Dinner with Domaine de la Romanee-Conti

Regular visitors will have read my reports on tastings of the young wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and occasionally of older wines if I am priviliged enough to taste them. The Domaine is probably the most sought after in the world, their wines being snapped up by followers before they are released, and fetching unbelievable prices if they re-appear on the open market.

In Spring 2004, Romanée-Conti’s UK Agents Corney & Barrow brought owner, Monsieur Aubert de Villaine, to Edinburgh to be guest of honour at a banquet celebrating the Domaine and its wines. This was a thrilling occasion for any wine lover, to taste through the Domaine’s back catalogue in the presence of Monsieur de Villaine, and thankfully the wines lived up to the billing.

xThis was my first ever tasting of Romanée-Conti’s rarest wine; the white Grand Cru, Le Montrachet. Only 240 cases of Le Montrachet are produced, to satisfy the entire world market. It’s price is eye-watering; the cheapest I can find the 1996 we drank is £1,152.89 – not per case; per bottle. That works out at a little under £200 ($360US, €300) per glass. Now I could not even countenance spending so much on a single bottle of wine, but I can say that after a lifetime of tasting tens of thousands of bottles, this one stopped me in my tracks and turned all my previous expectations and experience on its head. It was that good.
The reds were extraordinary too of course. By sheer coincidence they included ’66 Échézeaux, a wine I had tasted before about five years ago. What an unexpected pleasure to have the chance to see how this had developed as it neared its 40th year.

The notes which follow are from the dinner, the menu and wine list for which is shown above right. It is difficult not to seem over-eager to praise with such wines and such an historic dinner, but all I can do is reproduce my notes here as recorded on the night; the wonderful, memorabale night. My thanks to Corney & Barrow and Aubert de Villaine.

The dinner

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Le Montrachet 1996
From a tiny parcel of Le Montrachet covering just two-thirds of a hectare. This is a fantastically aromatic wine, its fragrance of honey, toast, and hot-butter layered over Brazil nut, and deep beurre noisette, with ripe apple and peach fruit beneath. Real sensory overload here. It has an equally stunning palate, with wonderfully vibrant and concentrated orange fruit and a weighty, silky texture. But there is tons of verve too, with a rapier-like mineral acidity cutting through a developing core of luscious nectarine and finely-wrought pear fruit. There are so many layers to this wine, which unfolded over the evening (I dipped in and out of my generous glassful). It has fantastic limpidity too, with honey and oatmeal nuances, and a bright polish of start-fruit and Asian pear adding tension against the more opulent side of its nature. Amazing concentration and length, giving this wine undeniable presence, yet impeccable balance. Outstanding. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

Is this wine worth £1,150 a bottle? well let’s not be silly; no wine is worth that, but it is totally captivating and one of my great wine experiences.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands-Échézeaux 1996
Aubert de Villaine said this was a vintage characterised by an incessent North wind that meant grapes were very healthy (low humidity and pest-free) and developed concentrated acids and sugars. The nose is gorgeous, and just beginning to show a bloody, gamy, sur maturité quality to deep-set, plummy fruit. Big, structured, and quite manly aromas emerge, suggesting beef stock and muscular concentration, with little hints of truffle and decaying wood. On the palate there is wonderful fruit sweetness, and a developing animal character. It is quite tight through the mid-palate, with polished tannins and a backbone of acidity, and this should open further and integrate to reveal more of the fruit at its core. Drinking well, but possibly better in five to ten years or so. Excellent/Outstanding. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1991
This Burgundy vintage is a little underrrated in general, and I have enjoyed several wines from it in the last few years that have been excellent. This has developed an absoltely fabulous nose, that is just flooded with sweet, overripe, bloody, gamy, leathery notes, plenty of truffle and smoky darkness and a pure seam of ripe fruit. It has a gorgeous suggestion of sweetness with lots of damson plum and demerrara sugar, that sensous animal and beef-stock note and real complexity. On the palate there is a flood of sweet berry fruit, with brilliant cherry highlights giving a knife-edge balance against crisp acidity and polished, pure tannins. There is still plenty of structure here, and a coffee-bean, toasty warmth fills out the long, scintillating finish. Outstanding. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Échézeaux 1966
This is a wine I last tasted in 1999 (click here) and found to be outstanding. Five years on, and it has a very brown colour, and lots of fine sediment in the glass (thanks to rather hurried pouring I suspect). The nose is seductive and fantastically warm, with sweet brown sugar and even slightly fetid, silage aromas, which sounds unpleasant, but in fact is just like walking across a ploughed field with that sweet, earth and animal scent. There’s still a very composed core of capuccino, roasted red berries and even hints of chocolate. On teh palate it is all sweetness and silky texture. The fruit is still very pure and rounded, with some hay-like, herbal notes and still a balanced core of mineral acidity. Tannins have almost gone, and this enveloping, sensual wine is perhaps just a little short on the palate now, but glorious all the same. For drinking soon I would say, if you are fortunate enough to have some. Excellent. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

Marc de Bourgogne Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1986
How decadent to finish your meal off by flourishing a botle of DRC brandy at the end of the meal! “Marc” is a distilled spirit produced from the dried grape skins left after pressing. It is aged in oak barrels, often for a long, long period, to take on a tawny colour and toffeed nuances. Another first for me tasting this DRC version, but I confess I only nosed this. It was complex and hugely aromatic, with all sorts of spice and floral nuances. Splendid stuff. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.