By Neal Martin, 2002
There are few events in the wine-tasting calender that garner such interest and anticipation as the annual Domaine de la Romanée-Conti tasting. Held in the plush drawing room of UK agent Corney & Barrow, it is an early morning affair which kicks off at 08:30 sharp and is all over by midday. Indeed by 9:00am even those who rarely see this time of day are starting on the Échezeaux: an illustration of DRC’s pulling power.
The bottles stand in a row at the far end being meticulously served by Corney’s employees all itching to taste it themselves. I have yet to see anyone return to ask for another glass or ask for a little bit more. By 10:00 am the room is full of youthful sommeliers, wine-merchants and MW’s (although this time they were conspicuous by their absence at such an early time of day).A hushed reverence at the beginning often evaporates into excited chatter as the combination of the early hour and Pinot Noir induces a degree of light-headedness. At this, the Holy Grail of all things vinous, one tends to not use the spittoons. After all, a bottle is almost a month’s salary, and apart from anything else, these are wines to be savoured and appreciated for the moment. Most of us will never have the opportunity to retaste them.
The whole thing runs like a well-oiled PR machine; from the managing director announcing his arrival outside by revving his vintage Bristol motorbike, to the owner of DRC, Albert de Villaine, on hand to discuss the merits of each wine. Indeed it is he who keeps an air of objectivity about assessing the wines, and his humble appearance and unassuming manner gives no indication that he owns the most expensive farmland in the world and creates wines that can render experienced tasters speechless.
At the end of the day one has to ask are the wines any good? I have been lucky enough to taste more than my fair share, which admittedly have included some big disappointments (for example Grands Échezeaux 1992). But when DRC is on form it delivers with style and panache that only a handful of wines can achieve; an unbelievable balance of power and elegance. Albert de Villaine describes the 1999s as “our legacy to the Domaine” and said that he would be a contented man if he died with this as his final vintage.
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru “Cuvée Duvault-Blochet” – £292
A unique cuvee from the fruits of young vines of all the Grands Cru in memory of one of the founding ancestors of DRC. Lucid ruby colour. A simple perfumed nose of raspberry and violets. Good acidity with vibrant red cherries on the palate. Med-bodied and relatively simple compared to the other wines. Fine sweet finish. Not at the same level as other wines here. (19/25)
Échezeaux – £474
Dense ruby/garnet colour. Nose is backward with notes of dried leaves, earth and morello cherries. A gorgeous palate of blueberries and raspberries with lot more concentration than previous vintages. A certain rustic flair to this wine. Great acidity and a very long finish. The best Échezeaux DRC in a long time and better than Grands Échezeaux. (23/25)
Grands-Échezeaux – £726
Slightly lighter colour than Échezeaux. Nose is muted with tar and a hint of blackcherry. V smooth silky palate with velvety tannins. Again backward with slightly less body than Échezeaux. Very harmonious. Long finish. Just lacks the flamboyance and charm of Échezeaux. (22/25)
Romanée-Saint-Vivant – £948
Similar colour to Grands-Échezeaux. Typical nose of violets, spice and super-ripe cherries. More backward and restrained than usual. A tight earthy, leathery palate which is less feminine than usual. Not quite the smoothness and finesse of other vintages but still a wonderful wine. (22/25)
Richebourg – £1,050
Certainly my favourite of the tasting. Bright ruby/garnet colour. Nose is very backward and intense: wet earth, leather and plums. Incredible concentration on the palate with immense complexity. An exercise in balance of power and elegance. Pure blackcurrants at the moment and a finish that goes on forever. (24/25)
La Tâche – £1,248
a lighter hue than Richebourg. The nose soars from the glass: musk and leather. A soft entry and then the concentration hits the palate. V harmonious with notes of plum and leather. Very complex, multi-faceted wine. A sweet finish rounds it off. V long finish. Magnificent. (23/25)
Romanée-Conti – £3,846
Lucid ruby colour. Always the most difficult to assess young. The nose is all purity and elegance rather than power. Violets and plums. There is a note of wood that will be integrated in the next year which also comes through on the palate. Still very tight and backward. Ripe cherry/cranberry. Good acidity with the longest sweet finish I have ever tasted. Needs a good 15+ years. (23/25)