Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair: La Romanée 1865 – 2014

The phrase ‘once-in-a-lifetime,’ so often overused, has never been more apt. This tasting, held to celebrate Liger-Belair’s 200th anniversary, was the most comprehensive retrospective of La Romanée ever staged. When all was said and done, a group of thirteen tasters surveyed an eye-popping 74 different bottlings of the family’s crown jewel La Romanée going back to 1865. 


Louis-Michel Liger-Belair in his library

A keen student of history and one of the most thoughtful young growers in Burgundy, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair is the seventh generation to manage his family’s vineyards and winery. Liger-Belair invited just twelve people last June to be a part of an unforgettable journey spanning two centuries of family history and wine, starting with a small group of collectors who generously contributed a significant number of super-rare bottles. A handful of wine writers rounded out the invitees, including Michel Bettane and Allen Meadows, both of whom possesses a staggering knowledge of Burgundy and can tell more than a few good stories, most of them unsuitable for print. Neal Martin, Jeannie Cho Lee and yours truly represented the younger generation. It was both an honor and a privilege to be a part of a day that I will surely never forget. The collective knowledge assembled in the room was truly remarkable. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of time it took to track down all of these wines in what can only be described as a labor of love.


The Château de Vosne-Romanée, the family home and cellars of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, as seen circa 1908

Wines were served in thematic flights conceived by Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, with input Meadows and collector Doug Barzelay. Four New York City-based sommeliers flew in specifically for the event and did a remarkable job with wine service. Ned Benedict, Robert Bohr, Tim Kopec and Dustin Wilson coddled these rare, precious bottles with attention and made sure each wine was served in optimal conditions, all of which was especially challenging considering Burgundy was unseasonably warm and none of the rooms where we tasted had air conditioning. I am not sure exactly how they did it, but the sommeliers deserve to be recognized for what was a truly heroic effort.


La Romanée is nestled between Romanée-Conti and Reignots and shares a border with Richebourg to the north

One Family, One Vineyard

La Romanée measures just 0.8452 hectares (about two acres), which makes it the smallest Grand Cru vineyard in France. The present-day La Romanée was created between 1815 and 1826 from a collection of six separate parcels in what was then called ‘Aux Echanges.’ La Romanée is nestled between Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s Romanée-Conti and Liger-Belair’s own Aux Reignots. The first vintage made from the newly established monopole was 1827. Phylloxera ravaged La Romanée, as it did most of Europe. The vineyard was replanted between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  A subsequent redevelopment took place in 1952, when about 50% of the vines were replanted. About 15% of the vines, those on the lower section of the vineyard, were replanted in 1992. As of 2015, about 20% of the vines are 90-100 years old, 50% are those from the early 1950s replant and 30% are 20-40 years old. Average production is around 3,600 bottles, the equivalent of 12 barrels or 300 12-bottle cases.


Général-Comte Louis Liger-Belair (1772-1835), center, is flanked by his Belgian relatives, all members of the Bidault family

The Liger-Belair family once owned a number of the very best vineyards in Vosne, including parcels in Richebourg, Les Gaudichots, La Grande Rue, Malconsorts, Reignots, Suchots and Clos St. Jacques and what is considered to the original portion of La Tâche. Henri Liger-Belair, the fourth Comte Liger-Belair, passed away in 1924, leaving behind ten children, some of whom were still minors when his widow died in 1931. It was a bleak time in Burgundy. Still reeling from heavy casualties in World War I, Burgundy also has to deal with Prohibition in the United States and the loss of one of its major markets (the other was Russia). The large number of heirs, conflicting priorities and the technicalities of France’s inheritance laws forced the family to sell its vineyards at the now-legendary 1933 auction in Vosne-Romanée through which Domaine de la Romanée-Conti acquired La Tâche.

Priest Just Liger-Belair, one of Henri’s children, was able to purchase three vineyards at the auction (La Romanée, Les Chaumes and Aux Reignots) and keep them in the family. Up until 1933 the wines were made by C. Marey & Comte Liger-Belair, a négociant firm partly owned by the family. In 1933 Louis-Michel Belair’s grandfather and uncle ceased working with C. Marey & Comte Liger-Belair because of family squabbles and decided to sell the wines to various négociant firms, including Thomas-Bassot, Delauney & Fils and Lionel Bruck. Just Liger-Belair’s primary focus was his ecclesiastical career, so the vineyards were entrusted to the Michaudet family, who worked the land.

For three generations (1946-2001) the Forey family tended the vines and made the wines under a sharecropping arrangement, underscoring how ingrained family cultures were (and still are) in Burgundy. Henri Forey made the wines from 1946 to 1962, when his son Jean, took over. Régis Forey (who now runs his own domaine) made the wines from 1988 through 2001.

