The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

Posted on | February 22, 2010 | Written by Christy Canterbury | No Comments

Every February, the gracious Aubert de Villaine visits New York to present the new vintage of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.  It’s always a special morning, enshrouded with an aura of solemnity, when I get to taste some of the world’s most impressive and most sought-after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For the last four years, I have had the honor and the pleasure of attending this sit-down event.

The tasting was on my mind the moment I awoke.  I thought of the wines being carefully organized and decapsuled, the tasting mats and glasses being arranged, the vintage reports being aligned beside the glasses.  I envisioned the wines being poured just before the tasters arrived, each bottle carefully held by white-gloved hands.

This year, the eighteen attendees were a blend journalists and buyers (a second session was held for an additional eighteen members of the trade.)  Interestingly, aside from members of the importing team, I was one of only three women in the room.  While men often do outnumber women, this number seemed surprisingly askew.  As we finished priming our palates with 1997 Salon and began filtering into the tasting room, Aubert asked that I sit beside him and pulled out my chair.

Aubert began with a discussion of the vintage, which took me back to my visit to Burgundy in July 2007.  Expecting summer, I had packed a suitcase of sundresses and sandals, so I rushed straight to the Galleries Lafayette in Dijon to purchase jeans and several thick sweaters.  My week in Burgundy was marked by drizzly walks through the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune and many, many cups of steaming Earl Grey tea.  Aubert pointed out this weather was very unusual because it turned that out the famous Palm Sunday wind “lied for once.”  When it blows from the north, as it did in 2007, the wind promises a dry year.  However, 2007 wasn’t dry-yet luckily the rains were accompanied by chilly temperatures for a fair portion of the summer, and most of the diseases were kept at bay until the end of the season.  With the arrival of September, the winegrowers’ fortunes changed, and the 2007 harvest produced some very beautiful wines, especially at this exceptional domaine.

As one can imagine, a group of opinionated, if professional, tasters often challenge one another’s position on a wine.  Yet on this occasion, a surprisingly harmonious chorus rose from the group:  the wines were changing vastly throughout the two-hour tasting, but all in a positive manner.  Aubert thoughtfully nodded and said with a small, knowing smile, “Yes, the wines are now starting to understand they are in bottle for good and are starting to show their anger.  That is why their expressions are evolving so.”

As I read back through my notes today, I noticed that the recurring themes were “impressive mid-palate density” and “exceedingly long finish.”  I’ll spare you a summation of those notes and leave that task for other tasters. Instead, I’ll answer a fellow study partner’s frequent question post-tasting:  “What was your favorite wine?”  (Sometimes the clinical setting and professional mind-set of a tasting make us forget we’re in this business because we love great juice.)  The answer is complex.

I have to admit that while I am typically most fond of Romanée-Saint-Vivant in the younger years, I was rather more enticed by the initially effusive cranberry nose and iron-fist-in-velvet-glove tannins of the Échézeaux.  However, it was the Romanée-Conti’s enrapturing violet aromas, surprisingly pale color and integration of youthful fruit and spicy oak that made for the most delicious wine on the table-even so young.  I hope I have the chance to taste it several times as it evolves over the years because, even though drinking now, the wine is still somewhat restrained and will unfold many more layers of complexity.  Aubert claimed, “The 2006 vintage was hedonistic when we tasted it last year.  The 2007 is monastic.”

I look forward to that monkish order opening up, even if I have to wait for it.

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