The Burgundy Icons

With so many producers operating in Burgundy, it is very difficult to provide a definitive account of all the iconic growers in the region. We have identified domaines that are icons of their communes based on the consistency and quality of the wines they produce, along with being benchmark examples within the region they come from. We also look at the critical acclaim attributed to them, along with the market demand and the stratospheric prices these wines can reach in the market.

Domaine Romanée Conti

“the typically tensile, intense La Tâche and the startlingly perfumed, kaleidoscopically complex, supremely elegant Romanée-Conti truly exhibit a categorical difference from any other wines on earth.” Robert Parker

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or simply ‘DRC’ is, without a doubt, the most famous domaine in Burgundy and one of the most famous producers on Earth. The Grand Cru vineyard from which it takes its name produces the world’s most expensive wine according to Wine-Searcher. So important is this producer that it is the only domaine allowed by law to be named after a specific vineyard.

At the time of writing this profile, ten of the twenty most expensive wines listed on our website hail from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, they are the jewel in the crown of any collection. This is a testament to the demand and rarity of these wines.

At the time of writing this profile, ten of the twenty most expensive wines listed on our website hail from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, they are the jewel in the crown of any collection. This is a testament to the demand and rarity of these wines.

The History

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti can trace its history back many centuries. The Dukes of Burgundy donated a 1.8-hectare plot to the Abbey of Saint-Vivant. This was later sold to the Croonembourg family who renamed it Romanée. They also purchased the vineyard next door: La Tâche. These two great vineyards were sold once again with Romanée falling to Prince de Conti, hence becoming better known as Romanée-Conti.  After several more changes of hands during its history, the domaine ended up under the ownership of Aubert de Villaine (son of Henri who had co-owned it with Henri Leroy, the father of Lalou Bize-Leroy, the driving force behind Leroy) in 1953. He was a judge at the Judgement of Paris tasting and he and his wife Pamela also run A & P Villaine in Bouzeron, producing excellent Aligoté.

The Terroir

The domaine now holds a cluster of vineyards that are second to none. The old vines (nearing 50 years old on average) are farmed organically and biodynamically, yields are kept low by aggressive pruning (it is suggested that it takes three vines to produce one bottle), and harvesting is typically very late. Intervention in the winery is minimal, i.e. natural yeasts, new oak, no filtering, no destemming, etc. 

DRC or, as it is simply referred to by some, “the Domaine”, is the largest proprietor of Grand Cru vineyards in Vosne-Romanée. On top of the monopole vineyards of La Tâche and Romanée-Conti, the domaine owns more than half of Romanée St Vivant, a third of Grands-Echézeaux and half of Richebourg.  It also has holdings in Corton, Le Montrachet and Batard-Montrachet, and in great vintages, they also produce the Premier Cru Vosne-Romanée Cuvée Duvualt Blochet from young Pinot Noir vines sourced from various vineyards. The domaine’s Grand Cru Le Montrachet is one of the rarest and finest white wines produced. The Batard-Montrachet is not released commercially.

Domaine Leroy / Domaine D’Auvenay

“You will simply never get a disappointing bottle of wine from Bize-Leroy. Her wines not only reflect their appellations, but are Burgundy’s reference points.” Robert Parker

Madame Leroy is the driving force behind three iconic Burgundy-producing domaines: Maison Leroy, Domaine Leroy and Domaine d’Auvenay. Domaine Leroy and Domaine D’Auvenay produce some of the most sought-after and expensive wines in the entire world, wines that reside in the top echelon of fine wine exclusivity, alongside the likes of Domaine de la Romanée-ContiPétrus and Le Pin.

It is virtually impossible to arrange a visit or secure an allocation. However, FINE+RARE has become a valued partner of Madame Leroy over decades of selling her wines. We are lucky to have access to Domaine d’Auvenay and Bize-Leroy’s other wines as well as be invited to each year’s release.

The History

In the 1950s, Lalou Bize-Leroy began working for her father’s négociant business called Maison Leroy. She dedicated her time to studying the vineyards of Burgundy. She developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the region’s terroir. By 1971 she was the President/Directrice of Maison Leroy, accompanying her father to meetings at Domaine de la Romanée Conti, an investment her father had made in the 1940s giving him fifty percent ownership of the winery.

