Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s co-owner and co-director Aubert de Villaine has said of the 2016 vintage that it was a case of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. But, although it was a difficult vintage to work, the estate is hailing it as ‘perfect’. Chris Wilson held his golden ticket to this most exclusive of wine tastings to go and try the Romanée-Conti wines for the very first time.
Fresh red fruit dominates the tasting but with Romanée-Conti itself there’s something primal here too, that’s flinty and mineral-driven.
Don’t meet your heroes they say. Well they, whoever they are, are plainly wrong. Meet them, hold their hands, party the night away with them, share stories with them…. after all you only get so many trips around the sun so you might as well grab it all with both hands, drink it up, drink it in, enjoy it.
So with gusto I strode into No.1 Thomas More Street – HQ of Domaine de la Romance-Conti’s UK merchants Corney & Barrow – to taste a selection of the 2016 DRC wines, repeating in my head the Only Fools & Horses mantra “play it nice and cool son, nice and cool.”
On show were five wines from the 2016 vintage, including La Tâche and Romanée-Conti, but not Echézeaux or Grands-Echézeaux due to the ‘very small quantities made’. These wines have been bottled only in magnum and have been promised a showing at a later date.
This was not my first experience of the wines from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti stable, but it was the first time I actually got to taste them. My first encounter with these fabled Burgundies was in Verona on a wet and miserable November evening three years ago.
We were having dinner at Bottega Vini – known for its exquisite Amarone risotto and it’s superbly stocked cellar – when our host offered us a tour of the cellar. Impressed by the breadth of wines and vintages tucked away beneath the restaurant we were about to leave when with a twinkle in his eye our host asked if we’d like to see the DRC drawer.
Following a resounding ‘yes’, the top drawer of a tatty nearby dresser was hastily wiggled open and – behold – a dozen or so bottles of various DRC wines rolling around. Despite our pleading none were opened but I left with longing to try these iconic wines one day.
The 2016 growing season at DRC
Anyway, back to No.1 Thomas More Street, where this wish was about to come true, but first a note on the 2016 growing season at DRC.
It was a tricky vintage with early budburst, heavy spring rains (the wettest on record), savage frosts in late April (accounting for the loss of virtually all the young shoots of Echézeaux and Grands-Echézeaux) and late and protracted flowering.
Things improved dramatically, however, when glorious weather set in from mid-July until after harvest, resulting in well balanced fruit at harvest with phenolic maturity in the stalks, pips and skins and perfect levels of sugar.
The Domaine was thrilled by this turnaround and by the quality of fruit that went into its 2016 wines. It even quotes Napoleon in the tasting book to accompany the vintage by way of comparison! “At Marengo I lost the battle at 5 o’clock, but I won it back again at 7.”
Reflecting on the vintage Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s co-owner and co-director Aubert de Villaine says: “The moment has come to go back in time to try and understand the phases of this incredible scenario that took us from the prospect of a total defeat, which was contemplated in the spring to, ultimately, an unexpected success, which now places 2016 amongst the most perfect vintages of these past few years.”
Tasting these wines was a pleasure. There was a real tension in the tasting room as members of the wine trade and press, as well as private customers, took it in turns to receive their samples then moved to the edges of the room to assess the wines in their own ways. Lots of nodding and introspective looks, furious scribbling for some, hushed noises of approval from others, a general feeling of privilege at being able to take a glimpse at these revered wines.
There was an overall purity and poise across the wines, a freshness of fruit and – in some – a hint at the development to come. Here are my notes on each wine.
Cherry tart on the nose. A lovely weight in the mouth with damson and chestnuts, and a raspberry finish. There’s a salinity and wet rock edge on the nose too, and deep down an earthiness and suggestion of bitter dark chocolate.
Much fuller with black fruit and a rich, bramley texture. So smooth and elevated with black cherry and blackberry notes and a savoury tang of bark, peppercorns and earth. Has so much more to give.
Grainy set honey on the nose, then strawberries and sunshine. Carries a velvety swagger, this already has confidence and poise. There’s red cherry, red apple and raspberry fruit as well as developing tertiary characters of black olive and tomato leaf.
La Tâche 2016
A fleshy, pulpy nose, like summer fruits in the blender. Then there are violets and a sweet note of strawberry Chewits. In the mouth there is berry fruit dusted with black pepper and a red liquorice and cedar finish.
Floral nose with vanilla and baked plum. There’s something primal here too, that’s flinty and mineral-driven. This complements the strawberry and black cherry fruit nicely, which in turn leads to notes of smoke (an open fire the morning after), herbs and liquorice. Ethereal.
UK in bond prices. All wines are also offered in magnums, except for Romanée-Conti
Corton: £930 per 3-bottle case (420 dozen produced)
Romanée-St-Vivant: £2,970 per 3-bottle case (1,304 dozen produced)
Richebourg: £2,775 per 3-bottle case (868 dozen produced)
La Tâche: £1,050 per bottle, £3,150 per 3-bottle case (1,814 dozen produced)
Romanée-Conti: £3,250 per bottle, £9,750 per 3-bottle case (440 dozen produced)