Three factors joust for influence in any wine from Burgundy: the terroir, the growing season and the winemaker. The terroir is constant; if the vintage or the winemaker dominates, the wine loses. When all three harmonize, the wine approaches perfection. Such is the happy case with the wines of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in 2005.
I have tasted these wonderful young wines twice: first at the domaine in Burgundy in January, and more recently at a seminar led by DRC co-director Aubert de Villaine here in New York this week. (Neither tasting was blind.) Though the wines showed interesting differences each time, my overall impression is that the DRC collection in 2005 is the finest I have tasted in recent years. They have fruit, power, opulence and the structure to develop for decades. They are richer than the 2002s, more classic than the 1999s, more like the 1990s.
The concept of terroir is immutable in Burgundy, and the energy and character of an individual site transmitted through the Pinot Noir grape is what makes great Burgundy special. De Villaine understands this fundamental philosophy, as well as his role as one of a long line of caretakers of the land. “Beyond the price, beyond the glamour and economy that is generated by these wines and others like them, there is an extraordinary combination of man and nature,” he said, in introducing the tasting. “Not one man, but all of them, generation after generation, that have created this vision to keep alive the notion of terroir.”
DRC happens to own some of the best grands crus vineyards in the region, in the communes of Vosne-Romanée and neighboring Flagey-Echezeaux. From these, it crafts six different reds. They also make a tiny quantity of Montrachet. Though only several hundred yards separate the southernmost of these sites, La Tâche, from Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux to the north, each wine shows a distinctive personality, with different structural components and expression of fruit.
Here are my reflections on the wines from the two tastings. Pricing is estimated at time of release, and may vary considerably by market.
The Echezeaux comes from the lieux-dit Les Poulallières, just above Grands Echezeaux on the slope. It showed wonderful purity of fruit, with cherry and berry flavors and a touch of spice. There was more oak spice present in the New York tasting, and it was more harmonious, yet with underlying power. It seemed to have more reserve than the bottle tasted at the domaine, with a hint of vegetal note, but the most approachable of the range (94 points, non-blind, in Burgundy and 93 points, non-blind, in New York; $400-$450).
From the aromas, the Grands Echezeaux was immediately more intense and profound, offering blackberry and violet. Very silky, rich and concentrated, it had more sweetness at its center, with great finesse and length. It was more open than the bottle I tasted in Burgundy, yet with the same refinement and a big step up from the Echezeaux (95/95, both non-blind; $650-$750).
The most elegant of the lineup was the Romanée-St.-Vivant. At the domaine, it exhibited earth, smoke and vegetal notes, coming together more on the palate, yet still brooding and mysterious, with a long finish. In New York it was more impressive and very fruity, smelling like cherry, red currant and spice. Round, yet delicate and lacy in texture, it displayed just a hint of the vegetal element, which will turn more to floral and spice notes with age (95/96, both non-blind; $950-$1,100).
“It’s a mixture of great elegance in the nose and in the mouth something deep, almost dark,” commented de Villaine.
Up next was the Richebourg. It revealed a split personality. The aromas were sexy, exuding raspberry, red currant, cherry and spice notes. On the palate, it was more muscular and powerful, full of dense tannins, concentrated, ripe and long. In Burgundy I found it more delicate and charming, but this needs time for the two parts of the wine to harmonize (97/97, both non-blind; $940-$1,080).
Up until this point, a lot of red fruit flavors highlighted the wines. With La Tâche, a darker side emerged, revealing profound scents of violet, black currant, bilberry and licorice. Definitely more meaty and solid, as the French would say, carrée (square), yet with great depth, richness, sweet fruit and length. A fabulous La Tâche (99 points, non-blind). In Burgundy, the breadth and density was apparent, but it was more closed and tannic. But it was fine, like a well-tuned Ferrari (97 points, non-blind; $1,100-$1,300). It’s a red Burgundy of classic proportions.
The Romanée-Conti tasted at the domaine showed its typical touch of green, vegetal aroma and concentrated fruit on the attack. The real essence was on the back palate, where it built in intensity and just went on and on in length. Backward, it was a wine you must wait for (98 points, non-blind; $3,650-$4,300).
At the New York tasting, I got a hint of raisin in the aroma, along with the typical green accent, floral and spice notes. It was incredibly rich and mouthcoating, with fine tannins, but like three weeks ago, monolithic. What a finish. This opened up the most with air, revealing berry flavors and a sweet, mouthcoating intensity. Definitely the most backward wine in the group (98 points, non-blind).
Both tastings of the Montrachet delivered exotic scents of apricot, pineapple, citronella and honey, still marked by oak. On the palate, it was rich and creamy, almost massive, but unfolds on the palate in waves, with fine structure and a long mineral finish. All the elements are there for a great future. As perfect a young white Burgundy as I have tasted (100/100 points, both non-blind; $2,500-$3,000).
De Villaine noted that he had not seen such perfect fruit on the sorting table since the 1999 harvest, adding: “There’s a quality of seduction [in ’05] that you don’t have in ’99.”
“As a grower, when I taste the wines, I always see something we could have done better,” de Villaine concluded. “When I taste these  wines, I don’t think we could have done much better.”
For the moment, the vintage and terroir have reached a truce.