Who makes the best burgundy? The domaines to know and collect
Chris Munro, Head of Wine for Christie’s in the Americas, profiles the burgundy producers every wine lover should be looking to have in their cellar — and showcases some upcoming lots of interest
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
The jewel in the crown of the Côte d’Or, this peerless estate commands a roll call of the greatest Grand Cru vineyards: Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, Richebourg, Echézeaux and Grands-Echézeaux, among others.
Very few people are able to taste the magnificent wines that emanate from the old cuverie of the monks of Saint Vivant. Those who do are imbibing mythic beasts, pinot noir that displays aromatic fireworks, spherical structure and luscious texture.
The colourful nature of the wines is matched by the intriguing history of the estate: in 1760 it was the subject of a bidding war between Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and the king’s cousin, the Prince de Conti. The mistress’s pockets were not as big as the prince’s, and he handed over 8,000 livres for the estate, appending the best vineyard with his title. This regal pedigree is felt, even today, in the sumptuous and evolved nature of the wines.
Lalou-Bize Leroy is a force of nature. She took over the reins of Maison Leroy in 1955 and maintained the high standards of her father Henri, who had been buying the best wines from up and down the Côte d’Or for production under his own label. The family were heavily tied to the other great name in Burgundy, the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, as part owners, and the quality of winemaking at both estates was so high that today the wines are among the most collectable in the world.
In the late 1980s Lalou bought vineyards, rather than just barrels as her father had, and started crafting handsome wines from plots such as Richebourg and Romanée St Vivant. She maintains that 90 per cent of the work of the estate is in the vineyard and she is an innovator, allowing the vines to flourish without cutting and overseeing a savage selection process.
Production is tiny — in great years such as 2010 only two barrels of Chambertin were produced. Sublime vintages of Domaine and Maison Leroy’s Grand Crus are lushly textured and rich with great ageing potential.
Jacques Seysses was the scion of a wealthy biscuit-maker who traded tuiles and sables for elegant and luxurious grand cru burgundy. In 1969 he brought to market bottles of pinot poir from his base in Morey-Saint-Denis, before gradually expanding his vinous empire to include plots of the most famous names: Bonnes-Mares, Echézeaux and eventually Chambertin.
These and other stellar vineyards in Dujac’s portfolio make for a producer sought after and enjoyed by true connoisseurs. The house style has always been one of freshness and poise, with a sublime purity of fruit, and it is a style that Jacques’ sons Jeremy and Alec uphold to this day.
Domaine Georges Roumier
In 1924 Georges Roumier stood at the altar next to Genevieve Quanquin in the little town of Chambolle-Musigny. The marriage would not only bring happiness, love and a brood of children, but also a dowry which included some of the most revered vineyards in Burgundy.
Georges would go on to turn his hand to winemaking, and craft from these vineyards exquisite pinot noirs. Bonnes-Mares, Les Amoureuses and Musigny are among the domaine’s best wines, showing more structure and substance than other domaines.
The muscular nature of the wines is Roumier’s signature, despite the use of only 30 per cent of new-oak barrels for ageing. These are wines made in the vineyard, and the terroir-focused domaine maintains this style today under the aegis of Georges’ grandson, Christophe.
On my last visit to Domaine Rousseau in January 2018, I was standing in the cellar tasting from barrel when I was struck by how small this family run winery seemed. We were surrounded by the entire production, resting in the damp cool air and soon be bottled. The world waits to taste these gems, and we were extremely fortunate to be tasting them at this young stage.
This historic Domaine was created at the beginning of the 20th century by Armand Rousseau, who had inherited several parcels of vines located in Gevrey-Chambertin. Following the tragic death of Armand in 1959 in a car accident, the Domaine passed to Charles Rousseau who went on to acquire several plots of Grand Cru vineyards and establish the Domaine’s reputation on the global wine stage.
Today, the Domaine is run by Eric, Charles’s son, and Cyrielle, Eric’s daughter. Cyrielle brings her global knowledge to the Domaine having spent time in Oregon, Australia and New Zealand. The wines here age beautifully; they may appear pale in their youth but older examples are sublime. Domaine Rousseau is one of the greatest in all of Burgundy.
Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé
The apex of the portfolio of vines at Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé is the seven hectares of Musigny Grand Cru. For Francois Millet, the winemaker, these stately old vines are patrician and the resultant wine is a noble old gentleman. Certainly the Musigny is as sophisticated and serious as the metaphor suggests: strong vintages suggesting a robe of rich cherry and raspberry fruit billowing over warm chocolate and a crème brûlée texture.
Stellar vintages such as 1990 and 2000 have an oriental spice element, with a spray of sumac, paprika and black pepper. Great care is taken with the production of the noble Musigny: only 3.8 hectares of the vines are used, as these are the oldest vines offering the most consistency and depth of character. The remaining vines in the parcel are used to produce a Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru. In most vintages, therefore, only 900 or so cases of the Musigny come to market. The result is a wine to be sought out and treasured.
With a history dating back to 1825, this domaine is now under the guidance of the young and forward-thinking Erwan and Eve Faiveley. This new generation has expanded the vineyard holdings in recent years, adding Pommard and Volnay, as well as white wines from Bâtard and Bienvenues-Bâtard Montrachet.
Today, Domaine Faiveley is one of the largest owners of classified vineyards in the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune and Côte Challonnaise, with holdings of around 330 acres, one of the largest being Corton, Clos de Cortons. This vineyard produces a silky wine with plenty of fruit — a wine of real finesse.
Domaine J.F. Mugnier
The domaine has a history dating back to the 1880s and the great-great-grandfather of the current winemaker, Frédéric Mugnier, who owned the winemaking business alongside a Dijon-based company that also produced aperitifs, absinthes and the like. Domaine J.F. Mugnier’s renaissance began in 1985, however, which was the first vintage to be made by Frédéric Mugnier.
In 2004 Faiveley’s lease on the Clos de la Maréchale ended, and a new cuverie was built. The vines are now run almost organically; there is little use of new wood and wines are bottled without fining or filtration. Musigny, the flagship wine, is produced from vines planted in 1948 and 1962.
Frédéric is the second-largest owner of Musigny, with close to three acres. It is a truly remarkable wine — rich and voluptuous with great weight and balance.
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Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair
The Liger-Belair family history in Burgundy stretches back to 1815 with the purchase of the Château de Vosne-Romanée by the first General Liger-Belair. Its holdings grew, and at one point the domaine was the owner of La Tâche.
Unfortunately, in August 1933 the whole domaine had to be auctioned following a complicated succession. It wasn’t until 2000 that the young Louis Michel Comte Liger-Belair was able to start taking back some of his family’s former holdings, which had previously been exclusively marketed and made by Domaine Bouchard.
Today, the domaine has 12 vineyards — the jewel in the crown being La Romanée, a two-acre site producing one of the most sought-after wines in the world. Its tiny production has seen collectors fighting to acquire the odd bottle of a highly collectable wine of great delicacy and finesse.
With a long history under its previous guise as Domaine Pernot-Fourrier, this domaine was founded in the 1930s. Since 1994 it has thrived under the stewardship of Jean-Claude Fourrier, who worked with Henri Jayer and at Domaine Drouhin in Oregon, and combines the traditional with the very modern.
With holdings of around 22 acres and very limited use of chemicals, this domaine produces wines of purity and class, the epitome of their individual terroirs. Jean-Claude avoids sulphur, preferring to use temperature, CO2 and less contact to preserve his wines.
The domaine’s wines possess excellent balance and complexity, and have truly set their mark among the collecting community with recent releases.