AN INCREDIBLE EXPLORATION OF THE WORLD OF ROMANÉE CONTI, WITH 46 WINES FROM THE DOMAINE, INCLUDING 15 ROMANÉE CONTI, 6 OF WHICH ARE PREPHYLLOXERIC
Warning : there is a big concern about the authenticity of several wines, as it appears that some bottles have been used twice or more after being refilled. I did not change my comments, as it shows that everyone can be fooled when he is in an atmosphere which is considered as offering honesty. It is a good lesson.
1 – THE REGISTRATION
As I write these lines, I have no idea as to what will happen tomorrow. I know a wine merchant who lives in Italy, whose name is French. From time to time, but not regularly, I buy wine from him. He has of late started organising dinners based on rare wines, in a similar fashion to the ones I organise. One day, I write to him to inform him that I find his prices out of proportion with what they should be. He answers: “Why? Do you find my prices too high?” This proves that he has misunderstood me, for his job is to sell wine, and he knows the current prices. My criticism was targeting the fact that I find it unreasonable to find one-of-a-kind, extremely rare wines at prices quite close to those of the most banal of wine events.
A couple of months later, I receive an offer for a dinner with an unbelievable list of extremely rare wines. It is quite shocking to see so many vintages of Romanée Conti, including 1929 and 1945. I turn the page to have a look at the price, and realise that my remarks have had an effect, for the demanded participation fee is way above all the fees that I have ever asked, even for my most expensive dinners. This offer has got some nerve, and so does the program. I would happily file this offer in the cabinet of forgotten proposals, but the wine merchant calls me and tells me: “Taking into account your Romanée Conti experience, I suggest that you replace your participation fee by a contribution in Romanée Conti.”
This sparks my interest. And since a 1945 Romanée Conti has been included on the list, I need to match this with my most prestigious bottles. I offer to bring a 1922 and a 1944 Romanée Conti, two wines from prephylloxeric vines, which can match the rarity of the 1945. My offer is accepted. A few days later, I learn that my friend Tomo will also take part in this dinner. This pleases me, for sharing such rare wines with strangers is not as rewarding an experience as sharing them with friends.
I drive down to the Hostellerie de Levernois where one of three scheduled meals of this wine weekend is to take place and, as I fill up the tank of my car, I receive an SMS from the wine merchant, informing me that one of the guests will not show up and asking me if I can find a last-minute replacement. At such short notice, it is clearly impossible to find someone. But if the guest who will be a no-show is the one who was supposed to bring the 1945 Romanée Conti, this changes things. Because in my mind, my two rarities cannot be fully embraced if they are not paired with the 1945, for I chose the closest vintages to the 1945, to create what could be an interesting juxtaposition.
I arrive at the hotel and find Tomo; we decide to have dinner together. The merchant who is my contact for this event, who I know only via emails, is in his room and has asked for room service. Maybe he doesn’t want to be disturbed. The suspense is still ongoing. What will happen during this massive tasting of legendary Romanée Conti? Tomorrow will tell.
2 – DINNER WITH TOMO
Tomo and I have signed up for a gargantuan Romanée Conti week-end. There is an uncertainty about the program, because it is possible that the guest who confirmed, only a few hours ago, that he will not show up could be the one bringing the 1945 Romanée Conti. That puts me in a bit of a pickle regarding my own contribution to this dinner.
We are having dinner at the restaurant of the Hostellerie de Levernois. The wine list is quite copious and smart, since the prices certainly whet the appetite. We start our aperitif with a 1995 Champagne Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs which is delightfully accomplished. It is a smoky wine, with beautiful hints of candied fruit. It is deep and intense—a real delight.
