Archive for the ‘Richebourg’ category

Domaine de la Romanée Conti

April 16, 2007

A couple of weeks ago we took friends from the Netherlands to Margaret River. We decided to show them Leeuwin Estate and Cullen to try two of the region’s most famous wines, the Art Series Chardonnay and the Diane Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. While drinking these international acclaimed wines I started to realise how different things were when I visited Burgundy late last year. It was highly unlikely that unprepared visits to Chambolle-Musigny, Volnay, Pommard and Meursault would be rewarded with the dégustation or purchase of wines from ‘superstars’ like Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, Hubert de Montille or Coche-Dury. So why bother going to Vosne-Romanée, a village without any architectonic highlights and a rather desolate appearance with virtually every door closed? The reason why is that the vineyards on the gentle slope just above the village supply grapes for some of the worlds best Pinots and I found myself to be just one of the pilgrims to pay honour to these revered patches of dirt, wondering why they all have the same ordinary look but are capable of producing such great and diverse wines. La Tâche and Romanée-Conti are the most famous of Vosne’s vineyards and are entirely owned by Burgundy’s flagship, La Société Civile du Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (or simply called DRC). DRC also owns parcels in Richebourg, Romanée-St-Vivant, Grands Echézeaux, Echézeaux and a tiny bit of Montrachet. The quality of the Domaine’s holdings goes beyond imagination as do the wines and their prices. I therefore felt deeply honoured and fortunate to be invited for a tasting of its wines at Perugino in Perth last March, something I thought to be unimaginable during my visit.

The initial program of the tasting featured the 2004’s, to be tasted according to the unofficial hierarchy of DRC’s grand crus. Because the planned line-up had to be altered the wines included were – in the order tasted – Richebourg 2004, La Tâche 2004, Échézeaux 2003, Grands-Échézeaux 2003, La Romanée-Conti 1997 and Romanée-St-Vivant 1990, so there was an unique opportunity to look at the wines from a different but equally interesting perspective. Instead of comparing the wines from the lesser crus with the absolute top wines, with the vintage as common denominator, the tasting of pairs from 2004, 2003 and further back automatically gave us the chance to have a better look at the wines individually, allowing them to show their own virtues, young, old and including vintage variations. And the latter certainly plays an equally important role for DRC with the annotation that in good vintages nearly anyone in Burgundy should be able to make good wines but that DRC is still able to make very good wines in the more difficult ones. However, it definitely was a revelation to look at the wines as a reflection of the vintage and the period during which it was produced, a principle often expressed by Aubert De Villaine and one to adhere to when drinking wine as an aficionado.

To the wines now. With an intense fragrant, deeply complex and powerful nose we are all welcomed by the 2004 Richebourg, one of DRC’s top wines. The wine has an incredible soft and velvety mouthfeel balanced by more powerful fruity and smoky spice characters. Despite it’s youth this more fruit-driven wine is very approachable now and has all the hallmarks of DRC’s top wines. To prevent me from becoming too enthusiastic one of the biggest guns is thrown in: 2004 La Tâche. All the characteristics of the Richebourg are magnified in all its glory with a deeper colour and a more powerful and concentrated nose of berry-fruit and cherries. The palate is just more concentrated and powerful yet all with an incredible balance and finesse. Overall this wine is more focused and defined than the Richebourg. Maybe 2004 wasn’t the greatest of years but it shows that under normal circumstances La Tâche is able to produce wines as good as La Romanée-Conti. Very, very impressive.

The middle bracket, consisting of 2003 Échézeaux and 2003 Grands-Échézeaux, showed wines that are maybe less impressive but are interesting regarding the expression of an abnormal vintage. The 2003 Échézeaux has a deep purple colour and an intense, broody and fragrant nose of dark berries, sandalwood and spice. The front-palate is forward and fruity, the mid-palate rich and concentrated and the finish firm with mouth-drying tannins but rather short. I didn’t really like the legacy of the vintage expressedby the extra ripe and sweet ‘shrivelled berry’ flavours. Still a classic Pinot though. The 2003 Grands-Échézeaux also shows ripe fruit combined with a fair bit of earthiness. A very concentrated and powerful wine with lots of fruit and tannins waiting to be set free. Overall the 2003 Grands-Échézeaux is far more restrained than the 2003 Échézeaux but definitely more balanced and a big step-up. Whether both wines can stand the test of time remains the question and really depends on if fruit and tannins marry.

The grand final was all about what time can do with wine. The hot 1997 vintage in Burgundy generally offered full-bodied wines that were very approachable and maybe a bit simple. Nothing of that could be traced in the 1997 La Romanée-Conti. The brick brownish coloured wine has an untamed, surrealistic and opulent perfumed nose, changing continually in the glass over time. The rich and complex palate is medium-bodied with more developed characters of forest floor and mushrooms going hand in hand with multiple layers of fruit. Its finish is fresh, long and subtle. This is one of those wines that simply makes you smile, a benchmark that will stay with me forever. Where La Romanée-Conti clearly stands on its own, the 1990 Romanée-St-Vivant closed the ranks in a more than pleasant way. The vintage is generally rated as classic and the quality really shines through in this wine. As the wine was not decanted there was quite a bit of sediment in the glass which is normal for a wine of that age. The same can be said of the brownish colour but when I first smelled the oxidised characters I feared the worst. The wine recovered remarkable after 15 minutes or so and offered a complex array of developed Pinot flavours of earth, leather, tobacco and mushrooms backed up by fresh fruit. The powerful tannins gave a nice mouth-drying sensation while the fruit and acidity kept everything perfectly balanced. A stunning example of how well Pinots from classic vintages can age.  

Source: Tasting Negociants Australia