For Peter Dean, like any serious wine lover, an invite to taste through the Romanée-Conti range of wines is a special event. When it’s the first opportunity to ever taste these wines, and the vintage is 2015 – one the Domaine has declared only comes round two or three times a century – it’s hold onto your hat time. But it’s one thing trying them and it’s another thing living with the experience. Once you’ve raised the bar of the Pleasure Principle that high, how do you go about living a normal Pinot Noir existence?
In the 23 years that Corney & Barrow has been working with the Domaine the quality level has risen supremely and the demand become almost unimaginable.
OK, I won’t lie. I have never drunk DRC before, nor La Tâche nor any other of the DRC range before.
Before today that is.
When people describe the wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti as ethereal, unearthly or transcendental, it’s not just because they are describing what they taste like – light and refined – it’s because you have more chance of trying them in the afterlife than in this.
For me, like most wine lovers, the DRC range has always been the unobtainable Holy Grail of Burgundy that price and allocations simply prohibit access to.
The most fabled wine estate in the world, perhaps the greatest, certainly the most elusive. I, like many others I’m sure, have wept at passages in Richard Olney’s French Menu Cookbook that describes him sloshing a bit of La Tâche in the stew.
You pretend to yourself that it’s not worth the money and, even if you had a shot at it, you’d decline. But you know that’s a lie. You would consider spending every single last penny you have on a bottle. Because it’s the best Pinot in the world. Ever. And how much would you spend to try that?
To say excitement levels were at an all-time high when I got the invite from DRC merchants Corney & Barrow to taste the 2015 vintage would be incorrect. This was like having that crisp new Hendrix ticket in your sweaty adolescent hand.
I was going to pop my DRC cherry on a vintage that only graces Burgundy two or three times a century. It was what they call in the trade ‘a hot ticket’.
Walking past the Royal Warrant on the wall, the Corney & Barrow reception room is like a cross between Harley and Downing Street, except for the fact that the portraits festooning the walls are of blue chip wines hung like cherished members of a family, rather than former PMs.
“Mr de Villaine will see you now sir.”
The tasting glass you get allocated was also different. I thought it was a table full of dirty glasses but, no, all pre-rinsed with Pinot to take away any odours that could divert focus from the precise winemaking we were about to commune with.
Those administering the seven wines were as deft and silent as jewellers, with the chosen few – trade, press, private clients – holding their empty glasses out like Oliver “Please sir, I want some more.” Or was that just me?
Critics, whose first DRC vintage this most certainly wasn’t, had the air of undergrads sitting finals, alternating their tasting notes and their tasting glasses with an expression of the kind of pain that only comes with extreme pleasure. Face it, it is hard not to be serious drinking a three grand bottle of Burgundy.
With a vintage like 2015 every wine was singing at full tilt, naturally enough. This is an opulent vintage, the fruit showing well, the tannins already velvet and hidden in places. Every sip an almost indescribable sensation and each wine like a different facet of the same precious stone.
When it was finally time to taste the Romanée-Conti 2015 itself, I was reminded of that Steve Martin stand-up joke where he says that the Mona Lisa is kinda good… until you realise that Leonardo painted it with a single stroke.
To call this wine multi-layered or complex is fruitless. As the wine spreads through you it was like finally being shown what the blueprint of really, really great Pinot Noir should look and feel like. “Aaah I get it now!” Every element, every tiny nuance, every part of the structure, the flavour all clicked into place like a Rubik’s Cube finally achieved after so many years trying.
It’s not for nothing that auto-correct for Romanée is Romance – this really was love at first sight.
I have some top Burgundy and it’s not that I haven’t tried top Burgundy, generously shared by hosts in Beaune and the like, (with and without a good deal of age on) but this, for a young wine on its first UK tasting, to taste like this?
I saw one well-known critic later that day at another tasting, who had been at DRC like me, looking slightly distracted, almost annoyed saying “I’m having real difficulty trying to taste the Pinots”. Not half.
And therein lies the problem. I have always tried to resist certain things in my life that would raise the bar too high on the pleasure threshold. Once you’ve done it the rest is never going to be the same again.
So I might give Pinot a miss for a bit, open up a nice Bordeaux perhaps, let the dust settle on this extraordinary event, and pray that I never get complacent about being granted an audience with such vinous royalty.
I was reminded of the time I shared a bottle of ’89 Château d’Yquem with my wine-loving father in law, who had always wanted to but never tried it. As he sat silently, with wet eyes closed he said “You know I never thought that I would ever try d’Yquem in this lifetime.”
Wine really is a quite wonderful thing.
The wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are distributed in the UK by Corney & Barrow who are a Supplier Partner of The Buyer. You can read more about the company here.
In bond prices for the 2015 vintage are as follows: Corton (3x75cl, £825), Echézeaux (3x75cl, £1100), Grands-Echézeaux (3x75cl, £1635), Richebourg (3x75cl, £2550), Romanée-St-Vivant (3x75cl, £2700), La Tâche (3x75cl, £3000), Romanée-Conti (3x75cl, £8775), Le Montrachet (1x75cl, £1900).