Clos des Réas and the Best Birthday Present. Ever!
What’s the best birthday present you’ve ever had? I’ll tell you mine. It wasn’t apparent at the time, yet looking back, it acted as a catalyst for my wine life’s subsequent direction. Many years ago, there was a red Burgundy wine tasting in London hosted by Clive Coates MW. I was given a ticket to this as a present, and it took place on my Birthday. The event was to taste a vertical of fourteen vintages of Clos des Réas, from 1985 to 2000.
Thanks to this tasting, Clos des Réas became one of my favourite wines, and to this day it still is. Besides, I subsequently got to see Clos des Réas and meet Michel Gros, owner and winemaker. It would undoubtedly be one of my Desert Island wines, my only lamentation being the stratospheric prices that Burgundy now commands.
Sadly, Clive’s path and mine have never crossed again. This tasting event was the last one ever he ever held at his house in London because shortly afterwards he moved to Burgundy. Clive published ‘The Vine’ for 20 years between 1984-2005 and is one of the great Burgundy and Bordeaux authorities. Though now in semi-retirement, his website is still a great read. Below is my original article about this tasting, on a cold winter night in 2003. It’s virtually unchanged apart from some grammatical improvements.
Michel Gros, Vosne-Romanée, Clos des Réas Premier Cru Monopole
This tasting was held by Clive Coates MW at his home in Turnham Green, Chiswick, London in December 2003. “Vosne-Romanée is the greatest Pinot Noir on Earth,” said Clive. Vosne-Romanée, arguably the most extraordinary wine village anywhere, has six Grand Cru appellations including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. It also has a further eleven Premier Cru, including Clos des Réas.
Clos des Réas is a 2.12 hectare triangular walled Clos that has belonged to the Gros family since 1860. Despite complicated inheritance laws the family have ensured that this vineyard has been kept intact as a Monopole*. Michel Gros made his first vintage of it in 1975, and the Clos has been solely his since 1996. It’s regularly viewed as one of the better Premiers Cru, producing Pinot Noir’s expression with “very pure fragrance at it’s most elegant”.
The Clos is on the south side of Vosne-Romanée, just below the Grand Cru of La Tache. The walls protect the vines from the wind and retain warmth, so they ripen 2-3 days earlier than adjoining vineyards. The Pinot Noir vines are 5 – 50 years old, a mix of clones and selection massale. The slope inclines only 3-4% within the Clos, so there is little water runoff erosion. It may be flat, but the soil is very stony, so there is rapid drainage. Michel Gros believes that drainage is the key to this terroir. The vines are never waterlogged and send their roots deep. There is also low soil humidity, so reducing the risk of fungal diseases.
The high walls around the Clos look ancient but are perhaps a mere 200 years old. Michel Gros thinks that they are from when the Monopole was first created in the nineteenth century, rather than Monastic.
Viticulture: As is common in Burgundy, the vines grow at high density; 10,000 per hectare. Michel Gros prunes these short, leaving few buds, deliberately limiting yields at the outset of the vinous year, rather than green harvest in summer. Those yields are typically only 30-35 hl/ha.
Vinification: The grape bunches are hand-picked and de-stemmed. Fermentation is in epoxy-lined cement vats at around 32°C for 10-12 days. There is no fashionable cold maceration before fermentation, Gros is not looking for extraction or power. Fermentation employs selected yeasts for reliability, with pumping over and punching down twice per day. According to the specific vintage conditions, maturation is 18 months in oak, using between 50% and 80% new oak (with a high toast). The wine is bottled unfiltered, with egg white used for fining.
High toast oak is the house style, to prevent green wood tannins from marking the wine. Most of the barrels are locally sourced from Tonnellerie Rousseau at Couchey, near Marsannay. There are 28-30 228 litre capacity casks each year in volume terms, implying some 9,100 bottles.
Fourteen vintages were tasted from the following years: 2000/1999/1998/1997/1996/1995/1994/1993/1992/1991/1990/1989/1988 and 1985. Those vintages regarded as a classic in Burgundy are in bold highlight. Clive Coates also suggested drinking dates for each vintage.
Bright and clear medium brick red, thin pink rim. Medium intensity Pinot nose: red fruits, some oak spice. Medium-bodied, fresh with plenty of acidity and young firm tannins. Concentration. Cherry-ish fruit, long finish, an excellent example of fine winemaking in an ordinary-ish vintage. Early-drinking from 2007 onwards.