During this era, a series of négociants purchased, raised and ultimately sold the wines. Following standard practice, négociants dropped their barrels off at the domaine and picked up their wine after malolactic fermentation was complete. The négociants finished the élevage, bottled and sold the wines. None of the négociant firms vinified the wines. Occasionally, wines were re-sold to other négociants, which gave rise to multiple labels for the same vintage. 

Henri Leroy had an exclusive from 1950 to 1962. Bichot bought the wines from 1963 to 1975, and sold the wines under various labels in addition to their own, including Paul Bouchard, Château de Vosne-Romanée and Domaine de la Romanée (a label that was not related to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and was used only through 1969). In 1976, one of the Liger-Belair women married into the Bouchard family and thus was born Liger-Belair’s long relationship with Bouchard Père et Fils, which lasted through 2001. The domaine was managed by Comte Henry Liger-Belair (the sixth Comte Liger-Belair), and his wife, Anne, but their focus was first on Henry’s military career and then, later, on raising their four children.

Starting with the 2002 vintage, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, Henry and Anne’s youngest child and the seventh Comte Liger Belair, took over the work in the vineyards and cellar and created the present-day incarnation of the domaine. From 2002 through 2005 Liger-Belair and Bouchard divided the wines in barrel, although each house handled the aging for their respective wines. Since 2006, Liger-Belair has kept the entire production of La Romanée.


The entrance to La Romanée

The Wines…

There are many intriguing threads and themes that weave through the wines that are discussed below. My approach in tastings like these is to taste wines in the context in which they were made, although that is admittedly quite difficult when one goes back multiple decades, or, indeed, generations, as was the case here.

While I don’t think any of the bottles in this tasting were outright fakes, there were several wines that were not completely faithful to their origins or vintage. It is important to remember that prior to the boom of estate bottled wines that started in the 1980s, the blending of other grapes, especially from southern France, was not uncommon in Burgundy, where achieving full ripeness was often an issue. Some of the wines in this tasting may have included wines from other vintages, a practice that is permitted up to 15%. Where wines are suspect, I have indicated that in the notes.

After the passing of his father in early 2015, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair came into the possession of a rich treasure trove of historical data that he was still sorting through at the time of this tasting. One of the more interesting pieces of information relates to harvest dates, which have steadily moved up from the 1980s, when reliable records first started to be kept, to the 1990s. During the 1980s, October harvests were typical, but by the 1990s, September harvests had become the norm, one of the effects of climate change over the last 45 years.

Speaking of the 1990s, I am generally not a fan of the wines of the era, as I find them less true to site than many other wines in this tasting. Specifically, the search for color, depth and intensity that was common in Burgundy during this time produced unusually rich, overextracted wines with too much oak and a level of tannin that will almost certainly outlast the fruit. The 1993, 1996 and 1999 are good examples of the style. And, still, the wines are often quite good by any objective measure, which can only lead one to wonder what they might have been like had they been made with a lighter hand.

Some of my favorite wines included the 1865 La Romanée, which was truly moving, not just because of its age, but because of the time in which it was made. Napoleon III was the Emperor of France, while overseas the American Civil War was drawing to a close. The 1908 and 1911 La Romanée were both similarly transcendental wines. There were plenty of other highlights, like the 1957 La Romanée, which we tasted from magnum. Or the side-by-side pairing of the 1962 with the 1966. I also enjoyed the 1947, 1951 and 1967 a good bit. But the most emotional wine of the night was without question the 1928 Vosne-Romanée, which was made the year Louis-Michel Liger-Belair’s late father was born. It was not a great wine in the truest sense of the word, but the bond between son and mother as they shared a glass of the 1928 and remembered Henry Liger-Belair was touching.  

And then there are the wines made by Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, wines that keep climbing as the vineyards respond to a more non-interventionalist approach. Only the 2004, from a weak vintage for the domaine as a whole, was disappointing. As for the rest of the vintages, take your pick.

I have listed each wine under the name Comte Liger-Belair followed by the négociant who sold each wine as applicable. Many of the older wines came from the Liger-Belair family’s private collection. All of those bottles were recorked in 1999.


The opening flight is remarkable

Flight 1

The morning opens with the 1937 La Romanée, a wine that is remarkably intact for its age, not to mention incredibly delicious. Sweet red cherries, mint, crushed flowers, tea leaves and dried rose petals all waft from the glass. Initially lifted and a touch fragile (understandably so given its age), the 1937 is richer on the palate and in good shape. The pliant, creamy finish is striking. 
The 1952 La Romanée is a jewel of a wine. Incredibly persistent and finely-knit, the 1952 stands out for its superb balance. All the elements are beautifully integrated in a Burgundy of pure nuance and delineation. Hints of sweet tobacco, dried cherry, crushed leaves, mint and exotic spices are laced into a finish supported by pretty saline notes. 

