Do you ever dream about meeting people you admire, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party? Some people would choose their idols, sports or rock stars; others important figures from history, Einstein or Winston Churchill perhaps; and some would opt for beauty, Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe…
I dream of a table filled with wine makers! And I had the incredible good fortune this week to meet one of my idols in the wine world, Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC). As if this wasn’t enough, in addition I had the opportunity to taste some of the stunning wines he has made, including the iconic – La Romanée Conti.
You don’t want to look a fool when you meet your idols, be unprepared or have nothing to say. It was the same with these great wines, I read about them and studied the smallest detail, to help me appreciate them fully. For insight I turned to Allen Meadows’ bible on Vosne-Romanée “The Pearl of the Côte”. After a few hours of studying, all that was left was to clear my mind of distractions and prepare my palate for enlightenment.
The venue for the tasting, the gleaming copper clad gallery underneath the hull of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, set the scene. It was a truly memorable place to be tasting these breathtaking wines, all shipped directly from the DRC cellar, while listening to Aubert’s personal recollections and insights about each cuvee.
We started with a rarity, Batard Montrachet Grand Cru, which is not commercially available. Since the vineyard was purchased in 1966, along with La Montrachet, the production from this tiny 0.08 hectare plot has been solely for consumption of the family. Only once before has the wine been showed outside the Domaine.
The vineyard is over 100 years old. Old vines produce less grapes and smaller bunches which makes the resulting wine more concentrated and complex.
According to Aubert you can push Batard, like Le Montrachet, to maximum ripeness and it still retain acidity. So that is what they do each year.
2000 Batard Montrachet Grand Cru – 94 points
Deep gold color. Intense ripe nose but fresh at the same time. Full of stone fruit, touches of smoke and a minerality. A complex aromatic blend of aloe vera, lavender, earth, wood shavings and papaya. A ripe palate with an oily texture, flavours of sunflower rye bread, pumpkin seeds, pear, quince, smoke, minerals and lemon meringue. A wonderful sensation of power and elegance at the same time. Great balance just lacks little bit of mid palate at the finish.
A comparison of Echezeaux Grand Cru and Grand Echezeaux Grand Cru
To clearly illustrate the influence of terroir, Aubert chose to show these two grand crus side by side. The two vineyards are barely separated by a narrow track.
In Echezeaux the top soil is shallower which imparts a showier, flamboyant style. In Grand Echezeaux the top soil is much deeper and contains more clay giving wines that are more discreet, elegant and subtle. According to Aubert Grand Echezeaux is closer in style to La Tâche than to Echezeaux.
This was an example of two wines made in the same way, from the same grape but which taste completely distinct. The Echezeaux is a bold wine, it screams ‘look at me’ and gives up its aromas as soon as you put your nose to the glass. The Grand Echezeaux by contrast, seems to be aware of its pedigree and slowly reveals its beauty if you have patience.
2000 Echezeaux Grand Cru – 93 points
Lovely flamboyant nose, you immediately get red forest berries, mulberry, damson, cigar, some pickle notes and green pepper, it gave a lot at first but faded quickly. A powerful palate with intense mineral notes, forest berries, very attractive but at the same time lacking a bit of interest. Mid length.
2000 Grand Echezeaux Grand Cru – 96 points
Musty, earthy, green pepper and sage, vegetal notes of beetroot on the nose. A little shy, you need to dig deeper and take time to get more out of it. Sweet spice and jammy notes, opening up to toasty, smoky, sandalwood aromas.
A silky smooth palate with an almost creamy texture, so elegant and complete. You can also find delicate spice notes, ripeness with balanced acidity. Absolutely delicious and so long. Very approachable now but will age.
Richerbourg versus La Tâche
Aubert suggested that 1991 is an underrated vintage as it followed after the universally acclaimed 1990. It was the same with 1947 and 1948, or 1961 and 1962, in this pair Aubert favours ’62. 1991 was a textbook year in the vineyard. In general ‘91 is not as seductive as ‘90 but is aging well and top wines still feel young. 1949 wines took 30 years to come into their drinking window
Aubert describes Richbourg as all about muscularity and La Tâche as exemplifying about elegance. He was given complete freedom with 91 La Tâche and for him the outcome was better than Romanée Conti.
1991 Richerbourg – 95 points
Wow what a nose! Such power, and intensity of flavours, strong rose petal notes, a chocolate box of Turkish delight and dark cherries covered in chocolate, nutmeg, cardamom, kafir lime leaves. Absolutely stunning. The palate is rich, powerful, revealing black cherries, black olive tapenade and a steely minerality. It has a long finish, a little rustic, edgy, muscular but stylish. The muscularity mellowed as it opened up towards the end of the evening.
1991 La Tâche – 98 points, potential 100
Probably the most flirtatious wine I have tried, a little shy at the beginning, but as it opened up the depth and complexity of aromas was breath taking. A fine dusting of cocoa, mint, chestnut; intense dark fruit aromas, blackcurrant, almost blackcurrant leaves. Great power, backbone, elegance, precision, rose petals, wild dark cherries. This wine is so close to perfection it makes me happy just thinking about it. It has the potential to score 100 points but is still young.
Throughout the meal every time I came back to this beautifully feminine wine it was giving a little bit more, by the end of the night I was in love! This wine is just approaching its drinking window and has bright future ahead. I just hope that I have an opportunity to try it later in its evolution.
And then we approached the most eagerly awaited moment of the evening, the summit of Mont Blanc. Time to try a wine desired by so many, but which relatively few have the opportunity to enjoy, particularly a 50 year old vintage which hasn’t moved from the DRC cellars until now.
I was feeling a little apprehensive, would this superstar wine live up to its reputation, was my palate ready? I turned to Meadows for advice, he refers to Romanée Conti as having a “Zen-like harmony of disparate elements… a singular genius”. He counsels that it must be courted, and time spent turning over the multiple layers of subtle aromas which could be missed if you don’t seek them out. It is only this way that the elegant and complete perfection can be appreciated.
1965 Romanée Conti – 98 points
Described by Aubert as one of the most difficult vintages in 50 years. Wines from this vintage have finesse and texture. It had a ripe, smoky nose with bacon, preserved rose petals, mint, dried cranberries, and dried mushrooms. It was incredibly elegant, with amazing depth of flavours. It is still exhibiting a liveliness and freshness, and smelt almost like very concentrated old jam.
The palate was silky smooth and elegant, with a fresh acidity, sour cherry, cranberry. It was incredibly subtle showing dry mushrooms, pine, poached berries, rose petals, minerals. At 50 years old still exhibiting so much freshness, full of black cherries, salty dark chocolate, tobacco and cedar. Very long finish.
We then closed an unforgettable evening with 1979 Marc de Bourgogne. Simply with the most elegant, silky smooth Marc I have tasted with lovely sweet fruit. 93 points
Over the past 15 years I have attended some incredible tasting and tasted some of the most sought after wines. Not all of those lived up to the hype, but here my sky high expectations weren’t just delivered they were surpassed. In my humble opinion the rarified prices of Domaine de la Romanée Conti are justified and if you have the opportunity I would recommend you try them. However there is a risk, when you have tasted perfection where do you go? It will be hard to find any wine that is more complete, complex, elegant and perfect in any away than Romanée Conti and La Tâche.
I left the dinner in a trance, meditating on these wines that seduce your senses and lift your spirits. The stars of the wine world shone for us tonight.