We order a 2007 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses domaine Roumier ; we know it is a light vintage, but we want to enjoy its delicacy. With the black truffle risotto and its beautifully concentrated sauce, it turns out that the champagne is the best pairing by far, whereas one could have thought that it would have been with the red wine. But the latter excels with the delicious pigeon and its remarkably meaty texture. And yet, once we have marveled at the delicacy of this extremely subtle wine, we are forced to admit that it is lacking something; it is not power, for we asked precisely for this light vintage, but a lack of complexity. And I have to say that I was slightly disappointed with this wine from Roumier, which is probably the reason why, despite an out-of-this-world program already scheduled for tomorrow, we yield to temptation and are unreasonable. A wonderful cheese selection arrives and a blue cheese from Termignon catches my eye. I suffer from a chronic infatuation with this cheese which drives me crazy. And my intuition tells me that we need to pair it with a Château Grillet.
The restaurant wine list indeed includes a 1987. The blue cheese from Termignon paired with this 1987 Château Grillet is a definite proof of the existence of gastronomic nirvana. This wine is a masterpiece and I have to admit that I would never have expected a 1987 Château Grillet to reach such heights. It is the acme of this dinner, offering a balance similar to a Riesling, an unbelievable freshness, and an unparalleled balance. It is fluid, straight, smooth like a forbidden fruit—a real blessing. I am convinced that this has to do with a particular moment in time and that the same wine, on another day, would not create the same taste pleasure. But right here, right now, it pairs exceptionally well with the blue cheese from Termignon.
We still do not know what tomorrow will bring concerning the Romanée Conti wine list. We might as well go to sleep and dream sweet dreams.
3 – WINE TASTING AT THE DOMAINE DE LA ROMANÉE CONTI
The weekend program for the participants of tonight’s dinner starts with a visit of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Since I show up a bit ahead of schedule, I have a chat with Aubert de Villaine who asks me how many people are supposed to take part. When I answer that there should be about fifteen people, he is startled and tells me that it is not possible to taste straight from the barrel if there are fifteen of us, since distributing wine with the pipette would take too long and would be difficult because of the limited space in the cellars. In the meeting room at the domaine’s headquarters, the guests start to arrive. There are some Danes—among whom I am happy to recognise Peter Sisseck, the winemaker-owner of the famous Spanish wine Pingus—along with some Italians, Swiss, and only a couple of French people. Aubert de Villaine greets us cordially, and directs us to the cellars where the tastings are traditionally organised. Except for Peter and Tomo, I don’t know anyone in our group, and I make the acquaintance of René, a Dane who lives in Basel, and the organiser of this event. I learn that this indeed is not a dinner as I still thought it was a couple of days ago, but a real complete week-end during which this group, which gathers together the members of the “White Club”, will drink the wines in the program, as well as other non-programmed ones, during the course of three official meals and three non-official meals.
The only wine that Aubert de Villaine will announce is the 2004 Vosne Romanée Domaine de la Romanée Conti, for all the others will be tasted blind. It has a pleasant nose, slightly tart and peppery. It is well structured. It is a generous yet quite short wine.
The 2006 Romanée Saint-Vivant Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a more intense nose, and is more voluptuous in the mouth. It is a refined, rich, well-balanced wine. I can taste its subtlety. Aubert de Villaine explains that it is still in its adolescence. He talks quite poetically of the anger of the wine, still repressed in its bottle, desperate to express its personality. I really like this wine.
The 1999 Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti is of a very different style. It is shorter than the previous one, but richer. I detect a slight green taste in the finish. The wine is marginally unripe, but it is possible to taste its delicate thread and its mellowness of texture.
The 1992 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a very beautiful aroma. Aubert de Villaine tells us that this vintage was written off by wine critics. One can taste an older wine, very delicate, round, but it is served cold, which limits the pleasure. However, it is possible to taste its fruitiness and its beautiful complexity. It is a wine that I have always appreciated.
The next wine is tasted blind again, and as I smell the 1956 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti, I have an epiphany. I do not train in the art of blind tasting, nor do I excel in it, but it is a truly unbelievable revelation. I am convinced that I have recognised the wine we are drinking. And the curious thing is that I have absolutely no doubt about it. I dare to announce that I know what wine it is, and it is indeed the 1956 Romanée Conti which I have already tasted in the past. I feel it has the archetypal Romanée Conti nose, with those hints of wilted rose petals. The finish is extraordinary. This wine has been recorked in 1995 and it is absolutely immense. It is of extreme elegance. Aubert de Villaine explains that this is a disembodied wine, which has shed its mortal body and lives in another dimension altogether, that of the spirit of wines. For me, this wine is the soul of the Romanée Conti.
