Having written about wine for 25 years, the number of different wines I have tasted must run into the tens of thousands: it is not unusual for me to taste 300 wines in a month. For any single wine to stop me in my tracks, it really does need to be something special.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
In Burgundy, the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is perhaps the most revered name in the whole world of wine. Farming 25 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards, they produce only 6,000–8,000 cases of wine each year. Demand far outstrips supply, with wines sold ‘on allocation’, meaning there is something of a ballot to see who receives a few precious bottles each vintage. Unless you are a regular customer with a long track record of buying the Domaine, the wines are more or less impossible to purchase on release.
The wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti have always been extremely expensive, and prices have soared in recent years, putting the wines even further out of reach. Of the eight different wines produced, the jewel in the crown comes from the Romanée-Conti vineyard itself, with wine-searcher.com showing the price of the most recent vintage as £20,000 per single bottle.
I see from my tasting notes database that I have been lucky enough to taste one of DRC’s wines on 40 occasions, with vintages dating back to 1966. The scores they have received undoubtedly put them amongst the greatest wines of my experience, and that is what prompted me to purchase the wine below around 15 or 16 years ago. Although the most expensive wine I had purchased at the time, the price paid bears no relation to its value today: it is on sale currently for £2,000 per bottle.
Last week I decided it was time to open the Échézeaux 2000. The occasion was a dinner with wine-collecting friends who brought other wines of legendary status: Château Latour from Bordeaux and the extremely rare Côte-Rôtie from Gentaz-Dervieux. I opened my bottle to taste and check it before leaving home, and immediately recorked it, deciding the best plan was to pour the wine straight from the bottle rather than decanting, an accepted approach to most red Burgundy.
As you will read in my tasting note below, the wine exceeded expectations, joining a list of my most profound wine experiences. These are the rare bottles that will live forever in the memory of the drinker, the wines that prove, without any shadow of doubt, that wine can be so much more than a commodity; a thing of absolute beauty.
The Échézeaux 2000
I have been trying to work out exactly what it was that gives a wine – specifically this wine – its profundity. The other wines tasted that night, and many wines tasted previously, were fabulous bottles; truly excellent by any standard. I cannot rule out the occasion, the company, the food at a very good restaurant, all playing their part, but such a wine needs more than context and quality to transcend ‘greatness’ and become… something else.
Is the Romanée-Conti Échézeaux 2000 a hugely powerful wine? Does it grab you by the lapels and shout “pay attention!”? Does it impress with its sheer concentration and intensity? The answer to all of these is “no.” The great winemakers of France, and of Burgundy in particular, are obsessed with terroir, a meeting of place, climate, soil and vine, that imprints on the finished wine more than the actions of the winemaker – as long as that winemaker is sensitive enough to allow it. In other words, wines that genuinely are ‘made in the vineyard, not the winery’. Something of a cliché, yes, but sometimes true.
This Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Échézeaux 2000 was a wine of perfect quietness, of perfect stillness. It was a wine of perfect fruit and balance, of layered and unfolding complexity. At no time did it raise its voice above a whisper, and yet the beauty, the precision, reached beyond the senses to touch the soul.
Pseuds corner? Well, you may think so, but I say absolutely not. Now and again we have to acknowldge beauty and the aesthetic. We have to accept that there is a pinnacle that is rarely reached. If you have been lucky enough to experience a wine like this, I am sure you will understand.
The obvious question
Why does this wine not score a perfect 100/100 points? I can think of very, very few wines from the 20,000 tasting notes on this site that are its equal. But of those 20,000, I have awarded a score of 95 or more to only 157 wines. My scoring is conservative, acknowledging that I have not tasted every wine in every great vintage, so I leave a little headroom just in case I do. The truth is though, that this wine probably does deserve a perfect 100. I can barely imagine a better wine experience.