Of the various Domaine de la Romanée-Conti tastings I’ve enjoyed, I would say that the one run by Martel, agents for the Domaine in Austria and Switzerland, seems to be about the best. Anyone who is a customer of Martel could attend – they just need to pay the price of entry – roughly the price of a bottle of the domaine’s Echézeaux. You are seated and the wines are brought to you, in the case of the 2002’s, in two flights of four. It is nice and easy to compare different crus in almost any order you wish. It’s also a relatively social event where the relative showing of the wines is much discussed across the early-evening tables. That the tasting room adjoins a good restaurant is an opportunity too good to miss – there’s no need to rush home – anyway it was raining.
The 2002 tasting must have been extra popular as there were actually two sittings, I’m not sure if there will be enough wine to go round if they do the same with the 2003’s next year. Given 10 or-so tables and around 8 people at each table you get to see first hand the bottle variation that is inherent in the Domaine’s wines. Some bottles of Romanée-Conti gave ‘paler pours’ than others, and more than one table from the first ‘sitting’ had less than crystal-clear Grands-Echezeaux. Did the wines taste any different? – well no-one was giving up their glass to test that hypothesis. I do remember a comment in the book by Richard Olney about the domaine that left me slightly bemused; paraphrasing, he seemed to bemoan the domaine’s move in the 1990’s from bottling barrel by the barrel to assembling 5-6 casks to improve reproducibility. It seemed there would be less chance of extra-spectacular bottles – only average Romanée-Conti!
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti had, like others, a worring end to the 2002 harvest, rot was the chief concern that followed rain then warm, humid weather. The North-Wind that came saved the vintage, not just at Romanée-Conti. Characteristic of the year was the different sizes of the grapes; the domaine experienced some millerandage (small concentrated berries), but equally had many bunches of large grapes. Consequently the domaine did two harvests, one week apart, to ensure only ripe fruit was collected.
2002 vs 2000: So to the wines; vs the 2000’s all of these 2002’s offer more density and structure and, hence, longevity. Whilst they have wonderful aromatics, I think I might still give the aromatic honours to the 2000’s, certainly for the La Tâche and Romanée-Conti. Over-all it’s still a relatively comfortable win for the 2002’s
2002 vs 2001 is a much harder comparison; almost every aspect of the 2001’s revolved around transparency and purity – hard to put into words, though somewhat ethereal. These 2002’s show real vivacity, and although they don’t have the instant charm of many from the vintage, they fall short of the borderline austerity of the 2001’s. Frankly these vintages are chalk (2001) and cheese (2002) and I’ll have to sit on the fence for a few years. The harder job could come next year, if I already have chalk and cheese, what adjective can I find for the 2003s? Lastly the Montrachet was for me, possibly, the most impressive wine of the line-up, simply superb…
Montrachet. Less than half the production of Romanée-Conti. Pale gold. Gives up a wide, indeed panoramic nose with a medium butterscotch depth and a spicy – though not detracting – wood note. The most striking aspect of this wine (for me) is the sweet, almost gushing, acidity; you’re washed along the rapids (my wife points out that it’s cheaper to go white-water rafting) followed by a momentary lull before the wave that is the finish hits you. It’s a really fit wine, no added fat – all my analogies seem to involve speed – like a racehorse and one that sprints rather than slows to the line. The finish lasts fully 2 minutes, this is a special experience.
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru. A bright, medium cherry-red colour, just a shade lighter than the Echézeaux that stands by it’s side. A quite lovely nose that begins with a suggestion of torrefaction and sweet powdery fruit. Swirling releases a much more prominent and precise red-fruit note. Medium bodied, this wine shows an elegant balance between the fruit and acidity, the tannins showing a grainy edge and just a hint of dryness. There’s a serious aspect to this wine and whilst it’s shallow in the context of the DRC line-up in 2002, it’s certainly not shallow in the context of the appellation indicated on the label. I expect this wine will be a great investment, regardless of how you choose to use that word.
Échézeaux. Bright medium, medium-plus cherry-red. The nose jumps out of the glass just a little less athletically than the 1er Cru – there’s a hint more spice and a deeper, tighter, more precise aspect to the fruit. There’s a real step-up when tasting this wine, almost reminiscent of the Montrachet and it’s ebullient acidity. Intensity and a real burst of excitement from the mid-palate onwards. Nicely handled tannins. This is a very good effort, certainly more intense than the 1er Cru but I’m not sure if it’s any longer.
Grands-Échézeaux. There’s a little haze to the wine from this bottle and slightly paler colour vs the Echézeaux. The nose has a little extra lift vs the deeper Echezeaux, also shows an extra creamy edge. This wine really distinguishes itself by the intensity of its finish vs the previous two reds. It doesn’t give the ‘rush’ provided by the Echézeaux’ acidity but instead provides a warmer, denser aspect to the extract. The tannins have similar volume to the Echézeaux, but with finer structure. Lingers excellently on the palate.
Romanée-Saint-Vivant. The last 4 wines served together have virtually identical colours. Another panoramic nose, this time with hints of coffee and caramel. Swirling releases a burst of red fruits, not the ultimate in precision, but very nice. I love RSV and this wine typifies why; it’s warmer and more effusive than the GE, has gorgeous fruit that comes at you from all directions. The tannins are mouth-wrapping but dry only for an instant – like the kiss from a dusky maiden (sorry ladies). Without the ultimate intensity, but this wine still delivers an excellent finish – bravo. What can the last 3 wines do to counter that!
Richebourg. A very low yield this year, not much more produced than Romanée-Conti. It’s a rather narrow nose compared to the others, but it’s like cliff-diving, it’s just so deep. Swirling fills some of the gaps, as does extended time in the glass – it never loses that depth though. Whilst I loved the RSV I have to say that this wine is frankly a tour-de-force in the mouth; nothing hard, great balance but every aspect is on a fantastic level – from first impression right through the mid-palate to the finish. In both 2000 and 2001 I preferred the RSV and despite my ‘bias’ in this respect I have to give the rosette to this wine in 2002 – bravo – fabulous, measured concentration…
La Tâche. The nose is wider and almost as deep as the Richebourg, swirling initially, and surprisingly tightens things up – still, it’s a deep, dark well of fruit. I seem to be running out of superlatives… In every dimension this wine at least matches the Richebourg and in overall concentration seems its better. This is quite stunning (an over-used word but accurately used in this context), there’s a perceptible extra width. It’s not a fabulously spicy La Tâche but comes across as a complete wine – is it really possible to improve on this?
Romanée-Conti. The nose is rounder still than La Tâche, matching the width and depth but with extra high-tones at the top. Another wine whose nose strangely reduces in amplitude when swirled. Versus both the LT and the Richebourg there are less fireworks and a less obvious ‘look at me’ personality. This wine is tighter but does still have the edge in density. There’s no extra burst, but that tiny gap between the mid-palate and the finish is filled with more ‘command’ than any other wine into a spellbinding finish. Today, and in these glasses the overall experience is a notch below both the Richebourg and the LT but (directly comparing) well above the RSV. For the future there is extra promise but I really think I will need multiple bottles of each for further research!