One of the more intriguing wines in this tasting, the 1955 La Romanée is incredibly rich and powerful in the glass, almost unnaturally so. The flavors are a bit forward, with plenty of tertiary overtones, but it is the wine's body, candied fruit and glycerin that stand out above all else. During this era, it was not uncommon for Pinot to be strengthened with other varieties. That is certainly the lasting impression here. The 1957 La Romanée, tasted from magnum, is pure silk on the palate. Gracious, subtle and nuanced, the 1957 is all about texture. Dried rose petal, mint, crushed flowers and leaves are laced into the lilting, suave finish. This is an exceptionally finessed, understated Burgundy. The long, silky finish alone makes it nearly impossible to resist a second taste, and then a third. This was the last magnum in the domaine's cellar.

The 1972 La Romanée is delicate and lifted in style, with hints of dried rose petal, anise, mint and sweet red cherries. This bottle is not perfect and there is a hint of TCA, but the wine has aged impeccably, which in and of itself is quite amazing considering the poor reputation of the vintage. Fully mature, 1978 La Romanée is fully mature, yet it also possesses considerable richness and depth for a wine of its age, along with quite a bit of supporting acidity to prop up the dark cherry, smoke, tobacco, autumn leaf, leather and brown spice flavors. This is a decidedly dark, powerful, and, at times, burly La Romanée with limited overall finesse.


Two 1959s and the 1947 La Romanée

Flight 2

One of the surprises in this tasting, the 1947 La Romanée is fabulous. Delicate and hauntingly perfumed, the 1947 is mostly about the aromatics at this stage in its life. Dried rose petals, rosewater, mint and sweet red berries all float across the palate. It's hard to put down the glass, as the 1947 is truly mesmerizing. There's not too much to say. What a privilege it is to taste the 1947. No, to drink it from a pristinely cared for bottle. This is another wine that belies its age, which once again brings up the possibility that perhaps another vintage was been blended in to bolster the wine.

The 1959 La Romanée (Missery bottling) is deep, powerful and earthy, also a bit rustic, especially next to the other wines in this flight. Smoke, tobacco, herbs, leather and dried black cherries are all pushed forward, but it is the wine's slightly rough, angular tannins that come through most. According to Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, Missery bought this wine in barrel from Leroy right after malolactic fermentation. Given the nature of selling wines in barrel, it is unlikely Henri Leroy would have sold off one of his better barrels of La Romanée. How fascinating it is to taste the Leroy bottling of the 1959 La Romanée next to the Missery bottling. Texturally finessed and silky on the palate, the Leroy 1959 is at a glorious plateau of full maturity. Autumn leaves, cedar, tobacco and brown spices are redolent of tertiary nuance. This is another striking, historic Burgundy full of personality. The Leroy La Romanée is much more lithe and refined than the Missery La Romanée, with less volume and better balance.

The 1964 La Romanée, tasted from a bottle originally produced for the family and re-corked in 1999, has undoubtedly seen better days. Fleeting, lacking in depth and faded, the 1964 is past peak. A gorgeous wine, the 1976 La Romanée is one of the real surprises in this early part of the tasting. A spine of tannin gives the 1976 its subtle yet persistent drive and sense of proportion. Scents of sweet tobacco, dried flowers, mint and dried cherries add to the wine's considerable allure. The 1976 is not the most complex wine of the morning. Yet, the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts in a Burgundy that is absolutely impeccable, especially in the way it has aged.

A surprisingly rich, explosive wine, the 1989 La Romanée shows the style winemaker Régis Forey favored at the time. Game, smoke, tobacco, leather and spice overtones wrap around a core of dense fruit. The 1989 is an especially burly wine. The unfocused aromatics and rough, angular contours are a bit perplexing. The 1990 La Romanée is super-expressive and very nicely balanced throughout. Ripe, pliant and voluptuous - yet never overdone - the 1990 epitomizes class. One of the more understated Burgundies readers will come across from this vintage, the Romanée is all grace, nuance and silkiness. Best of all, the 1990 remains fresh and capable of drinking well for another decade plus.


The 1949, 1951 and 1953 La Romanée

Flight 3

The 1951 La Romanée is a fabulous wine from this era. Exotic spices, new leather, tobacco, smoke, incense and cedar are some of the many notes that blossom in the glass. The 1951 retains considerable density through the mid-palate and finish for a wine of its age, which suggests it will drink well for another 5+ years, perhaps longer. I would not be surprised if the 1951 was touched up with another vintage or even grape, but the bottom line is that it is delicious.

