By Peter Sidebotham
London seemed full of beauty, with clear skies and winter sunlight picking out the pigeons strutting the pavement. Lou Reed was whispering in my mind and the air was tingling with excitement – or perhaps just the last vestiges of the night’s frost. I was on my way to a much-anticipated luncheon at the Ledbury (which did indeed prove to meet or exceed all expectations). In my benevolent state of mind, I even harboured good-will towards the tourists clustering on the pavement for their first sight of the Tower.
What price a mind-altering substance of such perfection ? Well, this year, the best will set you back almost £1500 a bottle, all-in. That is, of course, if you are in the fortunate position of even being invited to apply for an allocation. But let us not digress to the sordid issue of money. You either can, or cannot, afford it, and the question of value is simply not to be addressed.
The substance in question is, of course, the wine of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. I have been fortunate to share many bottles from this estate over the years, and indeed my “Road to Damascus” moment in wine was thanks to a bottle of their Echezeaux from 1961. However, I had never tasted Romanee-Conti itself, and indeed had never tasted DRC on release before, so when Bill told me he was unable to attend Corney & Barrow’s tasting of the 2006 vintage, I cleared my diary forthwith.
As a result of this inexperience, you may find my notes more descriptive of what each wine is than of its virtue in the context of the last five vintages. I cannot do more for you ! For those who don’t know me, my scoring is on the following scale:
1 Correct wine – no faults but no interest either
2 Decent wine, some interesting qualities but overall not sufficient quality & balance
3 Good wine, basically well balanced and offering some real interest and quality
4 A very good wine – exceeds expectations for its context (appellation/price)
5 Outstanding wine by any standard
Nice, but not outstanding. 3+
Surprisingly pale (even allowing for these minute pours). Light cherry, touched with blood. Light and tapering rim. A fine and typical – though perhaps slightly sturdy – Vosne nose; perhaps a little closed. Intensely spicy, and with a touch of mocha underneath. Fruit is rather reticent though – warm cherries and plums, with a slightly baked edge – and seems even to close down more with air. Mouth entry is sweet and medium weight, with spiciness to the fore. Fills nicely on the mid-palate, with lovely, earthy, vibrant cherry fruit. Finishes firmly with good fine-grained tannins adding a little bite.
Very good, but doesn’t wow. 4-
Same colour as the Vosne, but if anything even slightly lighter. Instantly more impressive on the nose though – voluptuous, with lovely ripe fruit and good depth, though also held more tightly in check by structure. A touch sturdy perhaps, but really very sexy. Fruit is firm, red, and slightly high-toned. Mouth entry really quite round and ample, though only medium weight, with fine, refined, fruit. Doesn’t really show any development on the mid-palate, though there is nice density. Finishes long and spicily lingering.
Fine stuff – real flair and balance. 4
Just a touch darker than the Echezeaux – and deeper (more blood red) too. Fabulous, pure, nose, streaming red fruits, a touch of white chocolate and flowers too. Quite entrancing ! With air some deeper, darker, elements appear, adding real profundity and a broad meatiness to that initial “hit”. Mouth entry is a real notch up on the Echezeaux: bigger and finer, with robust red and black fruits and a touch of the earth. Mid-palate shows superb balance – nice freshness – and power, but perhaps not great focus. There is a real flair to the flavours though, and a lovely spicy, sweet and sour, finish that lasts and lasts.
Seamless, but lacks wonder and power today. 4
Somewhat lighter and more bubble-gum pink toned that the Grands Echezeaux. The nose is really deep and spicy, showing powerful cherry and warm earth aromas, but lacks the impact of the Grands Echezeaux. Perhaps a little closed, but certainly muscular and tight rather than flamboyant. Mouth entry is wondrous – really seamless – but only medium weight. Lovely freshness, and predominantly red fruit. Mid-palate gives up powerful, deep, spicy fruit, touched with kirsch and the most fabulously refined, fine-grained, tannins. Finishes as seamlessly as it began. Really harmonious, but I sense its glories are rather hidden today, and my “score” may prove to be rather conservative on this one.
Beautiful, slightly aloof, and intense. 4+
A deeper, more purplish colour. The first wine today that I would describe in Coatesian terms as “medium-full”. The nose is full of fabulous dark perfume – violets, game, and deep black cherry fruit, even a hint of dark chocolate. This has a depth and intensity that I haven’t experienced with RSV before (though I didn’t get to taste the ‘05s). Sadly, as with all of the wines today, the nose seems to close up in a matter of minutes. Mouth entry is medium weight with silky smooth fruit, really good acidity and focus. Mid-palate shows an austere undercurrent (stems, perhaps) and really dark fruit at the base. Lingering, chocolatey, spicy finish.
Fabulous, brooding, monster. 5
Again deeper – more bloody – colour. More density to the rim too. Wonderful impact on the nose: deep dark fruit with Asian spices hovering overhead, a fabulous swirling gaminess on the mid-register, succulent cherry and kirsch fruit, and floral topnotes. More with every sniff … dark and brooding hints of woodland floor too. This has it all on the nose – in case you can’t tell, I really liked this one ! Mouth entry is big and very firm – big black fruit and a tarry core. Quite a mouthful, but the mid-palate shows lovely freshness, a real floral lift, ad layers of meaty richness intermixed. Great density and spicy complexity. A stunning wine.
Supreme elegance and harmony. 5-
Slightly lighter colour – more pure cherry red here, only just medium. Nose is penetrating and perfumed: spice and flowers at the front, but also really deep and with a haunting (menthol ?) edge to it, and a touch of well-hung game beneath. Lovely flair. Unassuming mouth entry – just medium weight, and with perfect balance. Mid-palate shows pretty red berry fruit and floral touches. Clean and sweet and harmonious. Supremely elegant. Wonderful finish – sweet, harmonious and floral – must last at least a minute.
These wines were for me a perfect presentation of the 2006 vintage – one, incidentally, that I like very much, and bought heavily for my personal cellar. The very best red Burgundies in 2006 – and you do have to choose carefully – are beautifully pure and classy. They have less substance and longevity than 2005, but a more fluid, transparent and earlier drinking style.
I was pleased to note Aubert de Villaine’s comments quoted in Corney’s literature:
“We had ripeness levels that were as high as those we obtained in 2005… I honestly do not know which other vintage 2006 resembles but I believe the wines will be wonderful examples of Burgundy with supreme finesse and elegance, providing generous aromas and silky textures.”
It seems churlish in retrospect but I added at the end of my Romanee-Conti note “Just seems to lack a little power for me”. I include that here in the hope that it helps you understand my personal taste better … if I could get an allocation of 2006, I would be praying for the Grands Echezeaux and the La Tache.