The 1977 Montrachet Domaine de la Romanée Conti is of a colour that already shows signs of age. I have a slight problem with the nose. The attack in the mouth is lemony, quite beautiful, with a slight lack of liveliness. When it is left to warm up for a bit, the taste of honey appears. The wine then improves and even becomes great.
I feel that Aubert de Villaine is happy to be reacquainted with these wines, some of which he had not opened in a long time. Everyone can appreciate his pertinence and accuracy when describing his wines and his domaine. Everyone is moved by his great generosity.
4 – LUNCH AT A SMALL MANOR IN MERCUREY
Without a clear plan of action, we separate into small groups and head for a great bourgeois manor house in Mercurey which hosts the whole group except for my mentor the wine merchant, Tomo, and myself.
In the great lounge with exotic wallpaper that evokes the tropical richness of the Douanier Rousseau, I can spot on one of the tables a 2003 double magnum of Château Palmer, uncorked. While this wine was not on the list, I can easily imagine that we will go from one surprise to the next—and I will not be disappointed. To drink this Palmer after our visit at the Romanée Conti is somehow a disservice to the Bordeaux wine, for it has really hard tannins and comes across as a bit rough after the wines of the Domaine. This goes to show that tasting conditions have a clear influence on one’s perception.
The apéritif turns out to be the 1985 magnum of Champagne Comtes de Champagne Taittinger. The first impression that is given by this champagne is of acidity. A few minutes later, it is the dosage that comes through. This champagne is usually better than the one we drink today.
We head for the dining room where a long table has been prepared with glasses from the Lalique company, whose owner is part of our group. He is one of the sponsors of the White Club, along with a Swiss watchmaker and a producer of mineral water, which is original to say the least in a wine tasting.
The meal is beautifully executed, but without looking for wine pairings. It just provides sustenance. The wines are served in flights of five.
The nose of the 1989 Grands Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti is relatively closed. I personally feel like the Lalique glasses confine the aromas of the wines to the glass instead of contributing to their expansion. The mouth is extremely delicate. It is a great wine.
The 1996 Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti is very beautiful, offering more precision, more tightness, and more liveliness.
The 2003 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti is nothing but charm and elegance. It is slick and seductive. It is stricter in the finish. It wins us over with its attack, and when it expands in the glass, it becomes extremely velvety. This wine is fantastic.
The 2003 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti strikes me with its depth. It has beautiful complexity and willingly displays an aroma of wilted rose. No need to look for it, it is there, already incredibly expressive and long. It is a beautiful achievement. This wine is about length and depth. Its persistence in the mouth seems like it will never end. The 2003 La Tâche is more generous and has a more glorious finish, but is less deep than the 2003 Romanée Conti.
The 2005 Romanée Saint-Vivant Domaine de la Romanée Conti expresses true joie de vivre and extreme tension. It cracks like a whip. It is not feminine, it charges in. Its finish is wonderful.
We now turn to the second flight.
The 1959 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a slightly evolved nose. The wine is a bit inhibited, and I can feel that we ought to be patient, for its complexity is still a bit shy. This wine is slightly disappointing, but too much is expected of it, a bit like the 1959 Richebourg that I opened recently and which disappointed me. But when it expands, it shows how great it can be.
The 1957 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a livelier nose. The wine is definitely more alive than the 1959. It has a beautiful texture. It is very pretty, lively and expressive. However, it is undoubtedly less moving than the 1956 that was opened at the last minute this morning and served cold in the cellars of the Domaine.