Like a pretty, faded flower, the 1963 La Romanée shows the remnants of what was undoubtedly a strikingly beautiful wine. Scents of orange peel, mint, dried flowers and chamomile grace this delicate, aromatically lifted Burgundy. Louis-Michel Comte Liger-Belair recounts that 1963 is his parents' wedding year. Liger-Belair's mother is from Alsace, but none of the Burgundians made the trip for the wedding because the harvest was very late that year. This bottle, from the family's cellar, was recorked in 1999. Although fully mature, the 1963 has retained remarkable freshness. The 1965 La Romanée is similar in color to the 1963, with plenty of orange-inflected shades of color. On the palate, the 1963 is a bit richer and deeper than the 1965, but the flavors are also more oxidative. Overall, the 1963 provides a slightly more complete drinking experience. This bottle was sourced from a private cellar in Italy.

One of the highlights of the day, the 1967 La Romanée speaks to polish and finesse with real eloquence. Dried rose petal, mint and wild flowers add lovely shades of nuance in a Burgundy that impresses for its femininity and total sense of grace. All those notes lean into the hauntingly beautiful, polished finish. Today, the 1967 is truly magnificent. This bottle, from the domaine's own cellar, was recorked in 1999. The more masculine, virile side of Burgundy comes through in the 1968 La Romanée. Pungent, deep and intense, the 1968 hits the palate with a rush of dark cherry, plum, herb, spice, earthiness, leather and herb notes. The 1968 has enough depth to drink well for another decade, perhaps more, although I don't expect it will ever be especially refined. Given the flavor and textural profile, I would not be surprised if the 1968 had been touched up at some point along the way. The 1968 is one of the wines in this tasting that needs to be viewed through the lens of its era. Although not especially elegant nor representative of La Romanée, the 1968 is a highly attractive wine if taken on its own terms. This bottle was sourced from a private cellar in Austria. Paul Bouchard was a label used by Bichot. 

An attractive wine, the 1970 La Romanée is soft and and creamy on the palate, with lovely juxtaposition of silkiness and bright acidity that keeps the flavors fresh. There is just a touch of TCA on the finish, but that does not mar the wine's prettiness. The 1970 is a fully mature La Romanée. Sound bottles will continue to drink well for at least another few years, although I wouldn't push my luck. This bottle was sourced from a private cellar in Denmark. The 1973 La Romanée is a bit richer and creamier than the 1970 it follows in this flight. Subtle, nuanced and totally silky on the palate, the 1973 presents the more understated nuances of La Romanée, with all the elements in the right place. Suggestions of sweet tobacco, cedar, mint and dried cherry linger in a very pretty, open-knit Burgundy that is peaking today.

The 1974 La Romanée has arrived at full maturity. Veins of acidity and tannin peek out beyond the fruit from time to time, giving the 1974 a slightly rustic feel. Sweet dried cherry, mint, worn-in leather and cedar meld into the super-expressive finish. The 1974 is not the most finessed wine of the day, that much is clear, yet there is something about its overall balance that is quite appealing. The 1975 La Romanée, bottled by Bichot, is one of the most pleasant surprises of the day. Orange peel, mint and a host of exotic spices meld into the essence of blood orange and pomegranate. The flavors are bold and punchy throughout. Time in the glass only helps the wine open up even more fully. Intense aromatics and striking inner perfume are two of the many signatures of the 1975, a wine that is long on personality. Nothing in particular stands out about the 1977 La Romanée, rather it is the wine's exceptional balance and overall symmetry that truly dazzle. A wine that has reached its peak of expression, the 1977 is a real joy to taste and drink. Silky and supple throughout, the 1977 is wonderfully inviting, with expressive sweet tobacco, mint and dried flower nuances that flesh out on the finish.


One of the most intriguing flights of the day

Flight 4

The 1949 La Romanée is unusually ripe and powerful for a wine of its age, both of which suggest it was probably touched up at some point. This is a distinctly powerful, virile La Romanée with intensely ferrous and iodine-rich notes that dominate. The 1949 requires a ‘suspension of disbelief’ to appreciate, but it is certainly a fine wine, if taken on its own terms. There is no shortage of depth or personality; that much is clear. The 1953 La Romanée is like silk on the palate. Scents of blood orange, licorice, spices, mint and sweet tobacco lead into a core of earthy, pungent fruit. The 1953 is beginning to fray a bit around the edges and is more forward than some of the other wines in this range, but it is quite expressive today. This is another wine that, while certainly enjoyable, raises some questions with regards to possible blending.

A Burgundy of sublime delicacy and finesse, the 1962 La Romanée is one of the many wines in this tasting of deep significance to the Liger-Belair family, as Louis-Michel Liger-Belair’s parents received a barrel as a wedding gift. Lifter, ethereal and intensely floral, with what appears to be considerable whole cluster influence, the 1962 is quite savory in profile. Dried rose petals, mint and crushed flowers are some of the many nuances that are laced throughout. This bottle was recorked in 1999. The 1966 La Romanée is a bit more tertiary and evolved than the 1962 tasted alongside it. Sweet tobacco, cedar, brown spices and dried cherries are all nicely delineated throughout. The 1966 is lovely today, but it is also fading and past peak. 

