The 2006 wines from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Thanks to Wilson-Daniels I’ve been able to taste the new releases of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti nearly every year for the last twenty. (I remember back in the 1980s when the tasting was at Fleur de Lys restaurant, in San Francisco, where chef Hubert Keller would occasionally join us. Today, it was in a grand meeting room at the St. Francis Hotel.)
There’s something very churchlike about tasting DRC. I’m the first to poke fun at puffery and pretense, but a DRC tasting — especially with Aubert de Villaine presiding — really is something special. Yes, the hushed atmosphere and serious silence lend themselves to parody, but if ever there’s a wine event that approaches sanctity, it’s this one, even for a hard-boiled boozehound like me.
I won’t formally review the wines here, since France is the turf of my distinguished Wine Enthusiast colleague, the urbane Mr. Roger Voss. Suffice it to say that after all these decades of sampling DRC, the 2006s were the most classic in my experience, in the sense of each of the different bottlings tasting precisely as it is supposed to. Richebourg showed its authority and power yet also its sheer charm. La Tâche was enormous, gigantic, an impossibly large wine, but opulent and delicately refined. And then there’s Romanée-Conti itself. Coming right after the La Tâche, it seemed almost deferential, a David in the shadow of Goliath — not as dramatic or fleshy. But then, as Aubert pointed out, all the wines needed to breathe (they were poured straight into our glasses as we sipped, from bottles that had been opened only an hour before). As the Romanée-Conti took in air, it expanded and became something breath-taking. In Aubert’s words, “More than in any other year, this Romanée-Conti gathers and concentrates the characteristics of all the other wines.”
I had always wondered why the DRC presents Romanée-Conti, which is so delicate in many respects, after La Tâche; a case could certainly be made for reversing the order. This year, in the presence of distinguished writers and sommeliers, I mustered up the courage to ask Aubert. (You don’t want to ask a stupid question in such rarified company, although the truth is that there are no stupid questions. By the way, do you know how to tell the writers from the other members of the trade? We’re the ones without ties. Which reminds me: Why were 90 percent of those present men?)
Anyway, I asked Aubert, and here’s what he said: “Romanée-Conti is a feminine wine, and in a sense is moody.” [huge laugh from the audience] “It is very open, spheric, with length. La Tâche on the other hand is always more spectacular, direct, visible. I suppose that the size of La Tâche [tasted first] could hide the finesse of Romanée-Conti.” I thought he would follow that up with some kind of explanation of how he would allow Romanée-Conti’s finesse to be hidden, but he didn’t. Maybe he thought my question unworthy of a more detailed explanation. I think it’s mostly a matter of tradition to show La Tâche before Romanée-Conti. Certainly, if Aubert reversed the order, it would cause consternation among the Burghound crowd.
Aubert had other interesting things to say. “Forget about the idea of a great vintage versus a lesser vintage. They’re just different, each showing a different character. It’s like music: some years are symphonies, some are jazz.” He likened 2006 to “chamber music with more discrete notes.” Nice.
Someone asked a question about how barometric pressure affects wines. It seems that some people had detected differences during tastings in France, New York and, now, San Francisco. I thought, If we now have to worry about barometric pressure before we can drink wine, we’re in worse trouble than I thought. But it did bring up, indirectly, the question of bottle (or sensory) differentiation over time and place. Earlier, Aubert had actually revealed he’d discovered “deviations” from bottle to bottle in the 2006 Echézeaux.
Aubert always closes the red wine part of his DRC tasting with a treat: The new vintage of Montrachet. I must say the ‘06 was everything that fabled white Burgundy can be. It was a study in exquisite, dramatic tension: racy yet elegant — absolutely dazzling, but always refined and well-behaved — unctuous and oily, but firm and taut and dry. All 8 wines (Aubert also showed a wonderful Vosne-Romanée) are obvious cellar candidates. If you can afford them, they all, in their own ways, want a minimum of ten years, and in the cases of the bigger reds, 15, 20 and even 25 years are not out of the question. (The Vosne will be the earliest drinking, by this summer.) On the matter of ageability, the red wines, as Aubert pointed out, very shortly will enter into a period of “sleep,” a diminution that will last for many years. “We’re catching them [today] at the last minute when they’re showing their flesh. They will soon close.”
By the way…
The forecast is for a really big storm to roll into California Saturday. Bigtime. And after that at least a week more of rain.This, after basically the last week of rain and showers. Could the drought be over? Stay tuned.