Is it a little boring to showcase the same wines at the start of each year? It can be, but provided there is method to this ‘madness’ then we can remain relatively content. When we talk of the wines of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, it is not so much that we are starting the year with them, rather, because they are the latest of late-release wines, so we are finally closing the chapter of the prior year. The domaine produces wines that are, so often, the highest expression of the vintage, thus, in an area where generalisation is often wasted, here at least we can draw useful conclusions.
So, is it generalisation time? – yes why not!
In 2003 the wines at this top level are quite different from each other, and they certainly have their own personalities – terroir will out perhaps – but they are much closer to one another than normal; moving from Romanée-Conti back to Grands-Echézeaux for instance, you have not to come down from such a great peak as in most years. A little unfair perhaps, as the GE really is an exceptional wine in the context of this vintage, but there is certainly less amplitude across the range than normal. The good news is that there is no ‘sur-maturité’, only the Echézeaux shows an extra edge of ripeness, but it is not overdone. The other wines have beautifully controlled, if rather forward aromatics. To be honest these are potentially great wines, but I’d like to draw a (my) distinction between great and fine wines; great can mean compelling and impressive, fine implies to me that there should be elegance – at this young age you will need to polish the lens of your microscope to find grace and elegance!
My issue with the wines is that there is a weight of dry extract – not just tannin-based – from the mid-palate onwards flowing into finishes; they are certainly impressive, but also inelegant. Let us be clear, in 20 years the tannin should be diminished, becoming a mere dusting in the bottom of the bottle – but how then might the wine taste? I put this question to Aubert de Villaine; the closest vintage he could think of in terms of the early harvest date, the high temperatures and low acidity was 1947, and here he points to the excellent longevity of those wines, provided (of course) the producer managed to keep the fermentations from running away too fast. Few of us have tasted the ’47’s, so to me at least the wines will remain an enigma. What is for sure is that they showed very well, in a forward and ‘chummy’ yet impressive way – any of these bottles would have sufficed for dinner, but I’m not convinced about the value equation for this vintage – at least for the drinkers amongst us! I will be buying from this vintage as there is a touch of the grandiose about the wines, but for my style preference I’ll be taking more from 2004.
Medium-plus colour. Bright, ebullient nose: at first it’s wide and fat, becoming sleeker with time. Eventually there is a dense core of slightly indistinct fruit overlayed with a minty tone. The instant impression in the mouth is from the texture of the tannins, they’re not the most cultured – plenty of rasp – followed by ripe, sweet fruit that ends with an interesting touch of sourness. There’s a long, intriguing finish that has a little saccharin about it. I’d have no concern over drinking this today as it’s a lovely wine, but vs other recent vintages it’s just a little more simple.
The nose is deeper and darker of aspect; dusky, fecund – quite exciting. Slowly the nose ‘brightens’ to bring higher-toned spicy elements to the fore, aniseed and red-wrapped fruit. The palate is less obviously sweet, some separation in the mouth between the impression from the fruit vs the tannin and extract that comes through on the mid-palate. The length is haunting, slowly drying out onto your teeth. This is an enigmatic wine today, almost two personalities in one glass – if they marry this will be a superb wine – it is anyway a larger step-up from the Echézeaux than in recent years.
The nose is instantly brighter, redder and more ’round’. Softer and perhaps less precise but with an intense and persistent weight of fruit at its centre. The palate is full-wrapped velvet, though despite the fineness of these ripe tannins I’m a little concerned by their abundance. This wine is quite different to the GE, with even more extract that leads to a drying impression into the finish – full-on rather than graceful – and the flavours don’t quite etch into the palate like those of the GE. Looking to the long-term, there is a cool and concentrated quality to the fruit and the tannin will anyway lessen with time, plus the glass was also emptied rather easily!
The only wine today that reluctantly welcomes your nose – quite closed, only slowly, slowly evolving a deep, coffee edged, savoury plum aspect. Given time this perspective becomes broader and more spice inflected but never quite matching the openness of the other wines. Again this is a wine where the palate is dominated by its weight of extract, bettering the RSV and equalling the GE for length. The tannins are just a little less astringent than those from the RSV. I find the wine incredibly impressive, yet somehow not as compulsive as the GE
The nose starts in a similar vein to that of the GE; exciting, deep, musky, before broadening to an even wider panorama of powdery red fruit aromas. Mouth-filling and concentrated. There is an easily perceptible extra density to this wine. The marvellous finish is more than matches the GE, and overall, this is the first wine (to my taste) that manages to better it. Superb.
Perhaps it is a little passé to describe this wine as ’rounder’, but that is certainly the impression from the aromatics; similar to La Tâche except that there is a distinctly more mineral core and the fruit has an extra edge of cream bedecked fruit. Take a sip, and there is not the same ‘hit’ that you get from La Tâche – there is much more subtlety and understatement. More sophistication than any other wine in the line-up, the tannins are as fine as those of the RSV, but with none of their astringency. Better than superb? – No, just different.