Darker than 2000, richer colour, still purple on the rim, youthful. Intense and delicate perfume, a bit closed; violets, oak, red cherry fruit. More robust on the palate, more alcohol, acidity and lots tannins but balanced out by plenty of fruit. A tannic grip. I went back to this at the end, had opened up in the glass. Lot’s of development seems possible. Very good in a great vintage. Please don’t touch it! 2010-2030
The colour shows first signs of development-brown tinge appearing at the rim. Nose dumber initially, did open up in the glass, beginning of farmyard aromas, quite spicy, plenty of acidities, lot of backbone, cherry fruit and length. Suffers a little when compared to 1999. Better than in 2000. 2008-2020.
Lighter than 1998, more browning, quite marked at the rim, some maturity. Full farmyard nose. Palate disappointing in comparison, not much fruit yet tannins still firm. Hot vintage, wine has developed quickly. Drink now-2008.
Contrast to 1995 below is marked. Development again like 1997, closed nose, some farmyard. High acidity. Initially wondered where the fruit was, needed time in the glass. Took a while to open up, then plenty there, but a bit lean for me. 2006-2026.
Small crop. Very brown rim. Complex nose, farmyard, spicier; a lot of development. Palate red berry fruit, high acidity, medium body, lacks structure, perhaps a little “rustic” or angular. Disappointing for me, but especially compared to 1996. 2005-2010.
Very good given the awful vintage. Looks younger than 1995. There was not much fruit on the nose, a bit of leather/gamey character, softened tannins, and shortish length, but I enjoyed this one. Drink now to 2010.
Small concentrated crop. Initially austere and tight, reviewed wrongly by Parker. Delicious! Darker than most, more colour and extract, broad rim shows some ageing, not as much as 94 or 95. Perfumed nose, real complexity here, violets again, farmyard aroma and cherry. Full-bodied, very spicy, superb concentration. I preferred this to universally liked 96. May rank slightly behind the 1999 but lovely. Drinking now but another year or two won’t hurt. 2004-2025.
Quite a dumb nose. (Clive called it “diffuse”). There’s no fruit left, just spice and vanilla with acidity. It hasn’t lasted, being from an indifferent vintage. Drink Up, the least interesting wine on the night.
Delicious, and so I swallowed! Deeper colour than 92, more like the 93 or 94. Big perfumed nose, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”…very silky mouthfeel, balanced, very long length. All elegance and finesse. Again denigrated by Parker and was gawky when young. Now to 2011
Deeper colour more extract than 1991, superb powerful nose, complexity; more compost/leafy than say, farmyard. Massive mouthfeel, lush, lots of spicy fruit, velvet long, long length. Profound in fact. My favourite on the night (just). Drink now to 2020.
Lighter colour than 1990. Note, no browner than say 1995. Pronounced farmyard, classic aged Pinot nose. Plenty of acids, more angular than the 1990 but very good. More fruit than the 1990 but not as rich. Clive Coates prefers this to 1990 and said this is one of the best 1989 Burgundy’s. “Absolutely à point”. Now to 2015.
Similar in many ways to 1989, especially the nose. Still fresh, plenty left, nicely balanced, not the richness of 1990 or the fruit of 1989. Now to 2013
Now very brown, extending right back to the core, really mature. The nose is all aged Pinot, farmyards, complexity, leather, spice, gamey, mushrooms and compost. Love it (I did) or hate it. Delicious palate. Lots of acids, cherry fruit still there, the structure too. Drinking now-2010 but why wait any longer?
Except for arguably 1992, these wines were all of consistently very high quality. They were also a good barometer of vintage variation in Burgundy. Once again, they also prove that great producers make good wine regardless of the annual vintage conditions. Without massive extraction or intrusive oak, these wines are balanced, quite “feminine” for a Cotes de Nuits and not designed for early drinking – even lighter years deserve five years in bottle. My wine of the night? 1990 by the slimmest of margins.
I still marvel that in 2021, those old bottles of 1999, 96 and 93 are still, as predicted, in their drinking windows.
With hindsight, I can say that this tasting was my best birthday present ever. Indeed, it’s the present that keeps on giving. I still taste Clos de Réas every year, resisting the temptation to add subsequent vintage years onto the above review, even with the likes of 2005, 09, 10 and 15. That’s because these wines represent a snapshot of a singular time.
I also learnt a lot that night, about Burgundy naturally, but also about presentations. Afterwards, I knew that writing and communicating really was what I wanted to do. I also realised that a lack of self-belief had held me back up to that point. That night Clive showed me the value of having your own convictions. Here’s to you, Clive!
Domaine Michel Gros
7, rue des Communes
*A Monopole is a Burgundian term where one climat has but one owner. Hence it’s a rarity, given that French inheritance laws consider the entire family including children, so often lead to property subdivision between many inheritors.