There are names within the world of wine that every consumer-turned-wine enthusiast learn quickly as they begin to explore their vinous curiosities. Each region seems to have such a name–call it an icon–which somehow transcends more than just the place, but becomes a beacon of the region and is regarded as that which represents its essence. In Burgundy, that name is without a doubt, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.
Seeming to be a continent of its own amidst a sea of islands that make up the producers of Burgundy, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti stands not just for what many believe to be the epitome of what the region can produce, but has also achieved a level of value in the world’s eyes that permits their wines to be released at a price that is unmatched throughout much of the world. Driven solely by the market that has grown to love it, consumers and collectors continue to search for these wines the world over, and pay dearly to own and experience them first-hand.
As a wine lover and an explorer of Burgundy, I became fully aware of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (or DRC), over twelve years ago, which was eleven years prior to the first chance I ever had to taste one. So it goes, as the mystery and obscurity of DRC may be unmatched by any other producer.
When you consider this, you can likely imagine how excited I was when I had my first chance to experience these wines and taste in the cellar with Bernard Noblet (DRC’s cellar master) in the summer of 2016. Following Bernard from barrel to barrel was unforgettable. The man exuded passion for the wines and terroir. Even as he emptied his glass, he would continue to nose the bouquet that was emanating from the empty vessel. I felt both honored and quite satisfied to be in the company of both the wines and the man who tends for them in the cellar.
Fast forward now to the official showing of the 2014 vintage in NYC, headed by Aubert de Villaine, the co-director of DRC himself, as he took us through the intricacies of the vintage and spoke of a deep-rooted attachment that he felt for the land and environs of Burgundy. He expressed in detail how each climat was so unique and continued to surprise him to this very day.
The 2014 vintage in Burgundy was one that started with a mild winter that displayed damp conditions, yet resulted in a spring of remarkable balance and beauty. The early flowering was welcome in these conditions. Then, at the end of June, the region was shaken by an extreme storm and hail, which wasn’t as severe in Vosne-Romanee, which Domaine de la Romanee-Conti calls home. These storms were followed by scorching heat, which naturally reduced yields in the vineyard as many berries simply burned and dried. Then in July came cooler temperatures, cloudy skies and lasting rain.
If there’s one thing that I’ve come to know about vintages in Burgundy, it’s that vignerons are constantly in a state of worry, playing a waiting game and watching as Mother Nature consistently delves out the ups and downs of each season. Just as I’m sure many producers worried through the summer months, in early September they were relieved by a lasting dry warmth and plenty of sunshine. One last storm in mid September worried producers again, as they feared the onset of botrytis, yet as Aubert de Villaine explained to us at the event, the unusually thick skins of the grapes, which formed through the ups and down of the vintage, protected them. The following week provided warmth, dry conditions and exactly what the region needed to complete the ripening process through harvest.
The result of this arduous vintage are wines that speak volumes to longtime Burgundy lovers. The 2014s aren’t big, ripe wines, nor are they brooding and structured. Instead, the ‘14s are finessed and ever present with gorgeous balancing acidity.
The bouquets on most Pinots are layered and refined with masses of exotic florals, herbs and spice. They keep you coming back to the glass over and over again, and provide an inviting aura leading up to the first sip. On the palate they are refined, with crunchy red fruits and often reflect the same floral tones introduced on the nose. I find the balance and energy in these wines to be extremely pleasurable.
As for the whites, they seem to be even better, as a level of natural richness and concentration is contrasted by mineral-driven acidity and cut. The best of them are layered and pulsating with flavor, yet also soothing and elegant. The 2014 Montrachet from DRC is a perfect example of the balancing act that Chardonnay has accomplished.
It was quite a tasting across the board. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti has created a set of wines in 2014 that evoke a spirit of classic Burgundy. I don’t see these appealing to the mass market, but to the Burgundy purist, to the lover of refinement, and to anyone seeking the tremendous beauty that can be obtained through labor in the vineyards and cellars.
On to the wines:
Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Corton Domaine Prince Florent de Merode 2014 – The 2014 Corton displayed a remarkably beautiful bouquet with gorgeous red berries and spice, which became more floral over time with hints of rosemary and marine minerality. On the palate, I found lifted, almost weightless textures with pure red fruits, inner florals and sweet herbs. The finish was medium in length, closing on tart red berries and lasting minerality. This was an extremely feminine and pretty expression of Corton. (94 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echezeaux 2014 – At first the nose was dark and restrained, yet time in the glass revealed a captivating bouquet of dried flowers, wet stone, and hints of undergrowth, which gave way to crushed wildberry. On the palate, I found soft textures offset by brisk acidity with herbal-infused red berry. With time, the Echezeaux textures turned more refined and lifted, showing wonderful balance. The finish was long, with hints of fine tannin and saturating tart red berry fruit. (95 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Echezeaux 2014 – The nose was spicy with crushed raspberry giving way to dried flowers, then crushed stone with hints of bell pepper. On the palate, I found angular textures with crunchy red fruits, which were tart yet brought to life by zesty acidity. The finish was medium-long with hints of herbs and tart berry, seeming almost to close in on itself. (93 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanee-St-Vivant 2014 – The nose showed exotic floral and spice tones with crushed violets and marine-influenced minerality. On the palate, I found lifted, yet structured textures with lasting inner floral tones that seemed nearly identical to those found on the nose. It finished on tart blackberry and herbal tones. (93 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg 2014 – At first, I found a dark and brooding display on the nose, which opened up to become one of the most gorgeous expressions you can imagine, as spicy, almost black fruit and minerals gained floral lift and an earthiness that I can best describe as like digging through the actual soil of Richebourg itself. On the palate, soft textures were contrasted by lifting acidity and minerality, as dark red fruits and spice seemed to touch upon all of the senses. Edgy and interactive throughout the finale, this finished with palate-coating dark red fruit and streamlined acidity that made the mouth water. What a thrilling wine at this young stage. (97 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache 2014 – On the nose, I found dark floral laced fruits and crushed stone with hints of smoke and rich brown spice. On the palate, soft, embracing textures were offset by a laser beam of bright acidity, which ushered in notes of black and wild berry fruit. The finish was long with saturating dark fruit and a mix of exotic spice and smoke. (96 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanee-Conti 2014 – The bouquet was restrained at first, with dusty dried florals, violets, and black cherry. On the palate, I found a lifted and pure expression, seeming almost weightless as it hovered over the senses with inner floral and herb-tinged red fruits. The finish was long with tart berry fruits that saturated the senses, as fine tannin lingered on. This is just a baby today and hard to read, but there’s so much tension in the glass that I can only imagine it getting even better over time. (96 points)
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 2014 – The bouquet seemed to leap from the glass, showing ripe apple, with yellow flowers, and crushed stone minerality. It was energetic on the palate, with a sweet-and-sour yellow fruit profile, where mango, young peach and pear mixed with sweet inner florals and brisk acidity. The finish was long, as it seemed to coat the senses, yet it also cleansed the palate and remained spry and lively. (94 points)