The 1969 La Romanée is dark, burly and also a bit rough around the edges. Still, the wine preserves enough depth and overall intensity to drink well for another handful of years, perhaps longer. Black cherries, smoke and leather give the 1969 much of its remarkable mid-palate density. The 1969 is one of the surprises of this flight and the tasting. From a difficult, hail-plagued vintage, the 1971 La Romanée offers notable intensity and power, but the dryness of the tannin mutes some of the fruit. This is an unusual La Romanée of limited finesse. Nevertheless, the 1971 has aged nicely and is in a beautiful spot right now. 


The lower section of La Romanée; Romanée-Conti is just to the right, while Richebourg lies straight ahead

Flight 5

The 1979 La Romanée is very pretty and delicate, with expressive brambly notes that are woven throughout. Sweet red griotte, tobacco, cedar and dried herbs are some of the nuances that open up in the glass. The 1979 is a bit green and herbal, but the savory notes are well integrated. Above all else, the 1979 offers lovely cut and energy. The 1979 is the product of a challenging vintage marked by the June 11 hailstorm, which resulted in yields of just six hectoliters per hectare. Harvest took place on October 4. The 1980 La Romanée is marked by a deep sense of verticality in its tannins and overall structure. The flavors are intense and boldly sketched in this dark, virile La Romanée. The 1980 presents a distinctly darker tonalities of fruit than most wines in this tasting, with fewer of the floral notes that are so typical of La Romanée. It also has more than enough depth to drink well for another decade plus. Harvest took place on October 14, exceedingly late, even by the standards of the era. Tasted from magnum, the 1981 La Romanée opens with absolutely exquisite, soaring aromatics. Nuance, detail and energy are some of the many signatures in a Burgundy that is absolutely mesmerizing in its beauty. Blood orange, spice, savory herbs, smoke, tobacco and mint add nuance as the creamy, expressive finish continues to unfold with air. The 1981 has retained gorgeous freshness and vivacity, no doubt partly because of the magnum format. This is a fabulous showing.

The 1982 La Romanée is one of the most compelling wines of this magical afternoon. The flavors are bright and focused throughout, with searing intensity driving through to the finish. Sweet red cherry, pine, mint, tobacco and crushed flowers open up in the glass, but it is the wine's intense salinity and freshness that truly stand. Tasted from magnum, the 1982 is absolutely brilliant. The most mature wine in this flight. the 1984 La Romanée has enough depth to drink well for at least another few years. Above all else, the 1984 speaks to balance, as all the elements are woven together nicely, especially within the context of the year. The fruit is a bit lacking, which causes the acidity to peek out. Then again, that is probably one of the reasons the wine has made it this far. Although not an especially refined or elegant wine, the 1986 La Romanée possesses remarkable energy and tension to match its powerful personality. Dark red cherry, plum, smoke and tobacco are all given an extra kick of intensity from underlying veins of acidity and tannin. The 1986 is perhaps not as profound as some of the other wines in this tasting, and yet there is so much joy in tasting a wine that has defied and then exceeded all expectations. 


Each wine is served in its own glass by a team of world-class sommeliers

Flight 6

The 1983 La Romanée is open-knit and seductive to the core. Crushed flowers, sweet red cherries, spices and tobacco meld together effortlessly in the glass. The 1983 is deep, resonant and absolutely impeccable in its balance, while underlying veins of acidity lend a touch of freshness to the finish. The 1983 is a solid choice for drinking now and over the next handful of years. Harvest took place on October 5. Another pretty wine, the 1987 La Romanée is quite soft and open, with most of its appeal in the up-front, pliant fruit. Sweet red cherry, mint, vanillin and spices are all nicely delineated throughout. The 1987 lacks the depth and intensity of the very best years, but it has aged well and is quite attractive today. The 1987 is an estate bottling that was recorked in 1999. Harvest took place on October 7. Tightly wound and vertical in its expression of structure, the 1988 La Romanée is rich, powerful and absolutely explosive. Kirsch and sweet red cherry fruit are pushed forward, yet there is plenty of tannin lurking beneath. I very much like the sense of energy and classic austerity in the 1988. The 1988 is an estate bottling that was recorked in 1999. Harvest took place on September 26.

The 1991 La Romanée is one of the more harmonious wines of this era. Although the 1991 is peaking today, it also has enough mid palate depth, texture and creaminess to drink well for at least another few years. The aromatics show lovely signs of maturity, but the fruit is likely to fade before the tannins fully soften, so readers should plan on drinking the 1991 sooner rather than later. Harvest took place on October 2. The 1993 La Romanée boasts serious density and depth, along with surprising freshness for a wine of its age that suggests the 1993 still needs more time in bottle. My only concern is that the wine is starting to fray a bit around the edges, so waiting might not be the best course of action. Still, there is no question the 1993 has the structure to drink well for another two decades plus. Sweet red cherry, cranberry, mint and cedar are some of the many notes that punctuate the deep, resonant finish. Harvest took place on September 26. 

