I'm back in Burgundy to taste the 2008 reds and whites prior to their bottling. My first scheduled visit was at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. More tastings to come.
The 2008 vintage turned out to be a pleasant surprise for Aubert de Villaine and his team at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
"On Sept. 13, I took a bicycle ride with Jacques Seysses [of Domaine Dujac], and we said to ourselves, 'We're not going to make any wine this year,'" de Villaine recounted. July and August had been hot and humid with a lot of botrytis. The grapes just weren't ripe.
Then, on the morning of Sept. 14, the north wind arrived, bringing fresh air and sun. The wealth of water reserves in the soil allowed photosynthesis to continue quickly. The vines matured rapidly.
"We saw the sugar levels rising about 1.5 degrees [or potential alcohol] each week," de Villaine said. "In the end, the grapes were as ripe as in a sunny year."
Harvest began about Sept. 27 or 28, but the yields remained small due to mildew, oïdium and botrytis. It made strict sorting mandatory as the grapes arrived to the cuverie.
I did some informal tastings at the winery on Sunday, my first scheduled visit during my trip to Burgundy. All the wines that I tasted were from barrel, where they will rest until clarified. The '08s went through a late malolactic conversion, finishing around August 2009, and were racked last November. De Villaine and cellar master Bernard Noblet have not yet decided when the bottling will occur.
In 2008, DRC made a Vosne-Romanée premier cru, the Cuvée Duvault-Blochet. The harvesters made a second pass through the vineyards to pick the grapes that were a little less ripe on the first pass, as well as clusters that were not deemed fine enough for the grand cru appellations. However, it is all from old vines, fresh with vibrant, balanced and elegant aromas of violet, raspberry and cherry (88-91 points, non-blind).
The Echézeaux showed some reduction and a smoky note in the aroma, but otherwise offered a darker, black cherry flavor, more density and grainy tannins. It was perhaps the most reticent of the wines tasted, still cloudy and in need of more time in barrel, but clearly concentrated and full of ripe fruit (89-92, non-blind).
By contrast, the Grands-Echézeaux exuded finesse and length, very clean in its profile, with a focused mix of red and black fruit flavors and a lingering licorice and spice finish (90-93, non-blind).
Aroma was the key characteristic of the Romanée-St.-Vivant, which displayed floral, blackberry, black cherry and spice notes wound around a strong backbone of acidity and tannins (90-93, non-blind).
A look at the Romanée-Conti vineyard in winter
The Richebourg strutted its stuff with opulent aromas of flowers, red and black fruit and a touch of herbs. Rich and velvety in the mouth, it had ample flesh surrounding its spine (91-94, non-blind). It was the seductive charmer of the range.
As it often is, La Tâche revealed a different set of aromas and texture than its cousins. Its black currant and black cherry aromas were deep and intense. Rich and more square in profile, the tightly-grained tannins lent support to the licorice flavor that emerged on the palate. It was firm, but with more of an inner strength than brute force (92-95, non-blind).
The Romanée-Conti was simply gorgeous from one barrel, exhibiting a nose of rose and violet, red fruits and spices. Very refined and silky, it ended with a long, harmonious aftertaste. Another barrel was less forthcoming, but the breed and class showed nonetheless (92-95, non-blind).