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Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2001

by Tom Cannavan, 03/04

My invitation to the annual launch of the new vintage from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in London is one that I always anticipate with some excitement. The letter dropped through my door in February, and you can imagine my disappointment when the scheduled date was one I simply could not make.

The wines of DRC - arguably the world's most revered wine estate - are strictly allocated, and super expensive. Even at hundreds of pounds per bottle, each new release is destined to disappear into the cellars of long-term customers and top restaurants without ever seeing the open market. Such tasting opportunities don't come along every day.

You can also imagine my delight when just a few weeks later Corney & Barrow, Romanée-Conti's UK Agents, invited me to be their guest at a tasting and dinner to be held in Scotland. For the first time ever Monsieur Aubert de Villaine, owner of Romanée-Conti, was coming to Edinburgh to present his wines to an invited audience. Now this is what I like: if I can't make it to one of London's most glittering tasting events, they bring it to me!

Along with his winemaker, Aubert de Villaine, is closely involved in wine-making decisions. He led a tutored tasting of the new 2001 wines. Monsieur de Villaine described the wines as "very classical", where after a good Spring, a cold summer snap in June meant some of the flowers died and so potential bunches of grapes were lost. July and August were hot and fine over the Côte de Nuits, then in September the ripening pattern was somewhat unusual.
 

Whilst sugar levels rose quickly, and acid levels dropped exactly as required, the phenolic ripeness of the grapes - the ripeness of stalks, skins and pips - showed a huge degree of variability, perhaps down to stress of a dry, hot summer. Aubert explained that older vines seemed to mature perfectly, whilst younger vines held on to some phenolic immaturity, with the corresponding danger that these might bring a "green" aspect to the wines. DRC had no option but to pick on a vine by vine and bunch by bunch basis, to ensure only fully ripened grapes were picked. This was done in two passes through the vineyards by their expert pickers, beginning on September 24th.

Burgundy has been on an almost unprecedented roll in the past half dozen years, when this notoriously fickle region for climate has enjoyed really good vintages. That allied with lots of winemaking improvements means that in the "lottery" of Burgundy, winning tickets have been a lot easier to pick. Of course an estate like DRC sails pretty imperiously through all of this, where the best vineyard sites, extremely old vines and fantastically low-yields mean that the raw material is always going to be pretty good, even in tough vintages. But DRC certainly doesn't rest on its laurels. Amongst experimental projects currently are the re-introduction of horses to plough the vineyards (much less likely to compact soils), ongoing experiments with Bio-dynamism (DRC is already totally organic) and increasing planting density from 10,000 vines per hectare to 15,000 in some vineyards, in order to create "competition" between vines and further reduce yields.


   Two final thoughts to ponder from Aubert de Villaine, which summarise both the magic of this estate, and its philosophy: he reminded us that the Romanée-Conti vineyard itself was first planted 750 years ago, and still occupies exactly the same boundaries as it did in the 13th century. Not one inch has changed.

Speaking about his bottled 2001s he says: "it is very difficult for me to talk about these wines now. I could talk about them easily whilst I was making them, but now that they are finished, our work is done. Now it is only right that the wines should speak for themselves".

the wines
Wines were not tasted blind. Approximate retail prices are given. Contact Corney & Barrow in the UK if you are interested in purchasing these wines, which are sold on an allocation basis. Approximate prices, including VAT, are given. These wines will develop over 20 years, the top wines maybe for 50 years or more. With dinner after this tasting we drank 1966 Échézeaux, which was beautiful (full report to follow).

I have a small question mark against the Grands Échézeaux, and to a lesser extent the Richebourg, at this stage, both of which have such ripeness and density that a little bit of this estate's hallmark freshness and elegance seems to be lacking. But then again, this really is a superlative estate, and this tasting no more than a snapshot of these infant wines.

See all stockists of DRC 2001s on wine-searcher.com.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Échézeaux 2001
Quite pale, but really vibrant crimson colour. This has a very delicate, floral-tinged raspberry fruit nose. Exquisite poise and charm, with nuances of rose-hip and strawberry, and a glimpse of softer bracken and coffee aromas. The palate is strikingly pure, and it is remarkably concentrated - not through extraction, but just concentrated fruit with a racy, tangy bitter-cherry edge. Some more savoury, mineral and orange acidity adds to the keenness in the mouth with plenty of fine tannic grip and good length. Seems quite a severe style at this young stage, but excellent quality. £95 per bottle.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands-Échézeaux 2001
Slightly darker colour, but also slightly less vibrant, with a touch of ochre. Much more full and rounded on the nose, with very different aromas that are deeper, sweeter, and even a touched baked. There is coffee and an earthy depth, with dark, plummy fruit. On the palate that plum and berry fruit carries through, with a thick texture and almost viscous quality. A much more substantial wine than the Échézeaux this year, flooded with bittersweet fruit and tannin, and quite incisive acidity into a long, pure finish. Excellent, though on this showing, at this stage, I preferred the charms of the Échézeaux. £150 per bottle.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Saint-Vivant 2001
Darker again, and a more intense purple colour. Much more fragrance here, with a gorgeous sous-bois, damp undergrowth and truffle component. The fruit is compact and dense. on the palate again a very dense, mouth-filling texture and weight, with a coffee undertone of toasty oak supporting fruit that is really packed into a solid, forceful core. Massive but ripe tannins add to the savoury and dramatic structure of this wine, with some game and leathery notes and good acidity. Powerful and muscular, with terrific length, this is totally different again, and outstanding. £215 per bottle.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg 2001
A similar colour, with perhaps just a touch more warmth at the core. deep-set, smoky, tobacco and earthy aromas with a centre of lovely cherry fruit that is quite solid and compact. Again a touch of baked plum-pie on the nose here, and quite rounded. The fruit on the palate is very cool and classy; with a silky quality and lots of glossy purity wrapped in a blanket of truffle and sweet, damp, earthy flavours. Fantastic length here, and although it seems quite closed, with bracing acidity and firm tannins, it has beautiful structure and promises to be excellent/outstanding. £215 per bottle.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 2001
Dark, solid crimson with a blackish core. More fragrance here again, with plenty of truffle and damp undergrowth aromatics married to gentle coffeeish oak and glimpses of floral-tinged, super-sweet fruit that is ripe, black and glossy. On the palate there is terrific fruit sweetness and concentration; a fine raspberry and slightly firmer cherry core that is searingly concentrated, yet not oppressive in the least. There's a wrapping of dusty tannins and cedary oak, with a decisive mineral acidity. Lovely texture and weight, and this has truly great length. It will be outstanding. £250 per bottle.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 2001
Slightly less vibrant colour than La Tâche, with a nose that is suffused with toasty, espresso coffee aromatics. There is a fine quality of fruit and some herbal nuances. A definite background note of floral sweetness and old roses just hints at how this will develop. On the palate this has the purest seam of fruit so far, with a rapier-like core of red fruits and a beautifully alluring, softer strawberry edge. The fine, polished tannins add a layer of complexity, with lovely mineral acidity. The quality of fruit and tannins is fine-grained and very supple, and this stays very pure indeed as layer upon layer unfolds into an impressively long finish. Outstanding potential again. £800 per bottle.

DRC's astonishing Grand Cru white, Le Montrachet 2001, was not on tasting. This will probably cost more than £1,000 per bottle. See all stockists of DRC 2001s on wine-searcher.com.

Interestingly, wine merchant and occasional wine-pages contributor Andy Cook was also a guest at the tasting, and sent me his notes. You can read these here as an independent second opinion of these wines.