Quite a surprise, the 1995 La Romanée is also one of the most delicate wines in this flight. Crushed flowers, mint, sweet spices, dried flowers and anise lift from the glass. The 1995 doesn’t quite have the depth of the best years, and the fruit has begun to dry out. Accordingly, the 1995 is best enjoyed sooner rather than later. Oddly enough, the 1995 was made in a much more restrained style than what was common during the 1990s here. The 1995 is an estate bottling that was recorked in 1999. Harvest took place on October 3. Another powerful, extracted Burgundy, the 1996 La Romanée offers notable richness, but limited finesse. The 1996 is especially intense, dark wine that comes across as forced and overdone, with searing tannins that aren't likely to fully soften. One can only wonder what might have been.

A survey of the bottles as things are about to get started

Flight 7

Although not especially complex, the 1992 La Romanée is quite pretty and very nicely balanced, with underlying veins of acidity that give the wine an attractive sense of brightness. Sweet red cherry, pomegranate, blood orange, and mint. Supple and fully resolved, the 1992 needs to be enjoyed sooner rather than later. Harvest took place on September 24. The 1994 La Romanée shows good depth and overall density, but also comes across as strongly vegetal and underripe, with angular contours and a sense of awkwardness that dominates the wine's overall balance. Harvest took place on September 24. Soft, fleeting and open-knit, the the 1997 La Romanée needs to be enjoyed sooner rather than later. Crushed flowers and dried stone fruits add to an impression of a fully mature Burgundy whose time has come. Harvest took place on September 22. The 1998 La Romanée is marked by big, intense tannins that dominate the wine's balance and a search for concentration that continues a theme seen in the 1993 and 1996. The 1998 has enough depth to drink well for another decade, give or take, but it will never be a refined or truly pedigreed wine. Harvest took place on September 23.

Things take a step up in this flight with the appearance of the 2000 La Romanée. A sexy, radiant wine, the 2000 is endowed with striking purity and sensuality. Still quite primary and deep, the 2000 will drink well for a number of years. A beautifully articulated, supple finish laced with the essence of dark cherry, plum, mint and cinnamon rounds things off nicely. The 2000 is impressive, especially after some of the less inspiring wines of the 1990s. Harvest took place on September 16. The 2001 La Romanée is endowed with striking inner sweetness, deep color and striking palate presence. Layers of dark red stone fruit, violet and spice blossom effortlessly as they grow to flesh out the wine's frame. The 2001 is an unusually juicy, supple La Romanée, yet those qualities make the 2001 incredibly appealing. This is another impressive wine, especially within the context of a vintage that has required quite a bit of time to reveal all of its potential. Harvest took place on September 16.


The Château de Vosne-Romanée as seen today

Flight 8

A nuanced, beautifully understated wine, the 2002 La Romanée captures Louis-Michel Liger-Belair at the early days of what would turn out to be a remarkable decade for him and his family. The 2002 is a soft, hushed wine that speaks to the introspective elegance that this site is capable of. Lilting in its soft, floral notes and bright stone fruit flavors, the 2002 draws the taster in with its sublime personality. The 2002 La Romanée (Bouchard Père et Fils) is quite a bit bigger, richer and more powerful than the Liger-Belair version tasted alongside it. Here the emphasis is on power and intensity, both of which are accentuated by the choices of cooperage, and specifically, what tastes like a preference for higher toast levels that give greater breadth and volume to the dark red stone fruit flavors.

A striking wine, the 2003 La Romanée makes a strong first impression. Dark, round and supple, the 2003 shows plenty of the generosity of the vintage in its ripe, racy personality. Dark red cherry, plum, smoke, mint and licorice blossom as the 2003 opens up. The 2003 is racy and seductive to the core, with terrific overall balance. Already quite open and expressive, this sumptuous beauty should continue to drink well for the next 15-20 years, perhaps longer. The only thing I am not crazy about in the 2003 is a slight note of reduction. If opened now, the 2003 needs a good bit of air. The 2003 La Romanée (Bouchard Père et Fils) is forward and fruit-driven in style, yet it has also retained good freshness for the year. Most of the wine's appeal is up front, as the wine loses a touch of intensity on the finish. A host of sweet red cherry, plum, smoke, mint and spice notes meld into the supple, racy finish. 

The 2004 La Romanée is penalized by overpowering vegetal notes and aggressive tannins, all of which leave the wine with an angular quality that dominates. Hints of smoke, tobacco, herb and mint struggle to come forward, but it is the wine's drying personality and hard contours that leave the strongest impression. Bouchard did a terrific job raising their 2004 La Romanée, which is clearly a more satisfying wine than the Liger-Belair version in this vintage. Although not exactly an exciting wine, the 2004 is round, supple and shows no hard edges, almost uncharacteristically so for the year. Dried cherry, mint and dried flowers are laced into the saline finish. All things considered, this is a success for the year. 

