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The 2005s from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: Great Terroir in an Exceptional Vintage

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Feb 9, 2008 1:23pm ET

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 [2005] wines, I don’t think we could have done much better.”

For the moment, the vintage and terroir have reached a truce.

Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  February 11, 2008 2:20pm ET
BruceDo you know anything about US prices? I have heard rumors about Romanee Conti at $10,000 per bottle, but that doesn't seem believable.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  February 11, 2008 2:44pm ET
Hoyt, I posted without prices, pending an update from Wilson-Daniels. I received those this morning and the blog has been updated.
Bernard Sun
New York, NY, USA —  February 13, 2008 11:48am ET
Hi Bruce, I was fortunate enough to taste these great wines as well. I really marveled at the purity and the incredible quality of the fruit exhibited in all the wines especially the Montrachet. A real tribute to all the hard work DRC puts into their vineyards which I don't think they get enough credit for. Folks sometimes thinks that all you need is a great vineyard but a lot of work needs to be put into that vineyard to produce good fruit in subpar vintages and great fruit in great vintages.Bernie
Terry Lee
CA —  February 13, 2008 5:44pm ET
I'm interested in procuring some of these wines, but I have no idea where to get them in the US. And when will they be available to buy? I purchase a fair amount of wine, but I have no idea where to get these.
Mike U Ellington
San Angelo, Texas —  February 13, 2008 5:51pm ET
I just reviewed the early release of 2005 Burgundy picks. It is a real disservice to consumers and retailers alike to pronounce great wines when the number of cases imported is so low that virtually no one will be able to buy them. Why not find good, if not the greatest, wines that will be generally available to the consuming public?
Denis Lambert
February 13, 2008 8:18pm ET
Bruce, I had a chance to meet and talk at length with Denis Mortet and his wife in'95. How sad... do you know who has taken over there?? And who is making the wines now?Thanks,Denis
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  February 14, 2008 9:22am ET
Terry--Your best option is to ask the retailers that you do the most business with. The DRC wines are allocated.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  February 14, 2008 9:31am ET
Denis--Denis Mortet's widow Laurence is still very much involved, along with their son Arnaud. Arnaud worked with Denis in 2000 and 2001. He has also done an internship with M¿Camuzet and worked the harvest at Domaine Leflaive in 2002, along with experience at Witness Tree in Oregon and the 2005 harvest in Australia. Arnaud played a big role in the 2005 harvest at Domaine Mortet also.
Terry Lee
CA —  February 14, 2008 2:34pm ET
Thanks for the suggestion. Have they already shipped to retailers, or if not, any idea when they will be available?
Bernard Kruithof
San Antonio, Texas —  February 16, 2008 3:30pm ET
It's very important to review the DRC wines in every vintage. They set the standard and prices for all major wines coming out of Burgundy. Just because production or quantity is limited and prices are outrageous doesn't mean that these wines, like Rolls Royce or Farrai automobliles, should not be reviewed, rated and raved about when appropriate for all of us mere mortals to hold in our esteemed dream world. "Dear God-please let me "win"e the lottery"
Colin Fitzgerald
New York, NY —  March 8, 2008 1:06pm ET
I was delighted to see that you have finally reviewed a recent vintage DRC. I purchased a case of the '04 La Tache, '04 Grands Echezeaux and a bottle of '04 Montrachet last year. I have received my offer for '05s and your price estimates are accurate. I hear that the '06s are even better than '05. Is that correct?

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