Three years later Madame Leroy was the co-manager of DRC, where she worked until 1992, raising the status of the domaine to its now astronomical level. However, for reasons that have garnered much speculation, Bize-Leroy left and turned her attention solely to her own businesses: Domaine d’Auvenay, Domaine Leroy and Maison Leroy. Lalou Bize-Leroy restricts yields to four bunches per vine, implements rigorous quality control to ensure only perfect grapes make it into her wines, uses biodynamic viticulture, only replaces vines with her own cuttings and doesn’t employ an oenologist relying only on her own skills and the quality of her fruit. The company is one third owned by Takashimaya, the Japanese luxury department store and distributor.

Domaine d’Auvenay is named after Lalou Bize-Leroy’s home, an old hunting lodge outside St-Romain in the hills above Auxey-Duresses, which she shared with her husband Marcel until he passed away in 2004. This estate is therefore incredibly important to her and also to fine wine connoisseurs and collectors, because as Decanter puts it: “Despite its modest address, Auvenay has a number of grands crus in its portfolio, but quantities are minute, and the queue for allocations is long.” 

The Terroir

Under the Domaine d’Auvenay label, which includes vines in Chevalier-Montrachet, Bonnes Mares, Mazis-Chambertin, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Criots-Bâtard-Montrache, Bize-Leroy makes biodynamic, estate-grown village, Premier and Grand Cru wines.

Leroy’s impressive holdings include nine Grands Crus (Corton-Charlemagne, Corton-Renardes, Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, Clos de Vougeot, Musigny, Clos de la Roche, Latricières-Chambertin and Chambertin) and eight Premier Crus (Volnay Santenots du Milieu, Savigny Les Beaune Les Narbantons. Nuits-Saint-Georges Aux Vignerondes and Aux Boudots,Vosne-Romanée Aux Brûlées and Les Beaux Monts, Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes and Gevrey Chambertin Les Combottes), yields are restricted to just four bunches per vine and only perfect grapes make it past the sorting table (Bize-Leroy employs as many pickers as harvesters). Biodynamic viticulture is strictly adhered to within the 23 hectares of old vines and she has not employed a winemaker or oenologist since 1993 and firmly believes that this is not a requirement of a domaine with perfect fruit. 

The releases from Domaine d’Auvenay and Leroy are erratic and varied. It is impossible to predict which vintage of which appellation will come next. But what is guaranteed is that availability will be minuscule, the quality will be exceptional, critic scores will be high and demand will be fierce.

Coche-Dury

 ‘King of Meursault’ and ‘the best winemaker in Burgundy’ – Jancis Robinson

Even critics seldom get to taste the top wines of Coche Dury, but the last two decades have seen the elusive and mysterious Jean-François Coche emerge as “the essence of Burgundy’s vigneron culture” (Galloni). “Jean-François Coche’s name is now murmured with the same respectful awe that is reserved for Henri Jayer. From three starred Michelin restaurants to the auction floors of New York and London, it is the white wines of Monsieur Coche that are the most ardently sought after.” (John Gilman)

Even though Robert Parker acclaims Coche-Dury as “one of the greatest winemakers on planet Earth,” he himself never got the chance to taste at the Domaine. Scores have little bearing on the market for Coche, since whatever is available is bought up at lightning speed by fans of the Domaine. 

The History

“The true golden age of Coche began, in 1972 when a young Jean-François Coche took over the small Meursault-based Domaine that was founded by his grandfather Léon Coche in 1920. In 1975 he married Odile Dury, and the merging of their family estates gave the name we see on labels today. Jean-François was very meticulous in the vineyard and in cellar, but the secret to his enormous and unique success is still a mystery. According to Steve Öhman, “there are no secrets, just hard work in the vineyards.” While he tops up his barrels as often as possible to prevent oxidation, Jancis Robinson remarks that “he is one of the very few Burgundy growers who definitively does not want you to pour the remains of your precious wine sample back into the barrel.” As a character, she finds him “miraculously unworldly. He really does care for little other than his precious vines and the barrels that he tends under the most modest of modern villas on the outskirts [of Meursault].” Since 2003 his son Raphael Coche has gradually taken over the day-to-day work at the Domaine, though it appears Jean-François still plays an important role.

