elements are nicely balanced within the context of a year that was not
easy. Hints of game, smoke, tobacco, licorice and dried herbs linger on the
close. I don’t expect the 2000 will improve meaningfully from here, but it is
quite expressive and delicious today.
At twenty years of age, the 1997 Clos de la Roche is fabulous,
although the magnum format surely helps. Deep, ample and broad on the palate,
the 1997 shows the volume that Clos de la Roche can show with time in bottle.
Smoke, tobacco, licorice and a host of dark-fleshed fruits give the wine its
brooding, virile personality. The 1997 is shockingly inward for a wine of its
age. Laurent Lignier adds that rackings were complicated in 1997. Perhaps that
comes through in the wine’s brooding personality. Even so, the 1997 can only be
described as a success, especially within the context of a year that was marked
by up and down weather and uneven ripening. Hints of orange peel, dried rose
petals and mint add an exotic flair. Readers who enjoy mature Burgundies will
flip out over the 1997.
Clos de la Roche is a powerful, brooding Burgundy. The combination of the
natural acidity of this site coupled with that of the year come together to
produce a powerful, tightly wound red Burgundy that appears to still need time!
Classically austere, potent and tightly wound, the 1996 ideally still needs to
be cellared. Whether or not the 1996 ever fully comes around remains an open
question. Watching the wine’s evolution in the glass, I am optimistic that will
happen at some point. The 1996 is a wine for classicists, that much is clear.
One of the highlights in this tasting, the 1995
Clos de la Roche (magnum) is a real stunner. All the elements come together
effortlessly in the glass. Deep, powerful and intense, the 1995 comes across as
a hypothetical combination of the 2005 and 2010, with the volume of fruit of
the former and the energetic tannin of the latter. Sweet red cherry, plum,
mint, chalk and rose petal infuse a deeply expressive, nuanced Clos de la Roche
that is at its peak today. Above all else, the wine’s balance here is simply
remarkable. Some tasters find the 1995 rustic. I don’t share that opinion.
Clos de la Roche (magnum) is dark, brooding and rustic in style. Even so,
it retains an almost shocking level of density for the year. Readers will find
a hearty, rough around the edges wine with limited finesse. All that said,
there is no question the 1994 has stood the test of time, and then some. Wild
cherry, plum, smoke, licorice, tobacco, cured meats and game, along with potent
tannins, give the wine its distinctive personality and feel. Naturally, in this
setting the 1994 suffers in comparison with the more important vintages, but if
tasted on its own, the 1994 is quite impressive. The 1993 Clos de la Roche is one of the wines in this tasting that
speaks to balance above all else. Silky, nuanced and understated, the 1993 is
an absolutely joy to taste today, as all the elements fall into place
effortlessly. Nothing in particular stands out and yet the wine is a pure joy
to taste. The 1993 is a decidedly lithe, feminine Clos de la Roche, but it has
a bit more depth than other similarly styled vintages, the 2000 in particular.
Silky tannins, chalky, saline notes and a touch of sous bois frame the persistent finish. Another of the surprises of
the day, Lignier’s 1992 Clos de la Roche
is exquisite. Fruity, supple and quite giving in its feel, the 1992 is one of
the more immediate wines in this vertical. Although not exactly a complex wine,
the 1992 is hugely delicious and rewarding today. Sweet red cherry, mint, rose
petal and spice notes are pushed forward. This is an especially succulent,
fruity Clos de la Roche with tons of sheer appeal. I loved it.
Clos de la Roche (magnum) is bold, intense and almost shockingly ripe.
Severe hail during flowering lowered yields dramatically. Today, the 1991
preserves massive richness that is out of context with the other wines in this
tasting. Dark red and black cherry, smoke, hard candy, tobacco, licorice and
game add to the wine’s super-distinctive profile. The 1991 needs quite a bit of
air to show at its best, but it is terrific. There is no shortage of
personality. Readers should expect a big Clos de la Roche with broad shoulders
and serious fruit density, especially for a wine of its age.
Lignier’s 1990 Clos de la Roche is everything mature Burgundy should be.
Silky, nuanced and perfumed, the 1990 is stunningly beautiful. The 1990 also
shows quite a bit of restrain for the vintage. What comes through above all
else is the personality of Clos de la Roche. Crushed flowers, dried cherries,
tobacco, mint and underbrush add the closing shades of nuance. I don’t expect
the 1990 to improve much from here, but it is striking today. The 1989 Clos de la Roche (magnum) is a
powerful, burly wine that shows the more rustic side of this wine. Super-ripe
red cherry, tobacco, menthol, licorice and spice are pushed forward. Above all
else, the 1989 is clearly the wine of an era in which winemaking was much more
rudimentary than it is today. The 1989 has held up well, but it is not
especially refined. Readers will have to be able to accept some small flaws.
There is no shortage of personality, but the 1989 is not as compelling as some
of the other, more successful wines in this tasting.
Sadly, the 1988 Clos de la Roche is the victim of a flawed cork. Even so, the
wine appears to have aged quite well and is still intact, with terrific
persistence and lovely purity in its fruit. The 1987 Clos de la Roche is a very pretty, fully mature red Burgundy.
Crushed flowers, dried cherries, tobacco, licorice and underbrush overtones
give the wine its tertiary personality. Medium in body and silky on the palate,
the 1987 is super-expressive today. It has also aged gracefully. Although there
is no upside from cellaring bottles further, the 1987 should hold for at least
a few more years. A real showstopper, the 1986
Clos de la Roche is one of the most intense and satisfying wines in this
vertical. Ample and persistent in all of its dimensions, the 1986 boasts superb
intensity. In this tasting, the 1986 is deeper than the 1985, 1989, 1990 and
1991, and also shows much cleaner flavors and better balance. An exotic hint of
spice, leather and tobacco adds the closing shades of nuance. If I had to pick
only one wine in this vertical that I would like to own it is the 1986. What a
Clos de la Roche is another stunner. Deep, pliant and super-expressive, the
1985 exudes a level of purity and freshness that is both remarkable for its age
and the era in which it was made. To be sure, there is an element of wildness
and also volatile acidity/oxidation that runs through the 1985, but compared to
the 1989, which presents a similar level of rusticity, it has better balance.
In some ways, the 1985 is not totally clean, but it is nevertheless superb.
Lignier’s 1983 Clos de la Roche is a
model of elegance, restraint and finesse. Quite simply, this is a gorgeous wine
for a vintage that was notoriously affected by rot. Crushed flowers, mint and
red cherry notes are nicely delineated in a fully mature, tertiary Burgundy
that stands out for its silkiness and overall poise. The 1983 is also the first
vintage made with a new sorting table that appears to have come in quite handy.
Clos de la Roche, brings this vertical to a rousing finish. A
super-classic, old-school Burgundy, the 1978 is loaded with searing tannins and
high acidity that give the wine energy. Translucent and deceptively medium in
body, the 1978 packs a serious punch. Dried rose petal, amaro herbs, pine and
mint grace the palate in this utterly exquisite Burgundy endowed with tons of
pedigree. I expect the 1978 will drink gracefully for another decade or more.
What a treat it is to taste the 1978 from a perfect bottle.
I tasted these wines in New York with Laurent
Lignier and his longtime US importer Neal Rosenthal, who started bringing in
the wines to the US in the early 1980s. Most of the wines came from Rosenthal’s
own cellar. Readers should note that a number of vintages were served from
See all the Wines in the Order Tasted
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