Liger-Belair's 2005 La Romanée is powerful and intense, but also elegant at the same time. Deep, rich and beautifully layered, the 2005 is going to need another decade or so to fully blossom. The flavors are dark and resonant, with plenty of red cherry, plum, spice and floral notes buffered by a real sense of vertical energy. If opened within the next few years, the 2005 needs a good bit of air for some of the reductive notes to blow off. The 2005 La Romanée (Bouchard Père et Fils) is deep, powerful and intense, with massive fruit, big tannins and limited finesse. In this context, the 2005 comes across as blowsy and over the top. Shades of black cherry, smoke and spice add to the wine's dark, inward personality. 


A grouping of recent vintages

Flight 9

Christmas cake, blood orange, mint, white pepper, dried flowers and tobacco are some of the many nuances that grace the 2006 La Romanée. Noble, understated and classy to the core, the 2006 can be enjoyed today, but it remains tightly wound, energetic and could certainly use another few years in bottle. A compelling interplay of exotic spices and bright, saline-inflected notes grace the finish. This is a superb wine for the vintage. A wine of nuance and striking aromatic lift, the 2007 La Romanée speaks to finesse above all else, making it one of the most sophisticated, polished wines in this tasting. Hints of sage, white pepper, mint, rose petal and sweet red cherries all soar from the glass, leading to a beautifully textured, persistent finish that invites a second taste, and then a third. This is an immensely pleasing young La Romanée that will drink well with minimal cellaring. 

The 2008 is a powerful, vibrant La Romanée, but it is the slight element of lingering reduction that gives me the greatest pause. Enticing scents of dried rose petal, crushed flowers, mint and herbs open up first. Even with time in the glass, the 2008 remains a tightly wound ball of energy, with compelling inner sweetness and lovely savory undertones that all build to a crescendo on the intense, saline-driven finish. Ideally, the 2008 needs the better part of the next decade to come together. It will be interesting to see if the reductive notes dissipate over time.

With the 2010 La Romanée we enter the realm of wines that are going to require many, many years to just start drinking well. In the 2010, I am drawn to the wine's explosive energy and tension. Beams of salivating acidity and firm tannins provide the backdrop for a vivid and viscerally thrilling Burgundy. The 2010 is an eternal wine that captivates readers for many, many decades. I only hope to taste it again when it is mature. The 2011 La Romanée is a huge overachiever. It is also likely to start drinking well sooner than some of the surrounding vintages, although it will take a good decade or so to get there. Creamy, resonant and inviting to the core, the 2011 offers lovely pliancy in its sweet red stone fruit, violet and spice notes. Here, too, the contrast of invigorating freshness and understated power is so alluring to the point of being nearly impossible to describe with words. 

Sweet, succulent red cherries, plums, mint, spices, violets and rose petals hit the palate in the 2012 La Romanée, a wine built on pure, visceral intensity. A huge mid-palate and explosive finish round things out in grand style, but what I admire most about the 2012 is the constant push and pull of finesse and power. There are a number of compelling wines in this tasting, the 2012 is at or near the top of the list. Readers who have the possibility of acquiring a few bottles of the 2012 should not hesitate, as it is truly a wine for kings and queens. 

Just bottled a few months ago, the 2013 La Romanée is an absolutely stunning wine with a very bright future. Delicacy and power meld together in a regal Burgundy endowed with statuesque verticality, salivating acidity and tannins that pulse with vitality. A host of violet, plum, licorice and leather overtones grace the exquisite finish. What a gorgeous wine this is. The 2014 La Romanée is a wine of almost raw intensity that is going to need a good 15+ years in bottle before it is at the very early part of its maturity. A huge core of primary fruit announces the 2014, a wine that is likely to thrill those lucky enough to own it for several decades. The 2014 is super-impressive, even at this early stage.

A number of bottles in this tasting are beyond rare

Flight 10

A dark, rich wine, the 1985 La Romanée opens with a rich, soy-infused mélange of aromas and flavors to match its demi-glace-like richness. Brown spices, licorice and worn-in leather add further shades of nuance. The 1985 is fully mature and exquisite, especially in the way layer after layer unfolds in the glass. This is a very beautiful, mature Burgundy that has reached its peak. While certainly a good wine, even a very good wine, the 1999 La Romanée is made in the deep, super-extracted style that Régis Forey favored at the time. Jammy fruit, power and explosiveness take center stage, none of which I consider signatures of La Romanée, while the tannins dry out a bit on the finish. All that said, the 1999 is still a very pleasing wine, which just goes to show how special this site is. The 2009 La Romanée is warm, radiant and seductive, with all of the charm that is so typical of the year. Sweet red cherry, rose petal, plum, leather and spice take on bold shades of expression. The 2009 is a bit hard to taste in this context, as all the other wines served alongside it are far more mature. The bottle I tasted the following day turned out to be far more rewarding. I have used that score and drinking window here. 