The Terroir

The two crown jewels amongst the white wines in the Coche cellar are the Meursault-Perrières and the Corton-Charlemagne.  Surprisingly, Coche makes only one Grand Cru wine: Corton-Charlemagne, which Neal Martin describes as “liquid mineral. Imagine a limestone quarry being melted down and then distilled multiple times until there is just enough to fill your wine glass.” 

Coche makes Burgundy’s most sought-after Premier Cru whites: Meursault-Les-Perrières, Meursault Genevrières and Meursault Caillerets. The Meursault Villages, and lieu-dits like Meursault Rougeots, Meursault Vireuils and Puligny Montrachet Les Enseignères are also noteworthy. Some red wines are made: Auxey Duresses, Monthelie, a Volnay Premier Cru, and up until 2013 a parcel in Pommard called “Vaumuriens” which was sold to fund the purchase of more CortonCharlemagne. One whole third of the Coche’s 9 hectare total production is regularly declassified and labelled generically, which partly explains the high quality level of the Coche Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Aligoté and can match many a Meursault for quality.

Minuscule yields from ancient vines, meticulously sensitive vinification and no filtration before bottling give the Coche-Dury wines their characteristic intensely concentrated fruit and crisp but balanced acidity. They also have the potential to age for a very long time. The white wines of Coche-Dury have cult status, with prices and rarity to match. The red wines, which are made in a soft, gentle style, are often overlooked and offer a perfumed and seductive style of Pinot Noir.

All the white wines are famous for their “prodigious resistance to premature oxidation,” in the words of Jancis Robinson, who explains that the influence of the Domaine’s house style is “at least partially responsible for the international trend of ‘struck match’ Chardonnay making” as countless others, both in Burgundy and elsewhere, have adopted more closed, tightly-knit styles for their Chardonnay to emulate the long ageing potential of Coche-Dury. The independent consumers’ website Oxidised-Burgs classes Coche-Dury among those producers “who have very little premature oxidation as a percentage of bottles opened and indeed seem to have no higher incidence of premature oxidation since 1994 than they did before.” The only other members of this category are François Ravenau in Chablis, DRC, and the affiliated Domaines Leroy and d’Auvenay

Henri Jayer

“Anyone who loves or makes Pinot Noir should study Jayer’s wines, for they serve as a modern-day reference point for those desiring to produce the best possible wines from this fickle grape variety.” Robert Parker

The wines of Henri Jayer have a mythical status in Burgundy. Coveted by many but tasted by just a precious few, they are some of the region’s rarest and most desirable wines. In fact, they are considered by many to be the pinnacle of what can be achieved with Pinot Noir. 

Jayer’s wines are now some of the world’s most collectible, with the price tags to match. The Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru has received a flurry of press attention over the years for being the world’s most expensive wine, exceeding the likes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leflaive, with single bottles known to sell for upwards of £12,000.

The History

Henri Jayer was born in Vosne-Romanée in 1922 and continued to live and work in the village for much of his life. He studied Oenology at the University of Dijon and worked at Méo-Camezet for a time before he began producing wine under his own label in the 1950s.

Henri Jayer was an innovator and pioneer of Burgundian wine, responsible for developing many of the techniques widely accepted today. He passed away in 2006, leaving an indelible mark on the history of fine wine. His estate, comprising of some of the finest vineyards in Vosne-Romanée, is now farmed by Emmanuel Rouget .

Henri Jayer is also notable for playing a huge part in the vinous education of his nephew Emmanuel Rouget, who worked alongside him for several decades and continued to farm the Jayer family vineyards after his uncle’s death in 2006. While wines are no longer made under the Henri Jayer label – a fact that undoubtedly makes the surviving bottles even rarer and more desirable than ever – his style and terroir live on in the work of his nephew Emmanuel.

