Domaine Francois Lamarche is located in the heart of Vosne Romanee, Cote de Nuits’s most legendary village. The charming cottage that houses the estate’s cellar is only a few steps away from the impregnable, fortress-like seat of Domaine de la Romanee Conti, but has a more intimate and welcoming appearance.
Nicole Lamarche has taken the reins of the Domaine after her father Francois’s passing away. Along with her cousin Natalie, who oversees sales and administration, Nicole is finally reviving this once underperforming winery, which was previously better known for its vineyard portfolio than for the quality of its wines. The Lamarche family owns, in fact, terrific plots in some of the best crus of Vosne Romanee, Flagey Echezeaux and Vougeot, including La Grand Rue, the vineyard that lies between La Tache and La Romanee Conti. However, high yields and imprecise winemaking have long resulted in their wines being less critically acclaimed than those of the neighboring domaines.
Domaine Lamarche holds seven hectares of vines scattered across fourteen different sites. La Grande Rue, which was inherited by Nicole’s grandfather Henri in 1933, is undoubtedly the most prestigious parcel possessed by the estate. A 1.65 ha monopole tied between the overwhelmingly famous La Tache and La Romanee Conti, it has the same exposure and similar soil characteristics to both these iconic vineyards. However, Henri did not apply for the Grand Cru classification back in 1937, so La Grande Rue was a Premier Cru until 1992, when Francois successfully petitioned for the upgrade. Add that Henri’s approach to winemaking was at best inaccurate – its wine were often described as heavily brett-tainted – and you may understand La Grand Rue does not have neither the recognition nor the hefty price tag of its neighbors.
In her first years as the domaine’s supervisor, Nicole has strengthened the already experimented biodynamic practices, in an attempt to preserve her vineyards’ unique natural environment. She often affirms that her parcels naturally yield sumptuous wines, and that all she does after crushing the grapes is trying to emphasize the feminine essence of Pinot Noir through minimal intervention. Coherently, she destems grapes to avoid rough tannins, employs native yeasts in the fermentation, and uses new oak moderately – no more than 50% even when it comes to Grand Crus.
states Nicole when she speaks about her winemaking style. You could guess that by just glancing at her fancy outfit.
The 2017 vintage
N.B. I visited Domaine Lamarche in May 2018
The 2017 vintage allowed Burgundy producers to breathe a sigh of relief after the disastrous 2016 season, when a severe spring frost caused them to lose up to 80% of their production. Unlike in Italy or in other regions of France, this vintage in Burgundy was neither too hot nor too dry. An early beginning season with an above-average amount of sunny days allowed grapes to reach perfect maturity. As a result, 2017 Pinot Noirs boast refinement, precision and lusciousness.
Evaluating barrel samples is always challenging, as in this primordial stage wines only hint at their true potential. Still, were all barrel samples as delicious as Nicole’s 2017s, I would recommend producers to skip the ageing process and bottle their wines much earlier than they normally do. Eventually, great Pinot Noirs are delicious in that precise moment in which they sway between fresh winey flavors and thriving tertiary aromas, but we must give up the opportunity to taste them in that phase to enjoy greater complexity in the long run.
Tasting the 2017s
Borgougne Passetoutgrain. A regional Blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. Fresh red berries flavors and tangy peppery undertones define the taste of this easy-going, quaffable wine that is closer to a good Beaujolais than to a classic Cote de Nuits.
Bourgogne Haute Cote de Nuits. A regional wine sourced from vineyards lying on the upper part of the Cote, at a meaningful distance from the Grand Cru Strip. This tasty entry-level Burgundy red displays juicy aromas and flavors of strawberries, wild roses and blood oranges, showing plenty of early drinking appeal.
Vosne Romanee. A cutting-edge entry-level wine. Still quite tight, but offers elegant nuances of violets, raspberries, iron and cinnamon, and boast juicy sour cherries flavors that linger on the medium-long finish.
Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Suchots always comes first in the lineup, as this vineyard borders Echezeaux, with which it shares a feminine personality. Les Suchots is a charming wine that smells like a bunch of flowers left to dry in an oriental bazaar. The combination of floral and spicy notes echoes on its sinuous and penetrating taste, lingering for a long while.
Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Malconsorts is the neighbor of La Tache, and, just as the mythical Grand Cru, yields masculine wines. Deeper and earthier than Les Suchots, it boasts razor-sharp acidity and gripping tannins, requiring more time to reach equilibrium.
Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Chaumes is the eastern neighbor of Les Malconsorts, and tastes like the missing liking between the two with its mix of ripe red fruit flavors and deep earthy undertones.
Clos de Vougeot. Nicole is one of the eighty-four owner of Burgundy’s largest Grand Cru. Bargain hunters might be tricked into buying one of the many underpriced wines from this vineyard, which, unfortunately, are always unimpressive. The lowest vineyards in Clos de Vougeot stand, in fact, very close to the border between the village and the regional appellation, and, consequently, yield wines that do not live up to expectations. Luckily, Nicole’s parcel lies in the upper part of the Cru, so her version is a noteworthy one. Deep aromas of underbrush, mushrooms, and dark cherries complicate the bouquet of this surprisingly expressive wine. Chewy yet fully integrated tannins backbone a luscious, tactile palate that finishes earthy and savory.
Echezeaux, Burgundy’s most feminine Grand Cru along with the legendary Musigny, is Nicole’s sexiest wine. This intensely perfumed nectar exhales persuasive aromas of elderflower, strawberries, oriental spice and women’s cosmetics. An uplifting mineral verve sharpens its medium-weight mouthfeel, which is airy, tangy and rich in suave flavors of red cherry and incense. A few days after my visit to the estate, I also had a bottle of Nicole’s 2014 Echezeaux, which is just as perfumed, but a little less balanced due to slightly powdery tannins.
Her Grands Echezeaux is rarer, more powerful and just as impressive. Sourced from a 0.30 ha micro-parcel neighboring Domaine de la Romanee Conti’s larger plot, this ethereal wine currently springs forth with scents of raspberry coulis, sandal wood and wasabi sauce. Flamboyant arias of oriental spices intertwine with juicy red fruity flavors, citrusy acidity and fine grained tannins, giving uncanny aromatic intensity to the minute long aftertaste.
La Grand Rue is always the last wine that Nicole lets her guests taste. I asked her whether it reminds her more of La Tache or Romanee Conti. She answered that it recalls both. Whatsoever, this masterpiece is only hinting at its future majesty. The quite restrained bouquet slowly opens up to nuances of violets, rust and balsam herbs. The seamless palate is bright and upheld by ripe acidity. Flavors of red cherries, wild flowers and dark spices add depth to its savory texture, and slowly fade away into a mouth-watering mineral aftertaste. As often the case with the most precious Burgundy reds, La Grande Rue is an austere wine that requires time to prove what it is worth.
At the end of each visit, Nicole gives her guests a special gift: a book featuring pictures of Burgundy Grand Crus seen from the skies. This gift may not seem noteworthy on its own, but actually reaffirms Nicole’s generous and humble personality. In my view, these two characteristics should be common to all winemakers, regardless of the quality and fame of their wines.