The 1947 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a very beautiful bouquet. It is extremely assertive in the mouth. It is slightly damaged in the finish but it is a truly beautiful wine. When it expands, it becomes fantastic, and I write down that “this wine is worth over 100 points”, and also “what an insane wine!” It is probably one the greatest wines of this journey through the world of the Romanée Conti. Its velvety texture is legendary. However, I notice that it is less complex than the 2003 Romanée Conti of which I am enormously fond.
The 1944 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti is interesting, even though it is somewhat tired. It is of a very brown colour. It is a very beautiful wine, with a slight taste of coffee.
The 1928 La Tâche Romanée Chevillot négociant is completely unknown to me. It has been bottled by a wine merchant who was allowed to bottle La Tâche and to call it Tâche Romanée. It is of a very brown colour. Its nose smells of coal and earth. The mouth is superb, contrasting with the sight and the smell. It shows its age in the finish, but the mid-palate is very moving. It is a very beautiful wine, even though it is a bit tired, for its message is still intact, and the texture is rich. It is, however, more historical than real.
We now turn our attention to the third flight of wines.
The 1997 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti is very generous, and typical of the Romanée Conti. It is a natural Romanée Conti, easy to understand—a top-of-the-range wine, so easy to drink!
The joker wine is quite beautiful. I find similarities with the 1997 wine we have just tasted. It is very pretty, and very natural too. I do not identify it. It is a slightly tight 1988 Vosne RomanéeCros Parantoux Henri Jayer.
The 1978 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti has beautiful balance and richness. The wine has slightly roasted flavours and I feel like I am reaching my tasting limits. Again, I find this wine to be a bit tight.
The magnum of 1982 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti is a magnificently generous and opulent wine. It is another signature wine of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti, a magical wine which becomes fantastic when it expands in the glass. It has the soul of the domaine, and moves me beyond measure.
The 1963 Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti has an intense aroma of truffles. It is a pretty wine, but it gradually shows signs of exhaustion. When I come back to it for the third time, its finish is tired.
The interest of unplanned wines is that they force a certain humility upon the wine taster. It is quite easy to identify that the next wine comes from Bordeaux. I think of Cheval Blanc for a second, but dismiss the idea because I didn’t find it great enough. It turns out to be a mythical wine—1982 Château Cheval Blanc. Admittedly, it is not easy to come after the Burgundy wines. When I drink it, I cannot claim to be able to fully embrace what this wine actually represents.
And then, another mystery is served to us. The moderately camphorated nose makes me think of a 1941 Yquem—the very same that I put aside in one of my recent dinners because it displeased me so much—but here, the wine has not suffered. I think of a 1964 Lafaurie Peyraguey, because of its botrytised richness. It turns out I am completely wrong, for it is actually a 1929 Yquem. Shame on me! But I have to point out that I do not perceive the emotion that is normally expressed by this tremendous wine.
5 – DINNER AT THE HOSTELLERIE DE LEVERNOIS
It is now late in the afternoon. We have just finished this dazzling presentation of rare wines. I would have liked to take a nap at the hotel, but time waits for no man, and I have an impressive number of wines to uncork for tonight’s dinner. Tomo and I head back to Levernois. I barely have ten minutes to catch my breath and now have to face the most unbelievable accumulation of wines from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti, and I will handle them all and uncork them one by one. If the quality of the corks for the recent vintages is beyond reproach, it is not the same for the old corks which I have to struggle with, to such an extent that the fingers of my right hand—the one that pulls gently on the cork—begin to ache. For the 1983 Romanée Conti, the cork is far more compressed than all the others and I have to fight like a mad man to pull it out. Naturally, I am interested in the two wines I brought with me. The 1922 Romanée Conti has a horrible aroma. I am saddened for it seems to be beyond help. The 1944 Romanée Conti has, on the other hand, an aroma that I really like. Please remember this and keep reading, you will see how surprising the world of vintage wines can be.