The Terroir

Jayer is especially noted for his work on Cros-Parantoux, described as “the sweet spot of Richebourg” by Steen Öhman. Once a vineyard that had been left to go fallow, Jayer began to acquire plots of Cros-Parantoux in the 1950s and worked hard to replant and nurture the terroir. In 1978, after several years of selling the grapes to négociants, Jayer bottled his first Cros-Parantoux wine. Henri also made some wine from his brother George’s vines, which were bottled under the label Georges et Henri Jayer.

Henri Jayer is believed to have invented many of the winemaking techniques which now characterise top end Burgundy. He was famously opposed to filtering his wines, and all bottles bear the declaration “Ce vin n’a pas été filtré” (this wine has not been filtered). Jayer is also credited with inventing ‘cold maceration’, the process of destemming grapes after picking and putting them in tanks prior to fermentation. While this can be risky in the hands of less adept winemakers as it increases the chance of oxidation, in Jayer’s case the approach paid off, creating incredibly complex, individual wines that have given them the profile they enjoy today.

Jayer’s vintages range from the late 1950s to 2001, which was the last vintage he made before he died. Jayer previously stated that he felt his best vintages were 1978, 1980, 1985 and 1986. That said, given the quality and rarity of Jayer’s wines, any vintage at all is worth serious consideration.

Armand Rousseau

Armand Rousseau is the most renowned estate in Gevrey-Chambertin. Domaine Armand Rousseau’s reputation is inextricably intertwined with the prestige of Chambertin, where Rousseau owns more vines than any other grower.

For the most part, demand for these wines is so strong that they are invariably allocated as opposed to being actively sold. Prices have risen steadily over the past decade and there is no real reason to suggest that they will stop. The combination of rarity and outstanding quality is not without effect.

The History

Armand Rousseau assembled a remarkable collection of vineyards in the first quarter of the last century and was a pioneer in estate-bottling. Eric Rousseau took over after the death of his father Charles in May 2016, representing the third generation at the Domaine.  For many wine lovers, Charles was a point of reference, having been the face of the Domaine since 1959. However, not much is set to change from a winemaking standpoint under the young Eric, though Clive Coates speculates that bottling dates may be moved forward by a few months compared to the past.

Practices have hardly changed in three generations, with triage exclusively in the vineyards (not the press house); the inclusion of whole clusters and stems; precocious malolactic fermentation; a reliance on older barrels; and an eventual light plaque filtration – this is red Burgundy as it should be.

Critics unilaterally acknowledge that some of the most definitive terroir expressions of Pinot Noir in Burgundy are produced at Domaine Armand Rousseau’s winery.

The Terroir

The Grand Cru of Chambertin is the most culturally emblematic red Burgundy vineyard. It is one of the most distinctive and easily recognisable characters in every vintage. Noted as the only wine Napoleon ever drank in his time as Emperor, to overstate the sheer cultural significance of Chambertin would be impossible. For Clive Coates, “as far as Chambertin and Chambertin Clos de Beze are concerned, you could even argue that there is Rousseau, and there are the rest. There are few finer domaines in the Cote d’Or than that of Armand Rousseau.”

With holdings throughout Gevrey, the domaine benefits from many other prestigious red Burgundy terroirs. Namely, the monopole of Clos des Ruchottes which has been treated as a flagship wine within the domaine, producing excellent quality across vintages.  With 2.5ha of forty-year-old vines, Armand Rousseau owns more here than anyone else. The size of their holdings combined with the domaine’s experience with the vineyard, which spans three generations back to 1921, goes some way towards explaining the wine’s critical acclaim and undisputed celebrity.

Rousseau’s Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St. Jacques vies with the Grand Cru Chambertin wines as the crown jewel in the vineyard collection. Though it is now ranked a Premier Cru, Jules Lavalle ranks this exclusive clos in Gevrey Chambertin as “Premiere Cuvée” in his 1855 classification of the vineyards of Burgundy. Similarly, as does Camille Rodier in the subsequent classification of 1920. However, modern commentators such as Clive Coates commend Clos Saint-Jacques as “the equal of a Grand Cru” both in price and quality. Rousseau is the largest holder in this important Premier Cru and that the Clos St Jacques is so often put forward as a candidate for promotion to Grand Cru status is largely down to the quality of the Rousseau bottling.