Flight 11

The 1919 Vosne-Romanée is marred by a slight touch of TCA, but it also possesses quite a bit of power and a demi-glace-like sense of richness, both of which are remarkable for a village wine that is nearly 100 years old! Roasted coffee beans, smoke, licorice, brown spices and game are some of the signatures. The 1919 is now fully mature, but it is nevertheless a real treat to taste and drink. One of the many surprises of the day, the 1928 Vosne-Romanée is in far better shape than the 1919 tasted alongside it. There are plenty of game, tobacco, toffee, espresso, worn-in leather, dark spice and menthol overtones, but it is the wine’s phenomenal length that is most surprising of all. A trace of volatile acidity is evident, yet the 1928 provides fascinating insights into 1928, a famously hot year in which ice was used to cool down the fermenting musts. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Louis-Michel Liger-Belair sharing an embrace with his mother, who was in tears as she tasted the 1928, the birth year wine of her husband, who had passed away just a few months ago. These are the moments that remind us that even the rarest and most coveted Burgundies remain the work of real people and families that share the same human struggles and ups and downs that are part of life for all of us.

The final flight is one of the most memorable

Flight 12

Sadly, the 1926 La Romanée, from a scorching hot year with tiny yields, is cloudy in color and maderized. This bottle also has significant ullage. The 1923 La Romanée is laced with scents of orange peel, almonds, mint, honey and chamomile. The last vestiges of acidity have allowed the 1923 to hang on for longer than anyone had likely envisioned at the outset. The fully bricked, orange color and faded flavors put the 1923 beyond the point where I personally find pleasure in wine. 

Flight 13

Silky, perfumed and wearing the patina of full maturity, the 1915 La Romanée is strikingly beautiful. Coffee, roasted nuts and dark spices abound, yet what strikes me most about the 1915 is its phenomenal length, polish and exceptional overall balance. And to think it was made one hundred years ago, in the middle of World War I. There are times when words seem utterly inadequate to describe a wine. This is one of those times. The 1919 La Romanée is volatile, maderized and past peak. At the same time, the wine preserves a level of intensity that can only make me wonder what it was like as a young or even mature Burgundy. This is another wine that is past the point where I enjoy wine personally. Still, tasting the 1919 is a real treat.

Flight 14

All of the ups and downs of the early 1900s wines are quickly forgotten once the 1911 La Romanée is served. My tasting notes read “wow!” more than once. Miraculously fresh for a wine of its age, the 1911 is haunting in its beauty. Dried rose petal, Christmas fruitcake, red cherry and dried flower noes hover across the palate. Silky, delicate and almost impossibly beautiful, the 1911 has it all. What a gorgeous and utterly moving wine it is, at over a hundred years of age. The 1908 La Romanée is another faded wine that is seemingly past peak, but then again, there is so much going on in the glass. Orange peel, spice, mint and almond nuances are all ethereal in their aromatic lift and weight, and, yet, there is somehow enough acidity left to give the wine its unmistakable brightness. I prefer wines with a bit more fruit and overall freshness, and, yet, the 1908 simply can’t be denied. This is a stunning Burgundy. Where does the 1865 La Romanée get its depth? From the ungrafted vines? Maybe. All I can say is that the 1865 La Romanée is one of the most profound, utterly moving wines I have ever had the privilege of tasting. Its textural beauty, aromatic intensity and explosive depth are nearly impossible to describe with words. At 150 years of age, the 1865 is a testament to one of Burgundy’s great vigneron families and La Romanée.

View all the wines in the order tasted

You Might Also Enjoy

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 1982-2012, November 2015

Lalou Bize-Leroy: Celebrating Sixty Years at Maison Leroy, May 2015

Multimedia: Louis-Michel Liger-Belair on 2013, January 2015

Multimedia: A Conversation with Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, December 2011

Credits

All photos © Vinous Media, LLC 2015, 2016, with the exception of The Château de Vosne-Romanée circa 1908 and vineyard map, which are both taken from Les Comtes Liger-Belair, Deux Siècles au Service de la Romanée 1815-2015

Bibliography

Les Comtes Liger-Belair, Deux Siècles au Service de la Romanée 1815-2015, Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, Jean-François Bazin, 2015

The Pearl of the Côte, The Great Wines of Vosne-Romanée, Allen D. Meadows, 2010

The Climats and Lieux-Dits of the Great Vineyards of Burgundy, Landrieu-Lussigny and Pitiot, 2014

-- Antonio Galloni