And where is the 1945 Romanée Conti? For my signing up for this dinner was based on its presence. When we were at the domaine this morning, Aubert de Villaine asked questions about its origin, and René, the master of ceremonies, had reassured him. But I can’t see it. Romain, the wine merchant who had pressed me to join those dinners, asks me to go and talk to René, who explains that the bottle that was sold to him doesn’t correspond to the photo of the bottle that he intended to buy, and that he had therefore not picked it up and asked for a refund. As he is well aware that I had decided to take part in this dinner because of the 1945, he promises that he will organise another dinner with a 1945. Everything tells me that I can trust him, and I keep opening the wines. I am not finished and already the members of the groups that stay at Mercurey begin to arrive. I can consign my nap to oblivion.
I barely have time to get dressed and walk back down to a cellar where everyone is enjoying an aperitif with a jeroboam of 1961 Champagne Perrier-Jouët. Why not, considering excess seems to be the word of the day! The colour is hazy. It is not disagreeable, but it is absolutely not what it should be. I hardly drink of it, because I don’t like it. With Peter Sisseck, we joke about the fact that it was probably stored and displayed on a shelf in a nightclub where it was damaged by the heat.
When you think on a big scale, it also includes the food. Here is the menu which still makes quite an impression on my scales two days later: Gillardeau oysters and sea urchin panna cotta with Osciètre caviar / Shellfish broth and mimosa crispy wafer / The perfect egg with porcini, Belotta ham and hen pheasant cream / Scallops with truffles, leek and celery / Lobster cooked in its shell, paccheri pasta stuffed with King crab, preserved lemon and artichoke / Acquarello risotto with bone marrow and black truffles / White boudin of young partridge with chestnuts, duck foie gras from the Landes region, infused in a porcini broth / Lièvre à la royale, cauliflower terrine and wild mushrooms / A selection of fresh and matured cheeses / Variations on the comice pear with caramel / Manjari chocolate tart, crème brûlée with Bourbon vanilla, ivory ice-cream.
This meal was absolutely not imagined to pair with the wines, but it is delicious and beautifully executed. It was way too copious, but necessary to sustain the rhythm of the wines.
On the program, there are only red wines, which would have been difficult, considering the beginning of the menu. As a result, René insists we open a 2007 Montrachet Domaine de la Romanée Conti. It is splendid and it smells of dairy products and patisserie. It is rich, generous, very tasty in the finish, extremely long. It is elegance incarnate.
The 2008 Montrachet Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a very elegant nose. It has more of a petrol aroma. It is more mineral, and has more botrytis than the 2007 one. It is a deep wine. There is an aroma of honey. If the 2007 is pleasant and ready to drink now, the 2008 should be kept in the cellar for a bit longer.
Since the bottles that I opened go from one pair of hands to the next, I ask René to reorganise them in the order of the program. On the table, there are 27 wines from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti. This is completely surreal.
And as if that isn’t already enough, René decides to pour us a mystery wine. It is tasted blind by our table of fifteen wine enthusiasts. Practically everyone suggest Pétrus; more precisely, the majority suggest 1961 for the vintage. My friend Tomo thinks of 1998, whereas I think of 1990. What a surprise when we discover it is actually a 1900 Château Margaux, with a Barton & Guestier label, recorked in 1999 and oddly, without the name Margaux written on the cork. Peter Sisseck tells me that this wine is so young that if it actually is not 1900 Château Margaux, an award should be given to the winemaker who has managed to create such a phenomenal young wine.
And indeed this wine is absolutely out of this world. It is worth a hundred Parker points, that is obvious, but it is so much more than that. Balance, emotion, length, depth—it has everything. And I have indeed made a mistake about its age, but it is not the first time that sublime vintage wines fool everyone. The reason everyone thought of Pétrus was because of this truffle taste, of rare precision. It is a beautiful lesson, and a splendid wine. It has inimitable perfection and absolute elegance. It could very well be the winner at the end of the day.
The 2007 Romanée Saint-Vivant Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a nose which is typical of the Romanée Conti wines. The mouth is elegant, but also strict and restrained. It is an elegant, measured and pleasant wine—a great wine.
The 2002 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a powerful and insanely young nose. In the mouth it is happy, charming, but also powerful. It clearly has the style of the domaine. It is glorious.
