Monday, July 7, 2014

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti vintage 2013: Barrel tasting the lineup (Burgundy, France)

Wednesday morning dawned bright and chilly. This was the day for our visit to DRC and we could hardly contain our excitement. We had had dinner the previous evening with Raj Parr and he was supposed to meet us at our hotel at 9:45 am so that we could have a leisurely trip over to Vosne-Romanée for our 10:30 appointment. We were all in agreement that we did not want to be late for this one. Raj appeared during our breakfast and, after some milling around, we boarded the minivan and headed out.

The trip was uneventful and we arrived at DRC right on time. The DRC office is separated from the street by a walled, paved courtyard with ingress provided through a black wrought-iron door. The gate was locked but there was a communication device on the wall and we used that to announce ourselves. A tinny voice queried as to who we were there to see and whether we had an appointment. We provided the required information and, after a short delay, were buzzed in. We crossed the courtyard and entered the building through the main door. A woman was sitting at a desk to the right of the entrance portal and she asked us to sit and await M. de Villaine's arrival. The M. (Aubert) de Villaine, co-Managing Director and the face of DRC. This was great news to us. We were not sure if he would be there during the course of our visit but, not only was he here, he would be meeting with us.

M. de Villaine literally came down to our level from the floor above and meticulously shook the hands of every person present. He paused for some additional dialogue with Raj and then proceeded to address us as a group. He first thanked us for coming and then apologized for not being able to lead us in the tasting due to a prior commitment. He then introduced us to Bernard Noblet, the DRC Cellar Master who, he said, would be leading us in the tasting in his stead. He explained that we would be tasting the 2013 vintage out of barrels in the cellars below. After some additional dialogue he turned us over to Bernard who beckoned for us to follow him.

Ron and Aubert de Villane
We exited the building via the door we had entered and made our way to a second door which Bernard opened. Small stone steps led down into a series of small, oak-barrel-occupied rooms. While still on the outside, we had each been provided with a wine glass. Bernard was carrying a pail which contained a wine thief and his wine glass.

Our first stop was at the room containing the 2013 Échézeaux. According to Bernard, all of the wines we would be tasting would be in one stage or the other of malolactic fermentation (MLF); this particular wine was approximately 50% through. The 2013 vintage had been a difficult one he said ( a refrain we heard at every stop during our tour of the region) due to widespread rain and hailstorms which kept volumes low.

Bernard working the wine thief

As Bernard began pulling wine out of the barrels for us to taste, he shared some of the estate's winemaking philosophies and practices with us. The chart below is a high level view of DRCs winemaking steps and practices.

The estate harvests its grapes late as it pursues phenolic ripeness (Please follow this link for a recounting of the DRC vineyards and viticultural practices.) They sort assiduously and will make several passes through the vineyards in their effort to ensure that every berry is picked at optimal ripeness. In his view, wines should be drinkable at any point in their bottled life so they strive to make wines that are accessible but will still age well.

The entire lineup had been tasted by the time we exited the cellars. The wines were in varying stages of malic acid to lactic acid conversion, polymerization had not yet begun softening the tannins, and the micro-oxygenization associated with oak aging had not yet begun to make a meaningful contribution to the final organoleptic characteristics of the wine. There was some hardness to the wines and aggressive tannins in the case of the Gran Ech and Romanée-St-Vivant. Ron found the Corton approachable and in possession of cherry flavors. Bernard described the Richebourg as still awkward, "like a girl that has not gone through puberty." The La Tâche was smoother and more elegant with an element of savoriness. The Romanée-Conti, even at this early stage, manifested finesse and elegance to accompany a florality. Overall, the quality of these wines were unmistakeable and it will be interesting to see what happens to these wines in the marketplace upon release given the limited quantities and high quality.

A couple of times during the tasting, Ron and I looked at each other and smiled in disbelief. We were at DRC tasting the "drops of God" out of barrel in a vintage where production had been severely curtailed so every glass was extremely valuable; with the person (Bernard) who had been responsible for the elaboration of these wines for many a year; accompanied by one of the leading Burgundy experts (Raj); and our wives were along to share the experience. It was fascinating and educational to watch and listen to the interaction between Bernard and Raj. Bernard, while dressed as a farmer, exuded an air of confidence and suave urbanity while his wine descriptors were loaded and suggestive of an appreciation of the fairer sex. He only spoke French while his audience spoke English (with 1.5 exceptions) but he did not allow the facts on the ground to in any way limit his verbosity. Peter Thustrup, a wine dealer specializing in DRC, was along on the tasting and did a yeoman job of translating the Bernard/Raj interactions and Bernard's ruminations for us.

Ron, Jean-Charles, and Peter

After the barrel tasting, we proceeded to taste DRCs from bottle. I will cover that tasting in a subsequent post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Wow!....what a privilege...really enjoyed the linear wine making algorithm...looking forward to the bottle notes.