Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair – The Rarest of the Rare

2013 Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair La Romanée Grand Cru Monopole

Written by Al Drinkle

No other estate in Burgundy, or perhaps the world, has achieved such an enviable reputation in such a short amount of time. Admittedly the seeds were planted two centuries ago and at a certain point in history, the Liger-Belairs owned a dizzying collection of vineyards that included the monopolies of La Romanée, La Tâche and La Grande Rue as well as considerable parcels in Clos de Vougeot, Chambertin, Saint-Georges, Malconsorts, Reignots and Vaucrains. The Napoleonic code eradicated most of this enviable ownership in 1933 when the recently widowed Comtesse Liger-Belair passed away leaving the estate to 10 children, including 3 minors, who were unable to reach an agreement as to the future of these holdings. Miraculously, two of them were able to buy back certain vineyards at the auction that followed, most notably the famed La Romanée.

The next few generations of Liger-Belairs hired sharecroppers to tend the hallowed land while the wine was marketed by negoçiants. When still a child, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair told his parents that when he grew up, he wanted to live in Vosne and be a winemaker. Hoping to shake such patently wild notions out of his son’s head, his father declared that he wouldn’t be permitted to manage the wine estate until he had obtained a degree as an engineer. Louis-Michel proceeded to pursue a degree in agricultural engineering, perhaps not what his father had envisioned, also completing a degree in commerce and acquiring an oenology diploma from the University of Dijon. By 2000, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair was a dynamic and driven young man, ready to re-claim his family’s vineyards and make his name as a winegrower.

At this time, there were only 1.5 hectares for Louis-Michel to hone his craft, but as sharecropping arrangements ended and rental agreements and purchases in additional vineyards were established, the domaine grew to its current 11 hectares or so. All of the holdings are in Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-St. Georges and Flagey-Échezeaux, covering a small but covetable corner of the Côte d’Or. The pearl of this, of course, is the undistinguished-looking monopoly of La Romanée, France’s smallest wine appellation and one that produces one of the world’s most brilliant examples of red wine.

Farming at Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair is biodynamic and the winemaking touch is light, if not absent, and even the influence of new barrels disappear into wines of considerable purity, nuance and persistence. The hype around the domaine generates strong interest, often amongst people who have never actually tasted the wines, but those who are lucky enough to try them are flabbergasted by an uncommon union of subtlety and harmony with unbridled, rippling succulence. Comte Liger-Belair bottles are ones that get emptied! They are precious, yes, and very expensive, but kaleidoscopically complex, dangerously appealing when young (though their aging capacity is assured), and they never let you forget that wine’s primary mandate is to taste great. It might even be said that amongst the world’s most cerebral red wines, these are the most unintimidating and user-friendly.

The La Romanée vineyard will produce anywhere between 250 and 350 cases of wine in a typical year and Metrovino is proud to be the only Western Canadian source for this as well as Comte Liger-Belair’s other wines. “La Romanée is the rarest of the rare,” writes the Burghound, Allen Meadows, adding that “the first trick to enjoying a bottle is simply finding one.