The 1993 Echézeaux Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a subdued bouquet. The mouth flavours pair magnificently with the porcini. It is elegant, but doesn’t have as much personality as the La Tâche. It gradually gets more full-bodied.
The 1997 Romanée Saint-Vivant Domaine de la Romanée Conti remains austere, but typical of the domaine wines.
The 1990 Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti is remarkably pure on the nose. It is extremely elegant, balancing accomplishment and coherence. This wine is in a state of grace. It is of infinite length.
The 1983 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a subtle bouquet. Paired with the scallops and truffles, it is glorious. It is infinitely long. I love this Romanée Conti which I have already tasted many times in the past. It is clearly not a powerful vintage, but it is as elegant as Coco Chanel. I can taste the rose and the salt.
The 1981 Romanée Saint-Vivant Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a very beautiful nose. It is beautiful too in the mouth, even though it really does not compare with the 1983 Romanée Conti.
The 1975 Romanée Saint-Vivant Domaine de la Romanée Conti is really typical of the wines of the domaine. Salt is very present. In the mouth, the wine is much tastier than the nose promises it to be. It performs much better than could have been expected.
The 1973 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a very beautiful bouquet and is quite tasty in the mouth. What a pleasant surprise coming from that vintage! The last four wines are surprising, for they come from small vintages, but turn out to be brilliant. The 1983 Romanée Conti has a little something extra because of the complexity of its finish, but the most unbelievable of the four, which against all odds comes on top for me, is the 1975, and I am delighted to see that around the table, the other guests think so too.
The 1956 Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti has the signature bouquet of the Romanée Conti wines, with a rare power. It has similarities with the 1956 Romanée Conti of this morning, but being served at the table, it is more opulent. It has a slightly bitter finish, but it is a very beautiful wine.
The nose of the 1954 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti is not perfect. In the mouth, the wine is slightly tired and evokes an amontillado. It tastes burnt, and yet it has something to say, which makes the 1956 even more alive.
The 1944 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which is one of my contributions, has a very unappealing colour. There is a hint of vinegar on the nose. In the mouth, it is not a complete blank, but it is definitely not up to the standards of the domaine. There is still a faint trace of chocolate. It is not dead in the mouth, but I am really furious.
The 1945 Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a slightly camphorated nose. The mouth is beautiful even though it is a little bit chemical. René is much nicer to this wine than I am. This is a weak flight of wines. The 1956 emerges as the most alive of the four, and quite beautiful it is too.
The 1943 Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which was added to the list to please me as a reminder of my birth year, has a beautiful colour. It evokes mushrooms on the nose, and its intensity will never weaken. We ought to wait before tasting it, but it will never turn into the memory of what I have experienced with this wine, one of the greatest I have ever tasted from the domaine. This mushroom aroma prevents you from falling in love with it.
The magnum of 1940 Richebourg Domaine de la Romanée Conti is of a very brown colour. The nose is okay, but borderline faulty. It is an acceptable wine, but it shows too many signs of exhaustion. The finish is too tired.
The magnum of 1940 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti is also of a very tired colour. The nose is better. In the mouth, it is perfectly drinkable, even though it too is slightly tired. The finish is very limited.
The 1937 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti is of a much more beautiful colour, even though it is slightly hazy. There is a hint of tobacco on the nose. The attack is beautiful, but the finish lacks precision at this moment of its life.
The 1929 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti Van der Meulen is of a dark colour. The nose is very pretty. One can smell a wine which is slightly fortified, and roasted aromas too. It is a beautiful wine, but it is not the legend it is supposed to be.
The 1923 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti Van der Meulen is also of a dark colour. The nose is very velvety, and it is the first wine in which I can perceive that menthol freshness. It has the same profile as the 1929, only much better. It is a great wine, and the true expression of a prephylloxeric wine.
The 1922 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti is my second contribution to this dinner. It has a clear colour and is wonderful. It is the best of this flight which includes four Romanée Conti. It combines freshness and extreme tension. I am so happy that this wine makes up for the disappointing 1944.
The 1937 Romanée Conti is improving. Both the 1922 and the 1937 have clear colours and are definitely what a Romanée Conti is supposed to be, whereas the 1923 and 1929 are of darker colours and give the impression that they were fortified by Van der Meulen. The 1937 has improved and is quite similar to the 1922 which is now regal. If we go back a couple hours, the 1922 was smelling of death and the 1944 had wonderful aromas. Wines evolve in mysterious ways!
The 1935 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti has a very pretty and typical nose of Romanée Conti. In the mouth, it is a truly great Romanée Conti. The race is on between the 1922, the 1935 and the 1937. The 1935 is probably the richest, but it could also have been slightly fortified. The 1922 is therefore the winner for me, ahead of the 1937 and the 1935, while the 1923 is turning out to be a more and more attractive outsider.
One can hardly imagine that we have just tasted six Romanée Conti made from prephylloxeric vines—1922, 1923, 1929, 1935, 1937 and 1944! The 1935 has great power, alcohol, and is a beautiful wine; the 1923 is becoming more elegant, peppery, and it is a great wine, even if it had a little bit of help; the 1922 epitomises elegance, with all the refinement and purity of the Romanée Conti; the 1937 is nothing but subtlety, a little brother to the 1922, even if it is not as pretty; the menthol freshness of the 1935 is surprisingly unusual.
The colour of the 1962 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti hesitates between red and brown. The nose is magnificent. It is a soft yet deep wine. It is another truly great wine, but not the legendary wine I was expecting.
The last drop of the 1922 is pure rose. I am deeply moved.
The 1959 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée Conti is of a similar colour to the 1962. The nose is not perfect, but the mouth is a lot tastier. It is generous but imperfect. 1959 is definitely not my lucky number.
It appears that all the young wines, as well as the oldest ones, are spectacularly good. It is the mid-life wines, from the 1940s and 1950s, which are problematic. When you realize that the 1956 tasted this morning in the cellars of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti is one of the most beautiful of the day, it suggests that there is a real storage problem with the wines from the 1940s and the 1950s. But there is so much more positive than negative in today’s tastings that it allows me to experience a truly unique moment.
René, who still believes he has not been generous enough, asks if we still have some energy left. I say yes. And then enters what I will call the John Wayne wine. In all the westerns of this American actor, victory is decided in the last minutes of the movie. And it is more or less what happens with the 1969 Romanée Conti Domaine de la Romanée Conti. It is of a clear colour, with the authentic bouquet of the Romanée Conti. It is perfect, elegant, beautiful, even though it shows a tiny lack of tension. It turns up to be paired with the chocolate dessert, but at this point, we are capable of focusing exclusively on the wine, one of the most beautiful of the evening.
6 – COMMENTARIES AND CONCLUSIONS
Such a rhythm is so excessive that I have announced that I will not take part in the lunch scheduled for the next day, which I had originally signed up for. The idea of letting go of the opportunity of a meal with 17 wines from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti—including a 1990 La Tâche—can seem utter folly. But it would indeed have been sheer madness to have taken part in it.
What can we learn from this absolute extravaganza of a tasting? Here is a cosmopolitan group of wine buffs who have the financial means to indulge in the rarest wines in the world. When you have the budget for it, why not hunt for the strange and rare? The order of the day was profusion, not measure. One could criticise this excess, but René did it with such generosity that you can only respect this desire to share.
Of course, the 1945 Romanée Conti was a no-show, and it was the wine that had made me sign up for this dinner in the first place. If another 1945 Romanée Conti ends up being opened on another occasion, it will be an extra pleasure for me.
What remains, for me, is this unique exploration in the taste history of the Romanée Conti. I now have notes on more than 300 wines from the domaine, spanning 74 different vintages. I have therefore confirmed a significant insight into the wines of this domaine. I am deeply grateful to the organisers of this once-in-a-lifetime event. I would never have organised it that way. But different can sometimes be good. And long live the Romanée Conti!